The Jack Ryan movie franchise has ran for 28 years and counting. Based (mostly) on the best-selling series of military techno-thrillers by the late Tom Clancy, five films have been made about the heroic CIA analyst, with four different actors portraying Ryan (two of which were failed attempts to reboot the series). Together, the five films total have grossed $923-million worldwide. With Amazon Prime launching Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan as a new TV series starring John Krasinski, the fifth actor to portray the titular hero, let's look back at the collection of very different Jack Ryan movies.
Regardless of which actor stepped into the role, the overall portrayal of Jack Ryan throughout the films has been mostly consistent. Ryan is a former Marine turned CIA analyst, who is also a history teacher, author, and professor at the United States Naval Academy. His wife Cathy (Muller) Ryan, a surgeon, also figures prominently in most of the films. Because of his geopolitical expertise and his unerring sense of right and wrong, Ryan is regularly drawn into crises that threaten the United States. The films began during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, but as times changed, Ryan's adventures spanned conflict with the Irish Republican Army, the war on drugs coming from South America, and post-9/11 terrorism.
The Ryan films, however, are inconsistent in tone and quality, which makes them a challenge to rank. The first three films in the series are the easiest to follow as they more or less function as a continuing narrative. When director John McTiernan and Alec Baldwin left after Red October, Harrison Ford took over as Jack Ryan in Phillip Noyce's Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger, which fit as the same character Baldwin played. After creative issues stalled the franchise in the late 1990s, the decision was made to reboot the films with a younger Jack Ryan played by Ben Affleck in 2002's The Sum of All Fears. Despite Sum's financial success, the franchise ground to a halt until it was rebooted a second time in 2014, with Chris Pine assuming the role in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. If all of this sounds confusing, that's because it is.
5. The Sum Of All Fears
The Sum of All Fears was the first post-9/11 Jack Ryan film and deals with a Neo-Nazi terrorist setting off a nuclear weapon in Baltimore, Maryland in order to start a war between Russia and the United States. It was released in the summer of 2002, just months after 9/11, and the subject matter of a nuke detonated on American soil can make the viewer queasy, even watching it years later. In the film, Ryan is the only person to realize that the nuclear bomb wasn't Russian, but a framing attempt. The CIA analyst then races against time to get this vital information to the President of the United States, played by James Cromwell, before an all-out war is launched and the Neo-Nazi can fulfill his true scheme, to establish a fascist European state.
Despite a stellar cast, including Morgan Freeman as CIA Director William Cabot, Bridget Moynahan as Cathy Muller, Liev Schreiber, Colm Feore, Ciarán Hinds, Phillip Baker Hall, and Bruce McGill, the plot is convoluted and difficult to follow. Tom Clancy was disgruntled with the many changes made to his novel; in the DVD commentary he introduced himself as "the author of the book that [the director] ignored." At this point in his career, Affleck, who was a controversial pick (just as he would be when Ben was cast as Batman a decade later), simply lacked the gravitas to be convincing as Ryan, even though the character was meant to be younger and brash. Ryan's love story with Cathy also hit awkward rom-com notes ill-fitting with the deadly serious subject matter of the main plot.
4. Patriot Games
1992's Patriot Games began the highly successful two-film run of Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan with Phillip Noyce in the director's chair. Ford was coming off the end of the Indiana Jones trilogy and embraced Jack Ryan as his new franchise. While visiting London with his wife Cathy (Anne Archer) and young daughter Sally (Thora Birch), Ryan prevents an IRA assassination attempt on a member of the British Royal family. In the process, he kills the younger brother of one of the terrorists, Sean Miller (Sean Bean), who vows revenge and follows Ryan and his family back to the United States. For his part, Ryan has retired from the CIA, but after Miller tries to murder his Cathy and Sally, Ryan returns to the Agency to stop Miller and the IRA splinter group he's part of from forming their own private army.
Tom Clancy's novel was actually a prequel to The Hunt For Red October, but the film takes place after the events of the first film. Clancy was so unhappy with the changes the screenplay made, he asked to have his name taken off the film. After the cerebral techno-thriller that was Red October, Patriot Games is a more straightforward action film. Taking full advantage of Ford's status as an action hero, Ryan finds himself constantly involved in bloody fistfights and shootouts. Clancy found the conclusion of the film - a memorable all-out assault on Ryan's home that ends with a boat chase and violent brawl between Miller and Ryan - particularly "unrealistic". And he's not totally wrong. Despite a great cast including James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Bergin, and Polly Walker, Patriot Games has a muddled political story that never gels with the personal grudge between Sean Miller and Jack Ryan.