Raiders was released to movie theaters forty years ago this summer, and for the occasion The Digital Bits features a twenty-one chapter interview/Q&A/oral history-style segment with a diverse group of sixty-five historians, scholars, pop culture authorities, and a dissenter or two, all of whom reflect on the movie (and franchise) four decades after its debut, plus a package of statistics and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context, along with passages from some of its original reviews, and a reference/historical chronology of the movie’s coveted 70-millimeter showcase presentations.
CHAPTER 1: THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY
Mike Matessino (restoration producer of numerous John Williams/Steven Spielberg soundtracks): A movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark is worth celebrating any year at any time because it is a template for not only the action genre but for cinematic structure in general. It’s a movie that itself celebrates everything that is fun about the movies in the classic sense. Dare I say, “it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”
Scott Higgins (author, Matinee Melodrama: Playing with Formula in the Sound Serial): Raiders remains an elegant, rock-solid piece of craft and a source of joy.
Eric Lichtenfeld (author, Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie): Raiders deserves to be celebrated because it helped us recover the exuberant spirit of the serials—think 1940s pabulum like Don Winslow of the Navy, Spy Smasher, Jungle Girl and others—but married it to very high quality, even sophisticated, filmmaking.
Julie Kirgo (essayist, Twilight Time): Of course, Raiders is an action-adventure picture: a real boys’ own movie-movie. But it also has the genre-busting advantage of being a modern-day screwball comedy. It can boast all the elements, especially in its focus on a sparring couple—gorgeously incarnated by Harrison Ford and Karen Allen—who begin at odds, then find their way back to each other via a series of escapades during which he can safely reveal his emotionality (those are real tears when Indy thinks Marion has perished in a horrifying basket mishap) and she can prove herself as game and clever as he is. Adding to our pleasure is some supremely satisfying banter that sits at a surprisingly sophisticated level. Think of that: Raiders of the Lost Ark is sophisticated, and smart, and even romantic. And those are qualities that, maybe even more than thrills and chills, will always keep us coming back for more.
Zaki Hasan (co-host, The MovieFilm Podcast): Raiders truly is a perfect movie. Whether you were there in the theater during the initial run or saw it first on television or home vid, it’s an instantly transporting experience that permanently sets your compass upon viewing as to what a four-quadrant blockbuster is “supposed” to look and feel like.
Steven Awalt (author, Steven Spielberg and Duel: The Making of a Film Career): Raiders of the Lost Ark is such a superb film from first viewing through as many times as you could wish to watch it. You can plainly see the finely tuned machinery working in the plotting and within each set-piece and yet somehow the film still plays in so fresh even after watching it annually for forty years.
Van Ling (director, Cliffs of Freedom; home media special features producer, The Abyss, Terminator 2): To me, Raiders of the Lost Ark is almost the perfect movie…pure cinema, full of laughs, great dialogue, a wonderful cast, thrills, emotion, drama, action, scares, you name it. It was the kind of movie that made you fall in love with movies all over again, and really reached across all demographics and genres; for the folks around me who were not interested in things I loved, like science fiction/space fantasy or superheroes. It was a film you could actually enjoy with your parents and grandparents.
Dan Madsen (author, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: On the Set and Behind the Scenes; president, The Official Lucasfilm Fan Club): Forty years ago, I was a teenager completely enthralled watching Raiders of the Lost Ark in a darkened theater. Never did I think that years later I would be running The Official Lucasfilm Fan Club and spending a week on the set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade interviewing Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and the entire cast and crew! The Indiana Jones saga has played a huge part in my life and Raiders is one of my favorite films of all time. In my opinion, it is a perfect movie in every way!
Mark O’Connell (author, Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us): Without Raiders there would have been no Jurassic Park, or Romancing the Stone. Or ‘Crocodile’ Dundee. Or Ghostbusters. Spielberg's first film of the decade that was his for the taking, the film is a masterclass of pace, precision and matinee momentum. It's a curious hybrid of old school actioner cinema and new era effects, processes and sound.
Stephen Danley (host, Star Wars at the Movies): John Williams' impeccable score, the effective editing, the jaw-dropping stunt work, the timely humor in the face of considerable danger, and Harrison Ford's reaction to it all as it unfolds makes for flawless entertainment. Just as it was intended to be forty years ago, Raiders remains timeless.
Joseph McBride (author, Steven Spielberg: A Biography): Raiders brought back old entertainment values tried and tested in the thirties and earlier—serials and B movies—but on bigger budgets and with better actors. It came at a time when movies were being dumbed down and focused on juvenilia in synch with the times (the Reagan era) and when Hollywood was turning its back on personal filmmaking in favor of self-conscious genres homages (i.e. rip-offs).
Steve Lee (The Hollywood Sound Museum): Raiders of the Lost Ark was one of the films that really inspired me to pursue a career in film sound. When I saw it for the first time, I was already a fan of Ben Burtt—who had previously created the innovative sound effects for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. His work with Richard Anderson and their crew on Raiders just blew me away. And if you had told the eleven-year-old me watching that film in 1981 that I would be working with those guys making sounds for films just a few years later, I probably would not have believed you.
Craig Stevens (author, The Star Wars Phenomenon in Britain: The Blockbuster Impact and the Galaxy of Merchandise, 1977-1983): Every time I see Raiders of the Lost Ark I revert to my eleven-year-old self, sitting at the front of the cinema, completely absorbed in the story unfolding in front of my eyes. The action, the excitement, the humor—it seemed to be almost too much at the time, and I feel the same way about the film today. Even though I have researched how it was made, I feel that Raiders has lost little of its authenticity. It was made of course at a time when epic action needed to be filmed for real in genuine locations (something I felt was lacking in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and modern films in general). When the credits roll, I still have trouble believing that the adventure is over—that there still is not another reel of film to be shown. Of course, Raiders was only the beginning of the story and I was on board for every twist and turn.
Eric Lichtenfeld: Raiders also deserves to be celebrated because of the convergence of sheer talent it embodies. And I don’t just mean Lucas, Spielberg, Harrison Ford and John Williams (although that would be enough right there). I mean every department head—from cinematographer Douglas Slocombe and editor Michael Kahn to re-recording mixers Bill Varney, Steve Maslow and Gregg Landaker, and everyone in between and beyond. And not only was each one the best in their field, but they were also, at that particular moment, working at their own personal best. So even though Lucas and Spielberg routinely have great collaborators, this kind of conjunction is still rare. I’d venture to say even for them.
CHAPTER 2: SUCCESS AND POPULARITY
Jonathan Rinzler (author, The Making of Star Wars; co-author, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones): You had the best of the best on the crew and at Industrial Light and Magic, and then you had two geniuses at the top in Lucas and Spielberg. And sometimes an actor gets the role they were born to play, and that seems to me to be true for Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones.
Bruce Scivally (co-author, James Bond: The Legacy): Raiders of the Lost Ark was a smash hit for audiences in the summer of 1981, effectively following the formula that worked so well for Star Wars four years earlier: take a storyline inspired by action-packed movie serials of the 1930s and 40s, produce it on A-list budget, and give it a rousing John Williams score.
Paul M. Sammon (author, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner): Raiders was a massively popular, big-budget fantasy/action adventure that also, at heart, was an affectionate and knowing homage to the cheap Saturday morning serials produced during the 1940s phase of Golden Age Hollywood.
Laurent Bouzereau (producer, Indiana Jones home media special features; co-author, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones): While it paid homage to serial films, Raiders was unique and felt fresh and original.
Saul Pincus (director/editor, Nocturne): Raiders was a huge inspiration to me as a filmmaker: I’d study the 16-minute Super-8 digest not just by projecting it every night, but also by running it though a film viewer by hand. I could internalize every composition and analyze every cut… why things worked. It was exciting and so much of the aesthetic the Lucas and Spielberg brought to it felt new; I’d never seen an action film so inherently visual, so involving, so fluid. Spielberg was a wiz who played with light, suspense and wonder and who might now forget had pioneered an entirely fresh way of connecting with his audience on an emotional and expositional level by when and how he moved his camera. Lucas’ propulsive technique relied primarily on editing, sound and graphics. Both filmmakers depended on Williams. That’s why I can’t say that Lucas and Spielberg alone are responsible for inspiring me—because when I think of the films these guys have made, I first hum the music.
Steven Awalt: Raiders is the perfect model adventure film of the so-called "blockbuster era," a huge influence on so much that came afterwards.
Tom Shone (author, Blockbuster: How the Jaws and Jedi Generation Turned Hollywood Into a Boom-Town): Here’s one thing Raiders didn’t do: it didn’t open big, as they say, taking in just $8.3 million on its opening weekend. Spielberg remembered the look of disappointment on the face of Paramount’s head of distribution, although today it would have resulted in someone losing their job, not just their composure.
Laurent Bouzereau: Raiders checks all of the boxes of what a great film should be.
Tom Shone: While the marketing was a mess, Raiders eventually took in over $200 million, more than any film in Paramount’s history until that point, but it did so under its own steam and in its own time. In other words, Raiders arrived with little fanfare, punched above its weight, fought for its finger hold, and then held on for dear life. Sounds like Indy.
Scott Mendelson (box office analyst, Forbes): Raiders of the Lost Ark was and still is one of the leggiest wide release movies ever made! It played over a year in some theaters and became only the fourth movie to gross $200 million domestically. In its first theatrical release, it earned more than 25x what it earned during its opening weekend!
Bruce Scivally: Raiders was both nostalgic and fresh, with easy-to-hate villains (Nazis), and a colorful hero who was as handy with a whip as he was with a handgun. Add to that the effervescent chemistry between Harrison Ford and Karen Allen, and the icy villainy of Paul Freeman and Ronald Lacey, and it's one of those rare adventure films where every element clicked to make a perfect popcorn entertainment.
Sheldon Hall (co-author, Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History): Although it subsequently became a great success on home video and remains popular on broadcast television even in peak-time reruns today, on its first theatrical release Raiders of the Lost Ark was regarded as a commercial disappointment in the United Kingdom. It opened promisingly but was eclipsed from the start by the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. Only in its sixth week of release did Raiders attain the number-one spot in London, a position it held for several weeks. It had legs and was still being shown in the West End well into 1982. Outside the capital, however, the film rapidly slipped down and out of the charts.
James Kendrick (author, Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconstruction of the Films of Steven Spielberg): In reaching back to the cliff-hanging serials of an earlier cinematic era, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas's Raiders of the Lost Ark provided what appeared on the surface to be the antithesis of the serious-minded and often heavy-handed irony and despair that characterized much American filmmaking in the 1970s. However, even as we lose ourselves in the action and adventure, which is made all the more visceral via the use of practical effects, real locations, and genuine stunt-work, we shouldn't lose sight of the darker recesses lurking just beneath the surface. It is easy to forget that Indiana Jones, the wry hero, is a shady (albeit undeniably charming) opportunist who loses at the end to shadowy government bureaucracy. Raiders is, in its own way, a direct descendent of the paranoid conspiracy and anti-government films of the Nixon era, elements of which we see in all of Spielberg's early works, including The Sugarland Express (1974), Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and 1941 (1979). The film has often been slammed in academic and critical circles for being an extension of Reagan-era conservatism and global intervention, and while it does have some real issues with racial and ethnic representation, it is hardly a grand celebration of the stars and stripes forever. The film's real genius and the reason it has persisted in the popular imaginary while so many other action-adventure films have faded into obscurity is because it merges old-fashioned entertainment and peerless action aesthetics with a sardonic cynicism that enriches, rather than deflates, the thrills.
Jeff Bond (editor-in-chief, Geek Monthly; co-author, Star Trek: The Motion Picture—Inside the Art & Visual Effects): Raiders will never be topped in my opinion—a perfect movie.
CHAPTER 3: LUCAS AND SPIELBERG
Scott Mendelson: Raiders of the Lost Ark was a divine combination of two specific variables. First, while Harrison Ford was well-known and well-liked from playing Han Solo, the biggest “movie stars” were the filmmakers, namely director Steven Spielberg and co-writer George Lucas. The notion of a big-budget action-adventure movie from “the guy who made Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Star Wars guy” was itself an unbeatable combo. Moreover, especially forty years later, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a definitive “rip-off, don’t remake” triumph. If you recall, Lucas made Star Wars partially because he was unable to secure the rights to a Flash Gordon movie. Spielberg wasn’t able to direct an actual 007 movie, so he and Lucas went and created what indeed turned out to be the American equivalent, with Dr. Henry Jones Jr. becoming arguably as iconic an onscreen character as James Bond.
Michael Kaminski (author, The Secret History of Star Wars: The Art of Storytelling and the Making of a Modern Epic): It is extraordinary to think of the run that Lucas and Spielberg had during the late 1970s and 1980s, and it was really Raiders that cemented this reputation through one of the first superstar producer-director team-ups of the modern era.
Daren Dochterman (co-host, Inglorious Treksperts): Raiders of the lost Ark is one of the few “perfect“ movies ever made. Spielberg‘s dedication to simplicity yet nuanced storytelling is unmatched even in his career. After the bloated access of 1941, he returns to his true form of efficiency and style. The “magical formula“ of Lucas and Spielberg taking the movie serials of their youth and adapting them into the modern world was a stroke of genius. Putting an “A“ luster on a “B“ subject matter makes an amazing combination. The fanciful storyline and exciting settings are made real by Spielberg‘s imagination. This was really the pivot that turned Spielberg into a powerhouse. He nearly got into director jail after 1941, and this movie sprung him.
Peter Krämer (author, The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars): George Lucas had a vision of reviving the historical adventure movie, with a touch of James Bond. By the late 1970s, his friend Steven Spielberg had established himself both as a master of suspense and as a filmmaker able to inspire awe in audiences. They were a perfect match.
Eric Lichtenfeld: Raiders is such a clear and high-level illustration of Spielberg’s whole approach to filmmaking: from his visual style to the silent-film-like construction of his action sequences to the themes that preoccupied him for so long.
Gary Leva (director, Fog City Mavericks: The Filmmakers of San Francisco): Raiders is a great example of Spielberg’s ability to internalize large swaths of film history and then make something that simultaneously honors films of the past while creating something that is entirely his own. I watched the Disney classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea recently and the sequence where Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre are running out of the jungle, chased by cannibals throwing spears and shooting arrows, was unquestionably the inspiration for the opening sequence when Indy has to escape with the idol. But was it even conscious on Steven’s part? That film came out when he was seven years old. I’ve never asked him, but my guess is it was such a vivid experience for him as a child that when it came time to shoot that scene, his moviegoing experience as a child was buried in his synapses just waiting to be put on the screen. And luckily for us, we in the audience all got to feel like kids again watching it.
W.R. Miller (author, The Raiders Guide and The Star Wars Historical Sourcebook): The late 70s and early 80s preceded the Internet, and so I relied on various hard copy newspaper and magazine indexes, plus trade papers like Variety and Hollywood Reporter, Comics Buyer’s Guide, Film Collector’s World, Starlog, Comics Scene, Fantastic Films, Mediascene Prevue, and Craig Miller’s Bantha Tracks, to learn what was coming down the pike from Lucasfilm. What was happening with the Star Wars saga? I had to know. But Lucasfilm had other projects in the works. One was something called Raiders of the Lost Ark. From Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Interesting! A team-up of the makers of Jaws and Star Wars. And then it was announced Harrison Ford would play the lead, Indiana Jones. Han Solo redux. The more I read about the project, the higher my expectations. Music by John Williams! Sound design by Ben Burtt! Special effects by Industrial Light & Magic, who had raised the bar with The Empire Strikes Back. Never mind 1941, More American Graffiti and The Star Wars Holiday Special, Raiders was going to be great. And…it was.
Joseph McBride: With Raiders, Spielberg was moving fast and working economically to overcome the reputation for overindulgence he had acquired with the bloated 1941, so Raiders benefits from that zip and efficiency and a certain amount of visual and verbal wit (the latter thanks to Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay). But Raiders is marred by its racist and neocolonialist viewpoint. It was the perfect film to start off the Reagan era in Hollywood studio filmmaking, a miserable period.
Steven Awalt: Like he did with Star Wars, George Lucas's appropriation of these dusty cultural relics (the adventure serials) and audiences’ general, maybe even vague, notion of them combined to make something that felt entirely new and yet completely familiar.
Jonathan Rinzler: With the Indy films, Spielberg and Lucas created the film-as-Disneyland-ride.
Lee Pfeiffer (co-author, The Films of Harrison Ford; editor-in-chief, Cinema Retro): Spielberg and Lucas were at the forefront of a generation of young filmmakers who would change cinema history. They idolized the legendary film directors who inspired them and they were part of an extraordinary period in the late 1960s and early 1970s when a cadre of “Young Turks” that included the likes of Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, William Friedkin and many others were making their first imprint on the film industry while the likes of Hitchcock, Hawks, Huston and Welles were still directing films. The influence of those legends on Spielberg and Lucas was profound. They thought big and they thought outside-the-box. The studios at that time were nurturing to new talent. Even blockbuster films had reasonable budgets for the most part, so the financial risks were rather minimal for the studios. I believe Raiders cost about $20 million. Even accounting for inflation, that was still quite a bargain compared to today when a modest love story can cost tens of millions of dollars.
Saul Pincus: Partnerships between box office giants usually don’t work, especially when the collaborations are genuine. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a promise to audiences as to its filmmakers (and Paramount Pictures) that one plus one would equal three; that’s how it was marketed, and incredibly, that’s exactly what they delivered. It probably helped that Lucas, post-Star Wars, was no longer interested in directing on the floor—the domain that Spielberg excels at dominating like nearly no other filmmaker in history. That they made room for one another is unique enough, but the fact that they were actually compelled by the material they were making is evident, too. They took their audiences seriously, took joy in the worlds they were creating, and used their considerable talent (and ability to surround themselves with other amazing talent) to make us feel their obsessions fully. For me, Raiders is literally the centerpiece and the culmination and ultimate expression of the pre-pubescent filmmaking kid in them both. But the common denominator is really John Williams, whose work on every project by those filmmakers to that point—as on Raiders—rocks the house and counts as the film’s soul; it binds the films by these filmmakers to our hearts forever.
Joseph McBride: Steven Spielberg's reputation as a director of fantasy and action films is only part of his legacy. But it is an important part. Raiders of the Lost Ark is an efficient, lively, entertaining, but somewhat deplorable example of his skill in those genres. Spielberg has a genuine kinetic gift for cinematic action.
Lee Pfeiffer: Spielberg and Lucas were visionaries who dreamed of reinventing cinema by simultaneously paying tribute to the old films they had revered as kids. That included action/adventure serials, which were the inspiration for Raiders. Before they were well-established, they had originally approached producer Cubby Broccoli and told them their ambition was to someday direct a James Bond movie. That obviously never happened but elements of the Bond movies are certainly a major part of Raiders: the elitist villain, the wise-cracking hero, the self-reliant heroine and the exotic locations. Lucas was coming off the blockbusters Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and could write his own ticket in Hollywood. Spielberg was riding high with the huge success of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but he was in a more precarious position than Lucas due to the critical and financial failure of his expensive WWII comedy 1941. The two friends had debated bringing to life a new adventure film based on the old serials they loved and the result was Raiders of the Lost Ark, which apparently has now been renamed Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I doubt they thought they would create a character that would become one of the most iconic in screen history.
