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.”
Upon learning about the studio going behind his back, the actor flew home to Long Island to possibly work out a deal with Kirkpatrick, who Baldwin eloquently described as “a beady-eyed, untalented tool.” Baldwin had recently accepted a Broadway role in A Streetcar Named Desire, and he wrote that he thought Kirkpatrick was using this as leverage to squeeze him out of Patriot Games.
“I had to decide if I would agree to an open-ended clause relating to dates for the first sequel and thus completely give up the chance to do one of the greatest dramas in the American theatre, or he would rescind my offer. They had the other guy all lined up, and they were looking for a way to gut me. I thought he wasn’t serious at first. Then, when I realized he was, I chose A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Just like that, Baldwin found himself locked out of a lucrative movie franchise.
Not surprisingly, Baldwin’s open letter to Charlie Sheen grabbed the attention of David Kirkpatrick, who felt compelled to share his side of the story on why the actor didn’t carry on with the successful movie franchise. Kirkpatrick’s side of the story reads a little bit differently.
“Fundamentally, the reason that Alec Baldwin and I ended our relationship over the character of the Jack Ryan franchise was an issue of trust. We did not trust one another to continue in the enterprise. The negotiations to continue as Jack Ryan had drawn out for almost a year and he was nervous over controls, as he was the man on camera and he had a right to be; yet, I had a responsibility, working for a publicly traded company to keep the franchise alive…
Alec Baldwin withdrew from the project, Patriot Games, over an issue of script approval: I wanted him to approve a script and he refused.”
Baldwin went on to have a brief, but unforgettable role in Glengarry Glen Ross in 1992, the same year that Harrison Ford took over as Jack Ryan for Patriot Games. Whether or not Baldwin losing out on the popular franchise was for the best is up for debate, but at this point, it’s basically a tradition to have a new Jack Ryan with every new entry in the franchise.
Based on this December 2014 interview with Moviefone, it doesn’t look like Chris Pine will be back for a second round, either.
“That’s one of my deep regrets, that we didn’t totally get that right. It’s a great franchise and if it’s not me then I hope it gets a fifth life at this point. It’s just great. I love the spy genre. I hope it’s done again and with a great story.”
Don’t be surprised if Paramount dubs another Jack Ryan in a few years. It most definitely won’t be Alec Baldwin, though.