You Don’t Know Jack: The Many Faces Of Jack Ryan

“I don’t think that anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center.” Oh, Condi. You who DID predict that an airplane would be flown into a building? Tom Clancy. In the book Debt of Honor (1994), a bitter Japanese dude slams an airplane into the Capitol, uncannily anticipating the events of September 11th, when Al Jazeera crashed an airplane into Benghazi, or something. The details aren’t important.


What is important is that Tom Clancy wrote some kick-ass thrillers with the help of a time machine, and some of those books got turned into movies. With results that — let’s just say they varied a bit in quality. Protagonist Jack Ryan, the historian/analyst who is unwillingly thrust into dangerous scenarios, has been played by some very talented actors, and Ben Affleck. Great character actors received no doubt handsome paychecks, cult stars appeared in bit parts, helicopters were murdered, and a good time was had by all. In honor of the latest film, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, I binge-watched all the Jack Ryan movies in one weekend. The things I do for you.

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

The first Jack Ryan movie is a fun Fin de Cold War relic, featuring a young, slim Alec Baldwin as an eager beaver CIA analyst who gets in way over his head. Sean Connery is the bad guy (OR IS HE?) in this classic submarine movie. The action moves along at a nice clip, and you can have fun in the slow moments playing “Look, it’s that guy,” as the supporting cast is full of future stars.

Jack Ryan: Boyishly eager Alec Baldwin
Underutilized Cult Star: Tim Curry
Evidence of time travel: Russian political officer uncannily named Putin

Patriot Games (1992)

Even though the first movie was a hit, Hollywood replaced Alec Baldwin with Harrison Ford for the sequel. On paper this must have seemed like a good move, but for some reason Harrison Ford basically phones in his performance in this bit of hooey about rogue IRA terrorists. James Earl Jones returns as the boss man, and there are some other good supporting actors, but generally this is the worst movie of the franchise.

Jack Ryan: Sleepwalking Harrison Ford
Underutilized Cult Star: Thora Birch
Evidence of time travel: Movie uncannily predicts terrorists travelling through Benghazi

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

Harrison Ford seems to have woken up for his second performance as Jack Ryan, this time fighting some Colombian drug lords, rogue CIA agents, the President, and anyone else who happens to be around. Implausible but kinda fun movie also stars Willem Dafoe and if you don’t blink you can see Benjamin Bratt too.

Jack Ryan: Charming Harrison Ford
Underutilized Cult Star: Ann Magnuson
Evidence of time travel: President’s “It wasn’t me, it was my staff” speech uncannily similar to 2014 Chris Christie press conference

The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Complete re-boot of the Jack Ryan series stars Ben Affleck, who actually isn’t that bad. The bad guys this time are some crypto-nazis who are trying to start a war between the US and Russia. Only Jack Ryan can save the world, with some help from Liev Schreiber and Morgan Freeman. The plot leaves reality behind and enters the alternate-reality “Ryanverse” of the books when Baltimore is (spoiler alert!) nuked. Tom Clancy gets an executive producer credit, so he must have approved this hot mess.

Jack Ryan: Boyishly eager and somewhat horny Ben Affleck
Underutilized Cult Star: Philip Baker Hall
Evidence of time travel: Movie uncannily predicts Baltimore becoming a blighted wasteland


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

Here is your brand new Jack Ryan reboot. This time, Chris Pine stars as the eager beaver CIA analyst who reluctantly becomes an action hero, etc. The bad guy is Kenneth Branagh (also directed) as a Russki oligarch hell-bent on crashing the US economy through stock price manipulation. (n.b. His company’s logo amusingly resembles the Enron tilted-E logo.) Keira Knightley, rocking a subtle Long Island accent, is the love interest.

The movie is so fast-paced that they finally have time to work in the helicopter-crash backstory that was only referred to in the previous movies. Some awesome Moscow action scenes, a fast-moving plot…this is the best Jack Ryan movie since Hunt for Red October. The only thing missing is an elderly African-American in the James Earl Jones — Morgan Freeman boss man role. Kevin Costner? Caucasian, please.

Jack Ryan: Boyishly eager Chris Pine
Underutilized Cult Star: Gemma Chan
Evidence of time travel: Movie’s plot uncannily predicts the Great Crash of 2027.

Final rankings:

Jack Ryan ranking:

1. Alec Baldwin
2. Chris Pine
3. Harrison Ford (Clear and Present Danger)
4. Ben Affleck
5. Harrison Ford (Patriot Games)

Hey Look It’s That Guy ranking:

1. Hunt for Red October
2. Patriot Games
3. Clear and Present Danger
4. The Sum of All Fears
5. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

For the next one, they should bring back Alec Baldwin as the President and maybe Thora Birch could be the love interest/Russki spy. And don’t forget an elderly African-American this time, for crying out loud.

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