History, Legacy & Showmanship

Fortune & Glory: Remembering “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” on its 30th Anniversary

May 23, 2014 - 3:49 pm   |   by
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“This picture is not called The Temple of Roses; it is called The Temple of Doom. The warning is clearly marked on the box.” — Steven Spielberg

The Digital Bits is pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 30th anniversary of the release of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the follow-up to the incredibly popular Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Bits celebrates the occasion with this retrospective column. It features some quotes from movie critics, some trivia on the film, an interview segment (featuring film historians Scott Higgins and Eric Lichtenfeld), a list of the movie’s premium-format (70mm) presentations, and a compilation of box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context. [Read on here…]




  • 1 = Number of weeks nation’s top-grossing movie
  • 2 = Rank among top-grossing movies of 1984 (calendar year)
  • 3 = Rank among top-grossing movies of 1984 (legacy)
  • 7 = Rank on all-time list of top-grossing movies at close of original run
  • 86 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
  • 25 = Number of days movie took to gross $100 million
  • 28 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
  • 35.3 = Percentage of second-week drop-off in box-office gross
  • 180 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic)
  • 243 = Number of 70mm prints shown in North America*
  • 266 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (worldwide)
  • 1,687 = Number of theaters showing the movie during opening-weekend
  • $4.7 million = Opening-day box-office gross
  • $9.3 million = Highest single-day gross (May 27)*
  • $25.3 million = Opening weekend box-office gross (3-day, May 25-27)*
  • $28.2 million = Production cost
  • $33.9 million = Opening weekend box-office gross (4-day holiday, May 25-28)*
  • $42.3 million = Opening week box-office gross (6-day, May 23-28)*
  • $45.7 million = Opening week box-office gross (7-day, May 23-29)*
  • $64.3 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $102.0 million = International box-office rental (% of gross exhibitors paid to distributor)
  • $109.0 million = Domestic box-office rental
  • $153.2 million = International box-office gross
  • $179.9 million = Domestic box-office gross
  • $211.0 million = Worldwide box-office rental
  • $333.1 million = Worldwide box-office gross
  • $426.1 million = Domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $760.1 million = Worldwide box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)

*Established new industry record

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg



“The monster hit factory of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg has finally produced a monster: an unpleasant, slapdash, chaotic and finally yawn-inducing follow-up to Raiders of the Lost Ark…and for the first time Lucas/Spielberg cross over the line between fantasy violence and real pain. They’ve also come up with a heroine who’s such a charmless bimbo that you have mixed feelings every time she’s in jeopardy.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

“This movie is one of the most relentlessly nonstop action pictures ever made, with a virtuoso series of climactic sequences that must last an hour and never stop for a second. It’s a roller-coaster ride, a visual extravaganza, a technical triumph, and a whole lot of fun.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“Yech! I don’t care if this film makes $100 million. Since when does big box office equate with intelligence, quality, culture or even a smidgen of social conscience?” — Gary Franklin, KCBS-TV, Los Angeles

“If at all possible, see Doom in a movie house showing it in 70mm and Dolby Stereo. Why settle for half the effect?” — Rick Lyman, Philadelphia Inquirer

“This time the 1930s archaeologist/adventurer has a weaker story and wimpier heroine.” — Leonard Maltin, Entertainment Tonight

“Though it looks as if it had cost a fortune, Indiana Jones doesn’t go anywhere, possibly because it is composed entirely of a succession of climaxes. It could end at any point with nothing essential being lost. Watching it is like spending a day at an amusement park, which is probably what Mr. Spielberg and his associates intended. It moves tirelessly from one ride or attraction to the next, only occasionally taking a minute out for a hot dog, and then going right on to the next unspeakable experience.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has to be the greatest action movie ever filmed. No other movie ever has offered such a generous feast of breathtaking thrills, rough-and-tumble spills, colorful-and-funny frills and heart-grabbing chills. Yes, Spielberg and Lucas have done it again.” — Jack Garner, (Rochester) Democrat and Chronicle

“One of the greatest assets Spielberg and Lucas have had was their ability to go straight to the movie myths of their childhoods and, in reworking them, enrich a new generation of moviegoers. This time it feels as though they could never erase these movies from their memories, and now no one else will be able to either.” — Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has a lot of laughs, thrills, noise, detail, darkness and sheer entertainment packed into it. It’s a tribute to hokiness through and through. For being exactly what you’d expect, I give it four little men leaping out of their chairs (though two of them aren’t clapping, they’re gagging on monkey brains). — Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle

“There’s so much movie in this movie—that’s the basic reason that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is so appealing. Its main show, a five-minute chase sequence in mining cars between Indiana and Short Round and Willie in one car and the henchmen of the evil child-abuser Mola Ram in another. This beautifully directed and edited chase is even more exhilarating than one’s childhood memory of the roller-coaster sequence in This Is Cinerama (1952). And it’s almost as exciting as a real trip on Walt Disney World’s Space Mountain. Credit Spielberg and producer Lucas’ special effects team at Industrial Light & Magic for this entry on anyone’s list of filmdom’s greatest chases.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune



Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Advance B)On May 16, 1984, in conjunction with the release of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas placed their hand and foot prints in the cement courtyard of Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.

