Tom Hanks' 32 greatest movie moments

Tom Hanks gets ready for lift off in Apollo 13
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Tom Hanks enjoys a rare reputation for being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. It’s a strange reputation to have when, as an actor, Hanks has played all types, including less-than-savory men.

By his own admission, Hanks doesn’t believe he deserves any recognition as the nicest guy you could meet. In a 2023 BBC interview to promote his debut novel The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece – which follows the making of a superhero movie starring an egotistical actor whose behavior disrupts the set – Hanks owns up to fostering a difficult environment.

“I have pulled every single one of those moments of behavior myself on a set,” Hanks said. “Not everybody is at their best every single day on a motion picture set. I’ve had tough days trying to be a professional when my life has been falling apart in more ways than one and the requirement for me that day is to be funny, charming and loving — and it’s the last way I feel.”

But even so, Hanks makes it look so easy. Over a long career in Hollywood starting with the low-budget 1980 horror movie He Knows You’re Alone, Hanks has risen to the top of Hollywood as one of the most bankable, reliable leading men of all time. Though Hanks has a reputation for playing nice characters, he isn’t always in such roles. Here are 32 of the greatest Tom Hanks movie moments, some of which prove he’s anything but America’s unofficial dad.

32. “He’s White?” (Elvis)

Tom Hanks stands in a white shirt and hat as Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Perhaps it’s the surreal combination of his prosthetic fat suit, the hybrid Dutch/southern twang he inhabits for the role of real-life music agent Tom Parker, and the over-dramatic way Baz Luhrman pushes in his camera. But the revelation that the enchanting voice he hears actually belongs to a very marketable white boy – the one and only Elvis Presley, played by Austin Butler in Luhrmann’s 2022 biopic – is a meme-worthy moment few people could have expected coming from Hanks in the second act of his career.

31. Reliving the First Date (A Man Called Otto)

Tom Hanks sits in a dark garage in his car in A Man Called Otto

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

(Content warning: Suicide.) In this 2022 dramatic comedy from Marc Forster, Hanks plays a depressed widower who attempts to end his own life but gets interrupted by his neighbors, particularly an energetic Mexican-American family who’ve just moved across the street. In Otto’s second attempt, he reminisces about his first date with his now departed wife Sonya (Rachel Keller). The memory is so strong for Otto that he can still remember his exact words to her, which was only the start of their loving but difficult life together. 

30. Science and Faith (Angels & Demons)

Tom Hanks, as Robert Langdon, stands before a cardinal in the Vatican in Angels & Demons

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

At the end of Angels & Demons, a 2009 sequel to Ron Howard’s blockbuster The DaVinci Code (itself an adaptation of the hit Dan Brown novels), renowned symbology expert Robert Langdon (Hanks) is quietly gifted the Diagramma Veritatis as a thank-you from the church for his role in thwarting an attempt to kill the next pope, who has chosen a name that pays homage to Luke the Evangelist – a doctor and an apostle. The church, represented in the scene by Cardinal Strauss (Armin Mueller-Stahl), gives a poignant monologue acknowledging that religion and religious institutions are flawed, “but only because men is flawed,” including the one speaking. Released at a time when public opinion of the church had plummeted, Angels & Demons – powered by the presence of the widely beloved Tom Hanks – finds a way to depict a moment of common understanding between science and religion.

29. “I’m Glad It’s You” (Road to Perdition)

Tom Hanks stands sullen in the rain in Road to Perdition

(Image credit: DreamWorks Pictures)

In Sam Mendes’ 2003 period drama Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks took a rare turn as a stone-cold killer Michael Sullivan, a hitman for the Irish mob. Towards the end of the movie, after Michael has been on the run with his adolescent son (Tyler Hoechlin), he kills his old boss John Rooney (Paul Newman), who treated his sons as if he were a loving grandfather. As is the way of organized crime, Rooney knew his time was coming and that he would be killed by someone in his ranks. Under heavy rain, Rooney looks into the eyes of Sullivan and admits, in a strange way, that death by his tommy gun is the only appropriate way to go.

