Everyone from Alec Baldwin to Ben Affleck has played Jack Ryan over the years, but only one actor has come back to play Tom Clancy’s most iconic character on more than one occasion (on the film side of the Ryanverse, anyway). Harrison Ford first played the CIA analyst in 1992’s Patriot Games, and then again two years later with Clear and Present Danger.
Over the years, there has been a debate as to which of those two films is the better movie. Though it seems this argument will go on like a never-ending cold war between fans on either side, we’ve decided to try and settle it once and for all by breaking down each movie’s plot, villains, Jack Ryan’s intellect and physicality, presence of other Tom Clancy characters, and climatic showdowns.
As is the case with all of the late Tom Clancy’s books and film adaptations (and even video games), the plot comes first and foremost. This is also true for both Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, but which has a better story?
Patriot Games’ Plot
Patriot Games gets underway when Jack Ryan, who happens to be in the right place at the right time, thwarts an attempt by a group of ultra-militant members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to kidnap Lord William Holmes (James Fox), the British Minister of State for Northern Ireland, who just so happens to be the cousin of the Queen of England. During the chaos, Ryan shoots and kills one of the terrorists which results in his older brother (Sean Bean) putting the former CIA analyst and current college professor in his crosshairs, even if it prevents the group from carrying out their initial plan to kidnap Holmes to collect a large ransom.
Clear And Present Danger’s Plot
Clear and Present Danger kicks off with the Coast Guard discovering the body of a wealthy American businessman who is a close friend with United States President (Donald Moffat). When Jack Ryan is named acting deputy director of the CIA, following Jim Greer’s (James Earl Jones) cancer diagnosis, he finds a connection between the murder and a Colombian drug cartel before stumbling across a plot by the U.S. government to seek revenge.
Winner: The simplicity of the IRA/revenge plot of Patriot Games makes for a more streamlined story, but Clear And Present Danger and all its twists and turns makes for a much more enjoyable time.
The Villains And Their Motivations
Both movies feature some of the best villains from the Ryanverse, but which of those antagonists have the best motivations.
Patriot Games’ Villains
The primary villains in Patriot Games are IRA splinter cell leaders Kevin O’Donnell (Patrick Bergin) and Sean Miller (Sean Bean), but it’s the vengeful Miller who ends up having the final showdown with Jack Ryan. While O’Donnell is concerned with the kidnapping plot and using it to raise awareness and secure cash for his cause, Miller is concerned with only one thing: avenging the death of his baby brother.
Clear And Present Danger’s Villains
There are several villains featured throughout Clear and Present Danger but the primary antagonists are the Escobedo Cartel’s intelligence officer, Colonel Félix Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida), National Security Adviser James Cutter (Harris Yulin), and CIA Deputy Director of Operations Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny). For his part, Cortez wants to take control of the cartel. Cutter and Ritter want to do the President’s bidding by getting revenge for his murdered friend under the guise of national security.
Winner: Even though Henry Czerny is masterful in his portrayal of the cynical Robert Ritter, Sean Bean’s impassioned portrayal of a man trying to avenge his brother’s death is top notch. Patriot Games for the win here.
Jack Ryan’s Use Of His Brains And Brawn
Jack Ryan — no matter the actor playing him — has always been known for his brains and his brawn and the way he uses both to get through various situations.
Patriot Games’ Jack Ryan
Early on in Patriot Games, you are given a quick reminder that Jack Ryan spent time in the United States Marines before becoming a CIA analyst, when he pretty much single-handedly prevents the IRA splinter cell from kidnapping a high-ranking British government official. At the same time, Ryan also uses his analytical mind and eye to locate Annette (Polly Walker) and her comrades after he remembered seeing her when the group tried and failed to assassinate him.
Clear And Present Danger’s Jack Ryan
Jack Ryan is also a mental and physical badass in Clear and Present Danger as he goes to Colombia to get the bottom of the international conspiracy involving the death of the president’s friend. He also slowly puts two and two together when he’s investigating Bob Ritter and James Cutter’s involvement in the whole mess, but only after being tricked into authorizing the funding for the RECIPROCITY operation that seeks out and attempts to kill those responsible for the murder.
Winner: Patriot Games gets this round because 1) he prevented a terrorist attack and 2) he didn’t allow himself to be put in a position where he could be tricked and made to be the fall guy.
Inclusion Of Other Tom Clancy Characters
Both Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger feature Jack Ryan (as well as his family) and Jim Greer, but which movie has the best use of other iconic Tom Clancy Characters?
Patriot Games’ Characters
A pre-Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson shows up in Patriot Games as Lt. Commander Robby Jackson and provides a great deal of assistance during the IRA’s raid on Jack Ryan’s house in the film’s final act.
Clear And Present Danger’s Characters
Willem Dafoe takes on the role of Special Forces operative John Clark in Clear and Present Danger, and despite being portrayed as a more morally ambiguous character early on, he ends up siding with Jack Ryan in his final attempt to save the surviving members of the RECIPROCITY team and get to the bottom of the conspiracy.
Winner: Not only do we see more of Jim Greer in Clear and Present Danger (his death adds a great deal of emotional weight to the movie), but it also features John Clark, who is perhaps Tom Clancy’s second-most notable character next to Jack Ryan.
The Final Act
At this point, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger are tied at two points apiece. To settle this, we’ll take a look at each film’s final act and see how they compare.
Patriot Games’ Final Act
The final act of Patriot Games sees the surviving members of the IRA splinter cell come to Jack Ryan’s house, which just so happens to be the location of a dinner party Ryan is holding for Lord William Holmes. What follows is something that plays a lot like Home Alone but only if Kevin McCallister followed the Wet Bandits onto a boat and crashed it on a line of sharp rocks.
Clear And Present Danger’s Final Act
The final third of Clear and Present Danger sees Jack Ryan earn the trust of John Clark, save the remaining soldiers while also taking out Colonel Félix Cortez, and then make it back to the United States to confront the President of the United States for his role in the matter before heading off to Capitol Hill to speak in front of Congress.
Winner: As cool as it is seeing yet another Sean Bean death in Patriot Games, Jack Ryan making it out of Colombia alive and then confronting the president for allowing this terrible plan to go into motion in the first place makes you want to immediately jump up and give someone a high five.
Clear And Present Danger Is The Better Movie
After five grueling rounds of intense action and analysis, we have a clear winner with Clear and Present Danger. This isn’t to say Patriot Games is a bad movie (it’s not), but the plot, use of Tom Clancy’s classic characters, and that explosive final act give it the edge over its predecessor.
That all being said, both movies feature one of the best Harrison Ford characters and each has a spot high up in the pecking order of great Jack Ryan films. Which movie do you think is better?
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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 barking 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.