- Anti-Climax: One of the criticisms of the film was that the final confrontation with Cortez and rescuing the captured soldiers wasnt nearly as exciting as the ambush scene midway through the film.
- Awesome Music: The film's score, composed by James Horner, is very memorable.
- Harsher in Hindsight: How much Clancy got right about the drug war in Colombia is borderline prescient. To start with, Operation CAPER involves intercepting cell-phone calls in order to gather actionable intelligence against the cartels; in the 80's to the early 90's, American ELINT-gathering units of the ISA, then known as Centra Spike, were crucial in dismantling the operations of the biggest cartel in Colombia at the time, the Medellin Cartel. Next, it is decided to make the laser-guided bomb strikes against significant cartel heads look like the actions of disaffected anti-government guerillas; in real-life, vengeful vigilante groups like Los Pepes began to lash out against the cartels as the body count from narcoterrorist acts began to rise. Then, Escobedo, an expy of the real-life Pablo Escobar, is brought down by the light infantry team headed by John Clark. The real-life Pablo Escobar was killed in a raid by a unit specially trained by US Special Forces advisors, with the very real evidence that those same advisors had taken part in those raids (it is speculated that Escobar was actually killed by a Delta Force sniper covering the Colombian assault team).
- A covert operation to make surgical bomb strikes on enemy High Value Targets that result in civilian casualties and political pressure on the current administration? Had Clancy written in that they were being dropped by drones, this would have been downright eerie.
- Literal Genie: Cortez confesses everything after he's captured in exchange for immunity from US prosecution, since trying to figure out which laws he broke would've involved a huge political mess. So in a gleefully ironic moment, he's "repatriated" to the Cuban intelligence service that taught him all of his tricks and that he betrayed.
- Magnificent Bastard: Cortez, Cortez, and again Cortez. The man very nearly gets away with manipulating several drug cartels and the US forces sent to hunt them by playing them like a fiddle. He's no coward, either: his Crowning Moment of Magnificent Bastardry involves setting up an assassination attempt on himself and then manipulating the cartel into trusting him. Holy shit.
- In the film, Ritter gets his due. He insists on a signed letter beforehand knowing full well how these covert ops go bad to cover his own ass, and when Ryan confronts him with what he knows Ritter breaks out his literal "Get Out Of Jail Free" card and taunts him with it, knowing that while he is covered Ryan (who's been set up as the Fall Guy) isn't.
- Moral Event Horizon: Cutter and Ritter arguably crossed this when they authorized an operation in which several innocent children are caught in the crossfire and killed during an airstrike on the gathering cartel leaders. In the film, Ritter expresses virtually no concern for the collateral damage being shown on TV while Cutter is aghast at the scene. If not here, then definitely when they agreed to sacrifice their own soldiers in order to secure a tentative alliance with Cortez.
- No One Gets Left Behind: ultimately played straight.
- One-Scene Wonder: In the film there is an unnamed gray-haired security agent who is present during the ambush on the FBI director's convoy. During the ensuing gun battle he proves himself to be very brave and competent, and heroically sacrifices himself to help Ryan and the others escape. He was only in the film for a few minutes, but he was enough of a badass for people to remember him.
- In a "blink and you'll miss it" scene, he also serves on Jack Ryan's protection detail in Patriot Games at the hospital keeping him from starting a fight with an IRA spokesman.
- Retroactive Recognition: Donald Moffat had previously portrayed would-be President Lyndon B. Johnson in The Right Stuff.
- Tom Bower, who plays the drunken helicopter pilot, played the equally kooky but resourceful janitor from Die Hard 2.
- Special Effects Failure: During the ambush scene, a string carrying the rocket that strikes the second van in the convoy can be clearly seen if one looks hard enough.
- Tear Jerker: The death of Admiral Greer. And if that weren't enough, the scenes of his funeral service and interspersed with scenes of the ambush on the American soldiers in Colombia being mowed down by the cartel.
- The ambush on the convoy that sees both Dan Murray and Emil Jacobs killed, along with countless other agents. Jack is the only man we see to emerge relatively unscathed, and is forced to return home with the bodies of his countrymen in tow as they are given full honors prior to burial.
- The deaths of the women and children at the cartel leaders' main compound in the airstrike is also certain to leave viewers more than a little disturbed.
- What an Idiot!: Moira Wolfe for having told Cortez of Jacobs' departure, information with which Cortez correctly deduced that Jacobs was coming to Colombia and thus provided him a perfect opportunity to turn up the heat on Escobedo. To be fair, she couldn't have known he was an associate of Escobedo, but you would think that someone in the employ of the FBI would be cautious about not confiding such information about the goings-on of America's top law enforcement agency even in casual conversation. The result of this is her own death at Cortez's hands along with that of Jacobs and most of his entourage in Colombia, dramatically worsening the tensions in the region.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The US uses a lot of morally questionable and highly illegal methods to combat the drug trade, and some of the methods actually work. On a smaller scale, law enforcement agencies—the Coast Guard and an Alabama police department—use similarly extralegal tricks to bring about justice, and the climax features Jack Ryan and the Pave Low crew disobeying orders to rescue the soldiers. Clancy notes that success doesn't justify the illegal nature of many of those actions.
YMMV / Clear and Present Danger