The Lost Comedy Roles of Tom Hanks

Before he became America’s top movie star with a pair of back-to-back Oscar wins in the mid-90’s, Tom Hanks spent over a decade as a primarily-comedic actor, starring in an array of sitcoms and movies that were met with varying degrees of success. It seems absurd to imagine now, but Hanks spent the better part of the 1980’s fighting to distinguish himself in audience’s eyes from Steve Guttenberg, Judge Reinhold, and Michael Keaton. Tom Hanks proved to be better cut out for drama than humor, as proven by his two most recent comedies, Larry Crowne and The Terminal. Still, throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s, Hanks was a sought-after comedic actor. Tom Hanks saw the strength of his comedic abilities increase after he grew out of the “impersonating Bill Murray” stage of his career (Bachelor Party) when he began to find roles that were perfect for him (Big) and became a frequent SNL host in the show’s brilliant late 80’s era, dropping by about once a season to work alongside such greats as Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, and writers Conan O’Brien, Robert Smigel, and Bob Odenkirk.

Needless to say, Hanks has been offered more dramatic roles than comedic throughout his career, but this is a comedy website, so we’ll be looking at all of the comedic parts Tom Hanks came close to playing - either because he rejected the movie or the movie rejected him - throughout his long and esteemed career. Here’s a rundown of the parts in comedies and comedy-hybrids Hanks almost played, including a thinly-veiled portrayal of Bill Clinton, a weatherman part that Bill Murray made famous, and roles in more teen sex comedies than you’d expect.

1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

The role: Brad Hamilton

Who got it: Judge Reinhold

Then just a sitcom actor best known for starring in the short-lived cross-dressing comedy Bossom Buddies, Tom Hanks auditioned for the part of high school senior Brad in the classic comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Fast Times did Judge Reinhold well, and it probably would have been a good role for Hanks also. It would be another two years before Tom Hanks made the transition from TV to film by starring in Splash and Bachelor Party in 1984, but he could have kicked off his movie career a little bit earlier if he had landed the Fast Times part.

2. Get Crazy (1983)

The role: Neil Allen

Who got it: Daniel Stern

Tom Hanks also auditioned for a part in this ensemble comedy about a New Year’s Eve concert, but casting disagreements between director Allan Arkush and a studio executive named Herb Solow led to Daniel Stern winning the role instead. Here’s how Allan Arkush explained the situation:

“Every role, there was an argument. He actually talked me into Daniel Stern in the lead instead of Tom Hanks… who was hilarious, and I think he’d only done Bosom Buddies at that point.”

Get Crazy wasn’t a hit, and it sounds like there was a lot of strife between the studio and the director, so it was probably in Hanks’s best interest that his first big movie role was in a more widely-seen and fondly-remembered movie.

3. Risky Business (1983)

The role: Joel Goodsen

Who got it: Tom Cruise

Despite being in his late 20’s at the time, Tom Hanks sure went up for a lot of teenage parts in the late 80’s. He auditioned to play the title character in what went on to become the hit Tom Cruise vehicle Risky Business. Risky Business launched Tom Cruise as a major movie star, but Tom Hanks’s nice guy persona would have been at odds with him playing a teenager who turns his parents’ home into a brothel while they’re away on vacation.

4. Splash (1984)

The role: Freddie Bauer

Who got it: John Candy

Before he was cast in the lead role in Splash, Tom Hanks read for the part of the central character Allen’s slobbish, party animal brother Freddie. Director Ron Howard (who would go on to become a frequent Hanks collaborator throughout their careers) asked him to try out for the lead role instead and he was perfect for it. It’s rare for an actor to land a huge role in a film without first working as a supporting actor in movies, but Tom Hanks’s path to starring in Splash was clear because a slew of more established actors (Bill Murray, Dudley Moore, Chevy Chase, John Travolta, Michael Keaton) all turned the part down. Either way, it worked out for Hanks and was the first step towards him becoming his generation’s leading movie star.

5. Police Academy (1984)

The role: Cadet Carey Mahoney

Who got it: Steve Guttenberg

Believe it or not, Steve Guttenberg wasn’t the first choice for the central role in the first installment of the Police Academy franchise. According to Entertainment Weekly, Judge Reinhold, Tom Hanks, and Michael Keaton all turned down the part. Despite the original Police Academy birthing a seemingly-endless franchise and becoming a bigger hit than either of Hanks’s movies that year, Splash and Bachelor Party, Hanks’s time was probably better spent avoiding being locked down to this movie series, which brought diminishing returns with each unnecessary sequel.

6. Armed and Dangerous (1986)

The role: Norman Kane

Who got it: Eugene Levy

After their successful turn as brothers in Splash, Tom Hanks and John Candy had a short-lived run as a comedy duo. They reunited to co-star in the forgettable buddy comedy Volunteers the following year and both signed on to topline the 1986 security guard comedy Armed and Dangerous, an abandoned Aykroyd-Belushi vehicle. Tom Hanks had to drop out of Armed and Dangerous, though, to pursue other opportunities, and John Candy suggested his SCTV buddy Eugene Levy to replace him. Tom Hanks was never again cast as the Aykroyd to John Candy’s Belushi, with the two of them both finding more successful comedy partnerships elsewhere. Tom Hanks teamed up with the real Dan Aykroyd in Dragnet, Meg Ryan in a series of romantic comedies, and a dog in Turner & Hooch, while John Candy did the buddy movie thing with Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Dan Aykroyd in The Great Outdoors, and a Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings.

