At the ripe, young age of 58 years on this very day, Tom Hanks obviously reached the point of instant box office success a long time ago. You could argue that he reached elite status with 1988’s Big and then cemented his spot on the A-list in 1992 and 1993 with A League of Their Own and Sleepless in Seattle, respectively, or maybe those two titles catapulted him to instant Oscar status with Philadelphia in 1993 and Forrest Gump in 1994. Either way, Hanks was a god of 90s cinema, and by the turn of the millennium he had reached that rare status that allows him to do whatever the hell he wants, short of a Polar Express sequel.
Hanks’s remarkable career is fascinating because of the way that it began, with him “paying his dues,” as the industry people say, with goofball comedies and a popular TV series, before he’d take the role of a lifetime (Big) and use that to prove to studios that he was capable of being a big time leading man. Also, it has never hurt that he has been widely regarded as one of the nicest guys, not only in show business, but also on the planet for the 3+ decades of his acting career. Few people have done it as well as Hanks, and there aren’t many guys doing it like him anymore.
Off the top of my head – and I’m 100% serious about this – the only young actor I can think of who is busting his ass to prove he can be a better actor while being one of the nicest guys in the game is Channing Tatum. Scoff all you want, but when C-Tates is accepting an Oscar for Foxcatcher next year, we’re all going to be scratching our heads and wondering how the hell that happened, the same way that I’m sure people wondered how the dude from Splash went from banging a mermaid to thanking everyone in his life after winning Best Actor for playing Andrew Beckett.
Anyway, back to my point – the most underrated movies of Tom Hanks’s otherwise amazing career. Now, when I say that these are underrated, I essentially mean that when people are like, “Tom Hanks! Forrest Gump!” or “Tom Hanks! Chet Haze’s dad!” they should really be saying, “Tom Hanks! (insert one of these other movie names here)!” because these movies are all better in my handsome opinion. So if you read one of these titles and you think, “Dude, that’s not overrated, I LOVE that movie!” know that I love it, too, but we’re in the minority. Basically, let me just start this by saying that Bachelor Party is a better movie than Forrest Gump.
10) Bachelor Party
Aside from Hanks and a very in-her-prime Tawny Kitaen, who would go on to be robbed of an Oscar nomination for her role as Linda Brewster in Witchboard (which would ultimately lead her to attack Chuck Finley with a shoe, according to my notes), Bachelor Party should have been the springboard for Michael Dudikoff’s career, as he went on to star in American Ninja the next year. But Hanks was the only actor in this 1984 comedy that made anything of his career, and his performance as the party-loving but always faithful Rick Gassko has inspired a neverending series of imitators, and even a horrendous sequel, Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation.
They could have called it Some A-holes on a Bachelor Party or Wild Douchebag Weekend, but they went with Bachelor Party 2, and somehow the people at Project Greenlight were like, “Yeah, this is a good idea.” The only enjoyment I find in this film is imagining Josh Cooke on set thinking to himself, “This is it, man. I’m gonna be the next Tom Hanks.”
9) The Money Pit
I watch a lot of DIY and HGTV in my downtime because I always assume that when the bottom falls out on this rock star blogging life, I’ll have to go back to working construction. What surprises me about these networks, though, is that they’ve never resorted to the cheap tactics of filling blocks of time with movies that are sort of related to home renovation, although I’d never mind if they wanted to show The Money Pit every weekend. This was probably a bigger role for Shelley Long than it was for Hanks, because she was right in the middle of Cheers and coming off of Irreconcilable Differences and Night Shift (as well as a TV movie, The Princess and the Cabbie, that I’d really like to see). But Long eventually proved that she was never really the top-billed type, although Troop Beverly Hills was a masterpiece, and Hanks stole the show in The Money Pit with his increasingly sharp comedic appeal.
8) Turner & Hooch
“Turner & Hooch isn’t underrated! Everyone loves this movie!” Oh yeah, person’s voice in my head? Well, it should be loved even more. First of all, when it comes to movies about cops with dogs, Turner & Hooch is like a billion times better than K-9, despite being released four months later in 1989. And while it wasn’t as daring as Cop Dog, a movie about a dog that helps a young boy solve his father’s murder, it was just a better all-around movie. That’s why it pisses me off when people inevitably make lists of the Best Buddy Cop Movies of All-Time, and they slide Turner & Hooch in there at 18 out of 20, because LOL Hooch is a dog! Behind Tango and Cash, Riggs and Murtagh and John McClane and Al Powell, there’s Turner & Hooch. End of debate.
7) The Bonfire of the Vanities
One of my favorite things about The Bonfire of the Vanities is that the best thing that people can really say about it is that it’s huge in Europe. It’s basically the David Hasselhoff of shitty 90s movies that would have been better off left on a shelf in a dark warehouse that was prone to fires. But then again, I love trainwreck movies and am especially fascinated by stories that involve Bruce Willis being a colossal A-hole on set, which is this movie in a nutshell. For all of the negative criticism and money lost at the box office, the saving grace of this film adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel was Hanks’s performance. Even director Brian De Palma admitted that Hanks was wrong for the role, but a good actor does the best with what he’s given. And it’s still a fun terrible movie to watch every now and then.
