The Jack Ryan Franchise, Ranked
With the recent re-release of The Hunt for Red October in a new Limited Edition Steelbook format—if you already own the movie, you aren’t missing anything new, to be honest—and having just, finally, finished watching Season Two of Amazon’s Jack Ryan series, I figured now was as good of time as any to look back on the Jack Ryan franchise and do what any online critic does best: rank them.
Paramount’s attempt at a rebooted Jack Ryan movie franchise fell short for a myriad of reasons, most notably the desire to transform the CIA analyst into a full-on action hero. Interestingly, if the movie weren’t branded as a Jack Ryan film and avoided comparisons to the three top-tier classics that preceded it, Shadow Recruit would be considered a perfectly fine action flick.
As is, though, it all feels a bit generic, complete with a surprisingly generic bad guy (played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) and an equally generic plot.
Still, the movie has a lot of things going for it, too—Chris Pine is actually a pretty decent Ryan, Kiera Knightley is an inspired choice for his soon-to-be-wife, and injecting Kevin Costner into the mix doesn’t hurt, either.
6. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Season Two (Amazon Series)
John Krasinski comes into his own in Season Two, proving that a more experienced Jack Ryan—and more trusted—makes for a better character. The show’s second series borrows some elements from the movies—a slightly less satisfying recycling of the Colombian motorcade attack scene in Clear and Present Danger—but largely tells a unique plot that thankfully has nothing to do with Islamic terrorists.
Season Two is a solid entry and has me excited for Season Three, though I’d caution the showrunners to maintain Jack Ryan’s analyst foundations; as in Shadow Recruit, this season comes perilously close to turning him into an action hero.
5. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Season One (Amazon Series)
I wrote this immediately after finishing the first season in 2018: The first season of the John Krasinski TV series is an entertaining and solidly made long-form thriller that hopefully will get better as it matures, because, as proven by the lesser entries on this list, the character works best when he has already earned his chops a bit.
The Amazon series suffers from a somewhat stereotypical “Islamic terrorist” plot and cuts some corners in the logic department, but is balanced by some strong character development of both the protagonists and antagonists. Krasinski isn’t the perfect Ryan but has room to grow, and Wendell Pierce is a great selection as “the James Earl Jones character.” Most importantly, the show understands that Jack Ryan is first and foremost an analyst—and action star second.
The Sum of All Fears is overlooked for many reasons, most notably that at the time a lot of people wanted Harrison Ford back for a third run and got Ben Affleck instead—at the height of Affleck’s early-00’s assault on audiences. You know, before he figured out how to direct, let alone act.
While Affleck is a poor choice for Ryan and the decision by the filmmakers to reorient the story around a young, early career version of the character is disappointing, the movie itself is actually pretty good. The production, in terms of tone and plot, feels very much like a continuation of the earlier Jack Ryan films, and it actually has the balls, just a year after 9/11, to level Baltimore with a nuclear bomb.
3. Clear and Present Danger
Clear and Present Danger was long my favorite Jack Ryan film, but has since slipped to #3—though that really speaks to the high quality of the three earliest Jack Ryan productions.
The movie has so much going for it, notably the infamous Columbian motorcade attack sequence and the addition of Willem Dafoe to the cast. It superbly blends political intrigue and action—and also introduces a more complex and morally gray perspective on the U.S. government.
2. The Hunt for Red October
On any given day, The Hunt for Red October could easily land the #1 spot. From the powerful score to the compelling plotting, there’s little not to love—yes, that includes Sean Connery playing a Soviet submarine commander—about this submarine thriller. While to this day most people think of Ford as the quintessential Jack Ryan, Alec Baldwin is equally up to the task.
1. Patriot Games
The most personal of all the Jack Ryan movies, Patriot Games pits Harrison Ford against Sean Bean in this satisfyingly powerful thriller. The movie features several exceptional moments, but easily boasts the most gripping and memorable climax of any of the franchise’s entries.
As mentioned above, The Hunt for Red October has often overtaken Patriot Games in my eyes, but the passionate and personal undercurrent that carries through Patriot Games—Bean’s festering and unrelenting anger, and Ford’s determination to protect his family—resonates in ways far and above any other Jack Ryan story.