While he wasn’t the original face of the Jack Ryan saga (that goes to Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October), Harrison Ford became the face of the franchise by appearing in the two subsequent films (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger) that weren’t claustrophobic and filmed under weird red lights.
However, Harrison Ford-as-Jack Ryan ended early, as the franchise was rebooted, with a younger Jack Ryan played by Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears. Also, Morgan Freeman played a character that bore uncannily similarities to James Earl Jones’ despite the fact that Jones’ character died in Clear and Present Danger.
Needless to say, Sum of All Fears didn’t do so well, and the franchise hasn’t popped back up since.
While there were other Batmans before him, namely, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney, it’s no stretch to say that Bale has been the apex of the franchise, both in terms of critical acclaim and popularity. However, with The Dark Knight Rises on the horizon, and the last film for both Bale and director Christopher Nolan, don’t expect producers to sit around for long given the earning power of these films. There’s no reason to believe that this Batman won’t be even bigger than the record-setting The Dark Knight, but where they take it from here is anyone’s guess. It will be extremely hard to outdo Nolan’s versions in terms of over-the-top spectacle, and Christian Bale does so well at portraying “joyless” (I wonder why that is), that the future of the franchise is in question.
Further, when two such important piece leave concurrently, it’s hard to know how important one was without the context of the other. It will be hard to continue making Batman as big as it was with Bale, but it will be fun to see the studios try.