During an era where six months was the average amount of time between theatrical release and home-video release, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom had a theatrical-to-video “window” of 28 months by arriving on home-video formats in September 1986.

The first network television broadcast was on ABC on October 1, 1989. Its first letterboxed release (on LaserDisc) was in 1992. Its first DVD release was in 2003. Its first Blu-ray release was in 2012.

The THX Sound System “Broadway” snipe was introduced with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is set one year prior to the events in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was screened on the eve of its release as part of the Seattle Film Festival.

The names of the film’s three principal characters were inspired by the names of the filmmakers’ pet dogs: Indiana (George Lucas), Willie (Steven Spielberg), Short Round (Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz).

The movie’s original titles were Indy II and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death.

The miniature stop-motion-animation footage for the mine-car chase sequence was filmed using a consumer Nikon SLR 35mm camera.

The name of the bar in the opening Shanghai sequence was Club Obi-Wan, an inside joke and reference to one of the popular characters from Star Wars.

The opening of Indiana Jones in the United Kingdom was preceded by a Royal European premiere. The charity event was held on June 11, 1984, and attended by Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Attending on behalf of the movie were Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kate Capshaw and Ke Huy Quan.

As with Raiders, where he played the German Flying Wing pilot, producer Frank Marshall had a small role in the movie, this time appearing as a sailor riding a rickshaw during the Shanghai chase scene.

Members of the production crew, including Spielberg and Lucas, played missionaries during the airport scene. Also look for Dan Aykroyd in same scene.

Reaction to the violence and overall intensity featured in the movie (and in the Spielberg-produced Gremlins released two weeks later) prompted the formation of the PG-13 rating.

The movie’s 70-millimeter print order (243) was the largest ever for a North American release. It was reported that the 70mm presentations, which represented 13% of the movie’s bookings, accounted for 30% of the box-office gross during the movie’s first week of release.

Awards won included Visual Effects (Academy Awards) and Special Visual Effects (BAFTA).



Temple of Doom newspaper adThe following is a list of the 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom during the initial weeks of its first-run theatrical release in the United States and Canada. These were, arguably, the best theaters in which to experience the movie. Any move-over, sub-run and international bookings have not been included. As well, the second wave of THX certifications were made in conjunction with this release and are noted in parenthesis where applicable.

** shown on two screens

*** shown on three screens


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Alabama.


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Alaska.


  • Calgary – Famous Players PALACE
  • Edmonton – Famous Players PARAMOUNT
  • Edmonton – Famous Players WESTMALL 5


  • Phoenix – Mann CHRIS-TOWN 5 (THX)
  • Phoenix – Plitt CINE CAPRI
  • Tucson – American Multi-Cinema CAMPBELL PLAZA 3
  • Tucson – Mann BUENA VISTA TWIN


  • Little Rock – United Artists CINEMA 150


  • Burnaby – Famous Players LOUGHEED MALL 3
  • Vancouver – Famous Players STANLEY
  • Victoria – Famous Players CORONET


