Have you ever noticed that pretty much every movie and TV show has a character named Jack? Or, okay, maybe not every one, but at least, like, 60%. That’s a lot of Jacks.
“Who is the best Jack?” I recently asked myself for no reason whatsoever. Is it Jack Traven from Speed? Jack Pearson from This Is Us? Jack Dawson from Titanic? I found I wasn’t sure. So it was time to put all the Jacks side by side and have them duke it out.
This is my definitive ranking, based only on things I’ve seen (going to admit right now that I have never been able to get into 24; go ahead and get your indignant gasping out of the way), so if your fave isn’t on here, sorry, I can’t watch all the things. And if your fave is on here and you think I ranked him too low, I’m sorry but not that sorry. Make your own list.
A couple more disclaimers before we start. These are only fictional Jacks, and will not include dramatic depictions of real Jacks. Jack Swigert will not appear on here no matter how great Kevin Bacon was in Apollo 13. Also, to keep from having to rank nine thousand Jacks, I’m limiting it to mainstream media and only counting main characters. So no, Ross and Monica’s dad from Friends is not on here. If you’re upset about that, I suggest you go eat some chocolate or something and examine your priorities.
Here we go!
19. Jack Torrance, The Shining
The book version of Jack was a regular guy who was slowly driven mad by the hotel, but Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the character ranged from “crazy” to “crazy, but with an axe,” thus completely missing the point of the book. Stephen King does not like this movie, and would probably agree with me that this is the worst Jack.
18. Jack Banning, Hook
Look, I actually have a lot of sympathy for Jack Banning. He was a kid in desperate need of parenting, living through an immensely traumatic experience, and Hook was manipulative and emotionally abusive. It is not Jack’s fault that he developed a weird form of Neverland Stockholm Syndrome and forgot who he was. But compared to the other fictional Jacks, he still goes at the bottom of the list.
17. Jack Pumpkinhead, Return to Oz
Return to Oz is a weird movie. Like. There is a deus ex chicken. And electroshock therapy. And decapitations (so many decapitations). How was this a kids movie? Also this Jack was sweet but, even as a kid, I was not feeling his insistence on calling Dorothy “Mom.”
16. Jack Ryan, every iteration who is not Harrison Ford
I like Chris Pine and John Krasinski just fine, and Alec Baldwin was okay I guess and Ben Affleck was whatever, but all of these Jacks just feel like imposters. Long live the One True Jack Ryan.
15. Jack McFarland, Will & Grace
I give Jack lots of points for existing in the ’90s, caricature though he was. It was the ’90s and he was funny and Will & Grace absolutely moved the needle as far as LGBTQ+ representation in media went. But I can only handle so much of this Jack, because he is… so much. So much, Jack.
14. Jack, Legend
I rewatched Legend last week (theatrical version and director’s cut) and do you know what, this movie doesn’t make any sense at all. I never noticed because it still makes me feel exactly what it sets out to make me feel, which I think was the entire point. Ridley Scott movies tend to be way more about evoking an emotional response to a story than the details of the story itself. (I also listened to the director’s commentary and I’m not even sure Ridley Scott knows what this movie was about, but he sure does feel strongly about set design.)
Anyway, Jack’s armor in this movie was made of bottle caps, and he never wears pants, not even for a single scene. Also that is Tom Cruise’s real hair.
13. Jack Frost, Rise of the Guardians
This movie is great, and Jack Frost is great, but is slightly overshadowed by Hugh Jackman playing the Easter Bunny. (Hugh Jackman will come up twice in this post, despite never playing a character named Jack.)
12. Jack Callaghan, While You Were Sleeping
11. Jack Harkness, Torchwood/Doctor Who
Does there exist a more charismatic actor than John Barrowman? I really don’t think so. Captain Jack was only on a handful of episodes of Doctor Who, but he made enough of an impression with both me and, apparently, everyone else, that they gave him his own show. I know I said I wasn’t including side characters in this list, but Captain Jack gets an exception since his side character got spun off into a lead character.
I didn’t actually watch Torchwood, though, and Teija says that if I had I’d have put Jack Callaghan above Jack Harkness and this is why I probably shouldn’t have put characters from shows I didn’t watch on here, oh well.
10. Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean
I’d have ranked him higher, but the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has long overstayed its welcome, and decided to make him the main character, which was a terrible idea. Jack Sparrow was only ever meant to be the kooky sidekick, not the lead. Also, and I get that this is not Jack’s fault, but how dare the ending of POTC3. Just. How dare it.
Will + Elizabeth 4eva.
9. Jack Kelly, Newsies
Christian Bale committed to this role so much that if you watch the movie he made right after this (Swing Kids, which is fantastic and you should definitely watch it) in which he is supposed to be German, he still has his New York accent. It’s amazing. Plus Jack Kelly gets like a thousand bonus points for the “Santa Fe” dance.
How can we convince Christian Bale to be in another musical? That is my question. The Prestige 2: Electric Boogaloo. I bet Hugh Jackman would say yes.
8. Jack Shephard, LOST
Points docked for his sad beard in the flash forwards. Otherwise, this is a very good Jack. Huh, I guess I don’t have much to say about him, although I could write entire essays on my love of each of the other LOST characters.
7. Jack Ryan, but only the Harrison Ford version
This is the only acceptable Jack Ryan. The only one.
6. Jack Hodgins, Bones
Jack Hodgins was the best character on Bones, fight me.
5. Jack Bristow, Alias
I have always been just a little bit in love with Jack Bristow. Don’t talk to me about the Alias finale, I just cannot.
4. Jack Dawson, Titanic
JUST TELL HER TO SCOOCH OVER, THERE WAS TOTALLY ROOM ON THAT DOOR.
(I saw Titanic in theaters four times, twice by myself.)
3. Jack Skellington, The Nightmare Before Christmas
It is impossible to not love Jack Skellington. The curiosity! The whimsy! The macabre innocence! The way he thinks he can replace Santa Claus and people probably won’t notice! Plus The Nightmare Before Christmas somehow manages to be both the best Halloween movie and also the best Christmas movie, making it the only holiday-centric movie with a 3-month prime viewing window. That’s impressive.
2. Jack Pearson, This Is Us
This Jack has no flaws and is probably objectively the best Jack, but I am still mad at This Is Us for actually doing the thing they’ve been telling us they were going to do since episode 5, so second place it is.
Remember when his first inclination after suffering a devastating loss was to take in a child who needed a family? Remember when he apologized to little Kevin for screwing up and admitted that parents don’t always know what to do? Remember when he asked little Kate to teach him how to vogue? Remember when he did the push-ups with little Randall on his back and refused to stop because he had to show Randall how much he loved him?
Aaaaaaaand I’m crying again.
1. Jack Traven, Speed
Jack Traven was created during the Peak Keanu Era (I mean, who are we kidding, every era is the Peak Keanu Era, so this was more like the Ultimate Peak Keanu Era) and is pretty much the most perfect Jack imaginable? I mean, he’s Keanu Reeves. He’s clever. He’s funny. He’ll jump onto a bus with a bomb on it to save a bunch of strangers. He knows how to diffuse a tense situation. He cares about his friends. He never once questioned Annie’s ability to drive the bus. He chews gum like a boss. He stayed on the train. He’s Keanu Reeves.
In hindsight, I could probably have stopped at the first “he’s Keanu Reeves” and it would’ve been justification enough.