Movies based on Tom Clancy’s books, ranked

At the height of its cultural popularity, Tom Clancy was a name synonymous with cash registers and The New York Times List of best selling products. Starting with the 1984 novel Hunting for Red October and until his death in 2013 (with subsequent novels authorized by his estate), Clancy’s penchant for military accuracy helped popularize the technical thriller in mainstream media. His most popular series, following the career of CIA analyst Jack Ryan, has inspired six feature films and a current Amazon Prime Video series starring John Krasinski as the titular hero.


With two reboots and four actors playing Ryan since 1990 (not counting Krasinski), film adaptations of Clancy’s works are an interesting conundrum. At their best, they represent the genre’s best of their time, while lesser offerings showcase a franchise that should have been a bona fide success, but always seemed unsure of where to head next.

COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY

6. No remorse

Michael B Jordan in the movie No Remorse
Image via Amazon

The 2021 Amazon Original Movie chronicles the origin story not of Jack Ryan but of John Clark (Michael B. Jordan), arguably the most popular supporting character in Clancy’s Ryanverse and the star of his own spin-off novels (as well as Ubisoft’s video game series Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six). Although Clark was a significant player in Ryan’s third and fourth films, A clear and immediate danger and The sum of all fears (performing Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber, that is), plans for the adaptation of his solo novel of the same name and similar concepts languished in development hell for almost two decades. With all that time spent waiting, fans wouldn’t be remiss to expect a film with more weight instead of one that goes through the motions expected of a revenge thriller. Like that, No remorse is competent enough, but recycles tired tropes, playing with fierce intensity rather than earning it through dedicated script work, as Clark searches for answers after Russian operatives kill his family and his Navy SEAL team. The most commendable feature of the film is Jordan’s performance, as he is an actor who is seemingly incapable of not giving the role his all, but Jordan deserves a script worthy of his caliber.

RELATED: Ranking all the Jack Ryans, from John Krasinski to Harrison Ford

5. The sum of all fears

two men in suits standing on top of a building with the city in the background

Jack Ryan’s fourth consecutive film also served as a soft reboot of the previous three installments. Ben Affleck takes over from Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin like a much younger and inexperienced Ryan, the action moves from the early 1990s to 2002, and the book’s villains are neo-Nazis rather than Palestinian terrorists (a very wise change). All in all, The sum of all fears is similar to a well-oiled watch. It’s smoothly paced, an effective mystery and always ticking, fully committed to the semi-apocalyptic concept. As a bonus, it pays homage to the (mostly) defining factor it did Hunting for Red October remarkable narrative: intelligence and diplomacy resolve potential war, not patriotic bravado or harming others. Affleck brings a self-effacing but sincere energy to his Ryan, and it would be really hard to go wrong with a cast that includes Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, and Ciaran Hinds. However, some of the nuke imagery is still questionably strong, and without Jack Ryan’s name, there’s little to distinguish it from early 2000s thrillers of the same ilk.

4. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

jack-ryan-shadow-recruit-kevin-costner-chris-pine
Image via Paramount Pictures

The second attempt at a reboot, the first entry into the franchise since then Sum of all movies, and the first screenplay not based on Clancy’s novel: all of these facts likely played into why a disappointing box office doomed this second reboot. And that’s a shame, in its own way. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit may also fail to bring anything new to the cinematic table, but the director Kenneth Branagh the skills of an experienced director fill in those vague gaps and elevate Recruit from the shadows to something more pleasant than heartless popcorn. It’s fun, fast-paced and revels in classic spy thrills, and Chris Pine is always an attractive clue. Looking at his future wife, Cathy (Keira Knightley), having more narrative weight is also a treat, even if it ends up being relegated to the hands of a kidnapped loved one.

3. Patriotic games

patriotic games-harrison-ford
Image via Paramount Pictures

Fans may know this more as the infamous adaptation so unfaithful that Clancy wanted his name removed from the final production. The Patriotic games the screenplay certainly takes liberties with the source material, but like Branagh’s direction assisted Shadow Recruit’s entertainment value, the excellence of the cast offsets the sillier plot points. Ford’s first outing as Jack Ryan is another showcase of the star’s effortless watchability. Published in 1990, Patriotic games also has a particularly poisonous Sean Bean foreshadowing his era of villains (Golden eye was still five years away). Some of the action sequences are also excellent, like Sean Miller’s Bean chasing Cathy Ryan (Anne Archer) and daughter Sally (Thora Birch) down the Chesapeake Bay Bridge at rush hour.

2. Clear and present danger

clear-and-present-danger-harrison-ford
Image via Paramount Pictures

After Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones) appoints Ryan as Acting Deputy Director of Intelligence, poor Jack can’t just have a quiet day. Instead, he is left to unravel a complicated conspiracy involving a Colombian drug cartel and high-level US officials like the president. Still, all in one working day, right? Despite the need to balance a more complex plot with several overlapping storylines and more new characters, A clear and immediate danger is a faster, tighter effort than it Patriotic games predecessor and therefore more pleasant. Ford remains on top of his action hero streak, and under different creative circumstances, the franchise could easily continue for many more sequels.

1. Hunting for Red October

hunting-for-red-october-alec-baldwin

Sometimes, the original strikes gold. From a production point of view, die Hard directorial duo John McTiernan and director of photography Jan de Bont to create a wonderful sense of escalation, of inevitable tension based as much on character as on setting. The attention to detail in recreating the claustrophobic submarine interiors while still leaving plenty of room for film equipment, not to mention the dynamic lighting of those monotonous spaces, is superb. The roll call of the actors is the best one could wish for at that time (where else would you find it Sean Connery, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Scott Glenn, Tim Curry, and Stellan Skarsgård all together) and helps poignantly sell the sepulchral atmosphere. Ryan’s (Alec Baldwin) discerning eye pays off through study and shrewdness and inspires hope that there are always honorable people in this world, even if they are on the other side of the Cold War. At its core, Red October he believes that people of opposing nations are capable of enough empathy to share a love of the peaceful, quiet simplicity of fishing. And underneath all the franchise’s outlandish spy shenanigans, car chases and gunfights, dreaming of that peace is painfully human.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *