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Happy T.Hanksgiving: The Three Stages of the Ineffably Endearing Tom Hanks

Things People Have Said About Tom Hanks:

– “He’s the last good man left in Hollywood”
– “He’s a consummate professional on set”
– “He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet”

Things No One Has Ever Said About Tom Hanks:

– “I don’t know what it is but there’s something I just don’t like about him”

Since coming on the scene as an actor in the early 1980s, Tom Hanks has been launched into a unique position in popular culture as a universally beloved figure. He has a reputation for being an unfailingly nice guy, and nothing has ever called that persona into question. In 40+ years, he hasn’t had a whiff of scandal, no irksome stories about being difficult on set or ungrateful to fans, as might befit his status as an A-List celebrity. He is, it would seem, one of the good ones.

Tom Hanks is not an obvious movie star. Even at the start of his career, he never had the Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise dreamboat quality that often catapults male actors to stardom. Rather, he had (and continues to have) a charm, an inherent likeability and humor, that has allowed him to win over audiences, and develop the sort of staying power that has kept him a constant in Hollywood for all these years. Teen idols come and go, but Tom Hanks is forever.

With multiple Academy Award wins, his talent as an actor is beyond question. Yet like so many enduring movie stars from the classic Hollywood era, audiences come back not to watch him effortlessly disappear into a role, but to enjoy his warm, comforting screen presence. Although his status as a uniquely likeable movie star has been in place for the past four decades, his career has undergone slight shifts, that have subtly changed how audiences engage with him.


1. Charming Goofball Hanks

This is early Hanks, beginning with his first major film role in Bosom Buddies, the sitcom about that classic and relatable predicament where two hapless men have to dress up as ladies in order to illegally scam their way into a low-rent housing complex for women. Even this early in his career, Hanks displays a charm and winning sense of humor that would quickly make him a Hollywood star.

After his star-making turn in 1984’s Splash as a man who falls in love with a mermaid, the 1980s saw Hanks star in nine more quirky comedies. Some were more successful than others (Big and The ‘Burbs immediately come to mind as clear standouts), but all established his persona as an everyman type with an easy sense of humor.


2. Serious Actor Hanks

We see hints of this in A League of Their Own. It’s still a fairly light, uplifting film, but his performance as professional alcoholic Jimmy Dugan is a clear move against type. Dugan, and there’s no way of getting around this, spends a lot of the film as a serious dick. But his transition to serious actordom begins in earnest in 1993, when he stars in Philadelphia, a movie about a gay man dying from AIDS who is attempting to sue his law firm employer for discrimination, and is cemented the following year with Forrest Gump.

Both films netted him a Best Actor win at the Academy Awards, making him the first actor to win back to back Best Actor Oscars since the 1930s (Spencer Tracy won in 1937 and 1938 for Boys Town and Captains Courageous, respectively). At the time, Hanks was only the fifth actor ever to have won two Academy Awards at all, let alone in consecutive years.

This began a period throughout the 1990s and early 2000s where he did a ton of prestige work, from Apollo 13 to Saving Private Ryan to Catch Me If You Can. He was your go to guy for movies that somehow seemed to bridge the divide between Oscar bait and genuine crowd-pleasers. It was a good time.

Bridge of Spies

3. America’s Surrogate Dad Hanks

Granted, men get about 20 years longer in leading man territory than women get as leading ladies, but still, all good things must eventually come to an end, and at a certain point in the mid-2000s Hanks fully leaves behind the sort of roles that feature him as the romantic lead.

At this point he could have gone the way of many actors his age and inexplicably taken on more quasi-action roles the older he got, as some sort of bizarre mid-life crisis coping mechanism, but that wouldn’t be the Hanksy we know and love. Instead, he full leans into his burgeoning status as the world’s #1 dad, whose likeability and warmth make you feel as though you have always known him. He lovingly cultivates a Twitter account devoted to helping reunite people with their lost closing accessories. He goes on Saturday Night Live to launch a spoof presidential campaign as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s VP.

And, with films like The Post and Bridge of Spies, he operates as a much needed moral compass for a world that has never needed his brand of kindness and respect for others than it does now. That, probably more than anything else, will be his legacy, as a man whose mere presence somehow makes you feel like everything is going to be alright.

Top 5 Tom Hanks Romantic Comedies

As voted for by you. And you. You also. Thanks for clicking those ballots, here are the romantic, comic results:

5. The Terminal (2002)

The Terminal (2002)

4. Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump (1994)

3. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

You've Got Mail (1998)

2. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

1. Big (1988)

Big (1988)


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