As in the novel, Ryan is appointed CIA Acting Deputy Director, and discovers he is being kept in the dark by colleagues who are conducting a covert war against a drug cartel in Colombia, apparently with the approval of the President. The film premiered in theaters in the United States on August 3, 1994, and was a major financial success, earning over $200 million at the box office.
A U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat stops a suspicious yacht, discovering that an American businessman and his family have been murdered. The murdered man is a close friend of the President. President Bennett learns that the man was murdered because of his ties to a drug cartel, having skimmed over $650 million from it. The President tells James Cutter, his National Security Advisor, that Colombian drug cartels represent a "clear and present danger" to the U.S., indirectly giving him unofficial permission to kill the men responsible for his friend's murder. When Vice Admiral Jim Greer is stricken with terminal cancer, Jack Ryan is appointed Deputy Director for Intelligence and is asked to go before Congress to request increased funding for ongoing CIA operations in Colombia.
Seeking to keep Ryan out of the loop, Cutter turns to the CIA's Deputy Director for Operations Bob Ritter, who secures a document giving him permission to act as he sees fit to take down the cartel. Ritter assembles a black operations team with the help of John Clark. The team inserts itself into Colombia, with Clark running the logistics and Captain Ricardo Ramirez leading a ground force in search-and-destroy missions against various drug cartels.
The head of one of the drug gangs, Ernesto Escobedo, is enraged at having lost over $650 million as a result of the freezing of assets, and has his intelligence officer, Félix Cortez, try to retrieve the funds. Through a contact, Cortez discovers FBI Director Emil Jacobs is visiting Colombia to negotiate with Colombia's attorney general concerning the frozen money. Cortez has Jacobs ambushed and killed, engineering it so that suspicion will fall on Escobedo.
Cortez brokers a deal with Cutter. Cortez will assassinate Escobedo and take over the cartel, then reduce drug shipments to the U.S. and allow American law enforcement to arrest some of his workers at regular intervals to make it appear as if the U.S. is winning the drug war. In exchange, Cutter will shut down all operations in Colombia and allow Cortez to subdue Clark's soldiers. Cutter agrees and orders Ritter to get rid of all evidence of their operations and cut off the troops in Colombia from all support. Ryan is told about the meeting between Cutter and Cortez. He hacks Ritter's computer and discovers the conspiracy unfolding in Colombia.
The black-ops team is ambushed in Colombia by Cortez's men. Ryan arrives and finds Clark, offering his assistance. They fly to search for the black-ops team and find the squad's sniper, Chavez, who tells them that Ramirez and a squadmate have been captured and the rest have been killed. Ryan visits Escobedo's mansion and tells him what Cortez has been doing. Enraged, Escobedo accuses Cortez of treachery. One of Cortez's men kills Escobedo and his henchmen, but is shot by Chávez. Ryan, Clark and Chávez rescue the prisoners, kill Cortez, and escape.
Ryan confronts the President and tells him he intends to inform the Congressional Oversight Committee about the conspiracy despite the damage it could do to his career. He walks out of the Oval Office, as he walks out Cutler wants to speak with him, but Ryan ignores him, he then begins his testimony to Congress.
John Milius wrote the first draft and later added the sequence where Jack Ryan is ambushed in SUVs. He said that the original ending had Cortez going to Washington to kill the national security adviser, only to be killed in a mugging by drug addicts.
The film's musical score was composed by James Horner. Milan Records released an album featuring selections from the score on August 2, 1994.
An expanded two-disc collector's edition was released in 2013 by specialty label Intrada Records. The new version now includes the complete score by Horner, remixed from the original scoring master tapes with cues appearing in the same order as they appear in the film.
The film received positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 82% based on reviews from 39 critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, Clear and Present Danger received a score of 74 based on 14 reviews.
Mick LaSalle, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, commented how it "delights in an almost boyish way in the trappings of power: rocket launchers and high-tech missiles, flags, ceremony and political double-speak." James Berardinelli, who wrote for ReelViews, remarked, "Clear and Present Danger is all plot and no characters. The people running around on screen have about as much depth as the sheen of sweat on Harrison Ford's forehead. Jack Ryan is the most disappointing of all. He's disgustingly virtuous: a flawless fighter for good and justice, a Superman without the cape. I spent half the movie wondering if this guy was ever going to show anything to mark him as vaguely human." In Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy, author Matthew Alford formulated a critique of the film, pointing out that supporting characters like Cutter and Ritter are pointedly squeamish about the use of force. He queried, "Where is this abundance of sensitivity from the US national security apparatus towards the people of Latin America in the real world?". He concluded, "The answers are all too obvious, except to a Hollywood hooked on schmaltz, willfully ignorant of reality and in thrall to power."
Clear and Present Danger opened strongly at the U.S. box office, grossing $20,348,017 in its first weekend and holding the top spot for two weeks. It eventually went on to gross an estimated $122,187,717 in the U.S., and $93,700,000 in foreign revenue for a worldwide total of $215,887,717.
The film was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Sound Mixing (Donald O. Mitchell, Michael Herbick, Frank A. Montaño, and Art Rochester) and Best Sound Editing (John Leveque and Bruce Stambler).