Tom Hanks: Mr. Adaptation

Tom Hanks: Mr. Adaptation


The Academy Award-winning actor has appeared in a slew of movies based on books. Fourteen to be exact, including his starring role in the new film Cloud Atlas.


Mazes and Monsters
Rona Jaffee
Hanks’ first leading role was in the 1982 made-for-TV film Mazes and Monsters, based on Rona Jaffe’s novel about a young man’s dangerous obsession with a role playing game. Inspired by the 1979 disappearance of Michigan State University student James Dallas Egbert—initially and incorrectly reported to have gone into the school’s steam tunnels to play a live-action version of Dungeons & Dragons—Jaffe purportedly wrote the book in a matter of days for fear another author would beat her to it.


Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
Eric Hodgins
Hanks’ 1986 film The Money Pit was a remake of the 1948 comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, based on the popular novel by Eric Hodgins. Hodgins wrote the book in response to his nightmarish experience buying and building a home in the Connecticut countryside. (The home still stands and sold for $1.4 million in 2004.)


The Bonfire of the Vanities
Tom Wolfe
Though the adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s bestselling 1987 novel was a box-office flop and mired in controversy—as detailed in the dishy book The Devil’s Candy—Hanks, who played embattled Wall Street stockbroker Sherman McCoy, was full of praise for the source material. “The real star of this story is Wolfe’s prose,” he said in an interview at the time. “Those images are very, very strong.”


Forrest Gump
Winston Groom
Hanks bears little physical resemblance to the 6’6”, 240-pound Forrest Gump of Winston Groom’s 1986 novel. In fact, Groom told The New York Times he’d pictured John Goodman in the role. This inconsistency didn’t stop Hanks from winning the Academy Award for Best Actor—and launching Groom’s book into the bestseller stratosphere. The book sold 30,000 copies sold in hardcover; following the film, it received no less than 15 paperback printings.


Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13
Jeffrey Kluger & Jim Lovell
As film studios fought over the rights to Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, its co-author, astronaut Jim Lovell, speculated that Kevin Costner should play him onscreen. But Hanks snagged the role, the first of three Apollo-related projects. (Fun fact: At 6’1”, Hanks would not qualify to be a real-life astronaut, coming in just above the cut-off height of 6’0”.)


The Green Mile
Stephen King
Stephen King has had over 30 works adapted into movies, but 1999’s The Green Mile is the only one to break $100 million at the North American box office. King claims it’s the single most faithful adaptation of his work and is said to have endorsed Hanks for the role of death row guard Paul Edgecomb.


Road to Perdition
Max Allan Collins
Hanks plays on-the-run hitman John Rooney in the $180 million-grossing adaptation of Max Allan Collins’ Depression-era graphic novel. He was introduced to the book by Steven Spielberg, who sent him a copy while Hanks was filming Cast Away.


Catch Me If You Can
Frank W. Abagnale
Hanks had worked with Spielberg three times before Catch Me If You Can, the 2002 film based on con man Frank W. Abagnale Jr.’s autobiography in which he plays relentless FBI agent Carl Hanratty.


The Polar Express
Chris Van Allsburg
Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book The Polar Express has been a holiday New York Times bestseller since 1986. The 2004 blockbuster film holds the Guiness World Record as the “first all-digital capture” movie. Hanks is all aboard, playing six characters.


The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown
Robert Langdon is described in Dan Brown’s mega-bestselling thriller as “Harrison Ford in Harris tweed.” But it was Hanks who played the professor-sleuth in the 2006 adaptation. Brown has a small cameo in the first film, appearing in the background at a Langdon book signing…wearing a Harris tweed jacket.


Angels & Demons
Dan Brown
In movie theaters, Angels & Demons (once again featuring Hanks as Robert Langdon) followed The Da Vinci Code—the reverse order of the books’ publication.


Charlie Wilson’s War
George Crille
In the 2007 adaptation of George Crile’s history—directed by Mike Nichols with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin—Hanks plays Charlie Wilson, the Texas congressman who devised to fund the Afghan Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet army.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer
Hanks plays husband to Sandra Bullock in the 2011 adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s 9/11 novel, which caused controversy for incorporating photos of a man jumping from the World Trade Center.


Game Change
John Heilemann & Mark Halperin
In recent years, Hanks has done more and more producing, including the television mini-series Band of Brothers, John Adams, and this adaptation of John Heilemann’s and Mark Halperin’s bestselling account of the 2008 presidential election.


Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell
Hanks’ work on The Polar Express well prepared him for Cloud Atlas, in which he once again plays six characters. Author David Mitchell approves of the film. “Wherever the screenplay differed from the novel,” he wrote in a New York Times essay, “it did so for sound reasons that left me more impressed than piqued.”

This article originally appeared on Zola Books.







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