Top 10 Tom Hanks Films 1990 – 2010

After looking at Tom Hanks’ brilliant movies from the 1980s it was only a matter of time until we got around to the next two decades in the great actor’s career.

Admittedly, Hanks is one of my favourite actors. He’s such a likable personality off screen that it’s difficult not to fall for his indomitable charm. And that is displayed in all its glory on screen – especially in the 1980s comedies he was renowned for before the post-Oscar-winning period set in. But his work as a so-called ‘serious’ actor has only got better, and, without forgetting his comedy roots, he has maintained a streak of funny roles in some of the 1990s and 2000s most well-known films.

And that is perhaps why he is an actor worth focusing on. If you were to name the most iconic characters of the 1990s or 2000s, I bet out of the top 20, Hanks would appear at least once. Think of Jim Lovell from Apollo 13, Woody in Toy Story, Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code and of course Forrest Gump. Yet, while comedy stood out for the Californian-born actor during the first decade of his career, it was Oscar glory for his moving performance as AIDS suffered Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia that prompted him to take on more dramatic roles. Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, That Thing You Do, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Cast Away, Road To Perdition and Catch Me If You Can all followed with Toy Story being Hanks’ only strictly comedic movie. That did change in 2004 when he appeared in Steven Spielberg’s hugely entertaining The Terminal in which he provided his funniest performance since 1989’s The Burbs.

Throughout a career spanning over thirty years, Tom Hanks has shown not only versatility but longevity. He is a Hollywood film star who has retained a wholesome image and a long relationship with quality material. He has a knack of choosing the best scripts and directors to work with, and knows intrinsically the types of roles that will propel him to the top of the box office. Here is his top 10 films 1990 to 2010.

10. A League of Their Own (Marshall, 1992)

league of their own, tom hanks movie,

Penny Marshall and Tom Hanks re-team after their first collaboration in the 1980s classic Big. Hanks is clearly at ease with Marshall and his performance is the highlight of a likable comedy about women’s baseball during the latter stages of the second world war.

9. Joe Versus The Volcano (Shanley, 1990)

joe versus the volcano, tom hanks, film, greatest, best,

A minor cult classic, Joe Versus The Volcano doesn’t quite fit with the style of films Tom Hanks was well known for at the time and subsequently struggled to find an audience on release. But since then it has gained cult status on home video thanks to director John Patrick Shanley’s offbeat script and direction. The film remains an obscure, off-centre look at an everyman who quits his job to experience life to its fullest after being told by his doctor he has an incurable disease. It plays on the traits of the yuppie-in-peril movie that became popular in the late 1980s, and sees the titular Joe meet an assortment of characters on his journey from New York to Los Angeles and on to his final destination on a remote island in the Pacific.

8. Cast Away (Zemeckis, 2000)

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Aside from featuring one of the most harrowing, visually and aurally spectacular plane crashes ever committed to celuloid, Cast Away displayed an actor willing to go the extra mile for his craft. Tom Hanks put on weight for the role as Chuck Noland, the time-obsessed systems analyst for FedEx. When his plane crashes leaving him lost and alone on an unpopulated island, he pieces together a life for himself from the wreckage made up principally of the FedEx packages the aircraft was carrying. Noland is stuck on the island for four years and subsequently Hanks had to lose substantial weight to show his lack of nourishment and the passing of four long years. It was the first and only time Hanks has gone to such method acting lengths for a role. It is his sheer passion for the film, and the fact he carries it almost entirely alone, that makes it worthy of a place on this list.

7. The Terminal (Spielberg, 2004)

the terminal, best tom hanks movies, steven spielberg film,

The Terminal features Tom Hanks’ funniest role since the 1980s as Viktor Navorski, a foreigner forced to live at JFK International Airport because of a loophole in immigration law. The film follows Viktor as he tries to acclimatise to his new surroundings. Catherine Zeta Jones is the likable love interest.
Read my full review here

6. Charlie Wilson’s War (Nichols, 2007)

charlie wilson's war, tom hanks,

Tom Hanks is Congressman Charlie Wilson, a womanising socialite who doesn’t always play fair with the law but attempts to clear his conscience by helping the Afghan’s in their fight with the Soviets. Tom Hanks’ spirited performance makes this complicated story of American foreign policy accessible for all. Writer Aaron Sorkin who wrote the scripts for The Social Network and brilliant TV drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip provides the penmanship behind Mike Nichols’ direction.

