For nearly 30 years, Tom Hanks has given audiences an impressive list of dramatic, Oscar-worthy performances. Whether he’s commanding a doomed mission to the moon in Apollo 13, stuck on a deserted island in Cast Away, storming the beach at Normandy in Saving Private Ryan, or landing a commercial airplane onto the Hudson river in Sully, Hanks has masterfully transformed into these characters, time and time again.
However, before this long stretch of meaty, thought-provoking roles, Tom Hanks began his career as one of the top comedic performers in the industry. In fact, if you look at the bulk of Tom Hanks‘s acting career, it looks as if it’s split between two parallel universes! And just like most of his dramatic films, plenty of Tom Hanks comedies are must-watch experiences, worth looking back at. To help you decide what to watch (or re-watch), here are some of the best Tom Hanks comedic films before he was Mr. Drama:
At this point in his young career, Tom Hanks was mostly known for his role as Kip Wilson on TV’s Bosom Buddies. But his career would suddenly hit a new level with two hit comedy movies released in 1984. One of these films was Splash.
In Splash, Hanks plays Allen Bauer, a hopeless romantic who reunites with a mermaid, played by Daryl Hannah, who rescued him from drowning as a young boy. Anchored by hilarious performances by Eugene Levy and John Candy, Hanks plays it perfectly with his “why me” character who is looking for love and finally finds it somewhere between Manhattan and the Atlantic Ocean. The film brilliantly asks and eventually answers that age old question: “What happens if you finally find love, and then find out they are 1/2 fish?”
Bachelor Party (1984)
As mentioned, there were two Tom Hanks comedies that came out in 1984 which helped propel his career, and the second one was Bachelor Party.
Long before The Hangover, Bachelor Party gave us one of the first ever peaks into chaotic pre-marital-partying-mayhem. In this film, Tom Hanks plays school bus driver Rick Gassko, who is about to marry his girlfriend Debbie, who comes from a much richer/conservative family. When Rick’s friends plan to throw him the greatest bachelor party of all time, Debbie’s father and ex-boyfriend secretly plan to derail the marriage, in order to rescue her from a life they believe is unworthy. Hanks‘s character Rick must manage to survive the out-of-control drunken events to eventually showdown against Debbie‘s ex.
While not as hilariously shocking as The Hangover, Tom Hanks pulls off a giggly performance in a now-classic situation gone out of control.
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
Although seen by many as a box office failure, Joe Versus the Volcano combines dark comedy with bright and uplifting settings…eventually leading to this movie becoming a cult classic.
Hanks stars as the title character, Joe, who is stuck in a miserable Staten Island existence. Desperately looking for a way out, Joe embraces a rare terminal disease diagnosis without bothering to get a second opinion. Seemingly out of nowhere, an eccentric millionaire, played by Lloyd Bridges, offers him the opportunity to become a hero before he dies; by sacrificing himself jumping into the heart of a volcano in order to appease the Island God of the Waponi Woo tribe. An unexpected love story arises between Joe and the millionaire’s daughter, played by Meg Ryan, giving more reason for Joe to “live like a king, before dying like a man. “
The Burbs (1989)
Is there anything more funny than a suburban father slipping into an all-encompassing obsession? Well, it might not sound like it, but Tom Hanks‘ portrayal of Ray Peterson in The Burbs is exactly that.
While plenty of middle-aged men, living the family life in the suburbs, seem to be desperate for more excitement and action, Ray starts off being a man who embraces the quiet, calm, laid-back neighborhood. But that all changes when this intimate street is thrown a curveball in the form of literal neighbors from hell. Ray’s relaxation turns into hilarious obsession, as he teams up with a couple of neighbor-allies played by Bruce Dern and Rick Ducommun, as they try to prove that the new Klopek family are actually murderers, picking off locals one by one.
There are plenty of laughs to be had when watching Hanks slip into suburban insanity while the rest of the town, including his wife, played by Carrie Fisher, and neighbor Corey Feldman, watch from their front porches.
The Money Pit (1986)
You know the saying: “when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.” That’s what Tom Hank, as Walter Fielding, learns the (painfully) hard way in the movie, The Money Pit. Walter and his fiancé Anna, played by Shelley Long, are in the market for a new house. The problem is, they don’t have enough money to get a home they believe they’d be happy in. That is, until the couple meets a con artist who offers a mansion for an insanely low price.
Once again, Tom Hanks fans are rewarded by watching another one of his comedic characters slowly slip into insanity, as this amazing new mansion proves to be just a façade for every construction issue you can imagine. This film is the perfect example on how Hanks has the comedic skill to give his audience a delightful feeling while they watch his character’s home and relationship fall to pieces right before their very eyes.
Turner and Hooch (1989)
A cop with only three days left on the job before moving on to a bigger opportunity? A murder? Only one witness? Sounds like the plot of a current Tom Hanks dramatic role that we are now used to. Except with this 1989 comedy, that one witness is a slobbering dog.
Now a cancelled TV series reboot, Turner and Hooch is one of those rare Tom Hanks films in which the costar actually matches (if not surpasses) the charming personality of its lead actor. Hanks plays Scott Turner, who is a local cop dealing with boring misdemeanors and petty theft. Turner gets an opportunity to transfer to a big city in order to work on some “real” criminal cases. However, a local murder occurs and the case falls right into his lap. The movie itself becomes completely huggable the moment Turner is introduced to his new partner and sole witness…Hooch, a drooling Dogue De Bordeaux. Besides the fun and hijinx, this movie proves that Tom Hanks can help carry an entire story, even when his sidekick can’t even speak. Uh…Wilson!
By far, the largest, hugest, most gargantuan comedy film of Tom Hanks‘s career was a little film called Big.
Hanks exposes his inner child to the world in this comedy in which his character, Josh, wishes to become big…an adult…which is granted. While completely ignoring the horrific trauma Josh’s parents were definitely going through, audiences got to thoroughly enjoy a 13-year-old Tom Hanks experience what it’s like to be an adult for the first time. Hanks propels the character on a compacted “growing up” ride, as he takes binge eating, playing with toys, and sleepovers, to then change them into dining, working for a toy company…and way more interesting sleepovers.
Most people don’t know of this obscure Tom Hanks/Dan Aykroyd comedy, Dragnet, but even more people don’t know that it was adapted from a 1960s dramatic cop television show of the same name.
Here, we have two great comedic performances playing out simultaneously. Dan Aykroyd plays Joe Friday, the straight and narrow “by the book” detective, who partners up with his exact opposite, agent Streebek, played by Tom Hanks. This odd couple investigates a series of cult-like activities that result in tons of laughs and goofy moments. In this world today, it may be refreshing to check out this comedy gem in order to get “just the facts.”
You won’t be able to recognize him.
About The Author