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The 10 most American movie roles played by “America’s Dad”

TOM HANKS FOREST GUMP

Paramount Pictures | Fair Use

Paul Asay - published on 07/04/18

Why this Fourth of July you might want to watch a movie starring Tom Hanks ...

Tom Hanks has been called America’s Dad, and the moniker fits — as much for the America part as for the Dad part. Yes, he feels warm and relatable in whatever project he takes on, often giving his characters a deep sense of integrity, which you’d hope for in any father. But Hanks is a well-known American history buff, too, and many of his roles embody a rich understanding of the country. The people he plays are more than people, in a sense. Each speaks for, and to, a bit of America itself. Here’s a look at some of Hanks’ best — and most American — roles through the years.

Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own (1992)

TOM HANKS,A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
Columbia Pictures | Fair Use

“There’s no crying in baseball!” manager Jimmy Dugan famously tells his all-female team of players. But had it not been for the real all-women’s league that sprang up during World War II, many fans of baseball—the most American of sports—would’ve been weeping. This surprisingly affecting, heartfelt comedy shows that Hanks was much more than just a cinematic comic, and A League of Their Own marked one of his first ventures into historically themed movies.

Forrest Gump (1994)

TOM HANKS,FOREST GUMP
Paramount Pictures | Fair Use

As the titular character, Hanks runs (sometimes literally) through decades of American history with a clueless, guileless and utterly selfless charm. Some would say the movie, which won Hanks his second Oscar, paradoxically hasn’t held up with history. For me, the flick is just as charming as ever.

Jim Lovell, Apollo 13 (1995)

TOM HANKS,APOLLO 13
Universal Pictures | Fair Use

“Houston, we have a problem.” So says Lovell when things begin to go awry on Apollo 13’s ill-fated trip to the moon. Those lines essentially raise the curtain on one of history’s (and cinema’s) most dramatic space dramas. And by the end, the calm heroism and ingenuity of Lovell, his fellow astronauts and the folks on the ground display prove that, even when you fail, you can win … even in a country that loves its winners.

Woody, Toy Story (1995)

TOM HANKS,WOODY,TOY STORY
Walt Disney Pictures | Fair Use

It’d be hard to leave Pixar’s Toy Story movies off this list: First, Hanks voices a cowboy, America’s most quintessential symbol. He plays a plaything to an All-American kid in American suburbia. And in his own animated way, he comes to exemplifies a great many American values: His toughness, his kindness, his leadership, his self-sacrifice. In the Toy Story movies, Hanks truly reached for the sky.

Captain Miller, Saving Private Ryan (1998)

TOM HANKS,SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
Amblin Entertainment | Fair Use

Some people call Saving Private Ryan the greatest war movie ever made. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know this: Hanks’ tough, wise and sacrificial captain brought many a man to tears. “Earn this,” he says at the end to the titular Private Ryan (Matt Damon). “Earn it.” It chokes me up a little just writing it.

Charlie Wilson, Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

TOM HANKS,CHARLIE WILSONS WAR
Universal Pictures | Fair Use

This is a lesser-known bit of Hanks’ performance portfolio, and tackles a complex story. The real Charlie Wilson was a U.S. Congressman during the Reagan Administration, and he helped spearhead the funding of Afghanistan guerilla fighters when the Soviet Union invaded their country. The effort was a tremendous success … but America’s failure to follow up that effort with much-needed help fostered the formation of the Taliban, which obviously caused the United States no lack of headaches.

Walt Disney, Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

TOM HANKS,SAVING MR BANKS
Walt Disney Pictures | Fair Use

Hanks plays a complex American icon here, in the war of wills that takes place between him and Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers over the direction of Disney’s Mary Poppins movie. Hanks doesn’t sugarcoat Disney’s drive or curiously genial iron-handed tactics here, but the scene where he talks about how his father raised him—some of the best acting of Hanks’ career.

James Donovan, Bridge of Spies (2015)

TOM HANKS,BRIDGE OF SPIES
Dreamworks | Fair Use

A mild-mannered insurance lawyer is drafted into a high-stakes negotiation with the Soviet Union during the zenith of the Cold War. In this quiet but surprisingly taut thriller, Hanks again shows us a moral core that exemplifies what we Americans would like to show under times of stress—even if we don’t always follow through, either personally or nationally.

Ben Bradlee, The Post (2017)

TOM HANKS,THE POST
Twentieth Century Fox | Fair Use

When The New York Times published a leaked set of studies that came to be known as The Pentagon Papers, the Nixon administration was swift to react — pushing through a quick court order to have their publication stopped. But when those same papers fell into the hands of Ben Bradlee’s upstart Washington Post, the editor has a big decision to make. While The Post is really publisher Kay Graham’s story, it’s up to Bradlee to encourage her to defend one of the United States’ most treasured, and most important, freedoms: Freedom of the press.

We could go on, of course. So many of Hanks’ roles have a thread of pure Americana running through them. But this, at least, is a good start. And then next Fourth of July, perhaps we can list another 10.


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