28. A Bugged Scotch Bottle (Charlie Wilson’s War)

Tom Hanks reclines in his office with a face of shock in Charlie Wilson's War

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In Mike Nichols’ politically confused movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which basically tells the origin story of how the U.S. got involved in Middle East conflicts, Tom Hanks plays Congressman Charlie Wilson, a womanizing, charismatic, if remarkable politician. Halfway through the movie, Wilson meets Gust Avrakotos of the CIA, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The specifics of the scene don’t matter. What matters is simply watching two phenomenal actors share screen time together in a comedic scene that allows them to paint a wide spectrum of tonal colors. There’s friendliness, suspicion, hostility, until there’s begrudging respect and a complete understanding of why they must align together.

27. “Thank God It’s Friday!” (Dragnet)

Tom Hanks stands with excitement in front of a fire in Dragnet

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Dragnet, a 1987 buddy cop movie sequel to the original 1960s television series, is capped off with a most-passionate Tom Hanks delivering the eternal and flexible line: “Thank God it’s Friday!” While Hanks’ character, the loosey-goosey LAPD detective Pep Streebek, is literally referring to the timely arrival of Dan Aykroyd’s straight-laced, by-the-book Detective Friday in a military tank, we all know the glorious feeling of making it to Friday. Honorable mention of another all-time Hanks moment: When Streebek and Friday have to conduct police work at a mansion packed with magazine cover models. 

26. The Meaning of Symbols (The Da Vinci Code)

Tom Hanks delivers a speech onstage about religious symbols in The Da Vinci Code

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

While both Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code and Ron Howard’s film version are unpopular with critics of all stripes, they are nevertheless hits. Because deep down, we feel that experts who don’t talk down on us have the power to make us feel smart. Case in point: The opening of Howard’s Da Vinci Code, which introduces Tom Hanks’ Robert Langdon as a renowned symbology expert, sees him calmly challenge an auditorium of students to identify symbols. To their surprise, pointy white hoods and swastikas aren’t what they seem at first. The scene perfectly sets the table for Langdon’s character, but also acts as a showcase for Hanks as an actor whose lasting image is that of an enthusiastic dad who knows when to turn the volume up or down.

25. Hiding in the Cave (News of the World)

Tom Hanks stands underneath some rocks to hide from a gunman in News of the World

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In the 2020 period drama News of the World from director Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks plays Captain Kidd, a former Confederate officer who is tasked with bringing a young white girl raised among the Kiowa tribe of Native Americans to her surviving blood relatives. Partway into the movie, both characters are cornered by several ex-soldiers who want to buy the girl like she’s property. In a scene that is a masterful demonstration of physical staging to build tension and handheld camerawork to create immersion and confusion, Kidd outmaneuvers and outsmarts their assailants with a remarkably calm trigger finger.

24. A Christmas Call (Catch Me If You Can)

Tom Hanks answers the phone in his dark office in Catch Me If You Can

(Image credit: DreamWorks)

Steven Spielberg reunites with Tom Hanks in the 2002 period comedy/drama Catch Me If You Can, which tells the supposed exploits of real-life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his evasion from the FBI, represented by determined agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). One night on Christmas, Frank calls Carl, ostensibly to taunt Carl, though Frank sees through his intentions and sees something else that’s both funny and sad: It’s the holidays, and Frank has no one else to talk to. What Carl won’t admit is that he’s alone too. 

23. “Can We Get Serious Now?” (Sully)

Tom Hanks, as Captain Sullenberger, sits at a hearing in the movie Sully

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Sully, a 2016 drama helmed by Clint Eastwood, tells of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger’s daring 2009 emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River – and subsequent investigation into what exactly happened. In an engaging scene set at a hearing, Captain Sully (played, of course, by Tom Hanks) lays out in plain but stern terms why he made the decision to land in the river rather than anywhere else. All throughout, an authoritative Hanks helps ground Sully’s arguments in ways that not only make it foolish but almost immoral to question how he saved all 155 lives that day.

22. “A Very Common Tale” (That Thing You Do!)

Tom Hanks stands in a music recording studio, leaning on a black piano, in That Thing You Do!

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

In 1996, Tom Hanks made his directing debut with That Thing You Do!, a comedy-drama about fictional pop band The Wonders who experience an immediate rise and fall in the 1960s American music industry. In addition to directing the movie, Hanks also plays Mr. White, The Wonders’ business manager. When the band splits apart, Mr. White warns drummer Guy (Tom Everett Scott) that they are in “breach of contract.” Although Guy asserts that The Wonders still have a hit record, Mr. White tells him the Wonders aren’t special, and that momentary success stories like theirs happen all the time. 

