The collateral damage of Tom Hanks movies

To get to a happy ending in a Tom Hanks movie, an innocent character has to pay the price. Here's the proof...

With the best part of $10bn banked for his movies across his career, Tom Hanks remains one of the biggest and most interesting movie stars on the planet. His most recent performance in Captain Phillips, for instance, was comfortably one of his best. And looking back on Hanks’ career, the path of increased boldness and range is easy to chart.

Furthermore, he’s achieved his successes without public meltdowns, without signs of turning into a diva, and without putting us through many poor films at all. The man is a hero.

Well, to everyone but certain characters in his movies. For, on rewatching Big, we became aware of an alarming trend: that there tends to be a character in a Tom Hanks movie whose role is to serve as collateral damage to America’s Favourite Actor getting a happy(ish) ending at the end of his stories.

Here is our evidence file. Inevitably, we talk about the endings to each of the films concerned, so SPOILERS lie ahead….

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The film that pretty much put Tom Hanks on the map as far more than a comedic actor (in spite of there being previous evidence). Granted, Big has its feet firmly planted in the comedy genre, but there’s an awful lot more to his performance as a grown-up Josh Baskin that just laughs.

One of the key features that differentiates Big from the body swap comedies then and since is just how convincing Hanks puts across the transformation. We’re not quite at the level of Steve Martin’s astounding turn in body share comedy All Of Me, but Hanks was rewarded, rightly, with an Oscar nomination for his work in Big.

The collateral damage

Big also set a template for Tom Hanks movies leaving a relatively innocent character as collateral damage on the way to the generally quite happy ending. In this case, Elizabeth Perkins’ Susan Lawrence. The middle part of Big sees Perkins’ character learning as many life lessons as Hanks’. She leaves her (horrible) boyfriend, she lets a manchild squeeze her bits and pieces, Josh and Susan sleep together, they bounce on a trampoline, and then they’re callously parted by Zoltar. For Zoltar is the evil overlord of the film.

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It’s quite a haunting ending to Big in its own way. We hear, but don’t see, Josh’s reunion with his mother (a pre-Oscar Mercedes Ruehl), with director Penny Marshall instead focusing on Susan’s car driving up the street, as she comes to terms with the fact that she’s just dropped off a kid who’s been missing for six weeks, who she just happens to have slept with.

The least she could expect? A broken heart. The worst? Prison time, and lots of it.


Ah, the one where Tom Hanks plays a police investigator by the name of Scott Turner, who has his working life perfectly in order. But what’s this? He’s paired with a big slobbering dog, who turns his life upside down! It’s like that James Belushi film, just without the Alsatian and the car wash!

Turner, then, begs for and is given a murder case that has come in, and the key witness is indeed Hooch. Hooch is a talented beast too: not only does he wreck Turner’s house and car, he also proves the catalyst for a romance with a vet. Clever mutt. Life lessons are, of course, learned along the way.

The collateral damage

(Incidentally, it’s believed to this day – and Hanks has admitted this himself – that the reason Turner And Hooch didn’t go on to be a more sizeable hit was the decision to kill off its slobbering star in the final reel. The film still did a lot of business, but in the process of solving the case and getting the girl, Turner lost his Hooch, and Hanks had a further case of collateral damage for his IMDB page).

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The second pairing of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on the big screen was billed for months in the build-up to its release as a sleeper hit for 1993. It turned out to be a big hit, but it did throw into doubt the use of the word ‘sleeper’ – all of a sudden, it seemed the surprise hit was a pre-ordained Hollywood marketing tool.

It’s a solid movie though, Sleepless In Seattle, with the late Nora Ephron coming up with a tale of a couple who don’t actually meet until the very end of the movie. Inspired by An Affair To Remember, Hanks plays Sam, a man with a small boy who has lost his wife to cancer. When he goes on the radio on Christmas Eve to talk about his loss, his story bewitches a reporter on the other side of the country, Annie (which is where Meg Ryan comes in). The scene is set for a heartwarming mix of comedy, romance and drama.

The collateral damage?

But what’s this! Meg Ryan’s Annie Reed already has a boyfriend! In fact, she’s engaged to Walter, although we barely hear a positive word about him throughout the entire movie. And he’s played by Bill Pullman! How can you not say a positive word about Bill Pullman? Just look at Ryan’s face in the picture above. It’s as if she knows what’s coming. Poor Bill.

Anyway, Annie is a romantic, Walter isn’t, although for reasons barely touched on in the movie, they still found enough in each other to decide to get engaged and plan to get married.