  • Berkeley – Cinerama BERKELEY
  • Clovis – Festival Enterprises REGENCY CINEMAS
  • Corte Madera – Marin CINEMA
  • Costa Mesa – Edwards SOUTH COAST PLAZA TRIPLEX
  • Fremont – Syufy CINEDOME 7 EAST**
  • Fresno – Festival Enterprises FESTIVAL CINEMAS
  • Hayward – Festival Enterprises FESTIVAL CINEMAS
  • La Mesa – Pacific CINEMA GROSSMONT
  • La Mirada – Pacific LA MIRADA 6
  • Laguna Hills – Edwards/Sanborn LAGUNA HILLS MALL TRIPLEX
  • Lakewood – Pacific LAKEWOOD CENTER
  • Long Beach – United Artists MOVIES 6
  • Los Angeles (Hollywood) – Mann CHINESE TRIPLEX*** (THX)
  • Los Angeles (Northridge) – Pacific NORTHRIDGE 6
  • Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks) – Mann LA REINA
  • Los Angeles (Westwood Village) – Mann NATIONAL (THX)
  • Los Angeles (Woodland Hills) – Pacific TOPANGA 1 & 2
  • Modesto – Festival Enterprises FESTIVAL CINEMAS**
  • Monrovia – Mann HUNTINGTON OAKS 6**
  • Montclair – Sterling Recreation Organization MONTCLAIR TRIPLEX
  • Newport Beach – Edwards NEWPORT 1 & 2
  • Orange – Syufy CINEDOME 6**
  • Palm Desert – Metropolitan TOWN CENTER 7
  • Palm Springs – Metropolitan CAMELOT TRIPLEX
  • Pleasant Hill – Syufy CENTURY 5
  • Riverside – Sanborn CANYON CREST 9**
  • Sacramento – Syufy CENTURY 6***
  • San Diego – Mann LOMA
  • San Diego – Pacific LA JOLLA VILLAGE 4
  • San Francisco – Blumenfeld REGENCY I
  • San Francisco – Blumenfeld REGENCY II
  • San Jose – Syufy CENTURY 22 A-B-C***
  • Santa Barbara – Metropolitan ARLINGTON
  • Stockton – Festival Enterprises REGENCY CINEMAS**
  • Temple City – Edwards TEMPLE 4
  • Thousand Oaks – United Artists MOVIES 5


  • Colorado Springs – Commonwealth CINEMA 70 TRIPLEX
  • Colorado Springs – Commonwealth MALL OF THE BLUFFS TWIN
  • Denver – Mann CENTURY 21 (THX)
  • Littleton – American Multi-Cinema SOUTHBRIDGE PLAZA 8


  • East Hartford – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS
  • Orange – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS
  • Stamford – Trans-Lux RIDGEWAY


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Delaware.


  • Washington – Kogod-Burka CINEMA


  • North Miami Beach – Loews 167TH STREET TWIN
  • Orlando – Plitt PLAZA 1-2


  • Atlanta – Georgia Theatre Company LENOX SQUARE 6
  • Atlanta – COLUMBIA
  • Augusta – Georgia Theatre Company NATIONAL HILLS
  • North Atlanta – Storey 12 OAKS TWIN
  • Savannah – Litchfield TARA
  • Tucker – American Multi-Cinema NORTHLAKE FESTIVAL 8**


  • Honolulu – Consolidated CINERAMA


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Idaho.


  • Belleville – Bloomer Amusement Company CINEMA
  • Calumet City – Plitt RIVER OAKS 1-2-3-4-5-6
  • Chicago – Plitt ESQUIRE
  • Chicago – Plitt NORTOWN 1-2-3
  • Chicago – Plitt STATE-LAKE
  • Evergreen Park – Marks & Rosenfield EVERGREEN 4
  • Hillside – Marks & Rosenfield HILLSIDE SQUARE 4
  • Lombard – General Cinema Corporation YORKTOWN CINEMA I-II-III (THX)
  • Mount Prospect – General Cinema Corporation RANDHURST CINEMA I & II
  • Norridge – Marks & Rosenfield NORRIDGE 4
  • Orland Park – Plitt ORLAND SQUARE 1-2-3-4
  • Peoria – Kerasotes BEVERLY
  • Schaumburg – Plitt WOODFIELD 1-2-3-4
  • Skokie – Marks & Rosenfield OLD ORCHARD 4
  • Springfield – Kerasotes TOWN & COUNTRY


  • Fort Wayne – Mallers-Spirou HOLIDAY I & II


  • Cedar Rapids – Dubinsky PLAZA
  • Des Moines – Dubinsky RIVER HILLS
  • Dubuque – Dubuque CINEMA CENTER


  • Overland Park – Dickinson GLENWOOD I & II
  • Wichita – Commonwealth TWIN LAKES
  • Wichita – Dickinson MALL


  • Erlanger – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS
  • Lexington – Mid States SOUTHPARK 6
  • Louisville – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS


  • Baton Rouge – General Cinema Corporation CORTANA MALL CINEMA I-II-III
  • Marrero – Gulf States BELLE PROMENADE 6
  • New Orleans – Mann ROBERT E. LEE


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Maine.