21. Entering the Magic Kingdom (Saving Mr. Banks)

Mr. Banks, played by Tom Hanks, stands at the gates of Disneyland in front of a Mickey Mouse garden in Saving Mr. Banks

(Image credit: Disney)

Saving Mr. Banks, a 2013 biographical drama from John Lee Hancock, is a rare instance of the world famous Disney reflecting on its own history. Set in 1961, Tom Hanks plays the famous animator, filmmaker, and businessman Walt Disney, in his efforts to win over British writer P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) for the rights to Mary Poppins. In one of his attempts to do so, Walt invites Travers to his popular Disneyland theme park. While there’s an expected level of unquestioned reverence in this portrayal of Walt, that doesn’t disqualify the effervescence underscoring Hanks’ portrayal. When the gates open and a smiling Walt waves hello in front of his iconic entrance, with the face of Mickey Mouse framed directly behind him, there’s an irresistible sense of magic in the air.

20. “The Time Is Always Wrong” (Asteroid City)

Tom Hanks wears a yellow golf shirt and talks on the phone in Asteroid City

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Tom Hanks doesn’t have an awful lot to do in Wes Anderson’s 2023 masterpiece Asteroid City, a movie about the power of stories as a coping mechanism for grief. But in his first collaboration with Andeson, Hanks still masterfully seizes the opportunity to impart insightful wisdom. (For the record, we’re going to briefly ignore the additional narrative level in which Asteroid City is itself a staged production.) As the father-in-law to main character Augie, played by Jason Schwartzmann, Hanks tells Augie that there is simply no good time to tell people bad news they need to hear. The best time to tell them was before, and the second best time to tell them is now. Leave it to Hanks to make a small subversion of a common phrase pregnant with poignancy. 

19. “I Have Made Fire!” (Cast Away)

A shirtless Tom Hanks stands in front of a raging camp fire in Cast Away

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Cast Away, a movie that gave Tom Hanks an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, centers on a FedEx employee named Chuck who ends up stranded on a desert island. With only a volleyball to keep him company, Chuck learns to survive the elements. One of his earliest challenges is to make a warm fire. While humans have been making fires for centuries, modern living has disconnected man from its old ways. While director Robert Zemeckis doesn’t make a whole meal out of Chuck’s efforts, you can feel his satisfaction at a successful bonfire without so much as a matchstick. The way Hanks sings to nobody present, “I have made fire!” has surely been quoted by dudes hanging out at camps for decades. 

18. On the Air with Dr. Fieldstone (Sleepless in Seattle)

Tom Hanks talks on the phone in his living room in Sleepless in Seattle

(Image credit: TriStar Pictures)

It’s Christmas Eve when young Jonah (Ross Malinger) ropes his father, widower Sam (Tom Hanks) to spill his feelings about the death of his wife and loneliness with talk radio host Dr. Fieldstone. During the interview, an attentive Baltimore Sun journalist named Annie (Meg Ryan) is listening during a nighttime drive, and her sudden investment into Sam’s life slowly becomes an obsession. The scene is a great showcase for both Ryan and Hanks, who excel in their roles as people who begin a long journey of slowly finding each without realizing it. On top of that, Hanks, while a veteran of rom-coms, is in rare form as a very handsome lead whose appeal comes from his vulnerability.

17. Departing JFK (The Terminal)

Tom Hanks in The Terminal

(Image credit: DreamWorks)

In Steven Spielberg’s crowd-pleasing 2004 drama, Tom Hanks plays a foreign traveler (from the fictional Slavic country of Krakozhia) named Viktor, who is denied entry into the United States nor can he go home following a coup. While stranded at JFK Airport, he develops close friendships with the airport’s staff who grow to love him. When he is finally legally allowed to enter the U.S., a vindictive airport commissioner (Stanley Tucci) demands he be turned around. But even the NYPD are protective of him, and give him a coat to keep warm in a snowy New York. It’s a sweet moment that shows the love of community, and how kindness does have its rewards.

