Tom Hanks War Movies: The Actor Makes so Many for a Very Emotional Reason

Tom Hanks war movies are an institution now. From Saving Private Ryan to his recent Greyhound, Hanks has become an actor fans entrust to tell war stories. Hanks also produced HBO series Band of Brothers and The Pacific. He says there’s a very personal reason why he keeps making war movies and series. 

Tom Hanks war movie 'Saving Private Ryan' closeup of hanks in helmet
Tom Hanks | | CBS via Getty Images

Hanks was a guest on the Smartless podcast on Nov. 1. When host Sean Hayes asked him why he makes so many war movies, Hanks was ready for the question because it has been asked of him many times. 

Tom Hanks’ war movies are a tribute to his relatives

Hanks recalled growing up around people who had lived through World War II. Born in 1956, his parents and grandparents had just survived World War II.

“In those formative years of, say, 7 through when you’re a little kid, every single caregiver, every single adult in my life would make references to the two words, three letters each, The War,” Hanks said on Smartless. “They talked about it as this great dividing line in their lives. There was before the war, there was during the war and there was just after the war. They talked about it as though it’s almost like well, that was when the Black Plague was walking among us.”

Even though Hanks was a child, he recalls the sense of what World War II meant to his family.

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“For a big chunk of their lives, they had no idea where they were going to be in another six months,” Hanks said. “They had no idea how long the war was going to last. That’s one big aspect of it.”

Tom Hanks war movies have happy endings

Hanks also points out that his war movies focus on a war in which the Allies were victorious. Forrest Gump served in Vietnam but that was only a small part of that movie.

“Part two is that the bad guys lost,” Hanks said. “At the end of the day, we were able to somehow, unfortunately, necessarily kick the stuffing out of them. The world was on a quest to defeat people that were undeniably evil, the governments of those places and many of the populace. I keep getting drawn to that.” 

History is sometimes easier to film 

Hanks said war movies also serve a practical purpose. Technology has added more elements to film. Characters have to talk on cell phones or Zoom, and they usually don’t film that live. They add the screen in post-production. They don’t have to do that in World War II movies. 

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“We do a lot of them because none of the projects have to have cell phones or laptops,” Hanks said. “So that alone makes the writing of them so much easier and there’s much less special effects of having to put in those screens.”

Hanks also laments that modern day stories may not offer the same kind of heroes as his war movies. 

“Again, I will say from a storytelling perspective, our present day, there is no shame left anymore,” Hanks said. “Truth seems to be a malleable, viscous kind of [thing].”

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