Every Jack Ryan Movie, Ranked
With “Jack Ryan” currently foiling international terrorists on Amazon Prime Video, we thought we’d look at the long, storied cinematic history behind Jack Ryan, the analyst created by Tom Clancy in a series of best-selling novels. (He first appeared in “The Hunt for Red October,” inexplicably published by the Naval Institute Press.) So, don’t be shy to climb into an experimental submarine or save a royal family from a murderous threat, as we rundown every Jack Ryan film (and all the actors who inhabited the role!)
5. 'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit' (2014)
Not only the worst (and most derivative) Jack Ryan film, it's also one of the decade's worst movies. Paramount's attempt to pull a "Batman Begins"/"Casino Royale"-style origin story turns Jack Ryan into a wannabe Bourne, and this fictional take on the CIA into a laughing stock; the movie would have you believe that its more "grounded" take can justify using a civilian (Ryan's fiancee) as an asset in the field because reasons. Chris Pine makes for a likable Jack, but his first stab at the character ultimately killed the franchise on the big screen.
4. 'The Sum of All Fears' (2002)
Ben Affleck is surprisingly solid in this first Jack Ryan reboot, one that predates the craze solidified by "Batman Begins" by three years. Affleck's first and only adventure finds him on the front lines of a plot to put Russia and the U.S. on course for WWIII. Morgan Freeman's Jim Greer is a welcome mentor figure for Jack, and the detonating of a nuke on U.S. soil (during a football game) makes for a harrowing set piece. While unevenly paced, "The Sum of All Fears" is a summer movie for adults -- a solid, three-star effort worthy of a matinee-priced ticket. Nothing more, sadly, as its less-than-blockbuster box office (and Affleck's then-fading star) derailed future plans for this version of the franchise.
3. 'Patriot Games' (1992)
You can forgive the movie's more eyeroll-y thriller plotting elements that dumb the third act largely on the tension and character dynamics of the first two. Ford's first Ryan film, an R-rated follow-up to "Hunt for Red October," emphasizes Ryan's family and his struggle to protect them from a rogue-IRA terrorist, Sean Miller (Sean Bean), after Jack thwarts Miller's London-based attempt to assassinate UK royals. Ford gives Ryan his patented everyman vulnerability -- another "suit and tie" hero -- while punching and shooting bad guys. Standout scenes in this thriller -- a summer movie for adults that would never be made today without more explosions -- include the opening assassination attempt and a raid on a terrorist camp that Ryan only sees via satellite.
2. 'The Hunt for Red October' (1990)
Alec Baldwin is crazy-likable in his first Hollywood leading man role in Jack Ryan's first big-screen adaptation. "Die Hard's" John McTiernan helms this densely-plotted and gripping entertainment, which centers on a rogue Russian sub captain (Sean Connery) threatening to defect to the U.S. with his stealth submarine -- at the height of the '80s Cold War. Great characters, dialogue, and Baldwin's "in-over-his-head" portrayal have helped this thriller age well. But it bothers us how the audience is ahead of its hero. We know that Ramius isn't really going to nuke the U.S., as Russians and U.S. officials fear, because we're privy to his plans before Ryan can deduce it himself. That problematic script element doesn't derail the film's entertainment value, however.
1. 'Clear and Present Danger' (1994)
Ford's second, and best, outing is the "Traffic" of this Tom Clancy series. It cuts from Washington politics to guerrilla warfare in Colombia as Jack finds himself in the middle of the President's illegal war on drugs. The book doesn't feature Ryan until just shy of halfway into its plot, and the film effortlessly fixes that that by putting Jack in the middle of a right vs. wrong conflict that pits our black-and-white hero against morally-grey adversaries -- most notably snake-in-the-grass Robert Ritter (the perfect Henry Czerny). "Patriot Games" director Phillip Noyce returns, delivering the series' most iconic action scene -- a convoy of SUVs ambushed by RPGs -- and its most emotional one, where franchise staple Greer (James Earl Jones) dies of cancer as Jack watches.