16. “We Dig In” (The Post)

Tom Hanks, as the Washington Post editor in chief, kicks his feet up on his desk in The Post

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Journalism is an exciting profession full of long, boring work. In Steven Spielberg’s period film The Post, which explores the Washington Post’s historic publication of the Pentagon Papers, the precious documents inevitably arrive and are quickly combed over by Post reporters, among them editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks). While they all panic upon realizing the scale and disorganization of the documents, all in the face of a fast-approaching deadline, Hanks’ Ben Bradlee tells them to stick a fork in it and do the only thing they can do, which is the work. 

15. Becoming Fred Rogers (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)

Tom Hanks, as Fred Rogers, in a stylistic recreation of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Tom Hanks looks and sounds nothing like the late Fred Rogers, the famous children’s television host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and whose steadfast decency, patience, and understanding has earned him the reputation of a modern-day saint. Yet, in an impeccably designed prologue in Marielle Heller’s 2019 biographical drama A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – about the publication of a 1998 Esquire magazine interview with Fred Rogers – Tom Hanks steps out in Mr. Rogers’ iconic cardigans and khakis, and suddenly, he is him. For the rest of the movie, there’s no question about Hanks’ involvement. His performance remains a stunning example of a great actor’s ability to evoke a real-life figure than to simply imitate them.

14. “What’s the Pool On Me Up To?” (Saving Private Ryan)

Tom Hanks, as Capt. Miller, stands in a destroyed European town in World War II in Saving Private Ryan

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

In Steven Spielberg’s unmatched war drama Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks stars as a U.S. Army Ranger in World War II who leads men on a bizarre mission to rescue a lone Army private (Matt Damon) lost in France. After the group have already lost two men, morale plummets until Hanks’ Captain Miller finally tells the men who he is, or was, before enlisting: A high school English teacher in Pennsylvania. The revelation shocks the troops, who’ve built up an air of mystique around him. But it’s what he says next that stirs the men into finishing the job in one piece. “For every man I kill, the further away from home I feel.” 

13. A Proud Father (Road to Perdition)

Tom Hanks standing in a room by the beach at the end of Road to Perdition

(Image credit: DreamWorks)

Deep down, Tom Hanks’ Michael Sullivan is a family man who wants nothing more than his children to have safety and security far removed from his awful line of work. Through the movie, Michael takes his son – who is named after him, Michael Jr. – on the road to escape assassins before finally getting rid of Michael Sr.’s old crime boss. But at the end, a freelance killer played by Jude Law catches up with them. Michael Jr. points a gun at him but fails to pull the trigger. With his dying breath, Michael Sr. smiles knowing that his son won’t become like him.

12. Crashing Cafe Lalo (You’ve Got Mail)

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan sit in a cozy New York City cafe in You've Got Mail

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

In Nora Ephron’s delightful You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan play professional rivals in the bookstore business who unknowingly fall in love on AOL. (It was the ‘90s.) Eventually, Hanks figures out the coincidence when, at their scheduled date at cozy Cafe Lalo in the Upper West Side, he finds Kathleen (Ryan) sitting there waiting for him. Hoping to have some fun, Hanks chooses not to appear as the man Kathleen is expecting – with the online handle “NY152” – but instead Joe Fox, the greedy entrepreneur whose bookstore chain empire is driving her out of business. The poignancy of the scene is that Joe Fox, who has been feeding Kathleen encouragement to stand up for herself, becomes a weapon that hurts Joe’s feelings. Hanks is such a great actor, you can really feel for a guy who has seemingly no problems at all.

11. He’s the Captain Now (Captain Phillips)

Tom Hanks, as Captain Phillips, loses control of his ship to Somali pirates in Captain Phillips

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

It may be a meme now, but the actual moment in Captain Phillips when Tom Hanks’ ship captain loses control to Somali pirates is harrowing and hot-blooded. In Paul Greengrass’ grounded thriller Captain Phillips, a dramatization of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking, Tom Hanks stars as real-life ship captain Richard Phillips. While his abrasive personality makes him rather unpopular among his crew, he stands tall to protect them but is nevertheless powerless when looking into the eyes of Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who radiates unpredictability. When Muse tells him, “I’m the captain now,” it’s only the start of a long, dangerous ordeal on the high seas.