Steven Awalt: Raiders felt as something of an anomaly to Spielberg's already established voice and style when it came out in 1981. With Duel, The Sugarland Express, Jaws, and especially Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg showed the world he was both an expert director and highly technical filmmaker, but he'd also revealed a clear sense of personality, voice and even heart. The New Yorker critic Pauline Kael bemoaned Raiders as a large and damnable sidestep for Spielberg, being of an impersonal filmmaking nature she blamed on Lucas. (Kael clearly didn't grasp the voice and biography Lucas brought to American Graffiti and Star Wars, two very popular films imbued with their creator's personal concerns and feelings.). In some ways, she's right, Spielberg didn't agree to work on Raiders as a chance to put pieces of himself in his film as he demonstrably did in The Sugarland Express and Close Encounters. But Duel and Jaws were arguably and at Spielberg's own admission more mechanical exercises in manipulating the form and also his audiences. I think Raiders is an extension of those films' aims. They were all works for hire on which Spielberg still did a consummate expert's job where he could have done a journeyman's work. And he made it all look so easy.
Paul M. Sammon: Coming from the same generation of deep-dyed cinema lovers that eventually became labeled as the Movie Brats, Lucas and Spielberg shared personal and professional commonalities. One was a genuine love for what they were doing. At this point in their careers, these men weren’t turning out run-of-the-mill studio products. They were creating deeply personal projects that revisited, revised and inflated the tremendous enthusiasms they’d had for the films they’d loved during their youth. The duo further exhibited separate but equal strengths. Lucas knew how to be a strong producer and collaborator and how to most effectively market a film directly to its core audience (in this case everyone); Spielberg brought tremendous craft, energy and emotional resonance to his efforts. So, both filmmakers perfectly blended to make Raiders the still influential 80s mainstream milestone it is today.
Mark A. Altman (co-author, Secrets of the Force: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Wars and Nobody Does it Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of James Bond): Spielberg is at the top of his craft here after the commercial failure and filmic excesses of 1941; it’s leanly directed and brilliantly shot by Douglas Slocombe. The performances are pitch perfect and it’s a remarkable homage to the cliffhanger serials of Lucas’ and Spielberg’s youth as well as the vintage James Bond film Spielberg never got to make.
Mike Matessino: Raiders is tremendously important to the careers of both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The Empire Strikes Back was a big gamble on Lucas’ part as he produced it independently and did not feel completely in control of it. His whole company was riding on it, so you can imagine how he felt with the movie being so different from the original and making it a cliffhanger. It was successful, of course, and that solidified Lucasfilm, but with Raiders of the Lost Ark he not only wanted to make sure that it would be brought in on budget, but he was able to make an unprecedented (and now historic) deal with the studio for percentages of the gross from day one, rather than waiting for break-even. For Spielberg, coming off 1941, which was extravagantly made and went over budget, but was not a runaway success, Raiders was the movie where he disciplined himself by promising Lucas that it would come in on-budget an on-schedule. It came in ahead on both counts, actually. This played a tremendous role in the establishment of Amblin Entertainment, which he formed with Frank Marshall, who was a producer on Raiders, and Kathleen Kennedy, who was Spielberg's assistant on Raiders after having been assistant to John Milius on 1941. Their first productions were Continental Divide (written by Lawrence Kasdan), E.T. and Poltergeist, all of which were made inexpensively. So Raiders of the Lost Ark, even though Spielberg later stated that he didn’t feel it was a personal movie to him, is the project where he learned how to be a director/producer, still pursuing his creative ambitions but having figured out how to bring the right people aboard and how to work quickly and efficiently. His career would likely have been very different if it hadn’t been for Raiders.
Michael Klastorin (author, Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Ultimate Visual History; co-author, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History): By 1980, Spielberg had spent over a decade in the honing of his craft, and along the way had already delivered cinematic triumphs to deservedly earn him the title of “wunderkind.” His reputation and friendships allowed him to attract the creative talents , who, if they weren’t already at the top of their game, were well on their way: Philip Kaufman, Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Kahn, John Williams, Frank Marshall, Douglas Slocombe and an entire crew who represented the best of 80’s filmmaking.
Joseph McBride: The Spielberg films I most esteem are Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Those films have hearts, souls, and poetry, all of which Raiders lacks.
Mike Matessino: Just as the original Star Wars began with an action sequence, Raiders continued what George Lucas did in that movie by starting the film with the story basically already in progress. In this case it was the end of an adventure, so in that sense it had a James Bond-like structure, but what it really did was uphold the idea that “action is character.”
Chris Salewicz (author, George Lucas: The Making of his Movies): As with everything that Lucas involved himself in there are plenty of elements of archetypal mythology that consistently provide an unconscious and profound resonance to the film—it always feels much larger than the sum of its parts.
Michael Kaminski: George Lucas' interests were always a bit more odd-ball, and you can see this reflected in the films he helped produce in this period—Kagemusha (1980), Twice Upon a Time (1983), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Powaqqatsi (1988), for example, none of which were mainstream hits. But with his instincts placed in the context of Spielberg's uncanny ability to entertain mainstream audiences with sharp characters, engaging directing and a forward-driving pace, Lucas' concept of a gun-slinging archaeologist chasing supernatural artifacts was captured and translated immensely better than he could have hoped to achieve on his own, and gave Spielberg a film to direct that was so much more interesting than his original intention of helming yet another entry in the aging James Bond series. It is fascinating to consider how the energy, momentum and wit of Raiders re-applied to Bond could have totally revitalized that franchise coming out of the Roger Moore era slump, but I'm glad we got the alternative, and I'll bet Lucas is too, whose producing track record would be pretty suspect without the Indy series.
Scott Higgins: Spielberg and Lucas were repurposing (and improving) their memories of Saturday afternoon serial matinees (which they probably saw on TV and in repertory theaters because they missed that era by a few years) and handing a storytelling formula to the next generation. Serials left the story unfinished and turned the audience into virtual filmmakers for a week as they figured out cliffhangers on the playground. Lucas and Spielberg became real filmmakers and returned the favor to generations of viewers who haunted the multiplexes and took that world out of the cinema with them. Raiders is a first-rate film school.
Michael Klastorin: The film fulfilled every promise it aspired to. In two words: it entertained. In a few more words, it captivated, it engrossed, it thrilled, it exhilarated. The only thing it didn’t do was to take itself too seriously, which added to its popularity. Mssrs. Spielberg and Lucas wanted to let audiences share in the best part of their childhood, and one of the reasons they got into the movie business. In the process, they created a character and franchise that continues to do the same for the generations that followed.
CHAPTER 4: HARRISON FORD
Steven Awalt: Kids of our generation were already in complete and total awe of Harrison Ford as Han Solo between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, so to see him in a brand-new, earthbound role just sent us all over the moon.
Charles de Lauzirika (producer/director, Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner; producer, Blade Runner: The Final Cut restoration): As soon as Indy stepped out of the shadows in that first scene and revealed himself to us with that badass confidence and intensity, I feel like in that moment, Harrison Ford truly became a movie star of the highest order.
Lee Pfeiffer: Ford had been kicking around the film industry since making his screen debut in 1966 with a brief scene in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round as a young man who delivers a telegram to James Coburn. He worked steadily but generally in nondescript parts in lackluster movies. Even George Lucas failed to see star potential in him when he cast him in a minor role in American Graffiti. Fortunately, he had the inspired idea of giving him another chance with Star Wars at a time when Ford had resumed working as a carpenter to support his family. The role of Han Solo brought him recognition and pop culture status. However, he had a major problem: the films he starred in between the first two Star Wars movies had bombed badly. He needed to prove to himself and the industry that he had drawing power beyond the Star Wars films. Raiders provided that opportunity and Ford recognized that he had to do all he could to make the film succeed. According to Spielberg, he went beyond the role of actor and personally took a great interest in suggesting enhancements and changes to the scripts. He also insisted on doing many of his own stunts to maximize the impact of the action scenes. Ford’s laid-back persona was in the style of Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. He wasn’t overly verbose and had a laconic attitude that capitalized on his ability for underplaying scenes with a wry sense of humor. Audiences responded in an overwhelmingly positive manner and Ford found himself in the role of a new screen hero who would become iconic.
William Kallay (author, The Making of Tron: How Tron Changed Visual Effects and Disney Forever): Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones without question. As much I have enjoyed watching Tom Selleck in numerous TV and movie roles, he would have made Raiders feel like a much different film.
Charles de Lauzirika: This wasn't Han Solo in a fedora. This character was entirely new, even if superficially he was built upon many action heroes of the past. He has a very personal set of strengths, weaknesses and quirks. And I think that's the big reason why people have been so hesitant to recast Indy, as if he were a renewable character like James Bond or Batman. That might have been the original plan, but I think Ford's performance as Indy works on such an almost genetically deep level, it's doubtful anyone, no matter how talented, could come close to that unique mix of bravado, vulnerability, heroism, rudeness, and most importantly, resolve. Indiana Jones, flaws and all, is ultimately a man of purpose. I think we've seen that in Ford's work ethic as an actor over the years, and even if he occasionally appears in a less-than-satisfying film, it's never because of him. It's not because he wasn't busting his ass to make it work. And to me, that's Indy, through and through.
Chris Salewicz: It's held together by Harrison Ford's tremendous performance—as he becomes a cinematic icon forever. I love the term Spielberg dreamt up to describe the actor to Lucas, why he was perfect for the role—his “grizzled irrepressibility.” Couldn't say it better myself!
Steven Awalt: Casting Harrison Ford was a boon, and for the very reason that Lucas resisted the idea following Ford's portrayal of Han Solo. Audiences had come to know Ford through the Star Wars films, so we had expectations in place—the cocky, overly confident braggart who somehow gets out of terrible situations by the skin of his teeth. When we first see Ford step out of the shadows as Indiana Jones though, we see a grizzled, unshaven, and rightly pissed off character that seems like he'll be worlds away from the character of Han Solo.
Paul M. Sammon: Harrison Ford was perfectly cast. On paper, Indiana was a combination of an adventurer, an athletic man’s man, and an intellectual with professorial-level skills. What many audiences did not realize in 1981 was that Ford in real life personified his fictional character. I have met Harrison a number of times, including watching him work on Blade Runner and talking to him on a one to one basis through the years for my book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner about Ford’s viewpoints on life, work, and the films in which he’s been involved. I can claim from experience that Ford he is a genuine polymath. Using an impressive toolbox. Harrison has become a highly skilled carpenter, a helicopter and fixed wing airplane pilot, and the owner of an 800-acre ranch, 400 of which he has donated as a well-kept nature preserve. He is simultaneously a well-read individual with impressive articulation skills and a wryly amusing sense of humor. In other words, the real-world personification of Indiana Jones.
William Kallay: What further enforced my enjoyment of Ford’s performance was his believability and how funny he was. The fact that he is petrified of snakes or his childlike pouting after Marion whacks him with the mirror is priceless and relatable. And who does not howl out loud in laughter when he shot the swordsman?
W.R. Miller: Harrison Ford cemented himself in the public consciousness as a leading man, and the rest is history.
Zaki Hasan: The Indiana Jones movies have heart, stakes, and spectacle, but most importantly they have the quintessential protagonist at their center played by the quintessential star. As perfectly captured by Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones is no slouch in a fight, but he’s an intellectual who finds more thrills in solving ancient puzzles than getting caught up in fisticuffs. If Indiana Jones is the everyman action hero, then Harrison Ford is the everyman action star who made him relatable through multiple films, multiple decades, and far into the future.
CHAPTER 5: THE CONCEPT
Jonathan Rinzler: Like Star Wars in relation to Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, Raiders (and the Indy films) in relation to the Republic serials and adventure comics took the essentials out of those earlier media—fun, adventure, cliffhangers, comedy and heroism—and gave them a high-budget sheen and the talents of some of the best filmmakers of their generation.
Michael Rubin (author, Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution): By the time Raiders was starting pre-production, Lucas was getting buried in The Empire Strikes Back, for which he was exceptionally stressed. When he hit snags with the screenplay, he was so impressed by Lawrence Kasdan’s work on the Raiders script that he enticed him to put it on hold to help with Empire. Some of the best elements of Empire and Raiders were from Kasdan’s writing. (Lucas repaid the generosity by helping get Kasdan’s directorial debut produced: Body Heat.)
Saul Pincus: When Lucas hired Lawrence Kasdan to write the screenplay, it’s said he told him he wanted to pace the film with sixty scenes running no more than two pages each. Lucas also demanded the script contain [at least] six outstanding sequences (i.e. “set-pieces”): the escape from the temple, the destruction of Marion’s bar, the street chase, the snakes, the toppling of the statue in the Well of the Souls, the fistfight under the flying wing, the truck chase, the climax opening the Ark.
John Cork (co-author, James Bond Encyclopedia): The famous story is that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are on the beach in Hawaii in 1977, both staggeringly successful. Spielberg opines that he would love to direct a James Bond movie, but can’t get the gig… Lucas says to forget Bond. He has an idea for a character that could launch a series. That character’s name back then? Indiana Smith. Okay, so the name was only halfway there. Regardless, George Lucas has many strengths, but one of the most formidable is coming up with iconic characters that can capture the public’s imagination. Indiana Jones remains one of his greatest ideas… Lucas, Spielberg, and Lawrence Kasdan met in late-January 1978 to hash out the story. Lucas laid out his goal for Indiana Jones right at the start: “We want him to be extremely good at what he does, as is the Clint Eastwood character or the James Bond character. James Bond and The Man with No Name were very good at what they did. They were very fast with a gun. They were very slick, they were very professional”…. That’s from the transcripts of that first story conference, where you can sense Lucas’s genius. Steven, who at that point is about to find out his limitations with comedy, keeps pitching sidekick “buffoons” and gags where character’s pants fall down. Lucas pushes back, talking a more hard-edged, realistic film. Kasdan and Spielberg keep talking silly scenes with the bullwhip Lucas wants Jones to carry, but Lucas stays focused on it being “a dangerous weapon”…. Lucas keeps coming back to James Bond: “Instead of being a martini drinking cultured kind of sophisticate, he's the sort of intellectual college professor James Bond”…. Boom. Lucas doesn’t want a James Bond clone, but someone worldly, dangerous, adventurous with his own unique personality. It is in these transcripts you see how focused George Lucas is on taking only a few qualities from 007 and the Bond films to enhance his vision…. They talk big Bond stunts and how to end the film, with Steven Spielberg embracing a James Bond ending, the destruction of the villain’s lair, and Lucas pushing for something more in the mold of The Maltese Falcon…. The result, over three years later, was one of the most iconic and entertaining action films ever made. Spielberg structured the film like a 007 adventure while Lucas kept the character true to his vision. Spielberg had the idea for the giant boulder to climax the film’s Bondian opening sequence. Lucas made sure that the secret Nazi submarine base was based in reality and did not feel like the similar set in The Spy Who Loved Me. Spielberg drew from the Disco Volante fight in Thunderball for the movie’s signature truck battle sequence. They took liberally from other sources, too: Disney adventure films like In Search of the Castaways, King Kong, Tarzan movies, and the old Republic serials that George Lucas so loved.
Ray Morton (contributing editor, Script Mag; author, A Quick Guide to Screenwriting and Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic Film): For my money, Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the best movie scripts ever written. When he penned the screenplay, Kasdan had to take the character of the daring archaeologist and treasure hunter Indiana Jones dreamed up by George Lucas, a rough story outline created by Lucas and Phillip Kaufman (which introduced the film’s MacGuffin—the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant), and dozens of ideas for scenes and set-pieces dreamed up by Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and Kasdan himself and synthesize it all into a coherent narrative. He did the job brilliantly. The story construction is as precise as the working of a Swiss watch; the plotting is endlessly clever, exciting, and full of surprises; the characters are vivid and engaging; and the dialogue is witty and sharp. It’s an expert piece of work, an accomplishment that is even more impressive considering that it was only Kasdan’s second produced screenplay.
Mike Matessino: With Raiders the screenplay perfectly balanced story, action and character. There is not a single spare moment in it.
Ray Morton: There are two parts of the script that I think are exceptionally good: The first is the film’s opening sequence in which we see Indy performs incredible stunts and feats of derring-do (including leaping over a bottomless pit, swinging out on a vine and diving into a river, and outrunning a giant boulder) as he faces and overcomes all manner of dangerous obstacles (natural hazards, treacherous allies, ancient booby traps) to recover a valuable ancient artifact (in this case, a golden fertility idol), only to lose it in the end (in this case to his devious rival Rene Belloq). In those first ten minutes, Kasdan perfectly summarizes the essence of an Indiana Jones story, because this is exactly what happens to Indy not only in the rest of Raiders, but also in the three (soon to be four) sequels that followed…. The second [exceptionally good element of the script] is the sequence that follows the opening, in which two U.S. Government agents come to the university where Indy teaches and ask for his help in trying to figure out what the Nazis are up to in the desert outside Cairo. In this sequence, Kasdan lays out every bit of information (save one) that we need to understand the story that follows: we learn who Indy is (“…professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and—how does one say it?—obtainer of rare antiquities…), what the Lost Ark is and what its powers are, how it will be discovered (by using the headpiece to the Staff of Ra to locate the Ark’s hiding place on the scale model of the city of Tanis), and why it is vital for the Allies to retrieve the Ark before the Nazis do (because “…an army that carries the Ark before it is invincible”). As every screenwriter knows, exposition is an enormously difficult thing to deliver smoothly and here Kasdan does it in a way that feels effortless. Also, by loading all of this necessary information into a single scene, Kasdan frees up the audience—we don’t have to stop every few minutes to digest some new piece of information in order to comprehend what’s going all. We already know everything we need to know, so now we can just sit back and enjoy the ride. (The one bit of necessary info this scene doesn’t give us is to tell us who Marion is, which Kasdan then does in the very next scene.) All of this is screenwriting of the very highest order.
Jeff Bond: Raiders leans heavily on imagery from DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. Filmmaker Philip Kaufman suggested the idea to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg that Indiana Jones, in his first movie adventure, should be tracking down the Ark of the Covenant—the golden chest that contains the stone tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai with the ten commandments written on them. The movie conflates the Ark’s involvement in several Hebrew military victories like the fall of the walls of Jericho with the power of God (“an army that carries the Ark before it would be invincible,” one character explains). It might have been an esoteric concept had audiences not seen it in action every year at Easter during TV broadcasts of The Ten Commandments. Late in the film, with Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the commandments from God, the Hebrews begin to lose faith and eventually riot in a massive orgy, constructing a golden calf idol as a new god. Moses returns to them and in a fury hurls the stone tablets at the idol, destroying countless “idolators” in a fiery conflagration. Audiences in 1981 had been raised on yearly viewings of this saga so the idea of the Ark of the Covenant and the tablets as a powerful, unearthly, and potentially destructive force—the power of God—was wired into them. And after an hour and 45 minutes of movie serial action, Raiders delivers its Ten Commandments moment as the skies open, evil spirits emerge from the opened Ark and lay waste to a crowd of Nazis, zapping them up into the clouds on a pillar of flame right out of the DeMille movie. (Even Spielberg’s ghost-directed Poltergeist features homages to Gillespie’s cloud tank effects, a biblical tornado and a hint of Moses in JoBeth Williams’ suburban mom, whose hair transforms with streaks of white the morning after her confrontation with supernatural forces.)