5. The Green Mile (Darabont, 1999)

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Frank Darabont returns to the epic prison movie to adapt Stephen King’s The Green Mile. This whimsical, touching film about Death Row at Cold Mountain Penitentiary mixes emotional drama with fantasy as inmate John Coffey changes the lives of the guards and the inmates with his magical healing ability. Tom Hanks plays Paul Edgecomb, a kindly corrections officer who sees the best in people, including Michael Clarke Duncan’s convicted child killer, who he begins to suspect may be innocent. Darabont knows how to layer the sentimentality, and is aided in his quest by one of Stephen King’s more melancholic stories but there’s plenty to like during the film’s three-hour runtime. Michael Clarke Duncan’s gentle giant provides the film’s most moving hook, while Doug Hutchinson’s performance as nasty guard Percy Wetmore is chilling in its villainess.

4. Apollo 13 (Howard, 1995)

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The story of the ill-fated Apollo 13 space mission sees Tom Hanks going for a third Academy Award for Best Actor in three years. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t make it a hat-trick of wins in consecutive years. That is in part due to the ensemble nature of Ron Howard’s sugar-coated lunar epic. Apollo 13 may be sentimental but it is a well-constructed story of real life drama and human courage and determination.

3. Philadelphia (Demme, 1993)

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Hollywood looked at AIDS and homosexuality with a seriousness unseen before. It was a daring project in many ways, not least for Tom Hanks who had never played such a tragic character before. However, his performance is exemplary, one of many reasons why the film was lavished with praise. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal as Andrew Beckett, a lawyer who sues his former employees for unfair dismissal after they learn he is suffering from AIDS. Hanks is superb, undoubtedly one of his finest dramatic performances. The scene in which he slow dances to Rachmaninoff while dictating the story of the music to Denzel Washington is one of the most touching scenes Hanks has performed in.

2. Saving Private Ryan (Spielberg, 1998)

saving private ryan, tom hanks world war 2,

Saving Private Ryan is perhaps best remembered for its blistering, visceral opening, depicting the bloody conflict on Omaha beach during the D-Day invasion. The beach invasion lasts for a harrowing thirty minutes as brave American soldiers try to take control of the coastline against well-armed, well-armoured and well-dug in German infantry. Spielberg displays some of his most skilful photographic direction, utilising the camera in much the same way as a documentary film crew, its movement low and entrenched in the action, its lens frequently peppered with the blood of fallen men. It is a shocking yet brilliant cinematic re-enactment of one of the second world war’s most significant events. The film would top many lists based on its opening battle alone, but the much longer fight to protect a bridge that ends the film is just as visually dynamic and equally as powerful. In the midst of gun shots and bloody carnage, Tom Hanks heads a wonderful ensemble cast, leading a group of soldiers from the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion on a mission in search of a soldier who has a ticket home.

1. Forrest Gump (Zemeckis, 1994)

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Tom Hanks would make it two Oscar wins in two years with his performance as nice but dim Forrest Gump. Based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom, Forrest Gump tells the tall tale of a simpleton from Alabama who lives an extraordinary life. Depicting his life from the 1950s until around 1980, we see how Forrest interacts and influences some of America’s most significant historical moments, while he learns about life, love and loss along the way.

Some of the film’s best bits include director Robert Zemeckis’ use of special visual effects to depict Forrest in some of the most iconic scenes of American history. Namely, he appears on the Dick Cavett show alongside John Lennon, witnesses and exposes the Watergate scandal, and meets President’s Kennedy, Nixon and Johnson. He also takes part in key movements of American culture such as civil rights and the integration of America’s segregated schools, anti-war rallies during the Vietnam war, and Vietnam itself. One of the film’s greatest attributes is the visual effects of Ken Ralston and his team at Industrial Light and Magic who were able to take archived television footage and place Tom Hanks within the scene. This enabled them to achieve such effects as seeing Hanks physically interact with people such as John Lennon and John F. Kennedy.

