More than three decades into one of Hollywood’s most blue-chip movie careers, two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks has entrenched himself in the public imagination as a baby-boomer version of Jimmy Stewart: an über-American avatar of unimpeachable decency and everyman triumphalism with a shelf full of acting awards and a real-life Presidential Medal of Freedom to prove it.
Often overlooked in the star’s nearly 60-film oeuvre, however, is a recurrent theme of foiled plans and unreached destinations, of crash landings and turbulent seas, of interrupted journeys and uncertain repatriation. That is to say, in so many of Hanks’ most indelible films, his character sets off on a trip and just doesn’t get where he’s going — at least not for a while.
The most recent example: the biographical drama “Sully,” which has earned more than $200 million worldwide since arriving in theaters in September. The Clint Eastwood-directed film — which has once again placed Hanks on many an Oscar pundit’s year-end short list — finds the actor portraying Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the Air Force ace turned airline pilot who, against insurmountable odds, managed to land a US Airways jet on New York’s Hudson River after both the plane’s engines became disabled — a miraculous water touch down that saw all 155 passengers on board escape basically unharmed.
But he didn’t really get them where they were going, did he? This isn’t even Hanks’ first cinematic crash landing (that honor belongs to “Cast Away”). Yet audiences just don’t seem to tire of his travel trials by fire, the actor’s unique ability to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune while braving the open road/seas/air (or, for that matter, making celestial perambulations 137 nautical miles above the planet).
With that in mind, here’s an Envelope rundown of Tom Hanks’ bad trips:
‘Apollo 13’ (1995)
The traveler: In this drama plotted around actual events, the actor portrays Jim Lovell, mission commander of NASA’s third manned lunar landing whose immortal utterance, “Houston, we have a problem,” has become cultural jargon for snafus great and small.
The bump in the road: Somewhere outside Earth’s gravitational pull, the spaceship Lovell’s piloting faces a quadruple systems failure—the worst of them involving an exploding liquid oxygen tank — placing the crew in mortal jeopardy. Unless, that is, a heroic Mission Control ground crew can beat the clock and figure out a way to bring them home.
‘Cast Away’ (2000)
The traveler: His dramatic persona Chuck Noland is a FedEx systems engineer with one eye constantly glued to his watch and a globetrotting career that takes him to far-flung locales — often at a moment’s notice.
The bump in the road: When the character’s plane goes down over the Pacific, he must escape being burned to a crisp in the fiery wreckage, then avoid drowning. And that’s before the real existential challenges set in: grinding out four years in Robinson Crusoe-like solitude on an uninhabited island with no survival skills to speak of and only a Wilson volleyball for companionship. (Hanks landed an Oscar nod for the part.)
‘The Terminal’ (2004)
The traveler: Steven Spielberg strands Hanks as a stranger in a strange land yet again — this time as Viktor Navorski, an English language-deficient immigrant from the fictional Eastern bloc nation of Krakozhia who comes to visit America on a deeply personal mission of reclamation.
The bump in the road: Upon arrival at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, the character learns his homeland has devolved into rebellion. Without a valid passport or visa he’s stranded in a diplomatic no-man’s land and ultimately spends nine months living inside JFK’s international arrivals lounge. There, Viktor befriends a veritable United Nations of airport service personnel and absorbs a fun-house version of the American dream.
‘Captain Phillips’ (2013)
The traveler: What is it with Hanks playing all these captains? In this bio-drama based around headline-making events in 2009, he portrays Capt. Richard Phillips, a merchant mariner piloting his container ship, the Maersk Alabama, through the treacherous Gulf of Aden.
The bump in the road: The character’s peaceful journey across one of the planet’s most dangerous shipping lanes is interrupted when a quartet of Somali pirates — one portrayed by Barkhad Abdi, who landed an Academy Award nomination barking “I am the captain now!” at Hanks — overruns the ship, hellbent on ransoming the vessel and its crew for millions of dollars. After being forced into the lifeboat, Phillips is eventually rescued, though the clear lesson here is to stay off the open seas with Tom Hanks — and the open skies.