Revisiting The Movies of Jack Ryan

With the Jack Ryan series about to get a second season on Amazon Prime I thought now would be a good time to look back at the cinematic legacy of Jack Ryan from Alex Baldwin to Chris Pine.


The Hunt for Red October (1990)

When I was younger, I never liked The Hunt for Red October; I found it far too slow and lacking in action. Watching it as an adult is a wholly different affair and it may actually be my favourite of the Jack Ryan movies.

It has a phenomenal cast that includes Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Joss Ackland, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill, Scott Glenn and many more.

Connery plays Russian submarine captain Marco Ramius who abandons his orders and heads for the east coast of the United States. Equipped with innovative stealth technology, Ramius’ submarine, “Red October,” is virtually invisible. However, when an American sub briefly detects the Russians’ presence, CIA agent Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) sets out to determine Ramius’ motives, fearing he may launch an attack on the U.S.

Red October may not be as action-packed as other entries in the series, but it is the most cerebral dealing with military strategies and an unpredictable narrative where you’re not quite sure just what Ramius is up to. The fact that he murders a man in cold blood makes him a hard man to take to or sympathize with, but Connery’s sheer magnetism makes you take his side anyway.

Alec Baldwin was perfectly cast as Jack Ryan and he’s more of an academic and analyst rather than the action hero that he would be portrayed as in later entries. He goes with his gut and it’s his belief that Ramius plans to defect rather than attack the US and it’s up to him to try and convince Scott Glenn’s sub captain of this.

Glenn is one of my favourite actors as he is so understated and plays Mancuso authentically where you completely him in the role. It never seems like he is acting and instead he just becomes the character.

Basil Poledouris provides one of his greatest scores filled with huge Russian choirs which provide excitement and tension in equal measure.

The first half is establishing characters and their various motivations, and it all leads up to an edge of your seat finale which is confusing as you aren’t sure who is firing at what but it ads to the realism as I imagine that is how it would really be.

The script is intelligent and sophisticated and may require several viewings to fully appreciate the various intricacies of the plot so be patient with it and you’ll be rewarded.

Overall, The Hunt for Red October has Jack Ryan at his most intellectual and is arguably the best iteration of the character in terms of the movies. In terms of submarine flicks I prefer to watch Crimson Tide more often, but The Hunt for Red October remains a classic and still holds up after all these years. Connery never fails to engage and it’s too bad we never got to see Baldwin return as Jack Ryan in future entries.

Patriot Games (1992)

When former CIA agent Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) hampers an IRA terrorist attack in London, he kills one of the terrorists. The dead man’s brother, another member of the group named Sean Miller (Sean Bean), is arrested but quickly escapes. Vowing revenge against Ryan, Miller travels to the United States, where he forces Ryan’s wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch) into a car accident that badly injures them. This convinces Ryan to rejoin the CIA in order to track down Miller.

Patriot Games was my favourite Jack Ryan movie growing up but it was always a tough watch due to the subject matter. My family is Irish so having IRA style villains made for uncomfortable viewing and if anything it’s even harder to sit through today. It had been many years since I watched it so I figured it was time for a revisit for this Jack Ryan retrospective.

This might be blasphemous, but I think Harrison Ford was miscast as Jack Ryan and he was very wooden in the role; Alec Baldwin was far superior and it’s a shame he didn’t return for this movie. Ford is still amiable enough due to the fact he’s Harrison Ford but all he does is look concerned and give that half-smirk he’s known for.

This is Sean Bean’s movie however, and before Patriot Games I didn’t really know who he was. As Sean Miller his Irish accent was pretty spot-on but as he says about 5 lines in the entire movie then he doesn’t really need to do much. He terrified me when I was younger as he was the type of evil that very much existed during the Troubles and was very believable as a terrorist seeking revenge for the death of his brother.

The supporting cast is impressive including James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Harris, Patrick Bergin and Anne Archer so the acting and dialogue is as sharp as you’d expect.

It’s an intense watch but I found that the mid-section does sag a little in terms of pacing although it’s never boring for a second. The finale at the house and speedboats makes for riveting stuff ending with an explosive climax (he he).

The action is well done and the sequence with the attack on the Royals at the beginning feels authentic and there is a genuine feeling of threat throughout. Ryan becomes paranoid and even has a bit of PTSD but as the saying goes it’s not paranoia if they are really out to get you. Sean Miller is like a Terminator that will not stop until Ryan is dead and Bean is at his most menacing making him one of the best villains of the 90’s.

James Horner provides the music score and it sounds like most of his other scores; listen to the music for this then Aliens and it’s practically the same except with some Irish flutes to make it work for this movie.

Overall, Patriot Games remains the most intense Jack Ryan film that for the most part will have you on the edge of your seat due to Sean Bean who is at his most terrifying. Harrison Ford may be a little wooden as Ryan but he is still a sympathetic lead and we root for him all the way.

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

Harrison Ford returns as Jack Ryan in Clear and Present Danger; this was another film I never liked when I was younger as well. Its funny how you grow to appreciate things as you get older. I still think the pacing is a bit off in places but this one has a great story and is filled with political intrigue, corruption and assassinations.

Where I previously criticized Ford for being a little too wooden as Jack he does capture the boyscout aspect of the character and Ford’s everyman charm shines through making him immediately sympathetic. He is thrown in at the deep end when he becomes acting deputy director of the CIA after his friend James Greer (James Earl Jones) is diagnosed with cancer. When an American businessman, and friend of the president, is murdered on a yacht, Ryan starts discovering links between the man and drug dealers. As CIA agent John Clark (Willem Dafoe) is sent to Colombia to kill drug kingpins in retaliation, Ryan must fight through multiple cover-ups to figure out what happened and who’s responsible.

Clear and Present Danger benefits from several viewings to pick up the story which I always found quite hard to follow because I’m not that bright but I have never enjoyed it as much I did on the most recent viewing.

The performances from the supporting players are superb with Henry Czerny and Harris Yulin perfectly cast as the bureaucratic assholes who are as corrupt as they come but underestimate Jack at their peril. The script is razor sharp with some quality dialogue and several memorable scenes. The scene with Ryan confronting the president is a bit of a classic even now.

Willem Defoe’s character is unpredictable and you aren’t sure what his angle is until really the last half hour; he never disappoints and his one of my favourite characters in the film.

Although there is a great story with excellent characters there are some spectacular action sequences too; an assault on Ryan’s cavalcade turns into a massive street battle and is one of the movie’s best scenes. Another highlight is the destruction of the drug dealer’s property which is scary (in how easy it is to take out) but awesome. There is nothing unbelievable about this film and you know that these types of corrupt people and dark dealings are likely in every government in the world.

Overall, as an adult I think I now prefer this movie to Patriot Games but both are quality action thrillers with plenty to enjoy.

The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Based on Tom Clancy’s novel, this espionage thriller tracks a sinister plot to draw the United States and Russia into World War III. When the Russian president suddenly dies, world tension escalates. Coupled with missing nuclear scientists and the threat of a nuclear detonation on United States soil, young CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) must uncover who is behind the conspiracy.

I forgot just how awesome this movie was; I believe I saw it once when it came out in theatres and hadn’t revisited it until recently. The Sum of All Fears may be the best jack Ryan film in terms of pacing and it is also the most devastating with a nuclear explosion taking place on US soil.

I think the movie came out at the wrong time as it was only a year after 9/11 so people really didn’t want to flock to the theatre to see terrorist attacks but enough time has passed that the film deserves a reevaluation as it’s incredibly intense.

Everybody seems to give poor Ben Affleck a hard time but I have always enjoyed watching him on screen and I would have liked to see him return as Jack Ryan a few more times. The supporting cast includes Morgan Freeman, Ciaran Hinds and James Cromwell who are as you can imagine all superb; Freeman is great at coming off as someone you wouldn’t want to mess with but still amiable at the same time. Ciaran Hinds never disappoints and his role as the new Russian leader is one of his best as he is getting played by some Neo Nazis from within his own government who may just start World War 3.

