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Tom Hanks’ 10 Most Heartwarming Roles, Rated!

Can you guess which movie starring ‘America’s Dad’ earned five hearts out of five?

spinner image Tom Hanks starring as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and as Forrest Gump in the film Forrest Gump
Tom Hanks in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (left) and in "Forrest Gump."
Lacey Terrell/TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

There’s a reason Tom Hanks, 66, has earned the nickname “America’s Dad.” Over the years, the two-time Oscar winner has developed a reputation as the nicest guy in show business, and he’s built up a résumé of aww-inspiring roles, including fathers and coaches, underdogs and everymen, and even the man in the cardigan himself, Mr. Rogers. This month Hanks will take on yet another paternal role as Geppetto in Disney’s live-action remake of the 1940 animated classic Pinocchio. To get you in the mood, we’ve assembled a list of the actor’s 10 most heartwarming roles — not necessarily his best, mind you, simply the ones that made us all collectively go, “Aw, what a good guy!” (And check out how many hearts each movie merits out of five!)

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Big (1988)

The premise: Hanks is at his boy-next-door best in this Penny Marshall–directed comedy, in which he plays Josh Baskin, a teenage boy who wishes on a fortune-teller machine named Zoltar to be “big” and then awakens the next morning as a grown man. He gets a job at a toy company, does a duet with executive Mr. MacMillan (Robert Loggia) on the FAO Schwarz Walking Piano, and develops an innocent crush on his coworker Susan (Elizabeth Perkins, 61). Hanks is so charming in the role that he scored a Golden Globe win, and Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times, “For any other full-grown actors who try their hands at fidgeting, squirming, throwing water balloons and wolfing down food in a huge variety of comically disgusting ways, this really is the performance to beat.”

How heartwarming?: ❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: Big, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu

A League of Their Own (1992)

The premise: Sure, Rockford Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan has a rough exterior. Case in point: His instantly iconic “There’s no crying in baseball!” line, which he lobs at an emotional player. He also says of his team, “I don’t have ballplayers, I’ve got girls. Girls are what you sleep with after the game, not what you coach during the game.” But even though he wouldn’t want you to ever find out, the boozehound former major leaguer is a softie at heart whose bark is surely worse than his bite. His friendship with Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis, 66) and his disappointment when she decides to leave the sport behind is proof of the nice guy hiding under the tobacco-spitting, chauvinistic surface.

How heartwarming?: ❤️

Watch it: A League of Their Own, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

The premise: In Nora Ephron’s rom-com remix of An Affair to Remember, Hanks plays architect Sam Baldwin, who recently lost his wife to cancer. The next Christmas Eve, his son, Jonah (Ross Malinger), calls in to a radio show to find his dad a new wife, and Sam reluctantly gets on the air to talk. When the host asks him what was so special about his wife, he says, “Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together ... and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home, only to no home I’d ever known. I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like magic.” He’s a great dad, a hopeless romantic and an ideal catch, and women across the country — including Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Reed (Meg Ryan, 60) — just wanted to give him a hug.

How heartwarming?: ❤️❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: Sleepless in Seattle, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max

Forrest Gump (1994)

The premise: Forrest Gump is an out-of-left-field cinematic hero for the ages, rising from a childhood of poverty to become a Medal of Honor recipient, a Ping-Pong champ, a successful shrimping company owner and a loving father — all with his signature mix of Southern charm and aw-shucks naivete. He also gets bonus points for his folksy aphorisms (“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates…”), his sweet relationship with his mama (Sally Field, now 75) and his eternal devotion to childhood sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright, 56).

How heartwarming?: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: Forrest Gump, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, YouTube

Don’t miss this: 14 Things You Didn’t Know About the Movie ‘Forrest Gump’

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Toy Story 2 (1999)

The premise: Let’s face it — Woody’s a bit of a jealous jerk in the first Pixar outing. America’s favorite toy cowboy really starts to show his softer side in the acclaimed sequel. He befriends a forgotten penguin squeaky toy named Wheezy (voiced by Joe Ranft) before being stolen by greedy toy collector Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight, 67). At Al’s apartment, Woody learns that he was based on a character from a 1950s TV show called Woody’s Roundup, and he reunites with the other characters, Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl (Joan Cusack, 59), Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer, 67) and Bullseye the Horse. After we learn about Jessie’s heartbreaking backstory via the Oscar-nominated Sarah McLachlan song “When She Loved Me,” Woody risks it all to rescue his new friends.

How heartwarming?: ❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: Toy Story 2, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney+

The Green Mile (1999)

The premise: Hanks brings his trademark sense of decency to this Depression-era prison drama, in which he stars as Louisiana death row warden Paul Edgecomb. He befriends a gentle giant of an inmate named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), who is wrongfully accused of raping and killing two young girls but who may possess magical healing powers. Edgecomb tries to show him mercy and dignity in a corrupt justice system. It’s an emotionally brutal film, but Hanks brings a warmth that cuts through the sadness.

How heartwarming?: ❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: The Green Mile, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Cast Away (2000)

The premise: Has there ever been a cinematic creation as easy to root for as Chuck Noland, the FedEx employee who survives a plane crash and washes up on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific? In his fifth Oscar-nominated role, Hanks puts his reputation as an everyman to perfect effect as we watch a normal guy learn the ropes of survival — how to make a fire, find food, build a raft. It’s a one-man show for most of its runtime, and Hanks is so believable and empathetic that he even makes us care deeply for a blood-smeared volleyball named Wilson.

How heartwarming? ❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: Cast Away, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu

The Terminal (2004)

The premise: Hanks and Steven Spielberg, 75, have collaborated on five films, and while Saving Private Ryan is an all-time great, they’re at their most humane and empathetic with this low-key comedy. Hanks stars as Viktor Navorski, an Eastern European man who gets trapped in New York City’s JFK Airport when his passport becomes invalid due to a coup back home in fictional Krakozhia. Roger Ebert called it “a human comedy that is gentle and true, that creates sympathy for all its characters, that finds a tone that will carry them through, that made me unreasonably happy,” and he even goes on to compare it to the films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

How heartwarming?: ❤️❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: The Terminal, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Netflix

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

The premise: As cozy as a sweater just out of the dryer and as comforting as a bowl of chicken noodle soup, this biopic perfectly encapsulates the energy that made Fred Rogers such a calming presence for generations of viewers. For a window into Hanks’ emotive power, consider the quietly profound scene in which Rogers sits across from cynical Esquire writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) in a Chinese restaurant and tells him, “We’ll just take a minute and think about all the people who loved us into being.” For the next 60 seconds, the camera pans silently around the restaurant, focusing on strangers (including Rogers’ real-life widow, Joanne), before returning to Hanks, who looks directly out into the audience. “We got emotional on the set every day,” cowriter Noah Harpster told Entertainment Weekly. “There was a lot of hand-holding and gathering around the monitors, just quivering with tears.”

How heartwarming?: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV

News of the World (2020)

The premise: You might be surprised to see Tom Hanks’ first Western on this list, but despite its prodigious violence and darker themes, the film is surprisingly gentle at its heart. Aging Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks) travels town to town reading newspapers to locals. After coming across an overturned wagon, he rescues a young girl (played by breakout star Helena Zengel) who had been kidnapped and raised by the Kiowa tribe. Kidd reluctantly agrees to help reunite her with her living family members, some 400 miles away, and they develop an easy, familial rapport. Hanks has better chemistry with Zengel than any young performer he’s worked with in a long while, and she was rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination. Just try not to cry at the emotional doozy of an ending.

How heartwarming?: ❤️❤️❤️

Watch it: News of the World, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, HBO Max

Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.

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