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The Sum of All Fears is a 2002 American action film directed by Phil Alden Robinson and based on a book of the same name by Tom Clancy. Starring Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman it was filmed in 1999, but not released by Paramount Pictures in the United Statesmarker until May 31, 2002.


The film begins with a sequence inspired by the novel's prologue set during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which a single Israelimarker A-4 jet carrying a nuclear weapon is shot down over the Syrianmarker desert. The bomb, over time, is consumed by the sand and disappears.

The film narrative then shifts forward 29 years and inside a secret government bunker in Mount Weathermarker, Virginiamarker, where President J. Robert Fowler (James Cromwell) and some of his senior national security advisors, including Central Intelligence Agency Director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman), are conducting a top-secret wargame, simulating a Russianmarker nuclear attack against the United States.

In 2002, the bomb is found in Syria by a couple of scrap dealers and unwittingly sold to an arms dealer named Olson (Colm Feore), who in turn sells it to an Austrian neo-Nazi named Richard Dressler (Alan Bates) for 50 million dollars on the black market.

Meanwhile, the United States becomes concerned when Alexander Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds) becomes the new president of the Russian Federationmarker. Nemerov is seen as a hard-liner with regards to his control over the Russian military. The Director of Central Intelligence seeks the opinion of CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck), who has done extensive research on Nemerov's life and career. While on a routine inspection of Russia's nuclear weapons facilities, Cabot and Ryan are invited to the Kremlinmarker to meet with Nemerov personally. Tension arises when Nemerov likens the United States' involvement in Russian-Chechen affairs to "sleeping with another man's wife", with Russia the betrayed and vengeful husband. Nonetheless, Nemerov appears to like Jack Ryan (Affleck) after Ryan compliments Nemerov in Russian.

During the inspection, Ryan notices that three senior Russian nuclear technicians are not present at the facility. Nemerov's aide Anatoli Grushkov (Michael Byrne) attempts to assuage Ryan's concerns by telling him that the three scientists are out sick, on vacation, and recently deceased, respectively. Cabot's covert informant in Moscow, known by his codename 'Spinnaker', tells Cabot that Grushkov's explanations are false, and that the whereabouts of the three scientists are truly unknown to the Russian government. Upon arrival in Washington, Cabot sends CIA operative John Clark (Liev Schreiber) to track down the missing scientists. Clark discovers the three scientists in Ukrainemarker constructing Dressler's bomb.

When President Nemerov takes responsibility for an unauthorized gas-warfare attack on Groznymarker, the capital city of Chechnyamarker, President Fowler and his administration become concerned with the volatility of Nemerov's military policies and respond by sending NATOmarker peacekeeping troops to Chechnya. Meanwhile, the nuclear bomb arrives in a crate in Baltimoremarker, Marylandmarker, and is placed at an American football stadium disguised as a cigarette vending machine. In a recording, Dressler reveals his intentions in placing the bomb in Baltimore: frustrated and angered with the American and Russian paternalism over smaller European nations, Dressler has resolved to destroy both nations, much as Adolf Hitler desired to in World War II. Dressler notes that Hitler was "not crazy", but "stupid" in that he tried to fight the Soviet Union and the United States simultaneously. Rather, one must get "America and Russia to fight each other... and destroy each other." By detonating a Russian-made nuclear weapon on American soil, Dressler hopes to aggravate an already tense relationship between the two superpowers to the point of full-blown nuclear war.

Ryan attempts to inform Cabot that the bomb is in Baltimore, but it turns out that President Fowler and Cabot are attending a football game in the stadium where the bomb is planted. The noise from the game makes it excessively difficult for Cabot to hear Ryan's warning. After several tries, Ryan gets the warning across and Cabot orders the Secret Service agents to rush the President out of the stadium. The President manages to escape the stadium, but only moments before the bomb detonates, destroying a significant part of the city and scattering the President's motorcade. After the explosion, President Fowler is rescued by heliborne United States Marines, and taken airborne on a Boeing E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Post with his cabinet. Immediately, they fear that the bomb was Russian. Ryan's girlfriend Dr. Catherine Muller (Bridget Moynahan) survives the blast and Ryan survives a helicopter crash, but Cabot dies later at a hospital.

