Tom Clancy, 'father' of Jack Ryan, gave movies a post-Cold War template

Image: Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck
L-R PATRIOT GAMES, Harrison Ford, 1992, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, Alec Baldwin, 1990, SUM OF ALL FEARS, Ben Affleck, 2002Everett Collection
By Randee Dawn

Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine are four of Hollywood's most bankable actors. All of these men have starred as the fictional Marine/Naval-instructor/CIA/President everyman Jack Ryan, whose author "father" Tom Clancy passed away Oct. 1 at the age of 66.

Clancy's books were meaty, intelligence- and military-heavy tales of espionage and terrorism, and were natural vehicles to be turned into feature films. Many were made in the immediate aftermath of the end of Cold War tensions, and provided a pre-9/11 template for the kind of espionage stories the movies had been making hay with for decades. Clancy's hero was nearly always Ryan, but he repeated favorite characters, including the similarly all-American-sounding John Clark, who was played by Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber in two of Ryan's films as well.

But it was Ryan who captured the public's imagination first and remains America's best version of James Bond (sorry, Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt). In 1990's "The Hunt for Red October," a fresh-faced Baldwin created the character on screen ("Hunt" was also Clancy's first published novel), in which he helped a Soviet naval captain (Sean Connery) defect with a super-advanced USSR submarine to the U.S. The film earned $200.5 million at the worldwide box office, and ensured sequels at a time when Hollywood wasn't guaranteed to be making movie follow-ups. 

After that came "Patriot Games" (1992) and "Clear and Present Danger" (1994), featuring Ford in the lead role; Affleck took over for "The Sum of All Fears" in 2002. Chris Pine's "Jack Ryan: Shadow One" is set for a Christmas 2013 release, and will reboot the series by taking Ryan back to his CIA days. And why not? Jack Ryan films have earned a worldwide box office of $779.6 million over the years.

Baldwin clearly remembers his Ryan days with affection; he tweeted Wednesday once news of the author's death broke.

Rest+in+peace+the+great+writer+Tom+Clancy. A+real+gentleman+of+the+old+school.


But Clancy's Hollywood success extended beyond the big screen. In 1995 his first novel in the "Op-Center" series was released to time out with an NBC miniseries of the same name starring Harry Hamlin; in 1999 his first futuristic "NetForce" novel was turned into an ABC movie starring Scott Bakula. In addition, he had several long-running series of video games including "Rainbow Six" (based on his novel) and "Splinter Cell" (which was eventually turned into a series of novels written by other authors).

Since 9/11, Jack Ryan has taken a backseat on the small screen, something "Shadow One" is clearly hoping to correct. While it's not an adaptation of a Clancy novel directly, it does help bring the author's Ryan to a whole new generation — an immortality any writer would welcome.