It’s funny to think that even though he’s won two Oscars and appeared in iconic live-action films like Apollo 13, Forrest Gump, and Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks is now best known to many younger viewers as the voice of Woody the cowboy from the Toy Story trilogy. Then again, the actor has essentially made a career out of reinventing himself on an almost yearly basis.
Tom Hanks kicked off his career in 1980 with a bit part in a forgettable horror flick called He Knows You’re Alone, yet it was his starring role on the cult sitcom Bosom Buddies that first brought him to the public’s attention. The show only ran for two seasons, but that was enough for Hanks to earn an audition for Ron Howard – who was attempting to find just the right actor to perform opposite a mermaid in his 1984 comedy Splash.
Splash was, of course, a tremendous success that essentially transformed Hanks into a bankable star overnight, and the actor used his newfound clout to headline a succession of ambitious yet underwhelming (and underperforming) comedies – including 1985’s The Man with One Red Shoe, 1986’s The Money Pit, and 1987’s Dragnet. Audiences and industry insiders alike were beginning to write Hanks off as a one-hit wonder when he took on the role of Josh Baskin in 1988’s fourth-highest grossing film, Big.
And although he once again stumbled with a few disappointments – 1989’s the ‘burbs, 1990’s Joe Versus the Volcano – Hanks’ decision to take on a supporting role in 1992’s A League of Their Own once and for all established him as a bona fide movie star. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that the actor followed that movie up with the smash romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle.) Rather than capitalize on his newfound romantic-leading-man status, Hanks instead chose to challenge the expectations of both himself and his fans by taking on the role of a man dying of AIDS in the 1993 drama Philadelphia.
Hanks’ stirring work in the film landed him an Oscar for Best Actor, and he managed the rare feat of winning the award the following year for his turn as the title character in 1994’s Forrest Gump. Hanks’ penchant for taking risks was certainly evident when he agreed to voice the main character in the world’s first computer-generated animated film, 1995’s Toy Story. The movie became an immediate smash that put Pixar on the map and introduced Hanks to a whole new generation of viewers, with the film’s incredible success paving the way for a followup, 1999’s Toy Story 2, that was quickly hailed as one of the best sequels of all time.
Hanks’ live-action career has been as eclectic as ever in the years since Toy Story’s release, as the actor has tried his hand at dramas (1999’s The Green Mile, 2004’s The Terminal), comedies (1998’s You’ve Got Mail, 2004’s The Ladykillers), and thrillers (2002’s Road to Perdition, 2006’s The Da Vinci Code). In 2010, Hanks, along with Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, and Don Rickles, returned to complete the Toy Story trilogy with Toy Story 3, which inevitably became Pixar’s top-grossing film to date and sent Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang out on an impressively high note.