Scott Higgins: 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 Fairbanks’ 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 (Independence Day, 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.
CHAPTER 6: THE MARKETING
Tom Shone: Nobody at Paramount knew how to sell the film.
Mike Matessino: To say the marketing of Raiders was “low key” is putting it kindly. I honestly don’t recall the trailer or an advance poster at all! I feel like everything I knew about the movie was from Starlog. In fact, there were very few people in the theater when I went to the first show on opening day. It really was word of mouth and positive reviews. As I recall everyone was expecting Superman II to be the hit of the summer.
Pete Vilmur (co-author, The Star Wars Poster Book): A movie poster’s job is to lure potential viewers into the theater, and the striking, high-caliber artwork of the [Raiders] posters certainly conveyed the studio’s high confidence and regard for their product. I think Amsel’s 1982 re-release [illustration] captures the energy and spirit of the film [better than the 1981 original], and also exhibits the iconic cast of characters surrounding the action. It’s a very visually pleasing illustration (and the lone Raiders poster I insist on displaying in the large 40x60-inch format in my office). I think Drew Struzan’s piece [featured on some newspaper advertising and tie-in product, and in some international territories] may have also spoken more clearly to what the audience could expect from their heroes—that this was to be a team effort to retrieve the Ark, not necessarily a solo affair (pun intended).
Steven Awalt: The original marketing for Raiders hinged on both Spielberg and Lucas's outsized successes and growing cultural cachet from Jaws, Close Encounters, and Star Wars, so these two men’s moments had arrived in the popular consciousness. And with Poltergeist and then the unimaginable heights that E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial took Spielberg and his work a mere twelve months later, his place in film history and our world culture was fully concretized. Not bad at all for a young man in his early 30s.
Sheldon Hall: While Raiders posted figures that would have been impressive by the standards of most other films, its UK performance did not match the level set by its runaway-hit status in the US. The distributor, Cinema International Corporation (jointly owned by Paramount and Universal), admitted that it could have done better and redesigned the marketing campaign to stress the elements that audiences had apparently overlooked first time around. The famous Richard Amsel poster art was deemed too somber to suggest the adventure’s tongue-in-cheek tone, so it was dropped and replaced with a new key image depicting Indy hatless, de-leathered, clean-shaven, smiling broadly and wielding his whip. Apparently, this made only a slight difference. While the film easily topped Variety’s 1981 box-office chart for the domestic market, earning 50% more than its nearest rival, Superman II, in Britain Raiders managed only to place eighth on Screen International’s equivalent list, landing between Private Benjamin and The Elephant Man. The field was led instead by Superman II, followed by For Your Eyes Only.
Pete Vilmur: [Utilizing an artwork-based illustration rather than photographic-based promotional material] is not only appropriate for a 1930s action-adventure romp but speaks to the filmmakers’ affinity for and dedication to classic illustration. Lucas and Spielberg are both avid enthusiasts of early 20th century illustration, and their choice of artists, style and genre for their movie posters demonstrate that.
CHAPTER 7: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Mike Matessino: It was very clear when I first saw Raiders that the combined talents of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had given birth to something very special.
Alison Martino (Vintage Los Angeles): I’ll never forget seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Mann National in Westwood Village. There was a huge line around the block and a massive painting of the film’s movie poster on the side of the theater. I was ten years old and very aware of who Steven Spielberg was already. I remember sitting in the third row. The film’s score by John Williams was the most exciting music I have ever heard in a theater.
Eric Zala (director, Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation): Raiders was earthy, grounded, nothing at all like Star Wars, Jaws, or like anything else I’d seen. Though unfamiliar, it swiftly drew me in, watching the man in the hat move through the dark jungle. By the time the boulder barreled down on our hero…at age eleven, I knew this was the best movie. Ever.
Steven Jay Rubin (author, The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia): Seeing Raiders first run at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood was the most fun I’ve ever had at the cinema, so much so that I sat through it twice, something I had never done before or since. It was the ultimate thrill ride, a truly flawless film.
Cliff Stephenson (home media special features producer, Hannibal, Knives Out): Here’s what’s insane to think about now: I had zero interest in Raiders of the Lost Ark when it was released. I was ten years old at the time and the idea of watching a movie about an archeologist seemed like homework. With the film’s June 12th release date, we were already out of school for summer, so it wasn’t like I heard kids talking about it. It was only after hearing my grandparents rave about it and assure me it wasn’t an educational drama did I finally get sold. When I did go see it (in late June 81), I actually just stayed in the theater to watch it three times in row (and by myself). That was it…I was all in on Indy.
Van Ling: I was a junior in high school back in 1981 when I recall going into Hollywood to see it with a bunch of friends, and it was like getting the perfect meal of all your favorite foods of that era: Spielberg! Lucas! ILM! John Williams’ music! Harrison Ford! Great stunts! And a rollicking adventure that unabashedly not only brought back the old serial genre to modern filmmaking but introduced its pleasures to a whole new generation. It proudly proclaimed in every frame of every bravura shot composition and camera movement that it was a movie, not a film.
Scott Mantz (film critic, KTLA-TV; co-producer, 1982: Greatest Geek Year Ever!; producer, Access Hollywood): I'll never forget seeing Raiders for the first time. You always remember the first—it's the sense of discovery that really stays with you! I was twelve years old and it was on the Saturday of its opening weekend at the Eric Feasterville, which was right outside Northeast Philadelphia (where I grew up). I went with my good friend Andy Berg and his family (his mother, his father and his two sisters). I can't say that I was super-excited about the prospect of seeing it, since it didn't really look like my kind of movie (in other words, it wasn't sci-fi—at least, not in an overt way), but I was already a big fan of Harrison Ford, thanks to those first two Star Wars movies, and of course, I loved Steven Spielberg, because of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But from the beginning of Raiders, I was hooked!
Eric Lichtenfeld: I have a clearer memory of my second time seeing Raiders. That’s because my dad, who had already taken me, insisted we go back and take my mom. I was young, but I knew that a movie like Raiders wasn’t her bag. So, if we were taking her, then it had to mean that this was something special, something that crossed over.
John Scoleri (co-author, The Art of Ralph McQuarrie): As a card-carrying member of the Star Wars Fan Club following the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a flyer in the mail announcing a new film coming from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford. Thanks to that promotional flyer, I was there for the first showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark on opening day—June 12th, 1981, at the Century 21 dome in San Jose, California. From the opening scene, the film blew me away. I loved everything about it—from the cast, all of the exciting set-pieces, the cool (and often grisly) visual effects, and what I still consider to be John Williams’ finest score. Who knew that in the summer of 1981, I’d experience a film that would become my favorite film of all time, eclipsing even Star Wars, and still hold that slot forty years later.
Pete Vilmur: I remember thinking how incredibly realistic [Amsel’s] illustration of Harrison looked [on the one-sheet and newspaper advertisements].
Sheldon Hall: I was among the British punters who saw Raiders in the summer of ’81, not in a big-city showcase but in my local suburban cinema in the North East of England, where the matinee audience, I recall, was rather sparse. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film hugely, already at the age of sixteen having a sense of the serial spirit to which it was paying tribute.
Michael Stradford (Executive Director, Worldwide Content Group–Warner Bros.): I was a student at the University of Toledo in 1981. Monday evenings at the Showcase Cinemas, admission was discounted for students, so I went with a friend to see a horror film (whose name has long escaped me) playing there. The woman at the box office said that since they hadn't sold any tickets for the horror film, they were about to run the reels of a new film that was coming out in a few weeks to make sure the reels were in good shape. Since we were the only ones in attendance, she said we could watch the new film and then the horror film or come back in a couple of hours to watch just the horror film. We decided two movies for the price of one was the way to go. The new movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark. In 1981, there was no Internet and aside from Entertainment Tonight, hardly any way to find out about new, upcoming films. So, my buddy and I walked in with absolutely no idea what was about to unfold before our eyes. We staggered out a couple of hours later stunned and babbling. The action, the humor, Harrison Ford, the period it was set in, Raiders was the greatest time at the movies that I've ever had, second only to seeing Enter the Dragon the day of its release. I'm sure I would have loved Raiders if I saw it during a regular engagement but seeing it in an empty theater with no notion of what was coming is an experience that's as fresh to me today as it was forty years ago.
Charles de Lauzirika: I first saw Raiders on the morning of Saturday, June 13th, 1981, at the Mann Chinese in Hollywood. As soon as the Paramount logo match dissolved to that South American mountain in 1936, I knew I was in good hands. The sense of scope, humor and inventiveness—not to mention what would become the iconic, heroic silhouette of Indiana Jones—all in that single shot set the perfect tone for the experience to follow. I'll especially never forget how Indy shooting the Swordsman brought the house down in a way I don't think I had ever seen in a movie before that point. The crazy audience reaction unleashed in that moment was louder and more enthusiastic than the explosion any shark or battle station had garnered previously.
Sarah Woloski (co-host, Skywalking Through Neverland): I’m not sure whether I saw the Indiana Jones films or Star Wars first, but I had a huge crush on Harrison Ford and he starred in both, which made me happy. I also knew that both Star Wars and Indy had George Lucas and composer John Williams involved, and [Raiders had a] bonus: Steven Spielberg. These films were all a part of my life growing up. I would watch them over and over with my best friend and we would listen to the soundtracks throughout high school.
Laurent Bouzereau: I saw it in a packed theater in Paris on a warm weekend. I had already read the movie-tie-in novelization and knew the soundtrack by heart—as was always the case in my youth, films reached the European markets months after the U.S. Even though I knew everything, I experienced the film as a revelation. It was amazing that aside from the brilliant directing and acting, the dialogue and writing stood out, even to someone like myself who was not fluent in English. I remember seeing it over and over and quoting the dialogue.
Peter Krämer: I used to be very snobbish about Hollywood blockbusters in my youth, which is why I missed out on the experience of watching the film when it first came out. Seeing it much later on the small screen did not leave that much of an impression either. But I grew to like Raiders more and more over the years.
Scott Higgins: Sunday matinee, June 14th, 1981. Showcase Cinemas near Pontiac, Michigan. It was an experience I immediately wanted to repeat. I spent many afternoons at the multiplex that summer, contemplating boulders, snakes, Karen Allen, and melting faces.
Joseph McBride: I saw it when it came out—the early scene with the giant boulder was a terrific way to get into it. But I became increasingly dismayed by the film's mindlessness and racism. The direction of action is expert, there is a fair amount of goofy humor, akin to MAD magazine's Scenes We'd Like to See, but the storyline is preposterous, childish, and uninvolving, and the Third World characters are stereotyped. I found the scene in which Indiana Jones casually shoots a sword-wielding Arab offensive, although the audience seemed to love it, which made me even more depressed.
Steven Awalt: I first saw the film before our folks even took us to see it on the big screen. Most of the kids in our suburbs were exposed to Raiders through a bootleg copy on VHS that was being passed around by the fathers in the neighborhood (along with a copy of The Empire Strikes Back). I remember the picture and sound were pretty dire, most likely shot with a video camera of the era pointed at a theater screen, but despite how crappy it looked and sounded, all of us kids were just completely enraptured by the film. We all wanted to be Indiana Jones after that, we wanted to study archaeology and go on exotic adventures, find buried treasures, mummy's tombs, and of course everyone wanted a bullwhip for our backyard horsing around. We wanted to kiss a girl as beautiful and as spunky as Marion Ravenwood.
John Cork: Seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at a Friday night preview screening the week before it officially opened in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, was a glorious experience. I had just finished my freshman year of film school at USC and was working a construction job, so I was exhausted, but the film completely blew me away. I knew then, this was a film I would come back to over and over in my life. As a lifelong James Bond fan, I could see the inspirations, but I could also see the unique vision that made the character of Indiana Jones stand apart.
Mark O’Connell: All the tropes of the Indiana Jones saga are there within the first few paces of Raiders—British actors flanking Indy's academia and villainy, villains who Indy cannot help but quietly like and who he shares his passions with, the Hammer Horror meets a theme park set-pieces, the Bond tic of starting with the end flourish of another adventure, the backdrops of B-movie ingredients dependent on the era and that one plot McGuffin superseding all.
William Kallay: My parents sent me to Ohio to visit my grandparents in the summer of 1981. On one of our stops, we visited a bookstore. On the shelf was a magazine that I always begged my parents to buy for me, Starlog. With some spending money in hand, I bought the 5th anniversary issue of Starlog. It had an article about a film I was dying to see: Outland. The cover also showed a photo of George Lucas and there was an interview with him. There was a mention of a new film called Raiders of the Lost Ark that was based on an idea he had. At the time, I thought it was a silly title for a movie!
Chris Salewicz: I hadn't seen Raiders when it first came out. Then I ran into my old mate Don Letts in Soho. He urged me to see it: “It's sensational, one of the best films I've ever seen.”
Mark A. Altman: What I love about the original film was the sense of discovery I had as a kid when I first saw it. It may be the last film I ever watched where I literally knew nothing about it when I went to see it opening weekend other than Steven Spielberg directed it and Harrison Ford was in it wearing a hat. When I stepped into the theater for the first time, I literally thought it was about a quest for the Noah’s Ark having recently seen the Sunn Pictures anti-classic In Search Of Historic Noah’s Ark.
Laurent Bouzereau: The action sequences are so well choreographed, but the magic of it is that we are so engaged with the characters. That was really what stood out for me—I identified with Indiana Jones, there was something relatable that made you want to be part of the action. And that was something I had so far only experienced in James Bond films.
Stephen Danley: My introduction to Indiana Jones came about one night in 1990 when my parents had rented Last Crusade on VHS and decided to let me stay out on the couch and watch it with them (at least for as long as I could stay awake). I was five years old at the time and seeing someone I only knew as Han Solo take on another exciting movie persona must have overstimulated my little mind. The thrills and chills left quite an impression, as what I remember most is waking up disoriented still on the sofa from an intense Indy-inspired dream and being scared out of my wits. It wasn't until two years later in the summer of 1992 that I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara, California, was fresh off a successful revival screening of the Star Wars Trilogy and had offered an Indiana Jones triple bill as a follow-up the next weekend. Temple of Doom was still off limits for my younger brother and I, but witnessing Indy's true beginning with Raiders on the big screen was an eye opener—especially when it came to the finale. I'll never forget my mom struggling to cover our eyes as the villains' faces spectacularly melted away. It was the absolute craziest thing I'd ever seen onscreen.
CHAPTER 8: HEROES, VILLAINS, AND SIDEKICKS
Steven Awalt: Indiana Jones is introduced as this very imposing masculine figure, but then we see the filmmakers methodically chip away this man-of-action, soldier of fortune facade. Everything goes wrong for Indy inside the temple and we see him progressively revealed as a seat-of-his pants fella who clumsily improvises his way out of trap after trap just to stay alive—and it turns out he is somewhat of a close cousin to Han Solo in this regard. So, casting Ford and playing against expectations while slowly unraveling and in turn revealing the nature of Indiana Jones's suddenly relatable character is something of a master stroke on numerous levels. It's a brilliant deconstruction of the Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lester Dent, Ian Fleming man of brawn, cunning and skill, and I think that sly but loving humor toward and about Indy's character is one of the most significant aspects of the film and the entire Indiana Jones series.
William Kallay: The villains of Belloq and Toht were both charming and conniving at the same time. I loved the interaction of Belloq versus Indy, especially in the bar scene in which Spielberg lets the camera run while Belloq compares himself to Indy.
Lee Pfeiffer: A crime or action film is generally only as good as its main villain and Paul Freeman fit the bill with admiration. He had all the characteristics (I wouldn’t call them “qualities”) of those great cinematic villains. The first requisite is that they should be as intelligent as the hero, and equally charismatic. They must be sophisticated, and it doesn’t hurt if they are also handsome. Freeman’s Belloq met the criteria on every level. He was an inspired choice for the villain and followed in the footsteps of the great “B” movie villain George Zucco, who oozed sophistication.
Mark A. Altman: And for those in the wake of the Capitol insurrection who apparently still need to be reminded, Raiders once again makes it clear Nazis are very, very bad.
William Kallay: Karen Allen was spot-on terrific as Marion Ravenwood and held her ground from the very moment she out drinks a guy in the bar. She didn't take any flak from Indy and yet they made a fantastic screen couple.
Lee Pfeiffer: Today, female action heroes are all the rage. In 1981, however, they were rarities. Marion Ravenwood was intelligent, courageous and self-reliant. It was novel to see a female holding her own in a bar fight back then. It’s only recently that I began to reflect on how important this must have been to girls and young women in those days. There were precious few female action heroes they could fantasize about and dream of emulating. Boys were weaned on such heroes from John Wayne and Clint Eastwood to Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin, but tough-as-nails female characters were not common. Karen Allen played the role to perfection.
Zaki Hasan: While today it would be considered pro forma to have an ethnically appropriate actor play the role of Sallah, I never viewed John Rhys-Davies' presence in the role negatively and just took it at face value. For me, it was just nice to have a Mid-Eastern character who was explicitly a good guy. And far from being a mere functionary of our hero, Sallah was essential in Indy's progress toward his goal. While the character was used more for comic relief in the third movie, the foundation established in Raiders allowed the comedy to be one aspect of what ended up being a multi-faceted character, and that's also something I appreciated. Sadly, Rhys-Davies' comments in the years since denigrating Islam and Muslims added an uncomfortable element to his performance when viewed in hindsight, but that takes nothing away from the character of Sallah himself.
CHAPTER 9: MEMORABLE SCENES AND SEQUENCES
John Scoleri: One of the things I love about Raiders is how it moves effortlessly from one exciting set-piece to the next, from start to finish. Picking a favorite scene is extremely difficult, but I can say the one moment that always hits me in the gut—and I can relive it just by listening to the John Williams cue—is when Indy is spotted by the crew of the Bantu Wind as he climbs aboard the German submarine. That reprise of the Raiders theme still gives me goosebumps and never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Peter Krämer: My favorite moment in the film comes towards the end, when the Ark has been opened and it slowly reveals its power. Indy, who started out as a non-believer, and a rather cocky one at that, tells Marion: “shut your eyes.” And then he does the same, showing that he now not only has faith in divine power, but also shows humility in front of it. He is a changed man.
