I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.
Tom Hanks is widely regarded as one of the greatest living film actors. As a result, he has been given the opportunity to play a wide range of characters from cops to pilots to soldiers to animated cowboys.
One of Hanks' greatest strengths as an actor is his ability to pull off long monologues of dialogue that sum up a scene, a character, or even the film as a whole. When Hanks begins a speech, the scene grows quiet and concentrated, and the audience listens with intent ears. Below are some of Tom Hanks' best film monologues.
"Apollo 13" Speech
Apollo 13 (1995) – “You never know what events are going to transpire to get you home.”
Apollo 13 is most famous for the line, "Houston, we have a problem," which has been replicated and spoofed countless times since, in no small part thanks to the fear and intensity that Tom Hanks displays in his delivery. However, one of the more poignant moments in the story is in a lengthy story that Hanks delivers mid-movie.
Throughout the Apollo 13 disaster, the news stations keep running previous interviews with the endangered astronauts, including one of Hanks’ character, Jim Lovell. During the interview, Lovell is asked if he was ever in a situation where he experienced fear during an emergency in the air. He then launches into a recollection of an air mission in Japan in which his homing signal went out along with all of the instruments in his cockpit, including his lights.
Fearing himself doomed, he noticed that the algae in the ocean was lighting his way back. It acted as a breadcrumb trail he wouldn't have noticed had his lights been on.
The story is meant to illustrate the fortunate coincidences that we encounter in moments of doom. This ties into the lucky breaks and innovative feats that later get the three astronauts home, despite the odds being stacked against them.
Hanks speaks these lines nonchalantly in the soft-spoken style of an astronaut who is not used to the spotlight rather than a Hollywood personality who is comfortable in the interview chair. He speaks as if he's regaling the story off the top of his head as an experience that he carries around with him rather than a soliloquy to be used as Oscar bait. His conversational tone is what resonates with audiences and makes you think that you are listening to a story from a friend rather than viewing the chewed scenery of a seasoned actor.
A Deserted Island
Cast Away (2000) – “Tomorrow the sun will rise.”
In Cast Away, Hanks’ Chuck Noland is quickly established as a man whose life is governed by time as dictated by his job at FedEx. So, when he is stranded on a deserted island for four years, it throws him for a loop.
The plump, outgoing man returns thin and quiet, unable to articulate what he has been through and how he was able to survive on his own. At the end of the film, he ends up at his friend, Stan’s, house, where he is able to tell his story by a warm fire with an ice cold drink.
Nolan talks about how his penchant for order and timing got in his way but were the traits that ultimately kept him alive and got him off the island. His isolation took its toll on him, leading him to plan his suicide, but when his plan failed, he instead focused on getting through one day after the other, eating and breathing until he was able to rescue himself.
Stan doesn’t speak a word throughout this monologue; he just stays quiet in the out-of-focus background as the camera pans around Noland and his fluctuating emotions about how being rescued has put him back into despair, but just as before, he is waiting for the tide to bring him another tool that he can use to get to the next stage of his life. This scene captures the anti-suicide message of the story in that one has to battle through every tough situation in order to make it back to land and away from the island of isolation that can consume us all.
This is the most dialogue that Hanks' character speaks at once in Cast Away, and his words and tone are much different from the extroverted leader that he is at the beginning of the movie. Where most character arcs start with a withdrawn character and work toward a more outgoing version of that character, this one works backwards, and Hanks has to maintain the spirit of Chuck Noland while showing how affected he has been by his experience.
This monologue sums that all up. Nolan is changed but still hopeful.
"Saving Private Ryan" Monologue.
Saving Private Ryan – “That’s my mission.” (1998)
Who better to play a father figure to a group of young, American soldiers fighting in World War II than America’s dad? Hanks is not very dad-like in this part, though. Captain Miller is a man thrust into his leadership position basically because he is the highest ranking officer left during the invasion of Normandy and earns his stripes by getting as many men up the beach in one piece as possible.
His next mission is to save the only son left in a family of brothers sent overseas to fight in the war. Miller assembles his team and then leads them on a needle-in-the-haystack hunt for this lone soldier who is oblivious to his recent only-child status.
His men look up to him, but they are also curious about his life beyond the battlefield. Miller is a very mysterious and guarded figure, and as a result, he has a bargaining chip in his pocket at all times to use as an emergency boost in morale.
That moment comes after the group is split on Miller’s decision to let a German soldier go free, despite the fact that he had killed one of their own. That, along with their own mounting reservations about risking the lives of seven men to save one, leads to a complete break in the group.
Miller, who has remained silent in the argument until this point, finally pulls out his big gun and announces to the group that he was a school teacher from Pennsylvania before he was sent overseas. The big mystery surrounding their captain is that he is just a regular man pulled out of a regular life from his wife to come look after a bunch of boys young enough to have been his students.
He then explains that he, like them, is just “earning” the right to go home. To do this, he must follow his orders without question, and he’s going to do it without complaint.
Miller remains calm, cool, and collected in a story full of chaos and suspense. He is clear-headed and genuine which is effective in a way that barking orders never would have been.