After learning about the explosion, Dressler telephones a corrupt general in the Russian Air Force. In an attempt to further aggravate the situation, the general orders his Tu-22M Backfire pilots to strike an American aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis with standoff missiles in the North Seamarker under the false information that a U.S. ICBM has destroyed Moscowmarker. The strike heavily damages the Stennis and renders the carrier unable to launch aircraft. In response, American President Fowler orders three United States Air Force F-16 fighter jets to attack the originating Russian air base. Tensions mount as trust between Fowler and Nemerov rapidly deteriorates. To prove that he is willing to take the exchange to the next level, Fowler orders SNAPCOUNT, the military to maximum readiness, preparing to launch a massive nuclear strike on Russian military targets. Seeing that the U.S. has dispatched B-2 Spirit stealth bombers and nuclear submarines, Nemerov prepares to launch his ICBMs on the United States.

Ryan first learns about the origin of the bomb after the Army Radiation Assessment Team conducts an isotopic fingerprint analysis of air samples around ground zero. It is concluded that that the plutonium for the Baltimore bomb was manufactured in Savannah River nuclear plantmarker in South Carolina in 1968, thus indicating that the original fissile material was of American, not Russian, origin. He tries, unsuccessfully, to communicate this information to President Fowler. Ryan further discovers that Dressler was behind the Baltimore attack. After being with the dying William Cabot, Ryan takes Cabot's personal effects, and with Cabot's text messenger, asks Spinnaker how the American plutonium ended up in a Russian bomb. Spinnaker tells him that the United States had secretly managed to send it to Israel for their nuclear weapons program.

Ryan gets to the Baltimore harbor docks, only to find Dressler's American contact Lod Mason murdered by Dressler's South African hitman Haft. Haft attacks Ryan, but Ryan manages to get the upper hand on him. Ryan tries to force Haft to talk, but is thwarted as the Maryland State Police arrive. Via a Maryland State Police helicopter, Ryan manages to get to The Pentagonmarker, where he is able to communicate the truth to President Nemerov. Relying on Ryan's word, Nemerov proposes a plan to Fowler to a stand down. Fowler follows suit, and nuclear war is averted.

The two presidents meet and make peace as agents of both governments hunt down and assassinate the terrorist conspirators. John Clark slits Olson's throat, Russian agents pursue and shoot the traitorous General Dubinin in a snow-covered forest, and as Grushkov looks on, a carefully-placed car bomb kills Dressler after he replaces his bodyguard and pushes in the cigarette lighter, triggering the bomb.

The final scene takes place in Washington, D.C.marker, where Presidents Fowler and Nemerov address the Baltimore tragedy and the future of weapons of mass destruction during a speech on the White House lawn. In a nearby park, Ryan and Cathy Mueller are having a picnic when they are approached by Grushkov. It is revealed that Grushkov is Spinnaker: Cabot's covert source in Moscow. Grushkov gives Dr. Muller a "modest gift" for her engagement to Ryan. Muller and Ryan are perplexed, as they have not told anyone of their engagement. Ryan asks Grushkov how he could possibly know this secret, but he simply smiles, shrugs and walks away.

Main cast

Deviations from the book

While the basic plot was the same, there were significant changes from the book. Noting these substantial changes, in the commentary track on the DVD release, Tom Clancy jokingly introduces himself as "the author of the book that he [Phil Alden Robinson, who is present with Clancy] ignored".

