Like most filmmakers, Steven Spielberg has a few regular collaborators that he trusts enough to hire again and again. The work of cinematographer Janusz Kamiński, composer John Williams, and editor Michael Kahn can be seen across Spielberg’s entire filmography. There are also a few recurring actors who have appeared in a handful of Spielberg films, like Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Cruise, and of course, the great Tom Hanks.
Spielberg first worked with the latter on the World War II epic Saving Private Ryan, for which Hanks received an Oscar nod for Best Actor, and subsequently reunited with him for four more movies: Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal, Bridge of Spies, and The Post. These collaborations have given Hanks some of his most memorable roles, like Captain Miller and James B. Donovan, and some of his most forgettable, like Viktor Navorski.
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5 Viktor Navorski (The Terminal)
The Terminal is one of Spielberg’s most feel-good movies, but it’s also one of his least beloved works. It wasn’t necessarily panned by critics upon release, but it wasn’t particularly well-received, either, and it hasn’t been venerated as a cult classic in the years since. The movie has a novel premise that allows for a nice balance of comedy and drama. Due to political strife in his native country, an Eastern European man is stranded in a terminal of New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. But after that premise is set up, it settles into stale romcom clichés.
Viktor Navorski can’t go home and he’s denied entry into the United States, so he’s stuck in the airport, sleeping on the seats in the waiting area and brushing his teeth in the sink of the men’s room. Navorski is one of Hanks’ most likable characters – and that’s saying a lot, because he’s one of Hollywood’s most likable actors and rarely plays a villainous character – but his sweet, schmaltzy schtick gets old after a while.
4 Ben Bradlee (The Post)
Shot while the extensive visual effects were being applied to Ready Player One, The Post is essentially Spielberg’s answer to All the President’s Men. The Post tells the true story of the Washington Post journalists who published the Pentagon Papers, a collection of classified documents outlining the U.S. government’s controversial involvement in the Vietnam War. The movie is a love letter to the free press that arrived at a time when their integrity was being questioned and they desperately needed one.
In the role of Ben Bradlee, Hanks is well-matched with Meryl Streep as his partner in political exposure, Katharine Graham. Hanks is his usual everyman self, but while Spielberg’s other collaborations with the actor are character-driven, the historical events and timely themes overshadow the individual characters in The Post.
3 FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Catch Me If You Can)
Based on heavily conflicted true events, Catch Me If You Can is one of Spielberg’s funniest movies. The story might not be entirely accurate (it is based on the accounts of a man who made a career out of lying, after all), but it’s still a wildly entertaining cat-and-mouse caper about the search for notorious con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. Abagnale is much more likable than Leonardo DiCaprio’s other duplicitous role, Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street. Belfort conned honest, working-class people out of their money, but Abagnale conned banks and airlines.
Hanks provides a hilarious counterpoint as the stuffed-shirt FBI agent on his tail. Agent Carl Hanratty constantly has egg on his face as the con man stays one step ahead of him. The longer Abagnale remains at large, the more comically exasperated Hanratty becomes.
2 Captain Miller (Saving Private Ryan)
Hanks’ first collaboration with Spielberg was the World War II masterpiece Saving Private Ryan. It’s easy to see why they kept reuniting, because it ended up becoming one of the biggest hits of both of their careers. Hanks’ lead protagonist, Captain Miller, provided the perfect counterpoint to the glorified war heroes played by John Wayne.
Miller isn’t a fearless warrior; he’s just a mild-mannered schoolteacher who was drafted and sent off to fight overseas. When he’s introduced on his way to the beaches of Normandy, he’s trembling with terror. At the end of the movie, Miller gets the most heartbreaking death scene in Hanks’ filmography. He’s poetically killed by a Nazi whose life he spared earlier in the film. With his dying breath, Miller tells Ryan to earn the sacrifice his fellow soldiers have made to save him.
1 James B. Donovan (Bridge Of Spies)
Hanks starred in Spielberg’s Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies as James B. Donovan, the American lawyer assigned to defend captured Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in court. Donovan’s bosses expect him to phone it in, but he stays true to the law and gives Abel the best legal defense he can. He’s ostracized for taking on the client – his family is harassed and his home is attacked – but he still remains committed to getting Abel home to his wife.
Throughout the movie, the lawyer develops an unlikely friendship with the spy. Donovan and Abel share a heartfelt farewell in the prisoner exchange sequence, before Donovan returns to the U.S. a changed man. This movie is a testament to the tenet that everybody has the right to a fair trial.
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About The Author
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Ben Sherlock is a writer, comedian, independent filmmaker, and Burt Reynolds enthusiast. He writes lists for Screen Rant and features and reviews for Game Rant. He’s currently in pre-production on his first feature (and has been for a while, because filmmaking is expensive). You can catch him performing standup at odd pubs around the UK that will give him stage time. Previously, he wrote for Taste of Cinema, Comic Book Resources, and BabbleTop.
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