Cliff Stephenson: The amazing thing about the Indiana Jones films is that they’re films constructed out of moments. Learning later that Spielberg, Lucas and Kasdan basically built Raiders out of set-pieces is one of the biggest reasons these films are so re-watchable forty years later. We’re watching brisk, breezy, thrilling moments that are so masterfully connected that the movies just fly by. We go from the mystical magnificence of the Map Room to the digging and discovery of the Well of Souls to the escape from the Well of Souls to the fight at the Flying Wing to the truck chase, and it’s all done via these amazing pivots. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a movie built on pivots. Having said all that…the opening South America scene is incredible because it establishes so much in so little time. Indy’s initial reveal from the shadows is one of the all-time greatest character reveals in cinema history and opening action set-piece with the temple, rolling boulder and escape from the Hovitos is a sequence most other films would have ended with; Raiders starts with it!!! It is Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford introducing one of the greatest fictional characters in history and it is perfect.
William Kallay: The opening sequence in the temple was worth the price of admission.
Eric Zala: My favorite scene used to be the Truck Scene, for its amazing stunts and action. Now, having reunited our [Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation] cast to finally do the Airplane Scene 25 years later—and living it—I now find it my new favorite. One-hundred twenty-eight shots of breathtaking, escalating conflict and excitement. This movie keeps giving, keeps surprising me. I know of no other movie—not certainly one originally envisioned by its director as a B movie—that keeps rewarding my returning to it so.
Zaki Hasan: While the scene with Indy chasing Nazis on horseback as they abscond with the Ark is a strong contender, my favorite scene is Indy’s descent into the Map Room as he awaits the sun hitting the exact right point in the sky to illuminate the location of the Ark. The slowly building tension, highlighted by John Williams’ superb music score, as he tries to divine the Ark’s resting place before the Nazis find him, coupled with look on Ford’s face as the location becomes known, is a master class in scene construction—and all with no dialogue from our main character!—that also underscores his role as an intellectual and explorer first and foremost.
Neil S. Bulk (music editor and soundtrack producer): Growing up, my favorite scene of the film was the desert chase, especially the moment when Indy goes under the truck. I’ve probably watched that sequence more times than any other scene from any other movie. It’s a masterpiece of editing and scoring. However, over the last few years I’ve discovered how much I love the moment where Marion takes control of the machine gun on the flying wing and shoots down a truck full of Nazis. This may now be my favorite moment in the film.
Scott Mantz: My favorite scene has to be the fight between Indy and the thug with the giant sword in Cairo. Of course, we all know how that scene came to be (Harrison Ford had the flu, so he improvised a very quick scene to cut to the chase). But when the crowd parts ways to reveal the giant thug, who starts showing off with twirling around that massive sword, only to have Indy casually take out his gun with an "Oh, hell no!" look on his face and shoots him, everyone in the audience laughed and cheered! It's such a rousing moment in film history! To this very day, when I watch that scene from home, I vividly remember that moment when I saw it in theaters for the first time!
Saul Pincus: So many great moments. It’s hard to pick! I love the opening of the Ark purely as a biblical necromancy, a wicked revenge fantasy; a reminder that no matter the obstacle or antagonist, there’s always a bigger, fiercer fish to contend with. Indy’s mano-a-mano with Pat Roach’s German mechanic under the flying wing is so primal, so filled with bloodlust—but also hilarious because it’s balanced with the concept of Indy not really being up to the task—tricking his way though it until he’s really, really not up for it—then using his wits to win (and vividly, right?). An even more cinematic example of this, for me, is the Map Room sequence, a grand moment of intellectual awakening that proves success is in the details, with Norman Reynolds’ production design, Williams’ score and a brief bit of ILM magic (thanks Richard Edlund!) elegantly rapturing us forward to the next obstacle.
Stephen Danley: Over the years I've come to appreciate Raiders for its proficiency in nearly every facet as an adventure film. Perhaps no scene captures this better than the Desert Chase. From the moment Indy sternly inquires, "Truck? What truck?" to his painful grimacing behind the wheel after emerging very much scathed and temporarily victorious, it is and likely always will be the perfect action sequence.
John Scoleri: After meeting Ralph McQuarrie in 1996, one of the greatest surprises my publishing partner Stan Stice and I had was when Ralph pulled out a sketch that looked oddly familiar. When we asked what it was, he dismissively described it as “the one thing I did for Raiders.” Ralph’s sole contribution to the film was the drawing of the Ark that appears in the bible Indy shows to the government agents early in the film. He drew a few thumbnail sketches and created the final drawing (having guys from the crew at ILM pose in the parking lot as reference for some of the foreground figures). The illustration was transferred to an etched metal plate that was printed and inserted into what Ralph recalled was an actual bible for the insert shots. (Raiders trivia buffs will be interested to know that the finger you see onscreen that traces the energy beam coming out of the ark belonged to ILM matte photography assistant, Craig Barron.) It was mind blowing to discover that Ralph was responsible for that piece of art—a rare instance where his actual work (and not just translations of his concepts) filled the theater screen!
CHAPTER 10: THE COSTUMES AND PRODUCTION DESIGN
Saul Pincus: I always thought John Williams’ theme for Marion was amazing in that more than any other music in film, it took you right back to the 30s—or at least what our impression of that era is. I think Raiders’ production design is note perfect in the same way: it instantly evokes both the period and our impression of that period as experienced through classic black-and-white films. Jim Steranko’s pre-production art might suggest a strong reliance on evoking comic books and graphic novels, but production designer Norman Reynolds and costume designer Deborah Nadoolman temper this a bit, offering a practical take that retains the character of Steranko’s work without making it cartoonish. This balance is why I think Raiders is such an evergreen experience: the world it conjures is a relatable but romantic, genre-infused version of 1936. With his attire, Indy could, for all intents and purposes, fall off a bus and be perfectly at home almost anywhere geographically in that time. Sets like the Map Room evoke the same logic: though theoretically constructed thousands of years earlier, its fictional builders took care to make the map itself as simple and practical as if it might be made of moving, interlocking cogs rather than the inanimate mechanism it is. The craft of dressing clothing and sets with dust (a specialty of British crews of that era, according to Spielberg) is the icing on the cake. The sum of all this is the suggestion of the real that paves the way for the fantastic of the beam of light that pinpoints the Well of the Souls as the genuine resting place of the Ark.
Beverly Gray (author, Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation and Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon…and Beyond): Deborah Nadoolman’s costumes for Indy captured a period look but were fashion-forward enough to spark trends on the street. The essence of the garb was distressed leather, along with a rakish fedora based on a so-called “Australian” model she found in a classic men’s store on London’s Savile Row. Said Nadoolman, “Lowering the crown and shortening the brim suited Harrison’s long face better than anything else I could find on the market.”
Saul Pincus: Raiders is known as a great location picture, but it’s also a textbook example of how to use studio sets to elevate a film. And thanks to Spielberg’s transitions I rarely ever notice the joins. In two hours, for me, there’s just one moment: where night has fallen and Indy’s team clears the sand and removes the stone cover to reveal the Well of the Souls. The wider shots are brief and we’re into close-ups quickly—but it looks obviously studio-bound and with the cloud tank effects, there’s a bit too much suspension of disbelief required, especially as it directly follows the iconic silhouette sunset image shot on location in Tunisia. On the flip side, the scene where Marion is pushed into the Well the following morning has always been a seamless marriage of studio and location (aided enormously by the angle of the sun in the Tunisia material, which lends the sequence an elegant and painterly feel that seems to offset, in a genre sort of way, the brutality of what we’re witnessing).
CHAPTER 11: THE STUNTS
Bruce Scivally: My favorite sequence is the truck chase scene, where Indy does a horse-to-truck transfer, fights soldiers in the cab, gets thrown out, and then traverses underneath and is dragged hanging onto his whip; this one sequence takes all the most famous stunts from decades of Western movies and repackages them into a single breakneck, action-packed sequence.
CHAPTER 12: THE CINEMATOGRAPHY
Saul Pincus: Douglas Slocombe’s photography is incredible, in no small part due to his lengthy experience as a newsreel cameraman during World War II and his vast experience lighting for black-and-white and color. He had a great ease with hard light, and no one lit like quite like he did.
M. David Mullen, ASC (cinematographer, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel): Slocombe’s deep-focus and dramatic hard-light style that worked so brilliantly in his black-and-white movies was perfect for Raiders in terms of adding a darker film noir element to what is a period action-adventure movie. Outdoors in open spaces, the movie has a sort of sunny National Geographic travelogue feeling but as soon as scenes move into interior spaces, it is more reminiscent of Arthur Edeson’s shadowy work in Casablanca—just as the directing itself seems to use aspects of Michael Curtiz’ work. All of this helps give the movie just enough of a retro feeling of a 40s black-and-white movie without undercutting any of the visceral excitement coming from the big widescreen color image.
CHAPTER 13: THE EDITING
Charles de Lauzirika: My first viewing at the Chinese was not just an absolute thrill ride as the rousing entertainment it clearly is. It also triggered an intense interest in filmmaking that had awakened with Jaws and Star Wars, and developed with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman, Alien and The Empire Strikes Back. I was thirteen years old, and I suddenly became especially fascinated by editing, because Raiders was the first film that I really connected to in terms of how it was cut together. I first noticed it after a few viewings, that Summer of ’81, but the opening scene inside the Peruvian temple was really the first time I understood how the tension and stakes of the scene were unfolding through editing. I think it became apparent to me because most of it doesn't have a ton of action or visual effects. There are no distractions. It has the same tension of a bomb diffusing scene, but we all know what a bomb is going to do. We had little idea what was to come if Indy failed in whatever it was he was doing. And then what did follow was completely nuts. And so much fun. That's a fairly small scene too, compared to what comes later, and way before the more obvious tour de force of the epic truck chase, which is probably still the most satisfying action sequence I have ever seen. The masterful pacing, structure, and rhythms of Michael Kahn's editing in Raiders were seemingly effortless and yet so powerful.
Saul Pincus: I once read an interview with Michael Kahn where he said that on Raiders, he was able to educate his director a bit about the power of adding or subtracting a couple of frames in an action picture. Though Spielberg is hands-on, he obviously trusted Kahn’s experience because it’s this kind of skill and finesse that really shows, the feel a capable editor can bring to a project that often defies verbalizing. Maybe the best way to compliment Michael Kahn’s work on the film is to compliment the way in which he nails every genre within it: Raiders is a solid action film, but it’s also a solid adventure film and love story, with an impeccable sense of comic timing and juxtaposition of tone. Yes, a lot of that’s a credit to Kasdan, Spielberg and his cast—but that material filtered through different hands wouldn’t have resulted in the perfect soufflé that’s the film we now know.
Michael Rubin: When I used to teach editing courses, I used the opening to demonstrate powerful storytelling through film editing, in particular the series of shots that first reveal Jones, how it establishes character elegantly and sets up the tone of the film. Editor Michael Kahn’s work is widely cited for editing students.
Saul Pincus: Kahn himself has said he thinks of the Indiana Jones films as comedies—which I guess is another way of saying he cuts for the set-up of the gag and the impact of the follow-though, whether that’s for a punch, a laugh, or a mine car jumping though thin air.
Michael Rubin: The opening dissolve from the Paramount logo to the mountain still makes me smile.
CHAPTER 14: THE MUSIC
Jon Burlingame (film-music historian; writer, Variety; author, Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks): By 1981, composer John Williams had already scored four films by Steven Spielberg (including Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and two more for George Lucas (Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back). So, Williams—already a three-time Oscar winner—scoring Raiders of the Lost Ark was a foregone conclusion for both filmmakers, who were collaborating on the first Indiana Jones adventure.
Mark A. Altman: It’s hard to believe that John Williams, who crafted some of the most remarkable movie music of all-time with Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters, Superman and 1941, manages to top himself yet again.
Jon Burlingame: Williams wrote three main themes: a rousing Raiders March, essentially the heroic theme for Indy, first heard as we witness his hair-raising escape from the Peruvian jungle; a motif for Marion Ravenwood, part love theme and part world-weary character portrait for the woman we first discover running a saloon in Nepal; and mystical music for the mysterious and powerful Ark of the Covenant, which recurs throughout. Played with gusto by the London Symphony Orchestra, Williams' score propelled the action and underlined the suspense throughout, helping to ensure the film's success.
Charles de Lauzirika: Raiders is basically two hours of non-stop favorite sequences. It goes without saying that in addition to Spielberg, Lucas, Ford, ILM and the rest of the cast and crew, the one collaborator who serves as the best guide through the film's highlights is John Williams. When those spy photos from the new film leaked recently, and I saw Ford back in the old costume, I immediately put on the Raiders score. And as wall-to-wall phenomenal as that score is, I think there were two big standout cues for me during that re-listen: The Map Room: Dawn and Desert Chase. The former magnificently captures the enormous awe and timeless mystery of Indy's quest, while the latter is basically a theme park ride in music form. I mean, the entire stretch of Raiders from Indy and Marion escaping the Well of Souls, through the Flying Wing fight, through the truck chase...it's all just absolutely breathtaking. And it never, ever gets old.
Jon Burlingame: Williams earned his 16th Academy Award nomination (of his 52 to date, a record for composers) for this score, and if Oscar voters were choosing today, might well win, given the iconic nature of that film and what we now know as the launch of a franchise. But he lost to Chariots of Fire, the Vangelis synthesizer score then enjoying a wave of popularity.
Mike Matessino: There is, naturally, a focus on the famous Raiders March theme that is universally recognizable, but there are subtleties in the score that elevate it above the material’s B-movie and serial origins. The theme for the Ark is incredibly rich and intriguing, suggesting an ancient spiritual power the instant you hear it. And consider how Williams introduces Marion’s theme before we even meet the character. It is like an echo from a decade in the past. Williams musically reflects the characters and the backstory with incredible economy and hits a bull’s-eye in doing so. The action music is great, of course, but what happens in the rest of the score, for me, helps turn a B-movie into a serious piece of art that absolutely deserved its Oscar nominations for Best Picture and all the other accolades it has received.
Jon Burlingame: There is, of course, a lot of great music in Raiders, but my favorite cue has always been the four-minute The Map Room: Dawn, which uses the Ark theme but adds choir to heighten the drama of Indy's discovery of the precise location of the Well of Souls. The scene itself is beautifully realized, but Williams' score quadruples the thrill and power of the sequence—just another brilliant musical moment in the long history of the Spielberg-Williams collaboration.
Neil S. Bulk: Getting the expanded score album was a revelation. It must have been one of the first expanded albums I ever bought, and though I was aware of music in the movie that wasn’t on the original [soundtrack album] release, it never occurred to me that the extra music could be released. And then they released it on LP with even more music, so I had to get that, too.
CHAPTER 15: THE VISUAL EFFECTS
Joe Fordham (writer, Cinefex): Raiders was ingenious. It was classic serial adventure, writ large, with luminous photography, dynamic editing, and one of John Williams’ most energizing scores. But it didn’t do things the traditional way. Visual effects used every trick in the book and then some. Apocalyptic mayhem, lighting, fire, face-melting gore, angelic hordes, and many happy accidents. Gut-wrenching stunts, mechanical effects, hand-drawn animation, pyrotechnic and fluid tank photography, models, spectacular matte painting, optical effects. It’s a heady brew, and hard to beat that final pullback. Through Cinefex, I had the honor of meeting a handful of artisans who put this film together: George, Robert Watts, Kit West, Richard Edlund, Thaine, Messrs. Gawley, Van Vliet, Pangrazio and Barron—thank you all for your vision and your vigor. Happy birthday, Raiders.
William Kallay: For me, the opening of the Ark scene is such a dynamic combination of practical effects and ILM’s trademark visual effects. I remember as a young teenager saying “Whoa!” when the burst of light streams raced out of the Ark and started killing the Nazis. Of course, the real selling point of the scene were the practical make-up effects of faces melting and a head exploding. How the film got a PG rating still surprises me, but that scene was oh so cool!
CHAPTER 16: THE SOUND
Steve Lee: Film sound went through a technological revolution in the late 70s. Dolby Stereo gave filmmakers the opportunity to create layered, detailed soundtracks in a way we hadn’t heard before. And the new title of “Sound Designer” emerged—the three I consider the founding fathers of that term being Ben Burtt, Walter Murch, and Alan Splet. They all created amazing imaginative and completely original sonic worlds for every film they were a part of. And they gave us a reason to seek out the films in the best-sounding venues we could find. For Raiders, it was the late great Mann’s National in Westwood, California…in 70mm Six-Track!
Gianluca Sergi (author, The Dolby Era: Film Sound in Contemporary Hollywood): Although not as celebrated as its predecessors like Star Wars, Close Encounters, and Apocalypse Now, Raiders played a key role in the development of film sound. While it may have been a throwback to the B movie genre of the 1930s, going over well-rehearsed plot structures, hero story-arcs and damsels in distress needing saving (not to the mention the stereotypical and frankly uncomfortable portrayal of Arabs throughout), the film was extremely inventive in its use of sound. Instead of relying on old sound libraries that had dominated film sound since the days of The Adventures of Robin Hood (think flying arrows, swords clicking, etc.) Ben Burtt and his team jumped in the deep end and recorded brand-new sounds for virtually all those “B-movie sounds.” Everything from fist punches, body hits, gun fire, arrows flying to explosions and pops of all kinds sound fresh and give the film a sense of “modernity” that it may have otherwise lacked.
Ioan Allen (Senior Vice President, Dolby Laboratories): Raiders was a film that we at Dolby were really proud to be involved with. It had all the elements that led to its success—obviously a great script and acting—but also an amalgam of film creatives from Elstree studios in London, then Northern California and Los Angeles. From a sound point-of-view, I'd highlight the post-production crew at Goldwyn—Bill Varney, Gregg Landaker and Steve Maslow—supported by Dolby consultant Don Digirolamo—and all brought together by the imagination of sound-designer Ben Burtt! A sound-track format will only ever sound as good as the elements it's presented with—here was a movie where it all worked!
Gianluca Sergi: The film also proved beyond any doubt that the new school of sound that the team at Skywalker Sound (then Sprocket Systems) was creating—wittingly or otherwise—worked marvels not just with sci-fi, special effects driven movies like Star Wars but also with genres that were rooted in real life sounds by their nature. What worked for spaceships worked for 1930s cars, and the sound of a handgun could sound just as effective as that of a laser blaster.
Steve Lee: Ben Burtt and Richard Anderson were awarded Special Achievement Oscars for their brilliant sound effects on the film…and I have endlessly riddled them with questions about the experience. It truly is—in my opinion—one of, if not, the best-sounding contemporary action-adventure film ever.
F. Hudson Miller (sound editor, The Hunt for Red October; supervising sound editor, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country): Raiders is probably just about as perfect an edit/mix job that has ever been done.
William Kallay: Ben Burtt created sound effects that seemed to match the time period and feel authentic, yet they sounded modern. The scene that has always stood out for me was the bar shootout. I had heard hundreds of times gunfire in films before I saw Raiders. But this film’s gunfire effects, just as one example, felt visceral. Indy’s pistol shots resonated and had sonic impact to my ears. They had a massive kick. The machine gun fire had an almost Star Wars laser fire sound to it. For me as a young teenager, that was totally rad! As an adult, it is still totally cool.