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Of course, as Annie and Sam get to have their happy ending, we hear that Walter has fallen by the wayside. The scenes we don’t get in the movie are those where Walter is sat in the corner of a room, alone, nursing a quiet gin, wondering why she agreed to marry him in the first place if she was never really that taken with him. Hanks gets the girl, Walter gets significant amounts of therapy, and a loyalty card for his local Threshers…


Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and Nora Ephron would reteam for this one, based on the same source that inspired the 1940 film The Shop Around The Corner. And once again, Meg Ryan’s character would find herself in a relationship with a man who would become suitably disposable come the moment when all concerned realised love had blossomed. So let’s cut straight to that.

The collateral damage?

There’s more of an actual rounded character to the collateral damage in this one, as Greg Kinnear plays Frank Navasky. He’s the luddite here, whilst Hanks and Ryan’s characters get on with their AOL chats and whatever counted for sexting in 1998.

Hanks’ Joe and Ryan’s Kathleen go through a lot of hate before they arrive at love, but fortunately, a convenient exit door has been marked for Frank. He ends up with another character, a talk show host played by Jane Adams. Phew. We can scrub this one from the list then.

But woah, woah, woah! This time, Hanks’ character has a girlfriend! She’s played by the brilliant Parker Posey! And it’s she that gets the short shrift. Thus, just before Kathleen and Frank part company, Joe and Patricia (that’s Posey) get stuck in a lift, have a row, and call it quits. Joe is free, therefore, to snog Kathleen, whilst Patricia has to borrow the gin from Sleepless In Seattle’s Walter.

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It’s no way to treat Parker Posey.


Celebrating its 20th birthday this year, Forrest Gump is perhaps Hanks’ most iconic role, a piece of work that demonstrated real range, and brought him a second consecutive Best Actor gong, following the previous year’s Philadelphia.

Forrest Gump became something of a cultural icon off the back of Robert Zemeckis’ movie, but boy, did he leave a trail of devastation in his wake, on the way to the stage of the Oscars…

The collateral damage?

Where do you start?

They’re lining up in this one. As Forrest goes on his adventure, he leaves in his path:

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* First Lieutenant Dan Taylor, who just wanted to die like the rest of his platoon, but Forrest rescued him.* President Richard Nixon, as Forrest proves instrumental in exposing the Watergate Scandal, which brings the former down.* Every shrimp boat but Forrest’s. The only way Forrest can build his successful Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is when a hurricane wrecks every other fishing boat in the vicinity, presumably destroying the livelihoods of a whole bunch of families in the process. We checked the DVD extras, but scenes showing their despair were nowhere to be found.* Jenny, who gives Forrest a son, who turns out to be that kid from The Sixth Sense. Jenny and Forrest don’t get a happy ending of course, as Jenny dies, leaving Forrest and Forrest Jr to have the uplifting ending together.* His mum. But that was down to old age, so we’ll let Forrest off the hook on that one.


In Hanks’ defence, this one is based on a true story.

Following their collaborations on Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg reteamed for The Terminal. The film boasted the biggest set of a Spielberg movie to date (we interviewed the man who designed it, Alex McDowell, here), and the story is based on the true tale of Viktor Navorski, who finds himself stranded at New York’s JFK airport. The reason? Thanks to the outbreak of civil war in his home land of Krakozhia, said country loses its recognition as a sovereign nation. Navorski thus can’t enter America, and can’t go home. He has no choice but to begin living at the airport, as he does for the best part of a year.

The collateral damage

At the end of the film, Viktor finally gets his chance to leave the airport and step outside into America, when the aforementioned civil war comes to an end. When plans for an emergency visa become problematic though, all looks doomed: until in comes janitor Gupta Rajan! He too has been stuck in America, in his case to avoid returning to India where he’ll be arrested. But on learning that Viktor was about to give up and go home, Gupta runs in front of a plane, setting in train the events that lead to his own deportation. Viktor gets to go to America, Gupta gets to go to prison. Er, win.

The collateral damage box duly ticked, the happy ending can ensue.

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Doubters as to the talents of Tom Hanks were served with a wonderful riposte in the form of his second collaboration with director Robert Zemeckis, Cast Away. Here, Hanks puts in a remarkable piece of work, holding the screen almost single-handedly for the film’s running time.

He plays a FedEx systems analyst, who finds himself marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere. Time passes, Hanks gets hairy and thin, and friends are few and far between. With good reason, as it turns out…

The collateral damage?

We’ll stop there. This whole feature has got just a little too traumatic.

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