  • Winnipeg – Famous Players METROPOLITAN


  • Baltimore – Durkee SENATOR
  • Woodlawn – General Cinema Corporation SECURITY MALL CINEMA I-II-III-IV


  • Boston – Sack CINEMA 57 TWIN
  • Brookline – Redstone CIRCLE CINEMAS
  • Dedham – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS
  • Revere – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS
  • Seekonk – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS**
  • Worcester – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS


  • Ann Arbor – United Artists FOX VILLAGE 4
  • Bloomfield Hills – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS
  • Dearborn – United Artists THE MOVIES AT FAIRLANE
  • Flint – Butterfield FLINT
  • Harper Woods – Suburban Detroit EASTLAND TWIN
  • Lansing – United Artists SPARTAN TRIPLEX
  • Southfield – Suburban Detroit NORTHLAND TWIN
  • Sterling Heights – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS


  • Bloomington – General Cinema Corporation SOUTHTOWN CINEMA I & II
  • Minneapolis – Plitt SKYWAY 5
  • Minnetonka – Plitt RIDGE SQUARE 1-2-3
  • Roseville – General Cinema Corporation HAR-MAR CINEMA XI (THX)
  • West St. Paul – Engler SIGNAL HILLS 4


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Mississippi.


  • Chesterfield – Wehrenberg CLARKSON 6
  • Creve Coeur – Wehrenberg CREVE COEUR
  • Independence – Mid-America BLUE RIDGE EAST 5
  • Kansas City – Commonwealth BANNISTER SQUARE MALL 5
  • Springfield – Dickinson CENTURY 21


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Montana.


  • Omaha – American Multi-Cinema WESTROADS 6
  • Omaha – Douglas CINEMA CENTER
  • Omaha – Douglas Q CINEMA 6


  • Las Vegas – Syufy CINEDOME 6
  • Reno – Syufy CENTURY 6


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in New Brunswick.


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in New Hampshire.


  • Edison – General Cinema Corporation MENLO PARK CINEMA I & II
  • Paramus – RKO Century ROUTE 4 TENPLEX
  • Pennsauken – SamEric ERIC 5 PENNSAUKEN
  • Sayreville – Redstone AMBOY MULTIPLEX CINEMAS
  • Secaucus – Loews MEADOW SIX
  • Wayne – Loews WAYNE SIX
  • West Orange – General Cinema Corporation ESSEX GREEN CINEMA I-II-III (THX)


  • Albuquerque – Commonwealth CINEMA EAST TWIN
  • Albuquerque – General Cinema Corporation LOUISIANA BLVD. CINEMA I-II-III


  • Cheektowaga – American Multi-Cinema HOLIDAY 6
  • Levittown – Loews NASSAU SIX
  • New York (Bronx) – Redstone WHITESTONE MULTIPLEX CINEMAS
  • New York (Manhattan) – Loews 34TH STREET SHOWPLACE
  • New York (Manhattan) – Loews ASTOR PLAZA
  • New York (Manhattan) – Loews ORPHEUM
  • Pittsford – Loews PITTSFORD TRIPLEX
  • Schenectady – CinemaNational MOHAWK MALL 3
  • Valley Stream – Redstone SUNRISE MULTIPLEX CINEMAS
  • West Webster – Loews WEBSTER 8


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Newfoundland.


  • Charlotte – Plitt PARK TERRACE 1-2-3
  • Raleigh – Plitt CARDINAL 1-2


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in North Dakota.


  • Halifax – Famous Players SCOTIA SQUARE


  • Beavercreek – Mid States BEAVER VALLEY 6
  • Columbus – Mid States CONTINENT 7
  • Dayton – Chakeres DAYTON MALL 8
  • Springdale – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS
  • Summerside – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS EASTGATE
  • Trotwood – Mid States SALEM MALL 4
  • Whitehall – Chakeres CINEMA EAST


  • Tulsa – United Artists BOMAN TWIN


  • Hamilton – Famous Players TIVOLI
  • London – Famous Players PARK
  • Newmarket – Famous Players GLENWAY 5
  • Ottawa – Famous Players ELGIN
  • Richmond Hill – Famous Players TOWN & COUNTRYE
  • Toronto – Famous Players CEDARBRAE 6
  • Toronto – Famous Players CUMBERLAND 4 “LA RESERVE”
  • Toronto – Famous Players RUNNYMEDE 1 & 2
  • Toronto – Famous Players UNIVERSITY


  • Beaverton – Luxury Theatres WESTGATE TRIPLEX
  • Eugene – Moyer WEST 11TH TRIPLEX
  • Portland – Moyer ROSE MOYER 6


  • Monroeville – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS EAST
  • Philadelphia – SamEric SAMERIC 3***
  • Robinson – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS WEST


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Prince Edward Island.