Saul Pincus: Spielberg’s Close Encounters was really his only film to date to have made profound creative use of Six-Track Dolby Stereo (I think Frank Warner’s sound design for it still resonates), but with Raiders he had team Lucas at his disposal—AKA team Star Wars. Ben Burtt, John Roesch and Richard L. Anderson really outdid themselves, and years later, when asked, lead re-recording mixer Bill Varney still cited Raiders as his favorite mix. I still remember the joy of those Burtt punches landing so satisfyingly, thick with character, a new fidelity and frequency range that really sold each wallop as the thing of fun it was meant to be. The pleasure Burtt took in his work—his collaboration with Anderson, the ace Foley team and Varney’s group—can’t be overstated.
Gianluca Sergi: The opening sequence sets the tone perfectly in this sense: as the camera meanders through a thick jungle—made to come alive by the sounds of many exotic and somewhat otherworldly birds that populate it—we never see the face of Indiana Jones. The camera stays behind him all the time and goes at great length to avoid seeing his face. He also never speaks throughout. His whip does the talking: threatened by the sound of a gun being cocked, his head tilts slightly and the whip comes into action. The sound is not simply loud, it has length, it is an “event” that reverberates across the auditorium in glorious Dolby Stereo. That sound is Indy’s visiting card: it introduces the character in a way that no spoken word or look could have done and melds forever that character with that sound and nobody can ever conceive of Indy without his trusted fedora and whip by his side. Burtt replicates the trick he had pulled off so effectively with Darth Vader’s breathing and sets the tone for the entire film for the audience: this is going to be a fun ride.
Michael Rubin: In the Spring [of 1981], the top sound guys at Lucasfilm—including Tom Holman and Ben Burtt—went down to the Blumenfeld [Regency I] Theater in San Francisco to set up for the big premiere. While the theater was top end, the team discovered how poor theater sound was, which was frustrating after all the effort they put into creating the amazing acoustic tapestry of their films. It was specifically from the Raiders release that Lucas and Holman created the THX Sound system—they were committed to guaranteeing that audiences wouldn’t get crappy theater sound anymore. It’s one of the lesser-known legacies of the movie.
CHAPTER 17: THE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE
John Scoleri: I’m fortunate to have a dedicated home theater, but there’s nothing quite like seeing Raiders on a massive screen like the Century domes in San Jose I was fortunate to grow up with. I recall Raiders playing San Jose for over a year!
Mike Matessino: I saw Raiders at the first show on opening day at mother church: Movieland in Yonkers, New York. Curiously there were very few people there, but it was a Friday matinee and in those days you didn’t necessarily have the huge opening weekends for movies people knew little about. Reviews and word-of-mouth were still a factor. I had read the novelization before seeing the movie, so I already knew the story. But still it took me a few viewings to process what it had accomplished, how it was an homage to movies of the past while also being its own completely new thing.
Jim Bowers (co-host, Caped Wonder Superman Podcast): When I think back on memorable summer releases, 1981 is without a doubt one of my favorite years! How many times did I watch Superman II and Raiders of the Lost Ark on the same day in 1981? I lost count a long time ago!
Scott Mantz: I saw it five times during the summer of ’81.
Dan Madsen: That first year I saw the movie fifteen times!
David C. Fein (producer, Star Trek: The Motion Picture—The Director’s Edition restoration): I stopped counting after twenty-five!
F. Hudson Miller: It was worth it to seek out a cinema with Dolby Stereo. It would have been even more important to search out the 70mm Six-Track screenings. That’s what I did.
Saul Pincus: As a 70mm experience—which I saw at the Imperial in Montreal—Raiders was fantastic and immersive in all the ways you’d expect.
William Kallay: My aunt took me to see Raiders at the AMC Puente Hills Mall [City of Industry, California]. This was a typical AMC theater of the era with a small screen and a single aisle going down the middle of auditorium. AMC in that era was not known for superior theatrical presentations, and the sound that day was unremarkable. Later that summer, my buddy and I rode our bikes from Anaheim Hills to Orange to see Raiders at Cinedome. This theater complex was known for superior 70mm presentations. He had not seen it yet. We got there, bought our tickets and popcorn and got our seat in the huge domed auditorium. This time, I got to see the movie in all of its glory. Seeing and hearing it 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo was a huge difference from the Puente Hills showing. The picture quality was clearly superior, and the sound was a remarkable improvement over how I saw it the first time. When Indy took the idol and ran past the poisoned darts flying at him, it felt like we were in that temple with him. And when the boulder rolled down and chased Indy, the theater rumbled, and I felt the subwoofer blasting through my chest. The film came even more alive with every action scene, gut wrenching laugh, and horrified gasp. I leaned over to my buddy and said, “I think I like this better than Star Wars.”
John Wilson (projectionist): I would have run it probably a shade south of 100 times all up. Only film I've ever screened in all formats: a horrendous 20-minute digest on Super 8mm, my 16mm scope print, 35mm of course, and delightfully in 70mm also. I'd add 4K DCP, but that doesn't count!
Don Beelik (Famous Players): I was an usher in 1981 at a 900-seat single-screen Art Deco cinema in Toronto with no doors between the auditorium and lobby. Raiders played six months, five times a day—we all knew every word from the film. It wasn’t healthy! The break room was the only place we could get away from the sound, except the bass (it was a 70mm Six-Track Dolby “baby boom” presentation). Opening week we sold out almost every screening, and we only had ten minutes turnaround between afternoon screenings and fifteen minutes at night (i.e. ten to fifteen minutes to empty, clean, and bring in the next 900 people). In those days we had two to four ushers posted in the auditorium, except for our fifteen-minute break. It was madness!
Nick Coston (Plitt Theatres): I was the manager of the River Oaks in Calumet City, Illinois, during the release of Raiders. Nobody told us we were getting a 70mm print. It just showed up and we had to rush it to the booth. We had an 83-year-old projectionist and ran changeovers. The first show started late because we had to change all the gears on the projector. We used our D-150 lenses and our largest masking setting. What a great picture!
Don Beelik: We found dozens of continuity and visual errors in Raiders [from seeing it so many times]. It was a terrific sound mix and a really great blow-up. The film was run reel-to-reel and it left our cinema without a scratch and hardly any noticeable dust at reel changes. We had great projectionists. The sound was beginning to wear a little thin [by the end of the run]. The sound technicians did some adjustments to our Dolby system to improve the sound a bit as it wore out. Great memories!
Gabriel August Neeb (San Diego historian; contributor, Cinema Treasures): My first memory of Raiders of the Lost Ark is my friend John Carroll in front of his fellow kindergartners talking about a movie where a bunch of soldiers have their faces melted off because they looked into a treasure chest. It sounded scary. Then, what may have been a few weeks later—time moves strangely when you're five—my dad took me to a movie which happened to be Raiders of the Lost Ark. I still have the memories of that long trip from the San Diego coast out to the only place it was playing in the county: the Cinema Grossmont in La Mesa. Two hours later I walked out convinced I'd seen the best movie ever made and I remained resolute in that conviction until I saw Star Trek II and that became the best movie ever made. Quoting lines from it on the playground made me a weird kid (you know which line). Of course, even that fell to the wayside when the best, bestest movie Return of the Jedi opened a year later. Raiders was different. It had just one location—in La Mesa—and it played there for over a year (58 weeks). It was the movie to see in San Diego…until overtaken by another Steven Spielberg movie: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. Producer Frank Marshall even showed up at the Cinema Grossmont to preside over a cake cutting ceremony celebrating the one year run of Raiders. Now, forty years later, it still has a hold on those thousands of us that remember it. I've seen Raiders many times in the theater. During the 1990s it played at midnight a few times a year at the Mann Plaza [in Los Angeles’ Westwood Village] and I caught a few of those. Yet none quite match that first time when I was five. Now, I'm going to have a drink. You know, a drink?
Charles de Lauzirika: I was a lousy student in junior high and had to go to summer school in a different city in 1981. After school each day, I'd have a few hours to kill before my mom could pick me up after her workday, so I'd go see Raiders at the Alex Theater in Glendale. I can't claim to have seen it every day after school. But I saw it most days. And, honestly, watching Raiders over and over again like that, studying it, absorbing every frame...that, to me, was the best summer school I could imagine.
Bill Hunt (Editor-in-Chief, The Digital Bits): What I remember most about seeing Raiders in a theater, was that it reinforced the idea that a movie-going experience could be something like a roller coaster ride... an experience you’d want to repeat many times. My first brush with that phenomena was Star Wars, obviously, but I guess it didn’t occur to my fourteen-year-old self that a movie not set in space and in the future—or a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—could be every bit as gripping and engrossing the tenth time as the first. And living as I did in rural North Dakota at the time, I’m certain I saw Raiders in the worst theater possible, yet it still had that effect on me. That’s a testament to the power of cinema.
Eric Lichtenfeld: If you were a kid back then, you could see Indiana Jones, go to sleepaway camp for a month or more, and when you came back, the movie would still be playing. Now, movies are distributed and marketed differently than they used to be. Tentpoles are packaged as huge events that then burn through screens so damn fast. And the market becomes so crowded with these things that a few weeks after one of them opens, it’s like it never even happened.
CHAPTER 18: THE HOME MEDIA EXPERIENCE
Cliff Stephenson: What’s interesting that some people might not know or remember was that (1) Raiders was one of the earliest VHS releases actually priced low enough for people to buy and even then it was $40 (which translates to roughly $110 in 2021) and (2) it actually took Raiders over two years to debut on VHS (December 1983). It played theatrically for over a year (insane to think about now) and then took another year plus before in debuted on videotape. It debuted on video so many years after its theatrical release that the VHS contained the teaser for 1984’s Temple of Doom! A decade later (in 1992) when it finally got released in widescreen on LaserDisc (alongside Temple of Doom) it was one of the greatest home video releases ever to that point. While Last Crusade had been available in widescreen since its home video release in February 1990, Raiders and Temple hadn’t been seen that way for several years outside of an occasional theatrical screening, so their widescreen composition was simply unavailable. Another decade later when the DVD set got released it wasn’t the presentation that was as revolutionary; it was its first release to get special features that elevated that release. But that DVD release is also where we start to get into some of the minor tweaks and revisions with the digital removal of the snake reflection in the Well of Souls. With the subsequent Blu-ray and then this year’s 4K UHD release, it just feels like we’ve been perfecting these presentations and I can’t imagine ever needing another release again.
Saul Pincus: Rare is the film where you don’t find a natural stopping point when watching it for the umpteenth time on home video. Raiders always pulls me in and keeps me pinned for the duration—that’s greatness.
John Scoleri: I have seen Raiders well over one-hundred times in the last forty years. I own the film on every format imaginable: a 400’ UK Super-8 short, 16mm scope feature, RCA VideoDisc, VHS (many iterations), Beta, LaserDisc (again, many iterations—this is the first way I saw it in OAR at home), Japanese VHD, Video CD, Video 8, DVD, Blu-ray, and I am very much looking forward to experiencing in in 4K UHD with Dolby Atmos.
Scott Mantz: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was my very first home video purchase. I got it for my 13th birthday! But Raiders was definitely the second, and I distinctly remember the ad in the beginning of the video that they were making a sequel.
Anonymous: Raiders was the first video I ever bought…and didn’t even have a VCR (yet)!
Neil S. Bulk: Raiders was not the first film I had on video. That distinction belongs to Star Wars on CED, which I used to watch every day after school. Raiders on CED was a Hanukkah present I was given later in the year. At the time, my father owned a pharmacy and his home was above it. I was watching my new Raiders CED on his TV, thrilled, when we got to my favorite part, Indy going under the truck. Now here’s something non-CED owners may not know, but the discs would sometimes skip. This was much more prevalent than a vinyl record, and on my favorite part of the movie this disc skipped for the entire shot. Seven-year-old me burst into tears and called my father who was working down in the store. I was devastated. He later exchanged the disc for me, and I watched that regularly.
William Kallay: I do remember my dad forking over $39.99 for the VHS of Raiders at Video Concepts inside the Orange Mall. Most exciting day of my teenage life! Even in pan-and-scan and mono sound on our TV, it was so cool to be able to watch my favorite movie at home.
Bruce Scivally: I saw all of the Indy films on first release in theaters, on a big screen with an audience, the way they should be experienced. The Indiana Jones films are built to entertain a mass audience and work best when seen among the masses. Watching them at home, on a smaller screen, they lose some of their grandeur, and certainly lose that quality of sharing communal laughs and screams and oohs and aahs of wonder. For this reason, I could never see Indy becoming a pedestrian TV series; these films are meant to be savored in a cinema.
Zaki Hasan: There’s no comparison with the theatrical experience, but as someone who watched the films for the first time on VHS, the home viewing experience is almost more baked into the franchise for me than seeing it in theaters (though I did get to watch Raiders on the big screen ten years ago, and it was exactly as transporting as one would hope).
Neil S. Bulk: While I had Raiders on a stereo CED, I only had Temple of Doom on VHS and didn’t have a Hi-Fi VCR, and so the  LaserDisc remasters were a much-appreciated upgrade. Those letterboxed transfers were wonderful and kept me happy for many years.
Tim Bishop (Ken Crane’s LaserDisc): It seemed to me that most people started their LaserDisc collection with an Indiana Jones film. And of course, they started at the beginning. Raiders was a perennial beast of a seller.
David C. Fein: [Little known fact:] the Raiders and Temple of Doom letterbox remasters were one of the first THX LaserDiscs (but weren’t officially marketed as THX discs).
Cliff Stephenson: Laurent Bouzereau’s influence on not just me, but almost all special feature producers, cannot be overstated. His work on 90s LaserDisc releases like Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters, and the DVD work on Conan the Barbarian, and so many others, is really the template for what all of us do now. I remember getting the new Image Preview magazine in 1995 and learning there was going to be a documentary on the making of Jaws that was longer than the film itself. How would that be possible? The retrospective feature-length film documentary is really born in a lot of ways with Laurent’s early LaserDisc work. So, with the 2003 DVD release of the Indiana Jones collection, Laurent’s documentary work on that was, perhaps, the single greatest element of that release. There had been documentaries available prior (Great Movie Stunts and The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark [were broadcast on TV and were even] released to VHS back in the early 80s), and while those documentaries were great, they were also somewhat promotional as they were usually produced in conjunction with the film’s release. The 2003 DVD set really gave us the first reflective making-of on the series that we had been craving. And remember…these docs were created with the idea that this was a trilogy of films that were done, so these features felt complete. It’s weird to think that forty years after the original film and almost twenty years after those initial DVD special features that people are back to documenting the making of a new Indiana Jones film.
John Scoleri: For my 30th birthday in 2000, my wife and I rented a theater in San Jose to host a private screening of Raiders for our friends and family, and I have hosted anniversary screenings for the 25th in 2006, 30th in 2011, and 35th in 2016. I’m really looking forward to our 4K 40th anniversary screening!
Bill Hunt: With the new 4K UHD release, Raiders simply looks its best now, and better than it’s ever looked before at home by a wide margin. Better still, the new English Dolby Atmos remix, which was supervised by Ben Burtt at Skywalker Sound, is spectacular. Honestly, it’s a joy to finally see the film in this level of quality at home. I think it might actually surprise people who only remember it from previous Blu-ray and DVD viewings. The 4K experience is something of a revelation.
Neil S. Bulk: Sometime in the late 2000s, Raiders aired on the Sci-Fi Channel and someone noticed that a shot was changed and the Internet blew up. The changed shot occurred during the desert chase, when the jeep is falling after being knocked over the cliff. (Before I go on, I should point out that in the novelization Toht is in a vehicle that goes over a cliff, so he dies here instead of having his face melt.) There was nothing wrong with the original shot. It was a terrific matte painting filmed in a realistic manner. The way it was filmed is key to why the replaced CG shot does not work. In the original shot you get the sense the camera is tilting to capture the action of the jeep and Nazis plummeting to their deaths. In the revised CG shot the camera is falling with the action, something that’s at odds with the visual style of Raiders. In 2011, at the 30th anniversary showing of the film at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, an all-new DCP was screened. Prior to it I asked a friend from Paramount about this shot and he told me it was never supposed to be released and its airing was a mistake.
William Kallay: Despite the great ways we can see Raiders at home on 4K Ultra HD or Blu-ray on huge widescreen televisions or projectors, there is nothing more exciting than seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark with a crowd on a Saturday night in 70mm.
Saul Pincus: Perhaps an interesting footnote to Raiders on home video was that video wasn’t the first appearance of the film on a home format. That honor went to the 400-foot, 16-minute Super-8 digest version that was released though Marketing Film in 1982. I was lucky to own this for a cool $35—but I had to wait nearly a year after I’d placed my order; as I later found out, Lucasfilm was unhappy with the original cut and had it reworked until they were satisfied. The Super-8 version contained the opening idol sequence, the CIA visit, the Cairo street fight, most of the truck sequence, and the climactic opening of the Ark—in color and sound, and amazingly… letterboxed! The ratio was 2:1 (closely mirroring the aspect ratio of the 70mm prints). Your standard VHS or Beta version of (admittedly) the entire film was panned-and-scanned using the pre-motion control reframing gear of the time, which resulted in me avoiding Raiders on VHS or Beta, holding out till 1992 when the letterboxed “Widescreen Edition” LaserDisc made its appearance. Compared to the original Star Wars films, Raiders has been well-treated on Laser, DVD, and Blu-ray; it’s always looked very much like it should—though it’s a much grainier film in spots than the Blu-ray or current DCP would have you believe.
Neil S. Bulk: One more thing about [the jeep going over the cliff]. There was a CAV release of Raiders on LaserDisc. It was 4x3 and, as I’m sure your readers know, CAV discs offered crystal clear frame-by-frame access and slow motion, but they could only hold a maximum of 30 minutes a side and Raiders is 115 minutes. This shot was the end of Side 3, which means there was an interruption during the truck chase. People can argue all day about streaming vs. physical media; I’m happy we don’t have to deal with side breaks anymore.
CHAPTER 19: THE FRANCHISE
Gary Gerani (editor, Topps bubblegum card series): As most fans know, Star Wars has been a cash cow property for Topps ever since the first 1977 Star Wars trading cards hit the market. But, surprisingly, this candy counter success was not repeated by the second of Lucas' great “serial” movies. When Raiders of the Lost Ark was announced and screened for us, the President of Topps, Arthur Shorin, was ecstatic. He thought he had another Star Wars on his hands, since the movie was entertaining as hell, and kids seemed to love Indy. We tied into the property, but it never, ever sold the way Lucas' science fiction extravaganza did. My theory at the time was, when you freeze the action for Star Wars and put that image on a trading card, you're still looking at exotic creatures in other-worldly environments, something pretty fanciful and compelling. But when you do the same thing with an Indiana Jones movie, it's mostly people in dusty clothing you're looking at—you need the movement, the kinetic excitement of the movie itself to recapture Raiders' charms. Picture cards can't quite give you that, sad to say. Even so, we happily tied into the sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and eventually did an overview-type card series when the final Indiana Jones film (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) was released. So ultimately, Topps has a proud history of releasing Indiana Jones-related products. It's just that it's a blip when compared to the company's mega-success with Star Wars, which continue to this day.
