Jack Ryan is novelist Tom Clancy’s best-known character. Since he first appeared in the bestselling book The Hunt For Red October in 1984, Ryan’s appeared in 20 novels and 5 books, and now he’ll be making another screen appearance, this time in the form of an Amazon Prime web series called Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan starting today! The new series stars John Krasinski in the title role, following in the footsteps of Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and, most recently, Chris Pine.
The truth is, of all the Jack Ryans, Krasinski might legitimately be the best one yet. He’s more relatable than previous versions of the character, and he does not have the baggage of trying to be a badass either. With Krasinski’s Jack Ryan, he feels like a real person, not a stock movie character. Which is saying something!
But… before Krasinski re-defined the character, who did it best?
Here’s what he kept in mind as we ranked the previous Jack Ryans. First, we looked at the fidelity of each version to the background of Clancy’s book version. In the books, Ryan is the son of a Baltimore nurse and a homicide detective, he studied economics and became an officer in the Marines before damaging his back in a helicopter crash. Then he worked in Wall Street before the CIA took him in and his adventure begins. The best movie Jack Ryan has to feel like he lived that life. Next, we looked at things like actual performance and overall enjoyability. We ranked not just on which was closest to the novels but on something just as important. Entertainment factor. And this is what we came up with.
Chris Pine’s turn as the Wall Street analyst turned CIA operative is not necessarily bad, but the modus operandi of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was to update the Jack Ryan character rather than translate the one from the books. Which again, does not automatically mean Pine’s Ryan is bad or that it’s all too different from the previous versions – his back story is largely the same – but without source material to rely on Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit does not feel like a Jack Ryan movie so much as it feels like a by the numbers action movie. This movie could have been called Espionage: The Spy Movie with Spy Stuff and turned out about the same.
Ben Affleck’s take on a young Jack Ryan in Sum of All Fears actually feels pretty real. The movie version deviates from Tom Clancy’s novel by making Ryan younger, but the change is handled believably. Affleck’s Ryan is smart, yes, but clearly is not the self assured character he turns into later. Instead Ryan’s inexperience and status as a greenhorn makes Sum of All Fears and enjoyable watch because it humanizes him. At the same time, it does challenge our ability to believe this is the same Jack Ryan who used to be a marine and who managed to make millions on the stock market in his 20s.
2. Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford played Jack Ryan in two movies, Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games. Though technically Ryan is at his youngest in the Patriot Games book, unlike the other actors on this list, Ford played Ryan like the older statesmen he becomes in the later books. Ford’s take on Ryan has him moving through scenes with a sense of authority, like someone who has seen plenty and can believably handle the extraordinary circumstances thrown at him, even when there are cars blowing up all around him. Ford also elevates Ryan to near Shakespearean heights in some scenesespecially in Clear and Present Danger when he has to face off against other CIA members.
While other actors did a good job, it’s Alec Baldwin’s Jack Ryan that takes the cake. His Ryan in the Hunt For Red October is exactly what the character is supposed to be. Like Affleck, Baldwin played a younger, less experienced Jack Ryan but with extra swagger. He’s still a fish out of water, which shines through very wellbut he still believes in his ability to do his job even when others doubt him, which takes the strength of character you want in a Jack Ryan and why, by our money, Baldwin’s portrayal is the best.