The original terrorists in the novel were Arab nationalists, but in the movie, they are changed to neo-fascists. A common misconception is that this was done as a reaction to the September 11 attacks.However, the movie was filmed months before 9/11; it finished filming in June 2001.(The 9/11 attacks actually resemble the events at the end of Debt of Honor instead, the novel after The Sum of All Fears, where the terrorist is not an Arab but a bitter Japanese pilot who is avenging the deaths of his son and brother during a Japanese-American war.) On the "making-of" DVD extra, the director says that this was purely for elements relating to the plot, as Arab terrorists would not be able to plausibly accomplish all that was necessary for the story to work. The group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) did mount a two-year lobbying campaign that ended on January 26, 2001, against using "Muslim villains", as the original book version did. Director Phil Alden Robinson is quoted in a letter to CAIR saying "I hope you will be reassured that I have no intention of promoting negative images of Muslims or Arabs, and I wish you the best in your continuing efforts to combat discrimination". Screenwriter Dan Pyne claims that the decision to not use Arab terrorists was "possibly because that has become a cliché. At the time that I started writing the Sum Of All Fears, Joerg Haider was just starting to come into play in Austria. And simultaneous with that, I think, there was some neo-nationalist activity in Holland, and there was stuff going on in Spain and in Italy. So it seemed like a logical and lasting idea that would be universal." It has also been noted that a larger percent of profits stems from international audiences, and American filmmakers work to avoid alienating large segments of this customer base.
  • The attacked city was changed from Denvermarker to Baltimoremarker. References to the "Super Bowl", "San Diego Chargers", and "Minnesota Vikings" were made generic. However, as the presidential motorcade is arriving at the stadium, several XXXVII logos can be seen during a shot of the American flag affixed to the car; while the logos differ from the actual Super Bowl XXXVII logo, Super Bowl XXXVII was played in 2003, planting this movie's timeframe in the near future. The game scenes were filmed at Olympic Stadiummarker in Montreal, with CFL teams Montreal Alouettes and the Toronto Argonauts standing in for the game's participants. Although the game clearly takes place indoors, overhead shots of Baltimore in the film reveal its football stadium as being an outdoor facility. Also, in the book the Secretary of Defense also owns the San Diego Chargers, a detail that is not part of the movie.
  • In the novel, President Fowler did not attend the game, relying on the advice of the Secret Service, but his trusted Secretaries of State and Defense do attend and are killed in the nuclear explosion, leaving him without good advice during the ensuing crisis; in the movie, all three men escape the blast area in time to avoid being killed.
  • In the novel, Cabot is a political appointee who is seen as inept and largely incapable of heading an agency like the CIA. In the book, Cabot is heading home from a security conference in South Korea during the crisis but provides no help in resolving it since satellite communications were damaged by the nuclear explosion, and he is on an airplane with no direct communication links. In the movie however, Cabot is very skilled at his job, is killed in the attack and deeply missed during the ensuing crisis.
  • The "battle for Berlinmarker" is excluded from the script (since the book was based in the early 1990s there is still a Soviet garrison in the city and during the course of the book, there is a clash between Russian and American tanks)- although the Berlin Brigade, which was historically deactivated in 1994, is mentioned at the beginning of the movie. The attack on the USS John C. Stennis by a Russian Air Force officer who is working for Dressler fits into this niche for the movie.
  • In the book, Spinnaker (the mole in the Russian government) is actually found to be an unreliable source because he is making up or changing information for his own benefit to become a president of the USSRmarker (or the Russian Federationmarker), and the Russian President swears he will end his career when his role in the events that nearly caused WWIII is revealed. In the movie, Spinnaker provides good information and remains a trusted advisor at the story's end.
  • Robby Jackson's role is omitted.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Elliot's role is omitted. Indeed, the issue of incompetence/stupidity among U.S. government officials is replaced by panic over the sudden crisis, lack of information and disputes with the equally flummoxed Russians.
  • Instead of the U.S. fighters shooting down Libyanmarker MiGs, the USS John C. Stennis is attacked by Backfire bombers.
  • Since the film is a reboot, some details of Jack Ryan's life are changed. In the film, Jack Ryan is a low-level intelligence analyst, whereas he is the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence in the book. The film also shows Ryan dating Catherine Muller and meeting John Clark for the first time, while in the book he is already married to Muller and they have children; Ryan met Clark in Clear and Present Danger (in the film as well as the book). Additionally, the given name of Ryan's wife throughout Clancy's novels is Caroline instead of Catherine; "Cathy" is her childhood nickname in the books.


The Argus praises Freeman for giving "the William Cabot character such validity." Roger Ebert felt that "the use of the neo-Nazis is politically correct: Best to invent villains who won't offend any audiences." But he also feels "Jack Ryan's one-man actions in post-bomb Baltimore are unlikely and way too well-timed." According to Box Office Mojo, the movie made U.S. $118,907,036 and $75,014,336 in foreign totals, well recovering its $68 million production costs.

As of November, 2009 Rotten Tomatoes reports that %59 of critics gave the film positive reviews and that the average rating was 6/10 based on a total of 166 reviews counted.


  1. The book The War Against The Terrorists: How to Win It by Gayle Rivers reports that the use of bodyguards to start automobiles, and making that fact known, started in response to car bombs. In this example, the KGB would have to go to elaborate lengths based on good intelligence (smoking habit) to kill Dressler but spare innocents such as his bodyguard.
  3. Lana K. Wilson-Combs, "wHEW! Freeman won't give up acting anytime soon," The Argus (May 31, 2002).
  4. "The Sum of All Fears (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes.

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