Scott Rogers (author, Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design): I have always been a fan of the Indiana Jones IP. Who doesn't want to play as a two-fisted, whip-wielding archeologist?! My favorite titles were Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures on the SNES, the underrated Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures for Windows and, of course, the incredible Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures. I only wished that they had made more Indy games, there weren't enough of them!
Steven Awalt: I'm a huge fan of Temple of Doom since back to 1984, and I enjoy Last Crusade and yes, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but Raiders stands very tall within the series and also within all adventure films throughout all of Hollywood history.
Joseph McBride: The most loathsome of the films, by far, is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which is the most flagrantly racist, as well as filled with ghastly hyper-violence throughout, aside from a few comic set-pieces such as Kate Capshaw’s charming song number in Chinese. Spielberg was in a dark state of mind when he made that ugly film.
Scott Mantz: I will say that as far as the Indy sequels are concerned, Temple of Doom is still my favorite, even over The Last Crusade. As much as I love the scenes with Ford and Sean Connery in Last Crusade, Temple of Doom is much more fun and action packed. It's also much darker, as it was one of the films (in addition to Gremlins) that led to the creation of the PG-13 rating!
Zaki Hasan: Temple of Doom is a sequel that had the courage to swerve away from audience expectations. I wish we'd see that more often.
Scott Higgins: I think that when people return to Indiana Jones and the Temple of 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.
Eric Lichtenfeld: Temple of Doom is not the masterpiece that Raiders is, but it’s a brave movie. For the most part, it has a reputation it doesn’t deserve, and it doesn’t have the reputation that it should. And visually, it’s practically a feast. The cinematography is some of my favorite of all time—not just of the series.
Cliff Stephenson: When Temple of Doom came out, I was visiting California and was fortunate enough to get to see it at the world-famous Mann’s Chinese Theater in 70mm. It was my first time at the Chinese and it couldn’t have been a greater experience. I’m actually one of “those people” who prefers Temple to Raiders. I know Raiders is a better movie, full stop, but I find Temple to be so gloriously well-paced, over the top and fun that it’s always the one I go to when given the choice. Maybe some of that is tied to that Chinese Theater visit in ’84, but it’s where I’ve lived for thirty-seven years now. (Temple of Doom was also the very first movie I ever bought on VHS in late 1986.)
Scott Higgins: Willie Scott 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.
Eric Lichtenfeld: The light touch that Short Round brings offsets the darkness of [Temple of Doom] nicely. And his relationship with Indy—somewhere between father-and-son and two brothers—gives the movie a warm underpinning, too.
Bruce Scivally: My favorite will always be the first, for the simple reason that all the sequels repeat elements of the first (some more successfully than others) and consequently, don't seem as fresh and inventive—although I do like the cleverness of the musical/action sequence that opens Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; after that, the movie rapidly descends to bottom-of-the-barrel, ending as a tepid rip-off of 1939's Gunga Din. (Some say the original Indy was itself inspired by the 1954 film Secret of the Incas, starring Charlton Heston as a fedora-topped, leather-jacket-wearing adventurer; Indiana Jones costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis admitted that Indy's look was inspired by Secret of the Incas.)
Joseph McBride: I like the third film in the series, Last Crusade, because instead of Third World villains, it has villains we can all despise (Nazis). Last Crusade also has a more relaxed, expansive visual feel and a more interesting storyline than the others, with its religious overtones. (Spielberg’s films are full of Christian iconography and themes.) And it has that fascinatingly complex father-son tension between Indy and his dad (Sean Connery), which goes to the heart of Spielberg’s thematics.
Eric Lichtenfeld: Raiders is first—in both senses of the word. But it’s so clearly the best that the question I always find more interesting is where do Temple of Doom and Last Crusade come out in the battle for second place?
Bruce Scivally: There's a lot of fun in watching the interplay between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in Last Crusade, and the script and Spielberg's staging of the scenes allows both to show off their comedic skills,
Scott Higgins: I’m happy to defend the other films, but no matter how much I love them, I always feel like I’m making a case for them (and allowances for them) in light of Raiders. The highest achievements of the other films (the tank-vs horse fight/chase in Last Crusade) and their great weaknesses (the various ex machina) are never quite as good or are just a bit worse than Raiders.
Mike Matessino: Raiders is clearly the tightest and most solidly successful of the series and is important because it’s the first one, but on a personal level I enjoy Last Crusade more. The themes of that picture, particularly the father/son aspect and the whole idea of a “leap of faith” resonate with me. When looking at all of the films I feel Last Crusade might be the only genuine Steven Spielberg movie of the series, at least thematically.
Scott Higgins: We should celebrate The Last Crusade, if only as a blip on our collective nostalgia radar. The film comes right at the moment that Spielberg begins to more or less mechanically “diversify” his output between prestige and popcorn/audience movies. The surrounding films all have this patina of serious ambition about them—The Color Purple (’85), Empire of the Sun (’87), Always (yes, even Always, also ’89). From here on, he would alternate between two kinds of film—Jurassic Park (’93)/Schindler’s List (’93); Lost World (’97)/Amistad (’97)—and we all quickly learned what to expect and not expect from him. But in ’89 it still wasn’t entirely clear which films belonged to which camp, or even if there were two camps. We could almost expect every bit as much passion, precision, and serious engagement in Last Crusade as we (or the critics) might in prestige bait. Arguably, Jurassic Park carried on the tradition of extremely carefully wrought, audience-pleasing, genre pics, which Jaws had promised, but by then the split was clear. Last Crusade, at the time, felt like a return to form for Spielberg—a flexing of the entertainment muscle. In retrospect, it was just the first swing of the pendulum between middlebrow and populist—the bloom coming off the rose. I’m nostalgic for that rose. But the film is also much more—it is, in fact, a good movie. A less flawed, more worthy follow up to Raiders. We should celebrate it as a fitting end to the trilogy. If we celebrate hard enough, we might erase all memory of Crystal Skull, and that sinking depression that comes with the announcement of a fifth installment.
Eric Lichtenfeld: Last Crusade is a well-loved movie. It’s brought lots of people lots of joy. And in a way, it’s the most accessible of the first three—it’s not the capital-C classic that is Raiders or the strange, dark detour that is Temple of Doom. And because it’s not a classic like the first or a purely cinematic achievement like the second, I think that when we celebrate Last Crusade, what we’re celebrating is our own memory of it, our own ongoing experience of it—even more than we’re celebrating the actual movie itself. But is that such a bad thing? To me, those are the best things moviegoing ultimately gives us. If they’re not worthy of commemorating, then I don’t know what is.
Jonathan Rinzler: Casting Sean Connery as Indy’s dad was a stroke of genius. All the father-son material in that film is a lot of fun and so well written and acted.
Zaki Hasan: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is my favorite Indiana Jones movie because it builds on our familiarity with the character and his world to ply humor from Sean Connery’s introduction into the mix as odd-man-out Dr. Jones Sr. Ford and Connery are having fun, Spielberg is having fun, and we can’t help but have fun along with them. For thirty-plus years, Last Crusade has been my go-to comfort food movie, and it’s in no danger of being replaced anytime soon.
Scott Higgins: Elsa Schneider’s no Marion Ravenwood. But then, she’s no Willie Scott. On balance, I’m more grateful that she’s no Willie Scott.
Eric Lichtenfeld: The greatest strength of Last Crusade is its tone. This movie returned the fun and breeziness to the series. Fairly or not, Temple of Doom is widely seen as when the franchise went off the tracks (an apt image considering the movie’s signature mine car chase). It just has so much darkness and gore and outright weirdness. Last Crusade corrects for that. That’s not even a full accounting, though. Last Crusade may have a light touch—even lighter than Raiders—but it also has resonance in just the right places. It’s light without being insubstantial. In that sense, it’s Spielberg at his most “Spielberg.” But at the same time, there’s something about this that has always felt a little calculated, even machined, to me. Maybe that’s because the movie is so obviously a correction for Temple of Doom.
Zaki Hasan: When I first saw Last Crusade I related to Indy. Now I’m old enough to relate to Henry Sr. Such is life.
Eric Lichtenfeld: Last Crusade plays like the end of a trilogy (even if it wasn’t truly a trilogy per se). And starting in ’81, and ending in ’89, it was series that encapsulated the decade, a decade which George Lucas and Steven Spielberg helped define, no less. So Last Crusade—especially the end—has a real feeling of summation. But now there’s Crystal Skull, a sequel largely rejected by fans who now double-down on the idea that the first three constitute the trilogy!
Scott Higgins: Last Crusade will always shine as the final film of the Jones trilogy. It is a fitting end to the series—thank god they didn’t make another!
Jonathan Rinzler: When they rode off into the sunset, I thought it was a great end to the trilogy.
Eric Lichtenfeld: The legacy of Last Crusade is that you can go home again, while the legacy of Crystal Skull is that you can’t.
Zaki Hasan: The Young Indiana Jones TV series was a noble failure. A better idea in concept than execution, due largely to what seems like George Lucas fundamentally misreading what audiences wanted out of an Indiana Jones series.
Richard Woloski (co-host, Skywalking Through Neverland): It seemed like the end of Indiana Jones as we knew him came with Last Crusade in 1989. Sure, there was the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles after that but that wasn’t the Harrison Ford version. Then in March 1995 Indy was back and this time he’s bringing us with him in the Disneyland attraction Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Later the title was shortened to just Indiana Jones Adventure since no one ever called it Temple of the Forbidden Eye. I waited in line four hours that opening weekend just to join Indy on this new adventure. Even though the ride itself is just three minutes long, the adventure starts in the queue where you pass by the Nazi troop transport truck that was used in the filming of the desert chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark (which blew my mind when I found out that fun-fact just a few years ago). Dimly lit hallways led through booby trapped corridors. Then, after that long wait it was time to get in the jeep that takes you on a very bumpy ride that replicates the mine car chase in Temple of Doom. But the end of the ride features (spoiler) the large rolling boulder from Raiders and that was all I needed to see. And the ride was bookended by an animatronic Indiana Jones that was never up to Disney quality, why they still haven’t upgraded it I’ll never know. After seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 I’ve always fantasized about my own Indiana Jones adventure and with this Disney attraction I finally got one.
Sarah Woloski: I went to Disneyland for the first time in my life the day before I started college at USC. The first attraction I ran to was Indiana Jones Adventure! Finally, I could be transported to the 1930s and a forbidden temple, with Indiana Jones leading the way. As Indy says during the ride, it was "BIG fun." Afterwards I only had my eye on one souvenir—an Indiana Jones fedora! It comes in handy when I want to Disney bound as my favorite adventurous archeologist.
Joseph McBride: The filmmakers had trouble eventually finding acceptable villains for these films because they became more aware of the problems stereotyping ethnic groups and with the crassness and casual brutality of the central character; eventually, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy winds up on the side of the “natives” and returns treasures rather than looting them.
Bill Hunt: It’s fair to say that Crystal Skull’s notorious “nuking the fridge” moment quickly became the cinematic equivalent of Fonzie’s infamous “jumping the shark” TV episode of Happy Days. And yet…the movie still has its moments, some of them good and some completely ridiculous.
Steven Awalt: Crystal Skull disappointed what seems to be a large set of very vocal fans, but it did receive a majority of positive professional notices, and it was undeniably a box-office smash in 2008. [But] I see admirers like myself who consider Crystal Skull an important progression in the adventures of these beloved characters. It has its flaws, especially compared to Raiders or Temple of Doom, but where everything clicks, I still maintain it’s a damned good expansion of the Indiana Jones mythos. I loved the Chariots of the Gods angle, the Soviet interest in the paranormal and especially seeing an aged Indy in a whole new era. I hope we can see more films set in that time period and with similar themes—Cold War, paranormal, supernatural and super-ordinary themes that were a part of the American imagination from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Joseph McBride: Unlike many Indiana Jones fans, I sort of like Crystal Skull—or as someone called it, Indiana Jones and the Terrible Title—with all its absurdity, because I believe Spielberg approached it as a lark, a framework for spoofing his earlier work systematically, genre by genre. I even like the “nuking the fridge” scene and especially the self-satire of immolating the iconic Spielberg suburban home. What I like about it is the generally unnoticed fact that Spielberg is amusing himself by parodying his work in various genres. The destruction of the fake suburban town—“Doom Town,” or Spielbergland, in effect—is the best part of the film. Spielberg’s gift for parody is rarely appreciated, but it’s an integral part of his work.
Zaki Hasan: Crystal Skull was possibly the most disappointing theatergoing experience I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve softened on it since then, but seriously...woof.
Steven Awalt: I hope that critical notices about the outré "alien" theme in Crystal Skull don't send the filmmakers back to safer ground like we saw with Last Crusade after outcry toward Temple of Doom in 1984.
Laurent Bouzereau: Raiders is the best of all the four films. It sets the tone and has an innocence to it. But I have to say that each of the other films are also quite special and original. I have experienced them through the years and have enjoyed rediscovering them through my documentaries.
Scott Mantz: Should the Indiana Jones series continue without Harrison Ford? Well, I'm not sure the series should continue even with Harrison Ford—that last movie, Crystal Skull, was pretty bad! In fact, it was so bad that I still refer to the film series as The Indiana Jones Trilogy! That last movie doesn't even exist to me. Of course, they're filming a 5th movie as we speak, and I'm hopeful it will represent a rebound for the series, if for no other reason than because it's being directed by James Mangold, who makes great movies in any genre (Walk the Line, Logan, Ford v Ferrari). But if it's bad, my fear is that it will dilute the series in the same way that the Star Wars prequels and sequels diluted the Original Trilogy. But, hey, I hope I'm wrong, and if it's great, I will happily eat my words!
Mike Matessino: I’m all for one more Indiana Jones movie with Harrison Ford that wraps up the series in an appropriate and satisfying way, validates all four of the films (as well as the Young Indiana Jones series), and which perhaps sets things up for a reboot in a way that audiences will accept and get excited about. I fully believe that something like that is achievable.
Eric Zala: I tend to agree with Spielberg, that for the character of Indiana Jones…there is Harrison Ford, and there are facsimiles. Yet, I would love to live in a world where one can look forward to more. Ultimately, I like the idea of the passing of the torch. If not to Indy’s son in the 4th chapter…perhaps to his daughter in the 5th? I am open.
Bruce Scivally: In a way, the Indiana Jones series is the inverse of the original Star Trek movies. With Trek, it's the even-numbered entries that are the best (The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country); with Indy, it's the odd-numbered ones (Raiders and Last Crusade). That bodes well for Indy 5's prospects.
CHAPTER 20: HOMAGE, PARODY, AND RIP-OFFS
Scott Mantz: Just like Star Wars inspired a long list of wannabes and rip-offs, so did Raiders, ranging from Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold to the Mummy movies that starred Brendan Fraser.
Steven Awalt: Once Raiders proved to be such a popular film with audiences and the box office, other filmmakers, lesser filmmakers as it goes, rushed to try and copy the formula that George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Larry Kasdan had so winningly concocted.
William Kallay: The big TV show in the fall of 1982, or so ABC thought, was Tales of the Gold Monkey. I remember the previews looking promising and I attempted to get through the season, but this was no Raiders of the Lost Ark by a long shot. Stephen Collins simply did not look like a rough and tumble action guy. On CBS, I believe that same fall, Bring ’Em Back Alive was their answer to Raiders. That show starred both Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan, fresh off making Tron. I do not remember much about it and, like Tales of the Gold Monkey, it only lasted one season.
Eric Zala: [I wanted to make Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation because] I loved that world of adventure that I got to be in, for those two hours in the dark. That alchemy of story, casting, music, acting, characters was lighting-in-a-bottle magic. While I knew that such world was fictional, the closest possible to be in it…was to trace the footsteps of Spielberg: Recreate it, for ourselves, for fun. Like George “I just really want to see this movie.” I had to see ours, finished.
Mike Matessino: I did have fun with the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy movies, and also the National Treasure movies, which I would put into the category [of homages or Raiders-inspired], and I think even the Dan Brown stories as well. And, of course, Tomb Raider.
William Kallay: In early 1983, my uncle Andy took me to see High Road to China starring Tom Selleck at the Cinedome in Orange. I am not sure if Selleck was trying to make up for not being able to play Indiana Jones. All I know is in watching him as an adventurer in this film made me believe that Harrison Ford was the ideal Indy.
Mike Matessino: I have little memory of High Road to China. I do remember the Cannon King Solomon’s Mines was expectedly clunky.
Steven Awalt: Despite the weak imitations both Spielberg and Lucas's work unintentionally wrought, Raiders will always stand apart from the copies, because Spielberg and Lucas understood the many ingredients and moving parts you need to make films that capture audiences' attention and imaginations. Others sought to copy Raiders, but they either took themselves too seriously, not seriously enough, or they didn't have the chops to walk the very fine line between two-fisted action film and endearing character work.
Mike Matessino: It’s been pointed out [on the Internet, on The Big Bang Theory, etc.] that Indiana Jones doesn’t really influence the plot in any way, and while that might be an arguable point, what it leaves us with is a realization that it’s all about the journey and about watching the character’s reactions to all the situations in which he finds himself. We subconsciously know it’s all going to turn out all right in the end, so the experience is all about the obstacles and the character’s responses to them, emotionally as well as physically.
Zaki Hasan: We in the audience care more that Indy and Marion survive, and it’s the culmination of their journey that makes the story rewarding, not finding Chaos Theory-style chains-of-causation that render it less meaningful.
Neil S. Bulk: Wasn’t it Robert Zemeckis who pointed out Indy prevents the Nazis from delivering the Ark to Hitler? I guess they didn’t want to revise history the way Quentin Tarantino did in Inglourious Basterds, but it would have been satisfying to see Hitler’s face melt and/or explode.
William Kallay: The one stand-out “rip-off” of Raiders was Romancing the Stone. That was a good action, comedy and romantic movie that put its own attitude and twist on the character of a hero in Michael Douglas. And we should not forget Kathleen Turner’s excellent role as Joan Wilder. Robert Zemeckis deserves kudos for imitating Raiders but without trying to copy his mentor, Steven Spielberg.
CHAPTER 21: THE LEGACY
Van Ling: Raiders was the joyful cinematic thrill ride that helped inspire a lot of folks, including me, to pursue filmmaking as a career, because you could really feel that the folks making it were having as much fun as those of us watching it.
William Kallay: When people ask me what my favorite film is, I say without hesitation, Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is still the ultimate Saturday night, popcorn chomping, audience pleasing film.