7. Hook (1991)

The role: Peter Banning/Peter Pan

Who got it: Robin Williams

Tom Hanks was Steven Spielberg’s original choice to play grown-up Peter Pan in the movie Hook, but Robin Williams ended up winning the part instead. Hanks and Spielberg would go on to work together frequently, collaborating on the movies Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me if You Can, and The Terminal, as well as two acclaimed World War II miniseries, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Starring in Hook would have been a boon to Tom Hanks’s career and it’s a role he could have handled ably, but he wasn’t hard up for good parts in the early 90’s, with Philadelphia and Forrest Gump right around the corner.

8. Groundhog Day (1993)

The role: Phil Connors

Who got it: Bill Murray

Writer/director Harold Ramis has said that Tom Hanks was his original choice for the role of disgruntled weatherman Phil Connors, but Hanks was too nice to play such a mean character. Bill Murray was the perfect choice for the movie because he’s able to play a jerk and still keep audiences on his side, something that’s a little outside of Tom Hanks’s wheelhouse.

9. Benny and Joon (1993)

The role: Sam

Who got it: Johnny Depp

MGM originally wanted Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts to play the male and female lead in the this unusual romantic comedy, but a series of casting shuffles led them to seek Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon before winding up with Johnny Depp, Woody Harrelson, and Laura Dern in the three lead roles. Laura Dern dropped out when she found she would be third-billed in the credits and poster, and Woody Harrelson subsequently left the project to star in Indecent Proposal. The studio sued Harrelson for breach of contract and the movie eventually ended up with Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Aidan Quinn as its three main characters.

10. Jerry Maguire (1996)

The role: Jerry Maguire

Who got it: Tom Cruise

Tom Hanks was writer/director Cameron Crowe’s first choice for the title role in this Oscar-winning comedy-drama about a sports agent who experiences a change of heart. Hanks opted out as he was committed to making his directing debut with That Thing You Do! at the time, and Tom Cruise ended up better-suited for the character anyway. Hanks has said he’s glad he skipped this one because Cruise was so perfect for the role. Here’s Hanks discussing his feelings on the matter:

“I think you look at it now and it couldn’t have been anybody other than Tom Cruise…It’s the way the movie’s operated. I don’t think anybody would look at that now and say, ‘That movie was not perfect.’”

11. Jack (1996)

The role: Jack Powell

Who got it: Robin Williams

Francis Ford Coppola’s first choice for Jack was Tom Hanks. Hanks had a great deal of success with a similar role in Big (there, he was a kid in an adult’s body, not the other way around like he would have been here). Needless to say, Jack was no Big, and Tom Hanks made a wise choice by passing on this one.

12. Primary Colors (1998)

The role: Jack Stanton

Who got it: John Travolta

Tom Hanks was circling director Mike Nichols’s project based on Bill Clinton’s campaign staffer Joe Klein’s formerly-anonymous tell-all about Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Hanks ended up unable to make the movie, and the press reported that he opted out because of his friendship with Clinton. Tom Hanks pointed out the inaccuracy of this story, saying, “I’ve met the president – that’s a big difference between being friends with him.” The real reason Hanks passed on the project was because he was too busy, starring in Saving Private Ryan for Steven Spielberg and producing From the Earth to the Moon, 13 hour-long HBO shows on the Apollo lunar missions. Still, I can’t help but wonder what Tom Hanks’s take on Bill Clinton would have been like.

13. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

The role: CW Briggs

Who got it: Woody Allen

In the early 2000’s, Woody Allen spoke to the press about how much trouble he was having getting well-known actors to commit to his movies, with stars asking for too much money being the main issue. Allen claims that Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson each turned down parts in his critically-panned hypnotism comedy The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Hanks was locked down with much bigger and better-received projects, with Road to Perdition and Catch Me If You Can all entering production during this time period, so starring in a mediocre Woody Allen movie wouldn’t have been in his best interest. Woody Allen hasn’t had any trouble landing big-name actors for his movies lately, as his recent hits Match Point, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and Midnight in Paris have helped him to reclaim his status as a director who is frequently sought-after by major stars.

14. Adaptation. (2002)

The roles: Charlie and Donald Kaufman

Who got them: Nicolas Cage

Tom Hanks was, at some point, interested in starring in Adaptation., Charlie Kaufman’s quirky meta tale about his own real-life difficulties turning the novel The Orchid Thief into a movie. Hanks didn’t commit to the project, and Nicolas Cage slid into his place and won an Oscar for his dual roles as brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman.

15. Shopgirl (2005)

The role: Ray Porter

Who got it: Steve Martin

Speaking of adaptations, Steve Martin envisioned Tom Hanks as the wealthy businessman character when turning his novella Shopgirl into a movie but changed his mind when he realized he was better-suited for the part because he was closer to the material and understood the character better. Martin has always been good at delivering his own words, and he’s more bellievable than Tom Hanks would have been as a sleazy guy who has a casual fling with a much-younger woman.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

The Lost Comedy Roles of Tom Hanks