But the most remarkable element of the film is Tom Hanks. The journey he takes with Forrest through twenty years of history is a lot of story time for an actor to take on. Hanks achieves the feat, making Forrest’s simple ways a lovable and endearing route to the character’s oversized heart.

See also:
Top 10 Tom Hanks Films of the 1980s

Reader’s Choice: Favourite Tom Hanks film of all time

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Anna Reply

    Wow, I’m surprised you found a film by Hanks after 2004 that deserves a place on this list. Need to catch ‘war’ then! Awesome list as always, though I don’t know how I should feel about Hanks. I guess he’s legendary but ..

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      To be honest it was a bit of a struggle but I have high hopes for Larry Crowne. Have you seen Charlie Wilson’s War?

  2. Avatar
    sundryandco Reply

    Philadelphia was a really stand-out performance by Hanks. When he was interviewed by Norton recently, I started thinking about why he was so watchable in the 90s…eventually I remembered – it was these films! (with a dollop of Big, Sleepless in Seattle and…cough..That Thing You Do). The days not so long ago when actors could act (for the most part) and the subject matter was heavier than a hangover. I also arrived at the conclusion that bad films are not as good as they used to be.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Yeah, Philadelphia saw a wonderful performance from Tom Hanks. He’d always had the talent but at that time he wasn’t known for this type of dramatic role. When you look at the Oscars and Oscar nominations since 1993, Philadelphia takes on even more importance in the career of Tom Hanks.

  3. Avatar
    Bgf4 Reply

    No Toy Story trilogy?

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Great films, great voice-over performances from Hanks, but I preferred to look at his live-action roles.

      • Avatar
        ruth Reply

        Speaking of which, this video of him on Graham Norton show is a hoot: Hanks shared what’s it like doing the voice over for Woody in Toy Story, boy it sure sounds like hard work!

        • Avatar
          Dan Reply

          Yeah I saw that episode. Such a great anecdote – Hanks is great in interview, always comes across as a friendly sort of guy with some great stories.

  4. Avatar
    CastorTroy Reply

    Nice list Dan, I pretty much agree with everything although I probably would have Road to Perdition somewhere in there and maybe even Big ahah

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Yeah, I figured Road To Perdition would appear on a few Hanks top 10s. But I’m just not a fan.

    • Avatar
      Greg Reply

      The cinematography is beautiful and Hanks’ performance is so bleak and sublime. I think a lot of people didn’t like it when it came out because it wasn’t the spiritual follow-up to American Beauty that they expected or the warm happy Hanks we were so used to. Also, a wimpy pathetic Daniel Craig? Awesome!

  5. Avatar
    Dave Reply

    Great list! Thanks for mentioning The Terminal – it’s a terribly underrated film! Joe Vs The Volcano deserves its props, too. 🙂

    And 100% agreed on #1. Gump is the one to beat.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      The Terminal might come across as Spielberg-lite and more of a throwaway comedy for Hanks but it is the director’s funniest film to date. And it is great to see Hanks in a role where its closest references are films he made in the 80s.

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    Rodney Reply

    I can’t understand the hate for Forrest Gump I read about online. I would have placed Gump and Private Ryan below Philadelphia, Dan (for the record), but your top three are all excellent choices and would be at the top of any serious Hanks’ fans list.

    I also echo the sentiments here about where on earth Road To Perdition went? That’s a mile better than Joe vs The Volcano…..

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Thanks Rodney.

      In regards to Joe versus the Volcano – there isn’t another Hanks film like it so I felt I had to find a place for it on this list (plus, I actually think it’s a good film!).

      What’s your favourite from the period – Philadelphia?

      I think the hate for Forrest comes from people who just don’t like a bit of sentimentality in their lives – I’m a sentimental fool so the film sucks me in every time.

      • Avatar
        Rodney Reply

        Two-part answer to your question, Dan.