10. “There’s No Crying in Baseball” (A League of Their Own)

Tom Hanks as baseball coach Jimmy Dugan yells in A League of Their Own

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

It’s one of the greatest lines ever uttered in a movie, which is strange because it’s got Tom Hanks playing against his popular wholesome image. As real-life baseball manager Jimmy Dugan, his hot temper and foul-mouth dresses down Evelyn (Bitty Schram), causing her to cry in public on the dugout. While there are good lessons to be taught all around, even for Jimmy, it’s Hanks’ deadpan delivery (“She’s crying, sir”) that makes the moment hilarious as it is touching.

9. “Houston, We Have a Problem” (Apollo 13)

Tom Hanks tells NASA of a problem in Apollo 13

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

On April 13, 1970, astronaut Jim Lovell called mission control in Houston, Texas to tell them they, well, had a problem during NASA’s third mission to the Moon. While the exact phrasing was “Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem,” the 1995 film directed by Ron Howard has Tom Hanks (as Lovell) utter a slightly altered line. Nevertheless, the phrase has entered popular usage to describe unforeseen problems with just a little bit of irony. In what is easily one of Tom Hanks’ best movies, the moment the line is spoken is precluded by a moving camera that takes audiences inside the internals of Saturn V, where disconnected wires, flashing lights, and smoke fill the frame. When the line is finally spoken, Apollo 13 kicks into high gear to become a blockbuster thriller where survival and time are suddenly in direct competition.

8. Surviving D-Day (Saving Private Ryan)

Tom Hanks regains his senses on the beaches of Normandy in Saving Private Ryan

(Image credit: Universal)

It is perhaps one of the most gruesome and violent depictions of war in movie history. In this unforgettable opening to Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed epic, the Allies storm the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. For many, they already know the jig is up. These boys, and they are indeed young enough to still be boys, know well they are on their way to certain death. Standing in the center of them is the slightly older Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), whose shaking hands imply a similar awareness to the urgency of the moment. When Miller finally arrives ashore, just barely dodging German bullets, he takes a moment behind cover. He takes stock of the violence surrounding him – young men crying for mothers, recovering lost limbs, rushing back to the ocean to douse out their blazing bodies. Eventually he comes to, and it’s only just the beginning.

7. “You Died on a Saturday Morning” (Forrest Gump)

Forrest Gump stands at Jenny's grave on a sunny day in Forrest Gump

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

In Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks plays a simpleton whose good heart and good nature somehow finds himself in some of the 20th century’s biggest moments. Towards the end of the movie, Forrest comes to care for the dying love of his life, Jenny (Robin Wright), implied to be stricken with AIDS. The central heartbreak to the story is that Jenny and Forrest didn’t live their entire lives together. Instead they drifted in and out of each other’s lives as they went on different paths. But Forrest believes otherwise. In his own travels around the world, Forrest was won over by the natural beauty surrounding him, like how the sun sets in the Louisiana bayou or how the stars shine after rain in Vietnam. Throughout the movie Forrest Gump fails to know between the literal and the figurative, but on Jenny’s deathbed, when Jenny says she wishes she could have been there, Forrest simply says, “You were.”

6. A Quiet Minute (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)

Fred Rogers asks for a quiet moment of reflection in a dim sum restaurant in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Those who knew Mr. Rogers knew of an exercise he liked to do with people: He challenged them to sit in silence for one minute, to reflect on, as he’d put it, “those who have helped you become who you are today.” Partway through A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, over dim sum, Mr. Rogers asks beaten-down journalist Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) to join him in the exercise. The cleverness in Marielle Heller’s directing is the way she immerses viewers in the moment to simulate the feeling of sitting next to them. The movie soon grants audiences Mr. Rogers’ gift of silence. As the camera slowly pushes on Rogers’ face, Hanks looks into the camera and thus looks into the viewer, inviting them to reflect on their own lives. This isn’t a break of the fourth wall, but a serene disassembly unlike any other. It all would have fallen apart if not for Hanks inhabiting the spirit of Mr. Rogers so well.

5. “You Are a Cool Toy!” (Toy Story)

Woody reflects on what it means to be a toy on a rainy night in Sid's room in Toy Story

(Image credit: Disney)

The Toy Story series remains one of Disney and Pixar’s finest sagas, and much of its appeal rests in Tom Hanks’ voice-over performance as the layered main protagonist of Andy’s toy box Woody, a vintage cowboy doll. In the revolutionary first movie, Woody bickers with Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), a new sci-fi action figure whose flashy features make him a red hot commodity. While Woody spends most of the movie envious of Buzz, their efforts to return to Andy’s room sees them open up. On a rainy night in the room of sicko teenager Sid, Woody tries to inspire Buzz to feel like the hero he was manufactured to be. Though audiences are literally watching toys talk to each other, what the scene really unpacks are thoughtful concepts like identity and purpose. It’s a surprisingly philosophical piece, with Hanks doing most of the legwork in his full-throated commitment to playing a veteran leader.

