How Tom Hanks Became Hollywood's Nicest Success Story
Tom Hanks is one of Hollywood’s nicest people. (You may have heard this joke before: “If Tom Hanks punched a nun, everyone would ask, ‘What did that nun do to Tom Hanks?’”) But he’s also one of the highest paid actors on the planet.
Ever since getting a lucky break at a pretty young age, Hanks has steadily climbed the ranks of Hollywood’s best actors, and presumably without stepping over anyone else to do so.
Now with a net worth of more than $350 million, Hanks is still making movies, has expanded into other creative fields, spends a good chunk of his money on his favorite hobby, and likes returning things for people on Twitter.
Here’s how Tom Hanks made his fortune, his views on money, and why he’s one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.
Born on July 9, 1956 in Concord, California to Amos Hanks, a cook, and Janet Marylyn, a hospital worker, Tom Hanks’ early family life defined part of his adulthood — and his career.
Hanks’ parents divorced when he was five, and Tom, his sister, and one brother stuck with their father (his youngest brother went with their mother). His father continually moved, jumping from restaurant to restaurant in the Bay Area, and remarried twice. He said he had lived in 10 different homes by the age of 10.
“I moved about a million times,” Hanks told Rolling Stone. “I think we moved every six months of my life.”
According to Closer, the Hanks family lived in its fair share of hovels. Of one apartment, he recalled: “If you scraped the amount of burnt tomato soup off the stove, it would have been like an archeological dig!”
While that might sound like a depressing childhood, Hanks recalls his itinerant lifestyle fondly. “‘I never had a problem with being new in school — I kind of enjoyed it,’” he told Closer.
When Hanks was 14 worked as peanut vendor at Oakland Coliseum (he’s a big Oakland A’s fan). He also worked at a bellhop at the Oakland Hilton Hotel, where he carried bags for celebrities like Cher.
“I looked stupid in my red blazer and rainbow tie,” he told David Letterman in a 1993 “Late Night” episode.
He Dropped Out of College
In his own words, Hanks was “an underachieving student with lousy SAT scores” by the time he graduated from high school in 1974, he wrote in a New York Times op-ed. He attended Chabot College, a community college in Hayward, California “because it accepted everyone and was free.”
After two years he transferred to Sacramento State, and dropped out a year later. However, in that same op-ed, Hanks credits his tenure at Chabot with inspiring his career.
His First Role Paid $800
Between 1977 and 1979, Hanks performed in stage plays in Ohio before moving to New York City. His first venture into the movie business came in 1980 where he played a bit part in a horror-thriller called “He Knows You’re Alone” (an IMDB reviewer says Hanks is only on screen for about five minutes). He’s said to have made $800 (about $2,500 in today’s money) for the role.
His First Big Break Paid $5,000 a Week
His real break came with “Bosom Buddies,” a 1980 ABC sitcom where Hanks cross-dresses as a woman in order to get into an all-female, low-cost apartment building in New York City. The show was on for two seasons, and Hanks received $5,000 a week for his role. He was 24-years-old.
He Hit It Big Early
After a few more bit parts and a starring role in the 1982 made-for-TV movie “Mazes and Monsters”— a Satanic Panic movie cautioning against the evils of “Dungeons & Dragons”-type games — Hanks broke into Hollywood with 1984’s “Splash.”
In “Splash,” Hanks falls in love with a mermaid played by Daryl Hannah, who wore a 35-pound rubber fin.
“Splash” was a box office success and netted $68.8 million at the box office on an $8 million budget. Hanks made $100,000 from the flick — about $324,000 today. Hanks was also now 27-years-old and a rising star.
But It Wasn’t a Clear Rise to the Top
His next movie, 1984’s “Bachelor Party,” was also a big success at the box office — taking in more than $38 million on a $7 million budget — but many of Hanks’ movies in the 80s were critically panned or box office bombs.
The following film, “The Man with One Red Shoe,” grossed only $8.6 million on a $16 million budget. After that, “Volunteers” was another disappointment, earning $19.9 million on a $25 million budget. He was able to find better success with “The Money Pit” in 1986, but floundered that same year with the film “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” which earned $278,623 at the box office on a $3.7 million budget.
Oh, and for any “Money Pit” fans out there, the money pit itself is listed for $5 million — and it’s been renovated.
Arguably, it wasn’t until 1988’s “Big” that Hanks would become a household name. The now-classic flick was a huge success, earning $151.7 million on an $18 million budget.
Rising Salaries, Boring Career
With “Big,” Hanks reportedly earned $1.75 million. He went on to make seven-figure salaries for movies like “Punchline” ($5 million), “The ‘Burbs” ($3.5 million), and “The Bonfire of the Vanities” ($5 million), according to IMDB. He also made other, similar movies like “Turner & Hooch” and “Joe Versus the Volcano,” with middling success.
While Hanks was making money, he wasn’t creatively satisfied.
It’s probably during the early ‘90s that Hanks decided to switch his career. Inc. transcribed a piece of an interview where Hanks gives some lesson-learned career advice:
"The only way I think you can choose — in my position anyway, the only way I could shape my career was by saying no to things I didn't want to do. And if you say no, and no one else is offering you a job, that means you don't have a job. It's easy to say yes to something [when it pays] a lot of money, you get to go somewhere, you get to have fun. They're working. [The easiest] thing in the world is to say yes. But to look at somebody and say, 'I've done it already, I'm repeating myself, it's not going to advance me along anymore and I'm in this for something other than that,' then you gotta say no."