  • Laval – United LAVAL 4
  • Montreal – United IMPERIAL
  • Quebec City – United CANADIEN


  • Warwick – Redstone SHOWCASE CINEMAS**


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Saskatchewan.


  • Greenville – Martin ASTRO TWIN


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in South Dakota.


  • Antioch – Martin BELLE FORGE 6
  • Goodletsville – Martin RIVERGATE 6
  • Knoxville – Simpson CAPRI 4
  • Nashville – Martin BELLE MEADE


  • Addison – United Artists PRESTONWOOD CREEK 5** (THX)
  • Amarillo – United Artists CINEMA 6 (THX)
  • Arlington – Loews LINCOLN SQUARE 6
  • Austin – Mann FOX TRIPLEX
  • Beaumont – United Artists PHELAN 6 (THX)
  • Carrollton – General Cinema Corporation FURNEAUX CREEK CINEMA VII
  • Dallas – General Cinema Corporation CARUTH PLAZA CINEMA I & II
  • Dallas – United Artists SKILLMAN 6 (THX)
  • Dallas – United Artists SOUTH 8 (THX)
  • Dallas – United Artists WALNUT HILL 6 (THX)
  • Fort Worth – United Artists HULEN 6 (THX)
  • Highland Park – Beirsdorf & Brooks VILLAGE 3
  • Houston – American Multi-Cinema WESTCHASE 5
  • Houston – Loews SOUTHPOINT 5
  • Houston – Plitt CINEMA 5
  • Houston – Plitt WEST OAKS 7
  • Hurst – United Artists CINEMA 6 (THX)
  • Mesquite – United Artists TOWN EAST 6 (THX)
  • San Antonio – Santikos GALAXY 10
  • San Antonio – Santikos NORTHWEST 10
  • White Settlement – United Artists LAS VEGAS TRAIL 8 (THX)


  • Salt Lake City – Mann VILLA
  • Salt Lake City – Plitt CENTRE
  • South Ogden – Plitt WILSHIRE 1-2-3


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Vermont.


  • Baileys Crossroads – Kogod-Burka CINEMA 7
  • Fairfax – United Artists THE MOVIES AT FAIR OAKS
  • McLean – Neighborhood TYSONS CORNER 4
  • Richmond – Litchfield MIDLOTHIAN 6
  • Richmond – Neighborhood RIDGE 4
  • Springfield – General Cinema Corporation SPRINGFIELD MALL CINEMA VI (THX)


  • Bellevue – Sterling Recreation Organization JOHN DANZ
  • Seattle – Sterling Recreation Organization NORTHGATE
  • Seattle – Sterling Recreation Organization UPTOWN
  • Spokane – Sterling Recreation Organization STATE
  • Spokane Valley – Luxury Theatres EAST SPRAGUE 6
  • Tacoma – Sterling Recreation Organization TACOMA MALL TWIN
  • Tukwila – Sterling Recreation Organization SOUTHCENTER
  • Union Gap – Yakima MERCY 6


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in West Virginia.


  • Brookfield – Marcus BROOKFIELD SQUARE 2
  • Fox Point – Capitol BROWN PORT
  • Greenfield – Capitol SPRING MALL 3
  • Madison – Marcus EASTGATE 4
  • Milwaukee – Capitol LOOMIS ROAD 4
  • Milwaukee – Marcus NORTHTOWN 4


There were no 70mm first-run engagements in Wyoming.

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Scott Higgins is Associate Professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University, where he teaches a course on The Action Film.  He wrote a book about the history of Technicolor called Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s, edited a book about the work of early film theorist Rudolf Arnheim (Arnheim for Film and Media Studies), and is finishing a book on the sound-era serial entitled Matinee Melodrama.

Eric Lichtenfeld is the author of the book Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie, an authoritative and entertaining study of the action film genre. In addition, he has written about film, interviewed filmmakers, and moderated panel discussions for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (including a 2011 screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark), the American Cinematheque, Slate, The Hollywood Reporter, and more. He has taught film to students at Loyola Marymount University, UCLA, Wesleyan University, and the Harvard School of Law. He is also a communications and film industry professional whose specialties include motion picture advertising, speechwriting, and others. Eric has also contributed supplemental material for several DVD and Blu-ray releases, including Speed, Predator, and Die Hard.

Temple of Doom logo

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits):  Indiana Jones was the most successful 1980s movie series. Why?

Scott Higgins:  Partly, the answer is timing.  All three Jones films were released in the 80s vs. only two of the Star Wars franchise.