4. “Don’t Cry, Shopgirl” (You’ve Got Mail)

Tom Hanks reveals himself as Meg Ryan's secret AOL crush in You've Got Mail

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

It’s a most unlikely ending to a romantic comedy, but it’s just so perfect. After bookstore owner Kathleen Kenny has closed up shop, she decides once again to give “NY152” a chance to meet after he stood her up (or so she thinks). It’s a picturesque early summer day in New York when Kathleen walks to Central Park, standing among blooming flowers. With a moving rendition of “Over the Rainbow” sung by Harry Nilsson, Kathleen eventually learns who NY152 really is – Joe Fox (Hanks), her rival turned secret crush. Overwhelmed, she begins to cry. “Don’t cry, Shopgirl,” Joe tells her, using her handle. “I wanted it to be you,” she tells him. Swoon.

3. The Piano (Big)

Tom Hanks dances on the oversized piano in the iconic scene from Big

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

It is easily one of the most playful scenes in movies, and Tom Hanks does a bang-up job making it as fun as it looks. In Big, Tom Hanks plays a 12-year-old boy who wishes to become an adult and thus wakes up in the body of a mature man. In hindsight, Tom Hanks was the perfect choice to play an adult with the zeal of an adolescent. At the famous FAO Schwarz, Hanks steps on a giant floor piano, and plays musical duets with the owner of the toy company he works for. The appeal of the moment is that, while the men are present to talk business, they let themselves get wrapped up in pure, unadulterated fun for just a minute. May we all let ourselves be open to spontaneous joy.

2. Looking Up at the Moon (Apollo 13)

Tom Hanks contemplates on a lawn chair in Apollo 13

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

At the opening of Apollo 13, Tom Hanks, down to Earth as astronaut Jim Lovell, lays out the spiritual purpose of the impending mission to return to the Moon. Rather than let ourselves coast on our own coattails, Lovell – reclining in his own backyard in the summer with his wife, with Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” playing in the distance – reflects on how it all began. “It’s no miracle,” he says, “We just decided to go.” While historians will putz over the Space Race as a weapon in the Cold War, Hanks’ Lovell forgoes the politics and instead quietly inspires what it means to keep on exploring the unexplored.

1. Opera (Philadelphia)

Tom Hanks, as AIDS-stricken Andy, talks passionately about his favorite opera piece in Philadelphia

(Image credit: TriStar Pictures)

The movie that gave Tom Hanks his Oscar was Philadelphia, a 1993 legal drama from Jonathan Demme that unquestionably explored anti-gay prejudice at the height of the AIDS crisis in America. Hanks plays Andy Beckett, a gay man stricken with AIDS who sues his employers for unlawful discrimination. Denzel Washington co-stars as his attorney, Joe Miller, who himself learns to overcome his own homophobia. Since its release, Philadelphia enjoys reverence as one of the first mainstream movies that did not belittle its gay characters, but instead flesh them out as people with hopes, dreams, regrets, and a desire to live freely. One night, Andy introduces Joe to his favorite opera, the piece “La momma morta” from Andrea Chenier. As Andy gets swept up, Demme, using the single light source of a fireplace, allows the room to pulsate with red hues to illustrate Andy’s momentary reprieve from his stresses. That Demme’s camera hovers also fosters a floating feeling of desperate escape, exploring how art can transcend suffering. Hanks seals the deal by playing Andy with immense empathy, if not sympathy, dismantling any preconceived notions viewers may or may not have towards lifestyles that aren’t their own.

Eric Francisco

Eric Francisco is a freelance entertainment journalist and graduate of Rutgers University. If a movie or TV show has superheroes, spaceships, kung fu, or John Cena, he's your guy to make sense of it. A former senior writer at Inverse, his byline has also appeared at Vulture, The Daily Beast, Observer, and The Mary Sue. You can find him screaming at Devils hockey games or dodging enemy fire in Call of Duty: Warzone.