Tom Hanks’ Sudden Transition to More Biopic Type Roles

By  · Published on September 8th, 2016

What this recent trend says about the future of one of the GOATers.

In the 80s, Tom Hanks acted in 14 movies. Portrayed characters include a guy that falls in love with a mermaid in New York City and a cop with a dog as a partner AND THEY JUST CANNOT GET ALONG until they do. They’re as fantastic as their premises are silly. 0 of the 14 performances from the 80s are meant to portray a real person that really existed.

In the 90s, Tom Hanks acted in 14 movies, to include voice acting work on the first 2 Toy Storys. A League of Their Own is inspired by the very true all-female baseball league during WWII, and Tom Hanks plays Jimmy Dugan, the alcoholic manager of the team the movie follows. That character was based off several real people but wasn’t himself a real person. Philadelphia tells the story of Tom Hanks’s Andrew Beckett’s life during a wrongful termination trial following the discovery of his character’s AIDS affliction and homosexual lifestyle. That character was also based off a real life event that happened to a real life person, but Hanks’s character was never real. It’s a fictional reimagining. Saving Private Ryan features Tom Hanks as Captain John Miller. Again, this person was created based off certain characteristics described in real life war stories by 4 brothers who served during WWII. Captain John Miller never existed, though. Only Apollo 13 follows the dramatic true events of 3 astronauts and their domino of disasters in space and is meant to be (sorta) how it actually happened. Tom Hanks plays Jim Lovell, the genuine commander of the shuttle. 1 of the 14 performances from the 90s is meant to portray a real person that really existed.

In the 2000s, Tom Hanks acted in 13 movies, including more voice acting and some motion capture work in the dead-eye creepiness of The Polar Express. Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal are two movies that draw inspiration from real stories, but neither of Hanks’s roles are meant to represent an actual person, only an idea of one. Charlie Wilson’s War has Tom Hanks as a U.S. Congressman and tells a non-fictional story fictionally, as these movies are wont to do. Charlie Wilson was no writer creation. 1 of the 13 performances from the 2000s is meant to portray a real person that really existed.

And that brings us to our current decade, the 2010s – or the Tensies, as I call it. Tom Hanks has acted in 10 movies so far. Captain Phillips is about a real boat captain, Saving Mr. Banks is about Walt Disney, Bridge of Spies is about a real spy, and Sully is about a real plane captain. 4 of the 10 performances from the Tensies are meant to portray a real person that really existed. If you’re keeping count, that means Tom Hanks has acted in 2 films of the more biopic type out of 41 total movies in the first 30 years of his career and in the last 3 years has acted in double that.

Look at that curve fitting. “To infinity… and beyond!” Wait, that’s Tim Allen’s line.

Why the sudden shift, Tom? Is this your new modus operandi? How strong is the allure of making a movie about a guy that lands a plane in a river? Especially because that story was so recent and has been all over the news and Denzel already did almost the exact same thing 4 years ago with Flight, except his was way more impressive because he had to crash land his plane by flipping the bitch upside down over hard earth while intoxicated. Upside down plane landing on hard earth while fighting inner demons > gingerly landing in water.

I can’t imagine it’s about the money. Tom Hanks’s highest grossing films are dominated by the animation ones, the singular Tom Hanksy ones (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), and his Robert Langdon character from the Dan Brown novels, which is the only live-action character he’s ever played in more than one film. Apollo 13 is the only real story to crack his top 10. Toy Story and the Da Vinci Code trilogy are his bread and butter franchises. All I’m saying is that for a guy worth hundreds of millions, I think he does not base most acting choices on the potential for the highest yield of income.

I can’t imagine it’s about any awards prestige. Will Smith once said, “Like for Best Actor Oscars. Almost 90 percent of the time, it’s mental illness and historical figures, right?” That’s half-right when it comes to Tom. All of Hanks’s Oscar nominations and wins are from either fictional tales or the pseudo real stories. This is probably due more to the fact that Tom hasn’t made many biopic movies until very recently, but of those recent ones, the Academy has shown him no love. Was Tom Hanks envious of Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln notoriety and thought that was the new way to go?

I’m guessing it’s about what’s popular in the film industry right now. Being a middle-aged white man is the most sure-fire way to get a job in Hollywood, but other than biopic variety stories, these days you’re either playing a superhero’s dad or pulling a Liam Neeson and start making ‘old guy beats up and kills people’ movies. Kevin Costner did it. Sean Penn did it.

Maybe as Tom Hanks gets older, the true stories just interest him more. It could be as simple as that. He’s excelled at every acting gig he’s had. He rarely makes a below average movie. His weirdness cred will forever be legitimized because of Splash, but he worked in Cloud Atlas for extra insurance. Who’s left for Tom Hanks to act? He’s already conquered the world.

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