Total Recall: Tom Hanks' Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Cloud Atlas star.
Co-starring in a short-lived sitcom about cross-dressing friends generally isn't the most direct path to superstardom, but there's an exception to prove every rule -- only one, though; sorry, Peter Scolari -- and after racking up over $3 billion in domestic ticket receipts, winning a mantel full of awards (including back-to-back Best Actor Oscars), and starring in some of the best-reviewed films of the last 25 years, Tom Hanks has demonstrated that he's pretty darned exceptional. With his latest project, the Wachowski-engineered spectacle Cloud Atlas, arriving in theaters this weekend, we decided now was the perfect time to take another look at an impressive body of work by twirling the dials on the Tomatometer, making a list of Hanks' best-reviewed films, and playing Total Recall!
10. Cast Away
If there was ever any doubt as to the strength of Tom Hanks' appeal, it was thoroughly answered with 2000's Cast Away, a movie that asked viewers to spend over an hour watching its star wander an island with little to do and only a volleyball for companionship. He didn't just topline it, Hanks essentially was the film, absorbing a percentage of screen time that, in lesser hands, would have amounted to an endurance test for audiences. Happily, he proved up to the task, as attested by Cast Away's healthy $429 million worldwide gross -- not to mention the scores of overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics like Margaret A. McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer, who praised Hanks for rising to the challenges of the script: "The challenge to the character is matched by the challenge to the actor; for most of the movie Mr. Hanks is the only human being we see or hear. He tackles the job with stunning confidence in a performance stripped of gimmicks and driven by need."
Starring in a frothy romantic comedy as a man who falls in love with a mermaid may not seem like the surest path to starting a film career, but then, 1984's Splash was no ordinary movie -- in fact, it started a lot of things, among them an entire studio (Touchstone Pictures, created to allow Disney the ability to release more "adult" fare without sullying its name brand), a surge in the number of girls named Madison, and, supposedly, a name change for the Disneyland ride that eventually became Splash Mountain. Not bad for a movie featuring a pair of largely untested stars (Hanks was fresh from Bosom Buddies, and Hannah was known mainly for her role in Blade Runner) and a director most people still thought of as Opie Taylor (or Richie Cunningham). Nearly $70 million in domestic receipts (and one Academy Award nomination) later, and Hanks was on his way to stardom, thanks in part to positive critical buzz that has proven surprisingly durable; recently, Empire's Ian Freer held it up as "the movie that really showed Tom Hanks' promise as a deliverer of great comedy and heart-warming pathos."
Some moviegoers who went to see That Thing You Do! expecting another "Tom Hanks movie" may have come away disappointed with his relative lack of screen time -- his character, the slick A&R executive known as Mr. White, is the textbook definition of a "minor but pivotal" role -- but if they paid attention to the credits, they saw that it had Hanks literally written all over it: he made his writing/directing debut with That Thing, which follows the speedy rise (and equally speedy fall) of a rock band in 1966. Though it wasn't a huge hit, the movie did spin off a medium-sized hit on the pop charts ("That Thing You Do," written by Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and sung by future power pop demigod Mike Viola) and enjoyed highly favorable reviews from the likes of Desson Thomson of the Washington Post, who wrote, "first-time writer/director Tom Hanks stays about a half-beat ahead of the clichés with rim shots of boyish enthusiasm and deft comedy."
American directors have been making movies about World War II since 1940, and even as early as the 1980s, it was a genre associated by many with Norman Rockwell revisionism and John Wayne machismo. By 1998, for a movie about the war to add anything new to the dialogue, it would have to be something truly special -- but with Spielberg behind the cameras and a cast led by Tom Hanks, an actor as quintessentially American as apple pie, Saving Private Ryan was off to a pretty good start even before the first roll of film had been shot. The end result, of course, was one of the best-reviewed films (and biggest hits) of the year -- a $481 million hit that arrived perfectly timed to coincide with a new wave of interest in what Tom Brokaw dubbed "The Greatest Generation." Lauded for its sometimes shocking realism, Ryan was eventually nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and helped prompt Hanks' involvement (along with Spielberg and many others) in HBO's 10-part World War II documentary, Band of Brothers -- an important film, in other words, and one that, despite a few dissenting opinions (Andrew Sarris called it "tediously manipulative"), earned a healthy Tomatometer score thanks to plenty of high praise from critics like Richard Schickel of Time, who applauded it as "a war film that, entirely aware of its genre's conventions, transcends them as it transcends the simplistic moralities that inform its predecessors, to take the high, morally haunting ground."
There were a number of age-swapping comedies at the box office in the late 1980s, including Vice Versa (starring Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage as a father and son who switch bodies), 18 Again! (in which George Burns plays an 81-year-old millionaire who trades souls with Charlie Schlatter), and Like Father Like Son (Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron -- 'nuff said). Big, released in June of 1988, came after all of them, but rather than being dismissed as excessively similar to a bunch of movies that hadn't done all that well at the box office, it went down as one of the year's most successful films, piling up over $150 million in worldwide grosses and earning Hanks some desperately needed box office mojo after his appearances in The Money Pit, Nothing in Common, and (shudder) Dragnet. Though it would be awhile yet before Hanks really found his stride as a leading man -- he still had Joe Versus the Volcano ahead of him, after all -- his sweetly comic performance here did not go unnoticed by critics like the New York Times' Janet Maslin, who wrote, "for any other full-grown actors who try their hands at fidgeting, squirming, throwing water balloons and wolfing down food in a huge variety of comically disgusting ways, this really is the performance to beat."