No surprise here, but Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime has consistently been one of the streaming platform’s most successful shows. Based on the famous Tom Clancy character, Jack Ryan, the series stars John Krasinski in the titular role. Another non-surprise here, but Krasinski isn’t the first actor to portray Jack Ryan over the years, in fact, he’s the fifth in a long line of established Hollywood actors who have signed up to play the iconic CIA analyst.
Since Jack Ryan was first portrayed by Alec Baldwin in the 1990 Cold War military drama thriller The Hunt For Red October, names like Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine have all been attached to the character. And with all of those big-time Hollywood actors taking a spin at the character, it’s only natural that we lay it all out on the line and decide, once and for all, who we think is the best Jack Ryan.
5. Chris Pine (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit)
You almost have to feel bad for Chris Pine in a list like this, or as I like to call him the forgotten Jack Ryan. Released in 2014 and essentially forgotten later that year, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was the first entry in the Jack Ryan film series to be an original story that didn’t come from one of Tom Clancy’s numerous novels about the character.
The film centers around a younger Jack Ryan early on in his CIA career as he serves as an undercover analyst on Wall Street monitoring suspicious transactions that might be tied to terrorist organizations. The plot quickly goes into motion after Ryan discovers that billions of dollars held by different Russian organizations, and controlled by Cherevin, have disappeared. What follows is run-ins with sleeper agents, bombs that can’t be defused, and lots of shooting and running; you know, typical Jack Ryan stuff.
Throughout it all, Chris Pine did a pretty good job, especially when you consider what he was working with and what he was up against. When you play a character as established and beloved as Jack Ryan, especially a young and relatively inexperienced version of the fictional CIA analyst, it can be hard to make it work. Luckily, Pine was able to bring a dash of his charm to the role. It’s just too bad that he never got the opportunity to try it one more time.
4. Ben Affleck (The Sum Of All Fears)
Chris Pine wasn’t the first actor to play a young and inexperienced version of Tom Clancy’s most famous character. No, that honor goes to Ben Affleck, who took a spin at Jack Ryan in the 2002 box office hit The Sum Of All Fears. But while Pine would take a more mild-mannered approach to the character 12 years later, Affleck - and the screenwriters - took a more brash approach to Dr. Ryan. These traits serve both as an advantage and a disadvantage for this version of Jack Ryan, but just as in previous versions of the character, Affleck’s turn sticks to his guns and lets his cooler head prevail even when it would be easier to freak out and jump to conclusions in tense situations.
Taking place shortly after the Russian president suddenly dies, The Sum Of All Fears, explores what would happen to international relations in the even of a power vacuum in one of the world’s strongest nations. As tensions escalate between Russia and the United States of America, the countries nearly come to the brink of World War III. These tensions are only made worse when a nuclear bomb is detonated outside Baltimore, Maryland, during the Super Bowl. Luckily for everyone, Ryan is there to sort the situation out and allow the world to see another day.
After the likes of Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford played the Jack Ryan character throughout the early 1990s, Affleck helped bring the character into the 21st Century with his new approach to the already established character. And just like Chris Pine would do 12 years later, Affleck brought a lot of youth and attitude to a character.
3. John Krasinski (Jack Ryan)
John Krasinski is definitely the actor we’ve seen portray Jack Ryan the most, which is due to him being the titular character on the Amazon series Jack Ryan. Over the course of the show’s first two seasons, Krasinski has played a Jack Ryan that we have never seen before. He’s more subdued than Ben Affleck and Chris Pine, but not yet as established as when the character was portrayed by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford. Instead, Krasinski’s Dr. Ryan takes traits from all previous portrayals and combines them to make an entirely new character.
In this version, we first meet Jack Ryan as an analyst tied to his desk as he continues to suffer from traumatic injuries and psychological scars of combat as a Marine. Ryan quickly finds himself back in the field as he hunts down an Islamic extremist named Mousa bin Suleiman (Ali Suliman).
Kransinski turns it up a notch in the show’s second season as he takes a more questionable approach to situations and turns into a version of the character that is like nothing we’ve seen before. Sometimes it can be hard to take this new approach to the historically cool-headed and analytical Ryan, but the new gun-toting supercharged Jack CIA analyst can be pretty badass at times.
2. Alec Baldwin (The Hunt For Red October)
Full disclosure, Alec Baldwin would have been in the top spot on this list, but with only one appearance in the series, it’s hard to edge out Harrison Ford who played the character in perhaps the most “Jack Ryan” Jack Ryan movie in Clear And Present Danger. All that being said, The Hunt For Red October is probably one of the best Cold War-era films and is made even better thanks to Alec Baldwin, who gave the world the first portrayal of the famous Tom Clancy Character.
And while Baldwin is outshone by Sean Connery’s role as Red October Commanding Officer Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius in much of the film, his turn as Jack Ryan brings a level of calm and resolve we haven’t seen since. The film centers around Ramius and what turns out to be his attempt to defect from the Soviet Union and seek asylum in the United States. Throughout it all, Ryan remains level-headed and prevents the world from devolving into nuclear war. Even when characters question Ryan’s motivations and expertise, he never loses his cool and is never swayed from his path.
It’s just a shame that Alec Baldwin couldn’t return to reprise his role two years later in Patriot Games, but if it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t have been introduced to Harrison Ford’s version of Jack Ryan.
1. Harrison Ford (Patriot Games/Clear And Present Danger)
Without further ado, we’ve come to the top spot in our ranking of actors who have played Tom Clancy’s iconic Jack Ryan. No surprise here, but that spot is, and will always be reserved for the great Harrison Ford. With Baldwin not able to return for the second film in the franchise, Harrison Ford stepped in to fill his shoes.
Who would have thought that the man who brought characters like Han Solo and Indiana Jones to life would do a tremendous job of portraying Jack Ryan in Patriot Games? Not only did he do a great job at adding a touch of subdued rage to the character, Ford gave the character a level of charm that only he could bring to the table. And while it would have been easy for Ford to bring traits from those characters to Patriot Games, he was able to find a way to make audiences forget about past roles and just see him as Jack Ryan, the CIA analyst.
Ford continued that approach to the role two years later with the release of Clear And Present Danger, which saw the character serve as the acting Deputy Director of Intelligence as he attempts to get to the bottom of a covert war being waged against a drug cartel by the United States government. As he follows the paper trail, Ryan takes it all the way up to the Oval Office, where he confronts the President of the United States for playing a role in the scheme. There isn’t a better-equipped actor to handle the final confrontation between Ryan and the President in the final moments of the movie than Ford.
Do you agree with our list? How would you rank the actors who have portrayed Jack Ryan over the years? Let us know in the comments below.
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Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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