As a result, the remaining group of men are silenced, and they all carry on with their mission to find Private Ryan and bring him home. This is what Hanks does best - commands an audience in hushed but strong tones.
Hanks as Walt Disney
Saving Mr Banks (2013) – “It’s not the children she comes to save.”
Tom Hanks’ turn as the historical Walt Disney is simply a verbal sparring match between he and Emma Thompson's P.L. Travers over the rights to her Mary Poppins books. Disney comes across as the rightful king of his kingdom, intent on getting what he wants, and Travers is equally intent on for once not giving him what he wants.
It takes a visit from Disney, not as the smiling persona that he exhibits at the office, but as a candid storyteller who, like she, has a past trauma to suppress and honor. Travers has spent her life bitter over her daddy issues while Disney has spent his trying to transform his life into a fairy tale, and he asks her to try it his way this time so that he can give her a version of her father that she craves.
This is one of Hanks’ most captivating performances where the audience lingers on every word spoken in a low mumble as if he doesn’t want anyone to hear the truth about his own past, and sharing it with her is regarded as a privilege. He as Disney does end up getting his way not through a business man’s trickery, but through honest intent.
You can tell that it is this scene that enticed Hanks to take on this part. At the same time, he is not trying to impersonate a legend here, which would have been easy enough. Instead, he is trying to service the story and the larger-than-life figure behind it.
Hanks in "The Da Vinci Code."
The Da Vinci Code (2006) – “Maybe human is divine.”
At the end of The Da Vinci Code, Robert and Sophie get to the end of the puzzle without actually finding the grail, but Sophie finds something more important: her heritage. However, she is still a bit skeptical of their findings.
As a result, Robert lays out a philosophy about faith to help put her at ease about her newfound family. He speaks of history versus religion, especially how it relates to Christianity.
There is no proof that Jesus was divine. Christians just latch onto their belief that he was divine. He suggests that Sophie hold onto that faith and the evidence of miracles that she has produced in her life, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
He gets very personal, recalling his own history where he relied on faith to save his life and how that had worked out for him. It’s not preachy or even confident, just a hopeful idea for her to consider, and the conversation that follows illustrates the nature of the friendship that they have formed on their journey. He strips away his public-speaking professor persona introduced at the start of the movie to a more genuine, soft-spoken, gospel according to Hanks.
"Forrest Gump" Jenny's Grave Scene
Forrest Gump (1994) – “Maybe we’re all just floating accidental-like on a breeze.”
The main theme in Forrest Gump is the destiny vs. free will argument. The people and situations that Forrest encounters in his life provide evidence in favor of both theories.
Lieutenant Dan believes in fate and that we all serve a purpose and then die. Meanwhile, Forrest's mother believes that our lives are in our own hands, and it is up to us as to what to do with it. So, when Hanks, as Forrest, visits Jenny’s grave at the end of the film, he ponders these two points of view and wonders just who was right.
Forrest's ability to love transcends his lack of intelligence, and he is able to dig deep into his sorrow and pull out a theory that maybe we do have a destiny, but we decide how we arrive at that destiny. He has proven that life is about the journey and not about the destination.
The challenge of this scene is that there is no other actor to play off of. Hanks delivers his lines as if Forrest is working this out in his head as he is speaking. He wants answers to the many things that he does not understand. But most of all, he wants to know where he fits in the world. This is the question that most of us ponder, no matter what our intelligence level, and this speech wraps up the movie in an appropriately ambiguous yet satisfying way.
Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own."
A League of Their Own (1992) – “It’s supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.”
Jimmy Dugan is not your typical Tom Hanks character, but he is one of his best. He’s obnoxious, belittling, and disgusting in many ways, but he wins over the audience as his team of “girl ballplayers” win him over, most notably Dottie Hinson. So, when Dottie quits the team right before the World Series, Jimmy has some words for her which sums up his philosophy of the game itself.
He can’t believe that she is so easily able to leave the game, knowing full well that she is as in love with the sport as he is. He sees her leaving out of reluctant duty, and the buried feminist in him emerges to tell her that she doesn’t always have to do what is expected of her, especially when she has the desire and the talent to stay.
The speech doesn’t work for him at first. It takes six World Series games without Dottie for her to return for her final game and finish what she began.
Hanks gets to stretch his acting muscles in this role, playing the likable jerk who gets a lot wrong, but this speech demonstrates what he knows is right. Dugan is man who may have given up on himself but not the game.
Hanks delivers his lines in this scene with the frustration of seeing history repeat itself in Dottie's very different situation from his own but who, like him, is frivolously throwing away her career while in her prime. He exposes his feelings without losing that gruff exterior that serves as cover for his vulnerability.
This balancing act is prevalent throughout the film, but here it's played for sincerity rather than for laughs. This is how you play a well-rounded character.
What are your favorite Tom Hanks movie moments? Leave your answers in the comments below!
Buy this Tom Hanks collection here!
Laura Smith (author) from Pittsburgh, PA on January 26, 2018:
Thanks! Yes, definitely check them out.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 26, 2018:
I heard some of these speeches for the first time. Now I want to see the movies. Unique article. Good read!