Mike Matessino: Raiders is the movie against which all others in its genre are measured. One comes away from watching it feeling completely satisfied with the action, with the story, and with the inner journey of the characters and repeated viewings don’t diminish its impact. How many movies have truly done that to the degree Raiders does?
Jeff Bond: The magic of seeing those first few Spielberg/Lucas blockbusters (Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters, Empire and Raiders) will never be equaled because we had all grown up with one level of movie pacing and special effects and these were just a quantum leap beyond everything we’d seen. They were pure movie heroin!
John Scoleri: I consider myself fortunate to be part of the generation that first experienced so many of the major films of Lucas and Spielberg theatrically, as opposed to on home video. What’s even more important to me today, though, is watching the film with others. It’s particularly fun to see it with someone experiencing it for the first time. If ever a film was designed to be seen with an audience, it’s one like this where the hero is cheered, the villains are booed, and the moments of danger eliciting the combined gasp of the crowd.
Scott Higgins: The Indiana Jones films are important as an American answer to James 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.
John Cork: Just as the success of Star Wars set the Bond filmmakers off to make Moonraker, the success of Raiders inspired the adventurism of Octopussy. The Bond inspiration led Spielberg and Lucas to offer a few hat tips to 007: They dressed Indiana Jones in a white tux with a red carnation like Bond in the opening of Goldfinger in Temple of Doom, and they hired Sean Connery to play Indiana Jones’s father in Last Crusade.
Eric Lichtenfeld: Raiders gave us a pop-culture icon. It gave us The Raiders March. It cemented the movie-star status of one of the great movie stars of his time, if not of all time. And it helped ensure that the 1980s would be the decade of the blockbuster. It also took an entire tradition of mostly forgettable filmmaking and gave legitimacy to its underlying spirit. That’s a lot for one movie to do. But I hope that as people visit and revisit Raiders, they’ll see it not just as the beginning of something even bigger, but also as something all its own, and on its own merits. Because it’s one of those movies where everything matters: every sound, every cut, every movement, every composition. And if by some freak occurrence, none of the rest had happened—no sequels, no theme park attractions, no iconic status for Harrison Ford or for John Williams’ music, no influence on the film business or the cultural zeitgeist—that would still be more of a legacy than most movies leave behind.
Sheldon Hall: I’ve continued to enjoy Raiders on half a dozen or more subsequent occasions, both on the big screen—including in 70mm—and on TV. Yet my appreciation of the film has dimmed somewhat, and that of the sequels even more so, as I rue the pattern it set for future action adventures: all action set-pieces, with very little else in between and even less of substance beneath. I recall a contemporaneous British television interview with the late New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, in which she remarked that Raiders was made by two of the most talented and powerful filmmakers in Hollywood, who could have made anything they wanted, yet this was what they chose to do with their talent and power. Even if you think it’s a blockbuster classic—personally, I prefer Jaws—it’s surely possible to see her point.
Steve Lee: After having an almost 25-year career in film sound myself, I have channeled all the knowledge and wisdom I’ve collected studying film sound history into the creation of The Hollywood Sound Museum…and you can be sure that Raiders of the Lost Ark will be properly represented there.
Mark O’Connell: The very fact that Ford is returning right now to the role is a (New) testament to the pride and loyalty he has to the series and its world. He never gets enough credit for the covert steering and behind the scenes investment he puts into his work and Raiders is arguably his greatest film and the strongest crack of the whip of the whole franchise. He cared about the look of the costume, how the hat sat on his head and always, always brings great dignity, warmth and grace to those films. It is certainly Spielberg's most efficient, most romantic, most airtight, most genre-building work.
Caseen Gaines (author, We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy and [forthcoming] E.T. The Ultimate Visual History): Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't just give us the beginning of the Indiana Jones franchise; it marked a significant moment where the titans of the movie industry began to flex creative muscles in new and exciting ways. After missing the mark on the underwhelming comedy 1941, Steven Spielberg confidently reassured audiences that that film was a fluke and that he was a master storyteller who could keep an audience in the palm of his hand. Who better than George Lucas and Harrison Ford to join him on this adventure? And, perhaps the most lasting aspect of the Raiders legacy is that, while filming, Spielberg and Ford's then-girlfriend Melissa Mathison, who was accompanying the leading man throughout the shoot, began writing a screenplay that would soon become E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
Bruce Scivally: I think they would love to keep raking in that Indiana Jones revenue, and will definitely try to find a way to keep it going after Harrison Ford hangs up his fedora for good. I expect that if they recast the role, there'll be the inevitable backlash from Indy fans, but if the film is exciting enough, and the performer charismatic enough, the joy of experiencing new adventures will outweigh the disappointment of losing the original actor—as happened with the 007 films.
Lee Pfeiffer: Indiana Jones stands as one of the most enduring and popular screen heroes of all time. If one excludes the legendary comic book superheroes, he can probably best be compared to James Bond. Both have endured for decades and have survived the fickle tastes of movie-goers. Both characters are not provincial but enjoy worldwide international appeal and both have sartorial or behavioral characteristics that are closely associated with them. In Bond’s case it is his penchant for state-of-the-art gadgets while Indy is instantly identifiable by his wardrobe and bullwhip. Another common factor between the two franchises is that the films come out with a gap of years between them, thus making each one a major event for fans. It’s a perfect example of the “less is more” marketing philosophy. As [we are doing this interview], production is starting on the new Indiana Jones film. There’s been some cynicism about Harrison Ford’s ability to play the role due to his age, but I don’t think the part of Indiana Jones is as easy to recast as Bond has been. Whereas, six actors have been successfully embraced by 007 fans, I think Ford owns the role of Indy. I have full confidence he will appear credible in the role even as a senior citizen. After all, the Rolling Stones are still performing.
Paul M. Sammon: Raiders was another box-office affirmation of what would become Steven Spielberg‘s dominance over pop-culture American filmmaking, an important historical footnote as the first Lucas/Spielberg collaboration, and an equally important step towards Harrison Ford‘s eventual acknowledgement as one of the most enduring, top-tier leading men of late 20th and early 21st-century cinema.
Steven Awalt: The true legacy of Raiders of the Lost Ark is why I think pictures of its ilk are chiefly made. Films like Raiders forever place audiences under a completely enchanting, exciting and emotional spell as it sweeps viewers up. Few films have ever done that as brilliantly as Raiders of the Lost Ark, and its reputation with audiences over the last forty years certainly bears this out.
Michael Klastorin: Would Raiders have been as popular if Tom Selleck had donned the fedora as originally planned? We’ll never know, but while it took the movie serials of the 40s and 50s weeks, months or years for their most popular characters (Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, Batman, The Shadow and others), it took Spielberg and Harrison Ford one hour and 55 minutes of screen time to create an immediate and dedicated following of the man whose name became synonymous with adventure: Indiana Jones.
Joseph McBride: Raiders helped set a new standard for flashy, sophisticated, fast-paced visuals with cartoonish content. In so doing it followed the model established by George Lucas in Star Wars, which, when I first saw it, profoundly depressed me, because I realized I was witnessing the beginning of the end of cinema, or at least American cinema. Time has borne that out. Just about every Hollywood movie now resembles either Star Wars or Raiders, and that is not a compliment.
Steven Awalt: Raiders of the Lost Ark is a dream of a movie, and movies like Raiders are made to help us all dream.
John Cork: After the spectacular success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, there was virtually no way Spielberg could be brought in to direct a James Bond film. He has said, “Now they can’t afford me,” but the reality is that Spielberg can do anything he wants for any deal he wants to take. Once he proved he could make a film like Bond, he outgrew the desire to make a Bond movie.
Paul M. Sammon: Indiana Jones is the quintessential fearless adventurer. He’s the hero we all love to root for. We laugh at his quips, gasp at his boldness, admire his code of honor. Handsome, smart, ultra-capable, ultimately on the right side of every situation. In reality, Indiana might actually be a tomb raider. But he is our tomb raider, so effective in the part that he makes us forget how the indigenous people who own those tombs might feel about him. In any event, I hate ranking things, especially people. But if I was forced to, Indiana Jones would certainly share a list with the top ten heroes of Western popular culture: he’s right up there with Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Robin Hood. I’ll let you decide the other five.
Joseph McBride: I think it's good that Spielberg doesn't spend all his time making heavyweight films but also indulges his gift for escapism. He is an artist with many facets and that rare thing, a great popular artist.
Paul M. Sammon: Ford has been able to portray so many iconic and varied characters primarily because he’s a fine actor! People tend to not recognize that he doesn’t walk-through a part. Harrison is known in the industry as a consummate professional, someone who takes his craft and roles and career seriously. We’re talking a world-class performer. Harrison‘s got the chops to make us believe in the characters they’re currently viewing, and more importantly, to (mostly) forget the previous ones. Ford hasn’t lasted this long and been this successful without a basic gift: tremendous talent. It doesn’t hurt that he’s likeable and funny, too!
Bill Hunt: It seems to me that the most telling sign of Raiders’ lasting impact is that when you think of adventure films—not science fiction, or fantasy, or superhero films, but pure adventure cinema—Raiders of the Lost Ark is always the first example that comes to mind. And it’s really the only one that stands out as iconic and truly memorable. It’s an unquestionably great film, and one that endures.
Eric Lichtenfeld: It comes down to something very simple, even elemental—and that thing is joy. Raiders is worth celebrating on its 40th anniversary because it’s been bringing us joy for forty years. And not only when we’re watching it, either. I mean, to this day, when I just make it through a yellow light, what piece of music do you think goes through my head? I’ll tell you this: it isn’t Pachelbel’s Canon.
- 1 = Box-office rank among Indiana Jones franchise (adjusted for inflation)
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies during opening weekend
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies released by Paramount during 1981
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies released during 1981 (summer season)
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies released during 1981 (calendar year)
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies released during 1981 (lifetime / retroactive)
- 1 = Rank among Paramount’s all-time top-earning movies at close of release
- 2 = Rank of the Indiana Jones character on AFI’s list of the 100 Greatest Heroes and Villains
- 3 = Peak all-time box-office chart position (gross, domestic)
- 4 = Box-office rank among Spielberg movies (adjusted for inflation)
- 4 = Rank among top-earning movies released during the 1980s
- 5 = Box-office rank among Harrison Ford movies (adjusted for inflation)
- 5 = Number of Academy Awards (four competitive + one special achievement)
- 5 = Peak all-time box-office chart position (rental, domestic)
- 8 = Number of Academy Award nominations
- 8 = Number of weeks nation’s top-grossing movie (Weeks 1, 6, 9-13, 26)
- 13 = Number of years Paramount Pictures’ top-earning film
- 22 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
- 30 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
- 57 = Number of weeks longest-running engagement played* (in a multiplex)
- 58 = Number of weeks longest-running engagement played* (in a single-screen theater)
- 60 = Rank on American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest American Films
- 64 = Number of days to gross $100 million*
- 81 = Number of weeks longest-running engagement played* (in a market)
- 133 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies (domestic)
- 304 = Number of days to gross $200 million*
- 1,078 = Number of opening-week theaters
- 1,100,000 = Number of home video units sold in 1983/84*
- $39.95 = Suggested retail price of original home video release
- $3.1 million = Domestic box-office gross (2012 IMAX re-release)
- $8.3 million = Domestic box-office gross (opening weekend)
- $11.4 million = Domestic box-office gross (1983 re-release)
- $21.4 million = Domestic box-office gross (1982 re-release)
- $22.8 million = Production cost
- $68.5 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
- $90.4 million = Domestic box-office rental* (as of 12/31/81)
- $112.0 million = Domestic box-office rental* (as of 12/31/82)
- $115.6 million = Domestic box-office rental* (as of 12/31/83)
- $125.3 million = Domestic box-office gross* (summer season)
- $141.7 million = International box-office gross*
- $209.6 million = Domestic box-office gross* (original release, 6/12/81-7/15/82)
- $231.0 million = Domestic box-office gross* (as of 12/30/82 when last print pulled from release)
- $242.4 million = Domestic box-office gross* (original + 82 & 83 re-releases)
- $245.5 million = Domestic box-office gross* (original + 82, 83 & 12 re-releases)
- $248.2 million = Domestic box-office gross (original + re-releases, special screenings & adjustments)
- $343.2 million = Domestic box-office rental (adjusted for inflation)
- $426.5 million = International box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
- $389.9 million = Worldwide box-office gross*
- $729.2 million = Domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
- $1.2 billion = Worldwide box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
*broke Paramount record
A SAMPLING OF MOVIE REVIEWER QUOTES
“The guys who made Jaws and Star Wars have done it again. It’s too good to be true.” – David Ansen, Newsweek
“Raiders of the Lost Ark is sensational. This awesomely entertaining adventure spectacle succeeds in fusing the most playful and exciting elements of Spielberg’s Jaws and Lucas’s Star Wars in a fresh format.” – Gary Arnold, The Washington Post
“I don’t know how strong is Paramount’s percentage in the distribution of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but of one thing I’m certain—Lucas and Spielberg have just opened up another goldmine.” – Arthur Knight, The Hollywood Reporter
“Raiders is a great movie, but there’s too much to it. Ghosts of George Lucas and Spielberg keep parading into view. The storyline on this movie ought to read, Raiders of the Lost Ark have Close Encounters of the Third Kind with Star Wars and Jaws while The Empire Strikes Back in 1941. The movie has heaps of everything—action, comedy, adventure, stunts. It’s razzle-dazzle entertainment. But who needs this much?” – Carol Olten, The San Diego Union
“Raiders of the Lost Ark is about as entertaining as a commercial movie can be.” – Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune
“Raiders of the Lost Ark is the stuff that raucous Saturday matinees at the local Bijou once were made of, a crackerjack fantasy-adventure that shapes its pulp sensibilities and cliffhanging serial origins into an exhilarating escapist entertainment that will have broad-cased summer audiences in the palm of its hand. Even within this summer’s hot competitive environment, box office prospects are within the top rank.” – Stephen Klain, Variety
“The opening sequence, set in South America, with Indy Jones entering a forbidden temple and fending off traps, snares, poisoned darts, tarantulas, stone doors with metal teeth, and the biggest damn boulder you’ve ever seen, is so thrill-packed you don’t have time to breathe—or to enjoy yourself much, either…. Seeing Raiders is like being put through a Cuisinart—something has been done to us, but not to our benefit…. Kinesthetically, the film gets to you. It gets your heart thumping. But there’s no exhilaration in this dumb, motor excitement…. John Williams’ pounding score could be the music from any old Tarzan movie, though with a fuller orchestra and at ten times the volume. Like just about everything else in the picture that misses, the klunky music can be said to be intentional—to represent fidelity to the genre. Yet, with the manicured wide-screen images and the scale of this production, klunkiness sticks out in a way that it didn’t in the serials…. Kinesthetically, the film gets to you. It gets your heart thumping. But there’s no exhilaration in this dumb, motor excitement.” – Pauline Kael, The New Yorker
“Raiders of the Lost Ark is as wondrous and delightful as we like to pretend the movies of yesterday were. The adventure epic raises pulp movie-making to the level of an art form.” – Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News
“Now, you have to wonder about two guys who want nothing more in life than to spend $20 million recreating the fantasies of their adolescence in hitherto unknown perfection. That’s essentially what Spielberg and Lucas have accomplished in Raiders. All the while marveling at the trumpeting triviality of it all, I found myself utterly exhilarated by this shrewdly sophisticated boys’ adventure.” – Pat Dowell, The Washington Times
“Pooling their talents for the first time on-screen, the creators of Star Wars and Close Encounters have turned out what is far and away the wittiest, most exhilarating and outrageous cliffhanger in the history of movie serials…. Many young filmmakers rob from past film classics, but few do it as cleverly and affectionately as Spielberg and Lucas…. If this is a movie made by people who know nothing of the world but movies—the most common and, I think, fallacious criticism of the Spielberg-Lucas school of filmmaking—it’s also a movie that resourcefully uses those classic influences to create its own magic.” – John Hartl, The Seattle Times
“The intricate stunts keep the kids gasping, and the adults do get a lot of laughs. But the predictability of it all, even touched with parody and love for all those old movies on which Lucas and Spielberg cut their teeth, brings diminished returns. I realize I’m expressing a minority point of view, judging from the cheers in the audience and the look on the face of a 12-year-old boy who sighed, ‘It’s wonderful!’ But I think Lucas and Spielberg missed the chance to deepen their adventure by creating something other than stock villainous Nazis.” – Judy Stone, San Francisco Chronicle
“Just when you’ve begun to lose hope in the magic of movies to entertain and enthrall, along comes Raiders of the Lost Ark. It thrills and scares and enraptures all in one splendid swoop. Here is film making at its best…. My advice is to rush out to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. The movie is destined to become a classic, since it wins your heart as it grabs your attention.” – Donna Chernin, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Raiders of the Lost Ark may not awaken the slumbering movie industry from its box office malaise. But if it doesn’t, nothing can.” – Jack Mathews, Detroit Free Press
“Director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas give us action and adventure in droves. But that’s about all they give us. The story is a simple one…. Star Wars fans may be somewhat disappointed to learn that Raiders of the Lost Ark doesn’t contain much in the way of special effects, though its supernatural finale is visually powerful.” – Owen Hardy, The Courier-Journal (Louisville)
“Raiders of the Lost Ark is this summer’s out-of-the-body experience, a movie of glorious imagination and breakneck speed that grabs you in the first shot, hurtles you through a series of incredible adventures, and deposits you outside the theater two hours later—breathless, dizzy, wrung-out, and with a silly grin on your face.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“It’s a humdinger and is an action-packed love letter to the serials and Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure novels of the past.” – Ralph B. Patterson, Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock)
“Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most deliriously funny, ingenious and stylish American adventure movies ever made.” – Vincent Canby, The New York Times
“Hurrah and hallelujah! It’s hats-in-the-air, heart-in-the-mouth time at the movies again.” – Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times
“There’s a lot of fun and action, but nothing to chew on afterward.” – David Denby, New York Magazine
“Raiders has it all—the best two hours of pure entertainment anyone is going to find—a blockbuster on the order of Star Wars and Jaws.” – Richard Schickel, Time Magazine
“Spielberg has directed it all brilliantly, finding his own way to tell a 1930s story in 1981’s visual language…it’s the best movie he has ever made.” – Bernard Drew, Gannett News Service
“Raiders contains within five minutes more screams, thrills and action than can be accomplished by most movies in two hours.” – Ron Base, Toronto Star
“Remember when movies used to promise a thrill a minute? Well, Raiders nearly doubles that ratio. It makes you feel like you’re beating the speed limit just sitting still.” – Michael Sragow, Rolling Stone
“[Raiders of the Lost Ark is] no more substantial than cotton candy, but it’s easily the best piece of entertainment Hollywood has produced in 1981.” – Bruce McCabe, The Boston Globe
“The new collaboration by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is such a smashingly well-done movie that it makes virtues out of juvenility and superficiality. No one need apologize for enjoying Raiders of the Lost Ark, because it is masterful cinema.” – George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
THE NORTH AMERICAN 70MM PRESENTATIONS
Arguably, the very best cinemas in which to experience Raiders of the Lost Ark were those screening a 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo print. The vast majority of cinemas that played Raiders did so in 35mm, with the audio presentation being Dolby Stereo in some venues and monaural in the majority.