Eric Lichtenfeld:  They weren’t just great movies; they were also great experiences.  And each was a great experience in its own way—more or less.  And the movie—especially the first and third—lend themselves to both repeat viewings and to all audiences, so you could go back and back with different groups and kinds of the people in your life.

Coate:  In what way is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom worthy of celebration on its 30th anniversary?

Higgins:  The film is a cultural touchstone for a generation, and so it has every right to an anniversary celebration.  It is not as innovative or important as Raiders, which set the iconography in place and launched a cycle of lesser films and television shows, but Doom was hugely popular and well marketed – it left a big footprint.

I think that when people return to Doom they will be surprised by how 80s it seems.  Raiders made the leap to “timeless icon” pretty quickly.  As with Star Wars, it can be difficult to get critical distance from a film like Raiders.  Doom isn’t burdened by being a “classic.”  Things like the Dan Aykroyd cameo, Kate Capshaw’s haircut, and the “racy” sex jokes are abysmal in a very historically specific way.

Lichtenfeld:  I’d like to think that the 30th anniversary of Temple of Doom might lead viewers to revisit and reevaluate the movie.  For the most part, it has a reputation it doesn’t deserve and it doesn’t have the reputation that it should.  It’s not the masterpiece that Raiders is, but it’s a brave movie.  And visually, it’s practically a feast.  The cinematography is some of my favorite of all time—not just of the series.

Coate:  How are the Indiana Jones movies significant within the action-adventure genre?

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Version 3)Higgins:  It is interesting that you should specify, “action-adventure” rather than “action” as the genre in question.  I think our conception of “action-adventure” as a distinct part of the action film tradition comes largely from the Indiana Jones films.  Part of what makes them “adventure” is tone – they are throwbacks to Fairbank’s Thief of Bagdad and Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood in their broadly drawn subsidiary characters, gleefully obvious comedy, and basic sincerity.  These films are rollicking, in a way that adult-oriented action films were not.  For better or worse, they created a model for the “family actioner” – movies pitched broadly enough to play cross-generationally, but still crafted around physical problem solving and violent encounters. I guess I’m describing the basic tent pole film – and it has served the industry well (ID4, Avengers) and disappointed terribly (Wild, Wild West, anyone?). The Indiana Jones films didn’t invent this approach, but they carried it off with originality and set a certain standard.

The Indiana Jones films are also important as an American answer to Bond, which is probably the century’s most important action franchise. It is clear that Spielberg and Lucas were emulating Bond, replacing 007’s romantic and exotic Britishness with an equally romantic and exotic nostalgia for America during the good war. Jones substantially cleaned up Bond’s sexuality, but kept his humor and physical cleverness.

If you think of the landmarks of the contemporary action film, Raiders definitely belongs among the fantasy-oriented trend: Star Wars, Superman, Terminator, The Matrix, etc.

Lichtenfeld:  Strangely, I’ve always seen them as something apart from the action-adventure genre.  At the time the first three were released, they didn’t really look like the rest of the genre.  After all, this was still the era of the R-rated action movie that generally didn’t have the scope or craftsmanship of the Indiana Jones movies.

Coate: How do the Indiana Jones movies pay homage to and improve upon the serials that inspired them?

Higgins:  The Jones films draw iconography and plot devices from serials and studio-era B adventures more generally.  Lucas and Spielberg wanted to recapture the thrills they remembered experiencing in local revival houses when they were growing up, and so these films are steeped in nostalgia for an older cinematic language.  Like serials of the 30s-50s, the Indiana Jones films have a sort of crackpot optimism set alongside stunning depictions of depravity.  Like serials, the Indiana Jones films can fail to make sense on a very basic level.  Like serials, they cover plot holes by simply speeding forward through stunts and chases.

Unlike the serials, the Jones films tend to be unified, coherent, and centered on psychologized characters.  In other words, these are feature films, and they are far more tightly plotted than, say, Captain Midnight.  Also, unlike most serials, Indiana Jones has the benefit of huge budgets.  Spielberg can realize warhorse serial set pieces, like the rope bridge, the crushing room, the abandoned airplane, the ritual sacrifice, or even the horse/car chase and booby-trapped temple at a much, much higher level than the B serials.  What those original movies lacked in budget they made up for in cockeyed ingenuity.   In serials, Spielberg and Lucas found a storehouse of ideas that they could raid and renew.  Incidentally, the Bond franchise first inherited and embellished the serial’s territory, so Indiana Jones is re-appropriating it to American shores.