He Reinvented Himself at 35
The Washington Post marks Hanks’ ascension into being a damn good actor with the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.” Hanks does a 180-degree pivot from boyish rom-com guy to an abrasive and drunk baseball coach who takes a 53-second whizz on screen (well, not facing the camera, but you get the idea).
He was 35 and would no longer say “yes” to whatever came his way. And it was certainly the best decision of his career.
He Became a Hit Machine
Hanks continued to make huge hits, both critically and at the box office. Over an eight-year period he made “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump,” “Toy Story,” “That Thing You Do!” (which he also wrote and directed), “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Green Mile,” and “Cast Away.”
And he made an insane amount of money.
Profit Sharing at the Movies
Most actors get paid a single, pre-determined salary for starring in a movie. Others may take a lower salary and work in a backend deal, like taking a cut of the box office gross.
Tom Hanks is one of those actors who rakes in cash.
Hanks is said to have made $60 million from “Forrest Gump,” thanks to his shrewd business decision to take a percentage of the box office gross, according to Entertainment Weekly. He did a similar same deal for “Saving Private Ryan,” which earned him $40 million.
According to “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies” by Ben Fritz, Hanks was commanding a base salary of around $20 million per film (although Hanks denied that in an interview with Matt Lauer), even if he didn’t make a back-end deal.
Breaking “The Da Vinci Code”
For “The Da Vinci Code” trilogy, Hanks earned $18 million for the first movie (plus an undisclosed amount from the back end) and more than $20 million for “Angels and Demons” — even when the studio took a hit.
According to Fritz, director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, and Hanks made more than $75 million thanks to a 25-percent first-dollar gross backend deal, while the studio lost $24 million. The final film, “Inferno,” with a $90 million budget, did poorly enough that Hanks received just his $15.4 million salary.
A Town in Poland Bought Him a Car
Throughout his movie-making career, Hanks has established himself as a genuinely nice human being — he’s basically the Mr. Rogers of Hollywood (which is also why he’s playing Mr. Rogers).
So when Hanks tweeted pictures of him next to various Fiat 126s — a tiny, low-cost car — a resident in the Polish town of Bielsko-Biala decided to gift him one for his birthday, and the whole town chipped in.
And of course he was excited.
There Are No Money Pits in His Real Estate Portfolio
With more than $350 million in the bank, you better believe Tom Hanks has some sweet real estate.
In 2010, he and his wife Rita Wilson purchased a 14,500-square-foot mansion for $26 million. They sold their first home together, a six-bedroom Mediterranean also in Pacific Palisades, for around $5 million back in 2013 (the two had owned the home for 25 years). In 2017 the couple sold two side-by-side mansions in Pacific Palisades, California, for a total of $17.5 million.
According to Variety, the couple own “at least five other multi-million dollar homes in the area” as well as a $12 million home in Sun Valley, Idaho.
He Runs a Production Studio
Hanks and Wilson co-founded their production company, Playtone, in 1998. The studio helped launch the incredible “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” HBO series, TV documentaries (those CNN documentaries about the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s are Playtone produced), and even records (it produced two “Sopranos” soundtracks).
On the big picture side, Playtone is responsible for movies like “The Polar Express,” “Cast Away,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Parkland,” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” So far, Playtone’s HBO projects have won 52 Emmys and 107 nominations.
It’s probable that Playtone will co-produce “The Mighty Eighth,” the long-anticipated “Band of Brothers”-type of series focusing on the air force in WWII.
He Loves Typewriters
If Hanks has a kryptonite, it’s typewriters. The mega-rich movie star loves to collect antique typewriters and reportedly owns 150 to 250 of them.
Hanks doesn’t just pick out the best of the best from eBay; apparently he’ll meet up in person with other enthusiasts.
“I buy a lot of typewriters … usually like 50 bucks at swap meets and stuff like that,” he told Nerdist. After one family asked for a machine from his collection, he sent them one — with the caveat they had to write one letter a week and they would need to buy a typewriter for someone else, according to NBC.
His “Uncommon Type”
He even wrote a collection of short stories, all involving typewriters, called “Uncommon Type,” which has four stars on Amazon. You can read a sample short story (or just listen to Hanks read it) at The Guardian.
He Also Loves Finding Lost Items
Hanks’ Twitter account not only lets him share pictures of Fiats, it also helps him reconnect lost items with their owner.
Hanks apparently likes to occasionally scour Manhattan, looking for lost items like clipboards, gloves, and shoes. He snaps a picture and calls for its owner. A couple of years ago, he returned a Fordham University student’s ID.
Who else would do this with $350 million in the bank?
Maybe it’s because he doesn’t care too much about his wealth.
He Has a Great Attitude Toward Money
When asked about his attitude toward money by The Sun, Hanks gave some sage advice:
“My attitude to money? On a 1980 TV series called ‘Bosom Buddies’ I made $5,000 a week. If I had made that kind of money for the rest of my life I would have been happy, honestly. But I have been getting ludicrous sums of money for quite some time. Money, though, has never been my driving force. You can live in the biggest and best house in the world but it can be s*** if you are unhappy. And, once you are well off, how much better can you eat?"