        On a pure performance basis, I’d be hard pressed to go past his role in Philadelphia. On a “can sit and watch it any day” basis, I’d be putting The Green Mile in there somewhere.

        Private Ryan (while brilliant in every respect) is less about Hanks and more about the mission, and Gump is pure brain candy (imho), yet the two films mentioned previously would be at the top of my list in those two categories.

  7. Avatar
    Scott Lawlor Reply

    This is one of those posts that you are sure you have commented on but it turns out you haven’t…or is that just me?

    Great list as ever matey. Tom was amazing during the 1990s hey? So many great films… I may have ranked Perdition in there somewhere, but that is mainly as I have such a love affair with that era.


    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      I knew many people would put Road To Perdition on this list. But I think his performance in League makes that film worth watching and Joe Versus The Volcano is just so different from anything else he has done. Don’t know what I’d bump for Road.

  8. Avatar
    ruth Reply

    Hi Dan, great list again. Glad to see Forrest Gump, Castaway and The Terminal in this, oh and The Green Mile is indeed a great film. I heard that Larry Crowne is bad, but I don’t always trust the critics. I didn’t realize he directed that too, I like That Thing You Do which is his first directing effort I believe. Totally agree he’s such a likable fellow.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Although I’m not The Thing You Do’s biggest fan I still find it an enjoyable film, and in some ways wanted to find a place for it on this list because Hanks directed the film. I’ve heard a few bad words about Larry Crowne which is disappointing. Hanks has been updating his Twitter feed with pictures of him working on and editing the film, so it has been great to follow the film’s production. I’ll definitely check it out myself. As a Hanks fan I think that will help but then again even Hanks couldn’t save the Coen’s worst film to date The Ladykillers.

      • Avatar
        Rodney Reply

        I always have time for That Thing You Do. Such a well made film… (imho) with some great acting performances, and the production design is excellent too. Sure, the song might get worn out after the umpteenth playing, but what the hey, it’s a movie, right?

  9. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Now, here’s a question… Has anybody actually seen The Man With One Red Shoe? And is it a good film or not?

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Yes and No. I did put it on my top 10 Hanks films of the 1980s but that was because it had to be there by default (I think Hanks made 11 films during the decade and only two are worse than Red Shoe). But, if you are a fan of Tom Hanks’ 80s comedies there is enough to like. It isn’t a great film but it isn’t terrible either.

      I think I reviewed it a long time ago…here is that review:

  10. Avatar
    Greg Reply

    I sometimes feel like the only guy in American who doesn’t love Forrest Gump. As a kid I was mad that it stole the Oscar from Pulp Fiction (I was an odd child) and now I just find it annoyingly clever, almost vulpine. It doesn’t always feel like it earns its coincidences and it’s certainly melodramatic, but it’s still likeable, especially the tearjerker ending. I actually much prefer Benjamin Button, which really captures the obscurity of friendships; people weave in and out of Benjamin’s life and leave lasting impressions even if Benjamin doesn’t remember the people themselves. The influence of people throughout the duration of a life is portrayed as a beautiful sublime thing. The backlash against Button made me sad =[

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    Fitz Reply

    The Terminal is an addition many people wouldn’t add. Brave choice. But my favorite Hanks’ performance is Charlie Wilson’s War, against the type casting and such a fun performance at that.

  12. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    The Terminal is an addition many people wouldn’t add. Brave choice. But my favorite Hanks’ performance is Charlie Wilson’s War, against the type casting and such a fun performance at that.

  13. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    Oh and Big.

  14. Avatar
    fogsmoviereviews Reply

    No love for Carl Hanratty? Ouch, Catch Me if You Can is an awesome movie.

  15. Avatar
    Manikandan Kannaian Reply

    Nice list Dan…Happy to see my favorite movies like Cast Away, The Green Mile and The Forrest Gump in the list. Tom Hanks rocks. Cheers 🙂

  16. Avatar
    Novia Rozet Reply

    Great list Dan!!! I love all those movies. My list would be different in rank to yours.
    I miss watching those movies.

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  18. Avatar
    themovieblogger Reply

    I think I would agree with the list. He is incredible in Forrest Gump.

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