The submarine thriller The Hunt for Red October was a grand slam both critically and commercially for Paramount Pictures in 1990, and it was arguably the first blockbuster of the decade. The John McTiernan-directed film took its $30 million budget and turned it into $200 million at the box office. And when Oscar season rolled around, it picked up three nominations and took home one win for Best Sound Editing. Sean Connery was praised for his portrayal of Soviet Captain Marko Ramius and picked up a British Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
While the movie would go down as another successful entry on an already long list of hits for Connery, it was Alec Baldwin who had the most to prove with his role of mild-mannered CIA analyst Jack Ryan. The 31-year-old actor had already shown flickers of leading man potential with previous roles in Beetlejuice and Married to the Mob, but Red October provided him with the coveted ticket to board the franchise express. The Hunt for Red October was the first book in Tom Clancy’s series with Jack Ryan to be adapted for the big screen, but Baldwin would never get his chance to reprise the popular character. The part would be filled by other leading actors as the years rolled by: Harrison Ford (Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger), Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears), and the newest Jack Ryan, Chris Pine (Shadow Recruit). So, how did Baldwin miss out on assuming the part of Clancy’s CIA hero in a string of films that grossed nearly a billion dollars? Well, as Baldwin puts it, “The studio cut my throat.”
The missed opportunity to continue with the Jack Ryan character is something that Baldwin says he’s often asked about by fans, but he usually just gives a “half truth answer.” When Charlie Sheen told Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre to f*ck off, Baldwin felt compelled to write a letter to the TV star, warning him of the mistake he was making. Baldwin recounted that in 1991, he was visiting his mother in Syracuse who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, when he received a call from John McTiernan letting him know that studio executive David Kirkpatrick was talking with an even bigger actor (Harrison Ford) about squeezing Baldwin out of the Jack Ryan role. That’s when things got ugly.
“On the phone, John told me that during the period of the previous few months, he had been negotiating to do a film with a very famous movie star who had dropped out of his film days before so that he could go star in the sequels to The Hunt For Red October. John further told me that Paramount owed the actor a large sum of money for a greenlit film that fell apart prior to this, and pushing me aside would help to alleviate that debt and put someone with much greater strength at the box office than mine in the role. I sat there mildly stunned because not only was I in an active negotiation with Paramount, but for them to negotiate simultaneously with another actor was against the law.”