What better way to tell a story of Cold War oppression on a third world nation than by dropping three totally different characters in the middle of it all and then making it a story about the meaning of life? Hanks and John Candy already proved that they had comedic chemistry two years earlier in Splash, but Volunteers was also the movie that starred Hanks’s eventual second wife, Rita Wilson. They had worked together before, but their relationship certainly became stronger while working on Volunteers, and they’d eventually marry in 1988. An actor and actress falling in love while making a movie is nothing new, nor is a marriage breaking up because of it, but this specific situation led to something way more special – the birth of Chet Haze. For that alone, Volunteers should be celebrated annually.
5) Toy Story 2
“How is Toy Story 2 underrated? It made $450 million at the box office?” There goes that stupid voice in my head again. Two reasons, actually: 1) When people talk about the Toy Story franchise, they typically just say, “Toy Story was rad, bro.” But Toy Story 2 was way better than Toy Story, so I’d appreciate it if people would say, “Toy story was rad, bro, but Toy Story 2 was radder.” 2) Of the franchise, only Toy Story 3 broke the $1 billion mark, which is a shame, because while it was great, again, Toy Story 2 was the far superior movie. Don’t think I won’t slap on a pair of brass knuckles and get dirty in the street over this.
4) The ‘Burbs
You know, when you read such and emotional and thought-provoking piece as the one that Chris Nolan wrote about the bleak future of the film industry, it’s hard not to think back to the truly golden era of show business – the coke-fueled insanity of the 1980s. Nobody has the balls to make ridiculous movies like The ‘Burbs anymore, and if they do, they just end up as straight-to-DVD or On Demand fodder that goes largely ignored. This is a movie about neighborly paranoia and being afraid that there’s a psychopath just 10 feet away from your home at all times, and there are few things in cinema more American than that. And it involves cannibalism – who doesn’t love that?
I like to think that every now and again, Corey Feldman runs into Hanks and asks, “Hey remember me from The ‘Burbs?” before Hanks hands him a $10 bill and tells him to “get better.”
Dragnet was a very interesting movie for 1987. The dramatic TV series had ended in 1970, so it wasn’t the timeliest of spoof ideas, but Dan Aykroyd had a lot of pull in 1987, so he got to do almost anything he wanted (including mountains of cocaine). While the police show parody film would be mastered in 1988 with The Naked Gun, Dragnet was funny enough and probably could have existed on its own as the story of a cop who does things by the book clashing with his loose cannon partner, but I guess some titles work better when you can strap them to a beloved franchise name.
Originally, the role of Pep Streebek (a wonderful character name) was supposed to be played by Jim Belushi, due to Aykroyd’s close bond with the less funnier brother, but he was busy. My guess is that Belushi was filming Red Heat at the time, but I like to think he turned down Dragnet for Real Men with John Ritter. If you haven’t seen that one, do yourself a favor and check it out. What a glorious mess. Anyway, the fact that Hanks stepped in for Belushi was a blessing to Dragnet, because he makes the movie likable in spite of Aykroyd’s incredibly dull shtick.
2) The Man with One Red Shoe
I watched The Man with One Red Shoe when I was a kid and I’m sure that I had no clue what was going on in it, but I remembered really liking it (probably because of Carrie Fisher’s wonderful sluttiness). Watching it again several times over the past three decades, I’ve come to realize several things: 1) The reason I might dislike Jim Belushi so much (at least aside from According to Jim) is that his character in this movie was such an epic A-hole, and I’d definitely sleep with my friend’s wife if he caused me to crack a tooth. That sh*t is not cool. 2) Speaking of… that dentist scene, man. Just brutal. 3) For years, I thought Lori Singer was Daryl Hannah, which might have been her downfall, because she could make a fella swoon. But most importantly, 4) This movie was so well-written and just flat out clever. It deserved more success.
1) Joe Versus the Volcano
Confession time: I only wrote this so I could sing the praises of Joe Versus the Volcano, if that wasn’t clear from the “second opinion” line. A lot of people really hated this movie in 1990 and critics ripped it to shreds, while people still love to call this and The Bonfire of the Vanities Hanks’s worst movies. But this movie just had huge balls, and writer/director John Patrick Shanley had earned the chance by winning Best Original Screenplay for Moonstruck in 1987. (It’s amazing that the only two movies that he has directed in his career are Joe Versus the Volcano and Doubt.) Joe Versus the Volcano was simply a movie that told people to dream big while also dreaming big itself.
Maybe it was a little annoying and distracting to have the bubbly and adorable Meg Ryan playing three characters, two of which were neither bubbly nor adorable, but the rest of the movie, from the luggage to Waponi Woo, is pure gold. It is heartwarming and inspiring, and Hanks, Ryan, Abe Vigoda and the rest of the quirky cast did a wonderful job, and anyone who still thinks this movie sucks 24 years later can leap into a volcano.