I think the Indiana Jones films are most successful in emulating the serial’s relentless rhythm of action.  Raiders hits a serial-like tempo of stunt-per-minute toward the end of its second act (from the snake-tomb through the truck chase). In Doom, it feels like the filmmakers realized this was their most successful sequence, and so extended that kind of pacing across the entire second half of the film (everything that occurs underground through the climax).  That decision made the second half of Doom hard to beat in terms of action and absurd spectacle.  Alas, that left too much time in the first half devoted to clumsy exposition and Kate Capshaw.

Lichtenfeld:  They’re structured like serials and they capture the spirit of serials, but they have real production value and, even more, craftsmanship.  It’s hard to get pulpier than with Temple of Doom and yet John Williams’s score is so rich and complex, it’s practically operatic.

It’s as if these are the movies the serials wanted to be, and in that sense, they’re the fulfillment of—I was going to say “a potential” or “a promise,” but that’s not quite it, because the serials could never really hope to achieve that in their lifetime.  People use movies to help them dream of being something else.  If movies could dream of being something else, than the serials dreamed of being the Indiana Jones series!

Coate:  Can you recall your reaction to the first time you saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

Higgins:  Disappointment.  I didn’t see it twice.  In comparison, seeing Raiders for the first time was pure awesome.  That film has this momentum that feels like it can go anywhere, and it had just enough horror and sex to keep my 13 year-old self on the edge of my seat.  It stuck around all summer, so we kept going back, following it through the runs.

Coate:  Was the controversy over Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s violence that led to the formation of the PG-13 MPAA rating justified?

Harrison Ford as Indiana JonesHiggins:  Yep.  Thing is, Doom’s violence comes straight from the world of serials, but mixed with a Hammer Horror color design and graphic sensibility.  Serials could be terribly violent, and they were full of graphically violent ideas if not always images.  Dumping people into fire-pits was no big thing.  But serials were not generally submitted to the Hays Office for approval, because they weren’t booked into the major’s theaters.  They got away with a lot during the 30s and 40s.  Hammer slipped through between the end of the Hays Code and the ratings system.  It is fitting that, in trying to tap this tradition of intense violence for kiddies, Spielberg raised the MPAA’s hackles.  Serials benefitted from staying under the radar.

Lichtenfeld:  Personally, I don’t think the violence was as problematic as the nightmarish imagery.  (Of course, you could argue that extracting a still-beating human heart qualifies as both!)  Either way, I think the controversy was justified, as was the creation of the PG-13 rating.

The new rating was Hollywood at its most inspired: socially responsible and good for business!  It would edge up “younger” movies so that younger audiences would want to see them.  As I think Steven Spielberg himself has said, PG-13 is like hot sauce on your movie.

Coate:  Where does each Indiana Jones movie rank among the series?  Among director Steven Spielberg's body of work?

Higgins:  Raiders is clearly the best of the series.  Jaws is the best of Spielberg’s genre films, with Raiders just under that.

Lichtenfeld:  Ranking the Indy movies is harder for me than it should be.  On the one hand, Raiders is clearly a masterpiece that leaves Temple of Doom and Last Crusade duking it out for second place.  I’d give the edge to Temple, because it may be much more flawed than Crusade, but it’s also more daring.  And it looks and feels like a movie with a capital M.  Crusade, on the other hand, feels less ambitious.  And while it’s a much more polished machine than Temple, it’s also a little too safe.  It’s very enjoyable, but Temple is more sumptuous, and of the sequels, it’s the one I respect most.

On an (even more) subjective level, though, I’ve seen Raiders so many times, and studied it so closely, that if I had to pick one to see on the big screen right now, it would be Temple.  In fact, whenever the movies are screened in Los Angeles, it’s Temple that’s the draw for me — and I say that having been the host and moderator for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 30th anniversary celebration of Raiders of the Lost Ark!

Coate:  Was it an ideal choice to eliminate Marion from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

Higgins:  It still boggles the mind.

Lichtenfeld:  Was it ideal to eliminate Marion? I don’t know. Show me the version that has her in it, and I can answer that!   But ultimately, I do think it was a good choice.  The charm of these movies is that each one is, essentially, a standalone adventure.  Fans refer to the first three as “the trilogy,” but it’s not really a trilogy — not in the sense that Star Wars or Back to the Future or Star Trek II-IV are.  There’s something nice about each movie starting with an unattached Indy.  He could have had one adventure since the last movie or a dozen.

Coate:  Was it essential that The Temple of Doom be a prequel?

Higgins:  This makes very little sense, actually.  For one, wouldn’t an Indy who burned magic stones using an incantation be a lot less skeptical of the whole Ark thingy?  For another, blood cults in 1930s India instead of Nazis???