Keep an eye our for Sven Ole Thorsen who has a sizeable role and even gets some dialogue; he ends up having a brief but satisfying fight with Ryan too.

Jerry Goldsmith provides one of his best scores with a memorable theme tune and exciting music that really cranks the pacing up for the movie.

The second half of The Sum of All Fears moves at a breakneck pace and has a genuine race against time feel to it as Ryan tries to convince the American government that The Russian President isn’t behind the attacks; by the time the end credits roll you’ll breathe a sigh of relief that the tension is over and you almost feel as if you have been along for the ride with Ryan.

Overall, The Sum of All Fears deserves more love as it’s one of the best Jack Ryan movies with an exciting story, great cast, excellent score and no shortage of action.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

To his friends and loved ones, young Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) appears to be an ordinary executive; however, he has secretly worked for the CIA for years. Ryan was originally brought in to crunch global data, but when he uncovers a carefully planned scheme to crash the U.S. economy and spark global chaos, he becomes the only man with the skills to stop it. Now a full operative, Ryan finds himself caught between his secretive handler, his clueless fiancee and a brilliant Russian leader.

I remember when I first saw Shadow Recruit I generally disliked it but I rewatched it last night and enjoyed it a lot more however, I still think it is the weakest of the movies thus far.

Chris Pine plays a young Jack Ryan and this movie is where we find out how he got his back injury which would force him to leave the marines and become an analyst. As we all know Jack never stays an analyst for long and is soon sent to Moscow by the C.I.A. to investigate some concealed back accounts by our main antagonist Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) which leads to him finding out about a potential attack on the U.S.. Not only is Jack trying to not get killed by Cherevin’s goons but he is also having to conceal his real job from his girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightly) who thinks he is having an affair.

I like Chris Pine on screen and he plays the boyscout Ryan well making him believable in the role; the best moments were between him and Kevin Costner as his mentor as Ryan wrestles with his conscience. It was interesting watching the character of Ryan go through the process of guilt after killing a man and how he tries to cope with it. I always thought Costner himself would have made a fine Jack Ryan in his younger days but it wasn’t meant to be…

There is nothing in this movie we haven’t seen a million times before and it’s the kind of story that has been done to death. I thought The Sum of All Fears had a greater sense of impending doom and it built up to that amazing explosion in Baltimore. This time America is under another potential threat from Russian terrorists who plan on bombing Wall Street to destroy the US economy. It’s funny how watching the movie these days there is nothing hard to believe about such a thing as it’s could happen in reality at any time.

The late Tom Clancy didn’t have anything to do with this reboot and you can tell as it lacks the sophistication of the other Ryan movies but it still moves along at a taut pace and there is no shortage of action. The highlight is a fight in a hotel bathroom between Ryan and Cherevin’s driver but the final half hour is packed with action and despite it being rather predictable it’s still a fun ride of a movie.

I still think Keira Knightly was miscast and I never took to her as Cathy; I think Anne Archer was far more attractive and likable. She always had a great chemistry with Harrison Ford but there really isn’t any between Knightly and Pine.

The best thing about the movie was Kenneth Branagh as the sadly underused villain Viktor Cherevin who looks quite threatening but never really gets to do that much. His dinner scene with Cathy was intense as you aren’t sure what he is going to do but I felt he could have have had a larger role; he was still adequate enough as the villain.

Overall, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a rather generic spy caper and feels like we’ve seen it all before but Chris Pine and Kevin Costner make a great team and it has several entertaining set-pieces. It’s probably the weakest of the Ryan movies and the one I watch the least but it’s nowhere near as bad as I remember.


So there we have it; those are the movies of Jack Ryan but which is your favourite? I still can’t decide but I really enjoyed The Sum of All Fears and The Hunt for Red October so think they might be mine.

Cameron will be reviewing season 2 of the Amazon Prime TV series soon which begins tomorrow so stay tuned for that.