The Best Jack Ryan Adaptations Ranked
Novelist Tom Clancy is best known for his spy-driven and militaristic books; his most well-known literary character is that of Jack Ryan. The C.I.A analyst’s first appearance was in Clancy’s premiere novel, The Hunt for Red October. The character is featured in over 20 books; there has been a lot of material for filmmakers to dive into, and they have. With 5 film adaptations so far and now (as you know), an Amazon series that aims to cover any and all of its source material.
Adapting a character and their story is never an easy task for Hollywood; often the details come to fruition differently while other things are embellished. Amazon’s series is definitely going the more action-oriented route and seems to be all the better for it. Here is a look at all of the Jack Ryan adaptations and the actors who have played the iconic character.
Created by Tom Clancy in his novel The Hunt for Red October, first published in 1984, Jack Ryan is a former marine who serves as a CIA analyst. The character has morphed through the years, but proved to be instantly popular, featured in many more novels, and has survived the death of author Clancy in 2013 in a series of new books.
In feature films, the character has been portrayed by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine. Last year, he was resurrected in the form of John Krasinski for an 8-episode series on Amazon Prime, created by Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Graham Roland (Fringe).
Retaining the character’s backstory — Jack Ryan is still a former marine who suffered a serious back injury and transitioned into a position as a whip-smart CIA analyst in Washington, DC — Cuse and Roland sent Ryan into the Middle East to investigate a burgeoning terrorist plot, masterminded by a previously unknown underground leader.
Teamed with Wendell Pierce (The Wire) as James Greer, a grumpy new chief, the story ricocheted from the Middle East to Paris to Washington as Ryan steps easily in his role as American’s Favorite Modest, Unsung Hero.
Picking up the story some months later, Greer has accepted a promotion within the CIA to Moscow, while Ryan turned down an opportunity to join him. Instead, now wearing a beard and completely disentangled from the doctor who was his girlfriend last season, he decides to join an old friend, who just happens to be a U.S. Senator, on a trip to Venezuela. Soon, Greer arrives from Russia, and together Ryan and Greer are quickly embroiled in a high-stakes plot involving widespread corruption.
At times, the series edges into uncomfortable, nationalistic territory, where it’s strongly suggested that weak foreigners need brave Americans as White Saviors (even if one of them is African-American). The Chief of Station, at least, speaks Spanish fluently, and Greer is semi-fluent, but Jack Ryan does not, so when he angrily demands information from someone who clearly does not understand a word that is coming out of his mouth, it’s risible. Fortunately, that’s an infrequent occurrence.
Simply as a dramatic television show, with a focus on action sequences, Jack Ryan works extremely well. A sub-plot follows a newly-recruited team of unofficial U.S. mercenaries in the jungle and their travails, which allows for plenty of explosions and copious anonymous soldiers to kill and to be killed. It’s not really needed, but it fills in backstory for the primary story, and provides much boom, as it were.