Tom Hanks and His "Big" Career

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
April 23rd, 2012

Tom Hanks and His "Big" Career

--After limited success in off-Broadway plays and the television sitcom "Bosom Buddies," Tom Hanks began to focus more on movies. Though his initial forays onto the big screen had mixed results, he hit it big, literally, with the 1988 comedy hit "Big."

"Big" established Hanks as a comedic talent who could sell a movie. The film appealed to a wide age range, making him a star in the minds of children, teens and adults alike. Suddenly, his schedule filled up with new comedy projects. He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy and was nominated for an Academy Award as well.

Not every film after "Big" was as huge a success. "Turner and Hooch" was critically maligned and "The 'Burbs" failed to collect the same box office receipts of some of his previous movies. It wasn't until the quirky "Joe Versus the Volcano" was released two years after "Big" that Hanks would make another hit with both critics and audiences. It co-starred Meg Ryan, who would go on to make more films with him later.

During this time, Hanks' personal life was also going well. He got re-married after his divorce from his first wife. His new wife Rita Wilson gave birth to two boys while Hanks' star power continued to grow. Life was going well both personally and professionally for him.

In 1992, Hanks was the only male lead in "A League of Their Own," which was about women playing professional baseball during World War II. Despite all the powerful performances by the mostly-female cast, Hanks' take on Jimmy Dugan was just as memorable.

A year later he would reteam with Meg Ryan for "Sleepless in Seattle," which made lots of money in theaters. Most people who reach this level of success as a male lead continue to do the same types of movies. Hanks decided to take a different path. He let it be known that he wished to do drama despite being seen as primarily a comedic actor.

Hanks got the chance to prove his mettle as a dramatic actor in 1993 with "Philadelphia." He played a gay lawyer dying of AIDS who sued his old employer for discrimination and wrongful termination. The movie was a big hit and garnered Hanks his first Academy Award for Best Actor.

Just a year later in 1994, he won his second Best Actor statue for his titular role in "Forrest Gump." At this point, Hanks could take almost any role he wanted. Instead of staying with acting, he decided to take a larger role behind the camera. He began his producing and directing career.

Hanks had always been a fan of the space program and proved it by taking both acting and production responsibilities in "Apollo 13" and the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon." He also stepped in as director for "That Thing You Do," a musical comedy that produced some radio-friendly hit songs.

During this time, he took one of his most famous roles, a voice part as Woody in the mega-hit "Toy Story." He would go on to do the same voice in video games and two more movies over the next decade.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hanks began mixing up his dramatic and comedic roles. For every romantic comedy like 1998's "You've Got Mail," he also did a drama like 2000's "Cast Away."

Like any busy actor, there were a few missteps along the way. 2004's "The Terminal" was panned by critics and audiences alike. "Charlie Wilson's War" was virtually ignored and made very little money at the box office.

During some of these failures, Hanks had great success on television. His ongoing partnership with HBO led to "The Pacific", which was about World War II. He was the narrator of the story and produced the 10-part miniseries as well.

In 2011, Hanks did two cartoon short films as the voice of "Toy Story" cowboy Woody. He also made "Larry Crowne" with Julia Roberts, which was released to very little fanfare or ticket sales. Hanks also made "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," a story about a young boy who lost his father on September 11, 2001. Hanks played the father in flashbacks and voiceovers. Though Hanks didn't get another Oscar nod for acting, the film did garner a Best Picture nomination.

Even though his recent box office returns have been uneven, Hanks is still a household name and arguably one of the most-respected actors in Hollywood. He can still get many projects made just on his name recognition and talent. Where he will go next is anyone's guess, but there will likely be acting, producing and directing all involved.