The following section of this retrospective features a reference/historical listing of the North American locales that showcased a 70-millimeter presentation of Raiders. Expensive to manufacture and produced in a limited quantity, the coveted 70mm Six-Track prints provided the highest-quality projection and audio experience available in 1981 and were generally booked to play large, well-maintained cinemas in high-profile markets.
Out of the 150+ first-run feature films released in North America during 1981, Raiders was among only seven to have 70mm prints struck for selected engagements. (The other six domestic 70mm releases during 1981 were Ladd’s Outland [x50], Orion’s Sharky’s Machine [x2] and Wolfen [x2], Paramount’s Dragonslayer [x3], Universal’s Zoot Suit [x3], and Warner Bros.’ Superman II [x12], plus UA’s second attempt at releasing Heaven’s Gate [x2], and re-releases of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty [x50], Fox’s Star Wars [x4] and The Empire Strikes Back [x30], and Warner Bros.’ House of Wax [x1]. Also, a wide-release expansion of Warner Bros’ Altered States [x40] commenced in early 1981 following a limited-market launch in late 1980 [x4]. As well, there were long-running and late-in-year 1980 titles still in release, plus any number of revival bookings of classic and popular titles available in 70mm. The Ladd and Orion titles were distributed through Warner Bros.)
Pictorially, the 70mm prints of Raiders were an optical enlargement (“blow-up”) from 35mm anamorphic and had an aspect ratio of 2.20:1. The Raiders 70mm audio was magnetic Six-Track Dolby Stereo. The soundtrack on the 70mm prints required format setting “42” on Dolby processors and was encoded with Dolby “A”-type noise reduction and featured three discrete front channels, one discrete surround channel plus “baby boom” low frequency enhancement on the two remaining channels. The fidelity and sonic clarity of the 70mm magnetic prints was superior to 35mm prints with an optical soundtrack.
Raiders was released June 12th, 1981 in a reported 1,078 North American movie theaters, with approximately five percent of those cinemas booking a 70mm print. There was a national sneak preview held June 5th (70mm only in LA & NY) and a series of invitational previews in numerous locales held in the days preceding the release.
The duration (measured in weeks) of the 70mm engagements of Raiders has been included in parenthesis following the name of the cinema in which they played. The 70mm bookings were among the film’s longest playing and highest grossing.
*broke house record for duration
**tied house record for duration
- Calgary – Chinook (48*)
- Edmonton – Westmount Twin (48*)
- Little Rock – Cinema 150 (23*) [70mm from Week 14]
- Burnaby – Lougheed Mall Triplex (48*)
- Vancouver – Vancouver Centre Twin (48*)
- Corte Madera – Cinema (25*)
- Costa Mesa – South Coast Plaza Triplex (54*)
- La Mesa – Cinema Grossmont (58*)
- La Mirada – La Mirada Mall 6-plex (38*) [70mm from Week 17]
- Los Angeles – Chinese Triplex (15)
- Los Angeles – National (16)
- Montclair – Montclair Triplex (27*) [70mm from Week 23]
- Orange – Cinedome 6-plex (56**)
- Sacramento – Century 6-plex (27) [70mm from Week 5]
- San Francisco – Regency I (23)
- San Jose – Century 21 (25)
- San Jose – Century 23 Twin (10)
- Denver – Century 21 (25**)
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
- Washington – Cinema (25)
- Calumet City – River Oaks 6-plex (#1: 27)
- Calumet City – River Oaks 6-plex (#2: 1) [shared print]
- Evergreen Park – Evergreen Triplex (20)
- Lombard – Yorktown 4-plex (16)
- Niles – Golf Mill Triplex (15)
- Northbrook – Edens Twin (15)
- Schaumburg – Woodfield 4-plex (#1: 27*)
- Schaumburg – Woodfield 4-plex (#2: 1) [shared print]
- Louisville – Showcase 9-plex (57)
- New Orleans – Robert E. Lee (25) [70mm from Week 24]
- Winnipeg – Northstar Twin (48*)
- Boston – Cinema 57 Twin (27)
- Southfield – Northland Twin (27)
- Paramus – Route Four 4-plex (28) [70mm from Week 4]
- Levittown – Nassau 4-plex (27) [70mm from Week 4]
- New York – 34th Street Showplace Triplex (14*)
- New York – Astor Plaza (23)
- New York – Orpheum Twin (14)
- New York – State Twin (June 5th sneak preview only)
- Pittsford – Loews Triplex (27) [70mm from Week 5]
- Valley Stream – Sunrise 8-plex (15) [70mm from Week 4]
- Dayton – Dayton Mall 4-plex (27) [70mm from Week 24]
- Springdale – Showcase 7-plex (27)
- Scarborough – Cedarbrae 4-plex (25*)
- Toronto – Eglinton (25)
- Toronto – Runnymede Twin (25*)
- Toronto – Uptown 5-plex (3)
- Philadelphia – SamEric (20)
- Montreal – Imperial (26)
- Austin – Fox Triplex (27*) [70mm from Week 4]
- Dallas – Caruth Plaza Twin (42*) [70mm from Week 33]
- Houston – Windsor Twin (27) [70mm from Week 4]
- Salt Lake City – Villa (53*) [70mm from Week 6]
- Tukwila – Southcenter (26)
The engagements cited above all commenced June 12th, 1981. It should be noted, though, that the lab was unable to complete the entire 70mm print order in time for an opening-day delivery, thus some locales contracted to screen a 70mm print commenced their engagement with a 35mm print and switched formats upon arrival of the 70mm print. In other instances, an exhibitor negotiated a mid-run switch to 70mm and received a fresh print or a print previously screened in another market. Note also that some of the presentations included in this listing (above and below) were presented in 35mm during the latter week(s) of engagement because of contractual terms or the booking was moved to a smaller, non-70mm-equipped auditorium within a multiplex or due to print damage and the distributor’s unwillingness to supply a 70mm replacement print. In these cases, any 35mm portion of the engagement has been included in a given entry’s duration figure.
SUBSEQUENT / ADDITIONAL 70MM ENGAGEMENTS
- 1981-06-26 … Chicago, IL – Esquire (13)
- 1981-07-03 … Ottawa, ON – Nelson (35)
- 1981-07-03 … Toronto, ON – University (22)
- 1981-07-31 … Lakewood, CA – Lakewood Center 4-plex (9)
- 1981-08-21 … Des Moines, IA – River Hills (15)
- 1981-09-25 … Los Angeles, CA – Hollywood (7)
- 1981-10-09 … Sainte-Foy, QC – Canadien (10)
- 1981-11-06 … Los Angeles, CA – National (4)
- 1981-11-13 … Los Angeles, CA – Chinese Triplex (5)
- 1981-11-20 … Lakewood, CA – Lakewood Center 4-plex (9)
- 1981-11-20 … San Francisco, CA – Royal (4)
- 1981-12-04 … San Jose, CA – Century 25 Twin (56*)
- 1981-12-11 … Lynnwood, WA – Grand Alderwood 5-plex (31*)
- 1981-12-11 … Montreal, QC – Imperial (9) [Version Francaise]
- 1981-12-11 … Montreal, QC – York (7)
- 1981-12-25 … Cleveland, OH – Colony (4)
- 1981-12-25 … Houston, TX – Westchase 5-plex (25) [70mm from Week 5]
- 1981-12-26 … Atlanta, GA – Fox (5 days) [venue anniversary celebration]
- 1982-01-01 … Nashville, TN – Belle Meade (11)
- 1982-01-22 … Los Angeles, CA – Century Plaza Twin (3)
- 1982-01-29 … Knoxville, TN – Capri Triplex (7)
- 1982-02-05 … Atlanta, GA – Phipps Plaza Triplex (5)
- 1982-02-12 … Montreal, QC – Palace 6-plex (14) [Version Francaise]
- 1982-02-12 … Windsor, ON – Centre (5)
- 1982-02-17 … Chicago, IL – State Lake (1)
- 1982-02-26 … Chicago, IL – McClurg Court (1)
- 1982-02-26 … Huntsville, AL – Madison Twin (15)
- 1982-03-05 … Toronto, ON – Cumberland 4-plex (1) [La Reserve]
- 1982-03-26 … San Francisco, CA – Cinema 21 (6)
- 1982-04-02 … Los Angeles, CA – Cinerama Dome (10)
- 1982-04-02 … Philadelphia, PA – Mark I (4)
- 1982-04-16 … Corte Madera, CA – Cinema (4)
- 1982-04-16 … Portland, OR – Music Box (6)
- 1982-06-11 … Los Angeles, CA – Picwood (5)
- 1982-07-16 … Atlanta, GA – Fox (4 days) [Family Film Festival]
- 1982-07-16 … Kansas City, MO – Bannister Mall 5-plex (2)
- 1982-07-16 … Las Vegas, NV – Cinedome 6-plex (4)
- 1982-07-16 … Los Angeles, CA – Avco Center Triplex (3)
- 1982-07-16 … Montreal, QC – Le Parisien 5-plex (5) [Version Francaise]
- 1982-07-16 … New York, NY – Ziegfeld (3)
- 1982-07-16 … Renton, WA – Roxy (2) [w/ Raise the Titanic]
- 1982-07-16 … San Antonio, TX – Galaxy 10-plex (3)
- 1982-07-16 … Seattle, WA – Crest 4-plex (4)
- 1982-07-16 … Washington, DC – MacArthur (3)
- 1982-07-23 … Atlanta, GA – Columbia (1)
- 1982-08-06 … New York, NY – Embassy I (3)
- 1982-08-13 … Winnipeg, MB – Towne 8-plex (4)
- 1982-08-20 … Los Angeles, CA – Cinerama Dome (5)
- 1982-08-20 … San Francisco, CA – Alexandria Triplex (3)
- 1982-09-01 … Philadelphia, PA – SamEric Triplex (1)
- 1982-09-03 … Burnaby, BC – Lougheed Mall Triplex (1)
- 1982-09-03 … Catonsville, MD – Westview 6-plex (1)
- 1982-09-03 … Towson, MD – Hillendale Twin (1)
- 1982-09-24 … Los Angeles, CA – Chinese Triplex (7)
- 1983-03-25 … Atlanta, GA – Fox (1)
- 1983-03-25 … Calgary, AB – Palace (3)
- 1983-03-25 … Los Angeles, CA – Bruin (1)
- 1983-03-25 … Los Angeles, CA – Chinese Triplex (1)
- 1983-03-25 … Montreal, QC – Imperial (2) [Version Francaise]
- 1983-03-25 … New York, NY – Astor Plaza (3)
- 1983-03-25 … Riverside, CA – Canyon Crest 5-plex (6)
- 1983-03-25 … San Diego, CA – Valley Circle (1)
- 1983-03-25 … Toronto, ON – Hollywood Twin (2)
- 1983-03-25 … Toronto, ON – Uptown 5-plex (3)
- 1983-03-25 … Tucson, AZ – Foothills 4-plex (5)
- 1983-04-01 … Los Angeles, CA – Fox (2)
- 1983-04-08 … Toronto, ON – Palace Triplex (1)
- 1983-04-15 … Edmonton, AB – Londonderry Twin (2)
- 1983-04-15 … Huntsville, AL – Madison Twin (2)
- 1983-04-22 … Sacramento, CA – Century 6-plex (5)
- 1983-04-22 … San Francisco, CA – Regency II (1)
- 1983-04-22 … San Jose, CA – Town & Country (3)
- 1983-05-13 … Calgary, AB – Chinook (1)
- 1983-05-20 … Calgary, AB – Palace (1)
- 1983-05-20 … Los Angeles, CA – Chinese Triplex (3)
- 1983-05-30 … Seattle, WA – Cinerama [SIFF 70mm marathon]
- 1983-06-10 … Seattle, WA – Crest 4-plex (1)
- 1983-06-17 … Chicago Ridge, IL – Chicago Ridge Mall Triplex (1)
- 1983-07-01 … Wichita, KS – Mall [Fri/Sat midnight]
- 1983-07-08 … New York, NY – Paramount (2)
- 1983-08-12 … Cleveland, OH – Colony (1)
- 1983-08-31 … Cleveland, OH – Colony (1)
- 1983-09-02 … Calgary, AB – North Hill (6)
- 1983-09-02 … San Francisco, CA – Cinema 21 (3)
- 1983-09-07 … Philadelphia, PA – SamEric Triplex (1)
- 1983-09-09 … Edmonton, AB – Meadowlark (1)
- 1983-09-16 … Los Angeles, CA – Chinese Triplex (2)
- 1983-09-16 … Los Angeles, CA – National (2)
- 1983-09-27 … Ottawa, ON – National Arts Centre Opera (2 days)
- 1983-??-?? … Los Angeles, CA – USC Norris
- 1985-01-16 … Toronto, ON – Cinesphere (12 days) [annual 70mm Film Festival]
- 1986-05-09 … Washington, DC – Cinema (2) [w/ …Temple of Doom]
- 1988-04-08 … Edmonton, AB – Meadowlark (1) [70mm series]
- 1989-02-24 … San Antonio, TX – Rivercenter IMAX (1) [70mm Film Festival]
- 1990-06-03 … Los Angeles, CA – Fairfax Triplex [Classic Film Festival]
- 1990-06-12 … Los Angeles, CA – Beverly Connection 6-plex [Paramount Tribute] (THX)
- 1990-06-26 … Santa Monica, CA – Criterion 6-plex*** [Lucasfilm THX Film Fest] (THX)
- 1991-09-23 … Vancouver, BC – CN IMAX (4 days) [Indiana Jones festival]
- 1992-12-26 … Vancouver, BC – Caprice [Indiana Jones festival]
- 1993-08-14 … Toronto, ON – Uptown 5-plex [Saturday Latenite Special]
- 1993-10-02 … Vancouver, BC – Capitol 6-plex [Saturday Latenite]
- 1994-01-08 … Boston, MA – Wang Center*** [Indiana Jones triple feature]
- 1995-01-06 … Toronto, ON – Cinesphere [annual Film Festival]
- 1996-04-26 … Toronto, ON – Eglinton [venue anniversary fest; w/ …Last Crusade] (THX)
- 1996-05-24 … Los Angeles, CA – Plaza [Fri-Sun midnight]
- 1996-06-10 … Toronto, ON – Cinesphere (3 days) [annual winter Film Festival]
- 1996-09-20 … Chicago, IL – Navy Pier IMAX [Fri-Sun late night]
- 1996-11-01 … Chicago, IL – Navy Pier IMAX (1) [late night]
- 1999-12-24 … Addison, TX – Granada Prestonwood 5-plex [Fr-Sat-Sun midnight series]
- 2001-02-16 … Seattle, WA – Cinerama (1) [Indiana Jones festival]
- 2001-03-09 … Seattle, WA – Cinerama [Indiana Jones triple feature]
- 2001-03-30 … Washington, DC – Uptown (1)
***70mm presentation unconfirmed/conflicting source material or eyewitness account
The listing does not include any international 70mm engagements, nor does it include any of the movie’s countless 35mm engagements.
Selected images copyright/courtesy Los Angeles Times, Lucasfilm Ltd., Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Popcorn Palaces: The Art Deco Movie Theater Paintings of Davis Cone, The San Diego Union, Schauburg Archive.
The references for this project were interviews conducted by the author, the motion picture Raiders of the Lost Ark, regional newspaper coverage, Blockbuster: How the Jaws and Jedi Generation Turned Hollywood Into a Boom-Town aka How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer (Tom Shone, Simon & Schuster/Scribner, 2004), and trade reports published in Billboard, Boxoffice, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety. All figures and data pertain to North America (i.e. United States and Canada) except where stated otherwise. This work includes some repurposed/previously published material.
Ioan Allen, Mark A. Altman, Steven Awalt, David Ayers, Don Beelik, Tim Bishop, Jeff Bond, Herbert Born, Laurent Bouzereau, Jim Bowers, Neil S. Bulk, Jon Burlingame, John Cork, Nick Coston, Stephen Danley, Daren Dochterman, David C. Fein, Joe Fordham, Caseen Gaines, Gary Gerani, Beverly Gray, Sheldon Hall, Zaki Hasan, John Hazelton, Scott Higgins, Bill Hunt, William Kallay, Michael Kaminski, James Kendrick, Julie Kirgo, Michael Klastorin, Peter Krämer, Bill Kretzel, Charles de Lauzirika, Steve Lee, Stephen Leigh, Eric Lichtenfeld, Van Ling, Dan Madsen, Stan Malone, Scott Mantz, Alison Martino, Mike Matessino, Joseph McBride, Scott Mendelson, Brad Miller, David Miller, F. Hudson Miller, W.R. Miller, Ray Morton, M. David Mullen, Gabriel Neeb, Mark O’Connell, Lee Pfeiffer, Saul Pincus, Jonathan Rinzler, Scott Rogers, Michael Rubin, Steven Jay Rubin, Chris Salewicz, Paul M. Sammon, Jay Allen Sanford, Bruce Scivally, John Scoleri, Gianluca Sergi, Tamir Sharif, Tom Shone, Grant Smith, Cliff Stephenson, Craig Stevens, Michel Stradford, Pete Vilmur, John Wilson, Richard Woloski, Sarah Woloski, and a special thank-you to the librarians who assisted with research.
- Richard Amsel (promotional material illustrator), 1947-1985
- Douglas Twiddy (Production Supervisor), 1919-1990
- Ronald Lacey (“Toht”), 1935-1991
- Tutte Lemkow (“Imam”), 1918-1991
- Denholm Elliott (“Marcus Brody”), 1922-1992
- John Rees (“Sergeant”), 1927-1994
- Ishaq Bux (“Omar”), 1917-2000
- Anthony Chinn (“Mohan”), 1930-2000
- Paul Beeson (Additional Photography), 1921-2001
- Peter Diamond (Stunt Arranger), 1929-2004
- Mary Selway (Casting), 1936-2004
- Pat Roach (“Giant Sherpa” and “1st Mechanic”), 1937-2004
- William Hootkins (“Major Eaton”), 1948-2005
- Don Fellows (”Col. Musgrove”), 1922-2007
- Patrick Durkin (“Australian Climber”), 1936-2009
- Bill Varney (Re-Recording Mixer), 1934-2011
- Ralph McQuarrie (Illustrator), 1929-2012
- Michael Moore (Second Unit Director), 1914-2013
- Terry Richards (“Arab Swordsman”), 1932-2014
- Bill Reimbold (“Bureaucrat”), 1926-2014
- Tony Vogel (“Tall Captain”), 1942-2015
- Douglas Slocombe (Director of Photography), 1913-2016
- Pamela Mann (Continuity), 1927-2020
- Mike Fenton (Casting), 1935-2020
- Jonathan Rinzler (co-author, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones), 1962-2021
- Michael Coate