Lichtenfeld:  I don’t know if it was essential that Temple be a prequel; I always thought more was made of that than was warranted.  But it was useful to make it a sequel in one respect: in this movie, as in Raiders, Indy charts a path from being cynical about the treasures he seeks to having awe for their power.  It humbles and humanizes him.  Had Temple been a typical sequel, it would have been hard to buy his jadedness after what he had witnessed (or not witnessed, as his eyes were shut!) on the island with the Ark of the Covenant.

Coate:  The sidekick, Short Round…what were the pros and cons of the character and performance?

Higgins:  Spielberg handles kids especially well, and this is a good example.  The kid sidekick is another lift from serials, and it could be precious – but Short Round is neither that precocious nor that much of a punching bag.  He works.

Lichtenfeld:  The light touch that Short Round brings offsets the darkness of the movie nicely.  And his relationship with Indy—somewhere between father-and-son and two brothers—gives the movie a warm underpinning, too.

Coate:  The heroine, Willie Scott… what were the pros and cons of the character and performance?

Higgins:  Honestly.  What was anyone thinking?  I’d like to hear someone try to defend this choice.  Admittedly, it is a really tough character to pull off – it requires subtlety and timing that Capshaw just doesn’t have.  I used to think Willie was just a terrible character and a thankless role.  I’ve changed my mind, probably because I’ve seen quite a lot of Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, and Barbara Stanwyck since then.  Watch The Lady Eve, or It Happened One Night and then tell me that the problem is the role.

Film frame from Temple of Doom

Lichtenfeld:  Kate Capshaw’s performance nicely distills the problems with the movie.  It’s a little all over the place, not very modulated, not disciplined enough.  And it’s too bad because Willie could have been a great foil for Indy.  Unlike Marion, she’s obviously very much at home with her femininity and her sex appeal, which made for a different dynamic between Indy and “the love interest.”  But where the movie uses her for comic relief, she comes off as shrill. Indy says it himself: “The biggest problem with her is the noise.”

Coate:  Given the late 1970s/early 1980s track record of Lucas and Spielberg, was it surprising Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was not the top-grossing movie of 1984?

Higgins:  Going in to 1984 it seemed like the obvious box office champ, but Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop were funnier and fresher, I guess.  By ‘84 Tales of the Gold Monkey had come and gone from the airwaves, and High Road to China and Romancing the Stone had been through the multiplexes. Fatigue.  Also, Capshaw.

Lichtenfeld:  Given how dark Temple skews—even darker than, say, The Empire Strikes Back — it’s not surprising to me that it wasn’t the top-grossing movie of its year.  What’s interesting to me is that even with its darkness, and the controversy surrounding it, an R-rated movie ended up being the top grossing film of the year—and for only one of two times in the entire decade.

Coate:  Should there be more Indiana Jones movies?

Higgins:  NO.

Lichtenfeld:  It’s tempting to say yes. Who wouldn’t want to hear the Raiders March issuing from a movie theater sound system again?  But there probably shouldn’t be.  Rightly or wrongly, the fourth one is a much maligned movie, but one moment I’ve always liked a lot is when Indy’s friend says, “We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away.”  At this point, it may be that the most graceful thing the franchise can do is resist the urge to prove that idea wrong.

Coate:  What is the legacy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?

Lichtenfeld:  I think its legacy is the PG-13 rating — which the movie didn’t even have!  Unfortunately, I don’t think Temple of Doom is remembered the way it should be.  It’s generally seen as the weakest of the (first) three, and I think that’s unfair.  It doesn’t help that Spielberg has basically disowned it.  I wish he’d stick up for it more!  There are a lot of gems to be mined from it—which is a pretty apt metaphor for this movie, when you think about it.

Temple of Doom DVD    Temple of Doom Blu-ray    Temple of Doom soundtrack CD



Raymond Caple, Miguel Carrara, Nick DiMaggio, Scott Higgins, Bill Kretzel, Eric Lichtenfeld, Jim Perry, Tim Schafbuch, and a huge thank you to all of the librarians who helped with the research for this project.



Numerous newspaper articles, film reviews and theater advertisements; Bantha Tracks, Boxofficemojo, The Hollywood Reporter, Time, Variety, and The Wall Street Journal; the books The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films (Ballantine/Del Rey, 2008) and George Lucas’s Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success (George Lucas Books/Harper Collins, 2010); the films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Lucasfilm Ltd./Paramount Pictures) and The Making of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Lucasfilm Ltd./Paramount Pictures).

- Michael Coate

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