"The Return of the Great Adventure."―Tagline[src]
Raiders of the Lost Ark is an action/adventure film created by George Lucas and released through Paramount Pictures in 1981. It is the first Indiana Jones movie ever released and is considered to be chapter twenty-four in The Complete Adventures of Indiana Jones. To be consistent with later titles in the franchise, the film was retitled Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark for its video release packaging in 1999, though the original title is retained onscreen in the movie. Amongst fans it is usually referred to simply as Raiders.
Lucas began production on the movie soon after the surprise success of his 1977 motion picture Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. While vacationing in Hawaii with friend and director Steven Spielberg, Spielberg mentioned how he'd always wanted to make a "James Bond-like film". Lucas countered that he had a story that was better, and proposed a concept he and writer/director Philip Kaufman had worked on in 1975 based around Lucas' desire to see a movie-style return of 1930s and '40s action serials. The story was set aside while Lucas finished his work on Star Wars. Spielberg's comment gave Raiders new momentum and together, with Spielberg directing, contacted Lawrence Kasdan to write the screenplay.
Set in the early half of the 20th century, the film is the story of an archaeologist named Indiana Jones hired by the US government and pitted in a race against time to locate the mysterious and supernatural Ark of the Covenant before it falls into the hands of Adolf Hitler and his regime of Nazi supporters who seek to use the Biblical artifact's power as a means for world domination.
Shot in just 73 days and with a budget of around $18,000,000 (US), the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark on June 12, 1981 saw the movie quickly become the highest grossing film of the year with $384,140,454 worldwide, and in 1982 was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture from which it won four: Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. It was re-released on video in 1999, again in 2003 for the DVD release and once more in 2008. In 2012, the film received a restored, high-definition home video release as part of Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures.
Prologue: South America, 1936
Set in 1936, a year after the events in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the story begins with Dr. Indiana Jones's journey into a Peruvian jungle with a few local guides to find the Golden Idol of Fertility within the Temple of the Chachapoyan Warriors. Jones avoids various traps, the betrayal of his two guides, Barranca and Satipo, and a giant rolling boulder that chases him out of the temple. Waiting for him outside is his nemesis, French archaeologist René Belloq, and a small army of Hovitos natives. Belloq steals the idol from Jones, who barely escapes in a pontoon plane piloted by Jock Lindsey waiting nearby.
Back at Marshall College where he teaches, two US Army intelligence men summon Jones into the auditorium along with Marcus Brody, head of the department and a good friend of Indy. The men explain that the US has intercepted a cryptic Nazi message that mentions a Professor Abner Ravenwood being under the scrutiny of German intelligence. Indy, a former student of Ravenwood, helps interpret the message as an indication that the Nazis are close to finding the Ark of the Covenant — a golden and jeweled chest constructed under the guidance of God and Moses that housed the remnants of the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Legends imply that Adolf Hitler could use the Ark to render his rising army invincible.
The Germans believe that Ravenwood has the headpiece to the Staff of Ra needed to pinpoint the Ark's resting place. The headpiece is a golden disk that, when affixed to the top of a shaft of specific height, focuses a beam of sunlight onto a model of Tanis, an ancient Egyptian city, thus revealing the Ark's location. According to Ravenwood, the Pharaoh Shishak stole the Ark from Jerusalem then buried it in the desert sands of his capital city, Tanis, in the Well of the Souls.
Indy flies via a Pan Am Clipper to snowy, mountainous Nepal to speak with Marion Ravenwood, the professor's tough-minded and independent daughter, only to find that her father died and that she's reluctant to part with the headpiece. Jones is chased away when a sadistic and ruthless Nazi agent named Arnold Toht who had followed the archaeologist to Marion tries to take the piece from her by force, threatening her with a hot iron. Indy, noticing the commotion, returns to the bar and engages in a fierce gunfight with Toht and his men. Marion then teams up with Indy. The pair drive off the assailants, although in the process Toht inadvertently brands the markings of one side of the headpiece onto his palm when he tries to grab the artifact from the fire which broke out during the commotion.
Jones and Ravenwood fly to Cairo and meet Indy's friend Sallah, a skilled Egyptian digger and archaeologist, to find help in decoding the markings in the headpiece that specify the height of the staff needed to hold it.
While touring about Cairo's markets, Indy and Marion encounter hired swordsmen, which results in a huge street fight. Even though Indy battles and then fights off all of the attacking bazaar mercenaries (and killing the lead swordsman by just simply shooting him), Nazi operatives grab Marion and throw her in a truck, but the vehicle crashes and explodes when Indy dispatches the driver with his pistol. Fearing that Marion was killed in the blast, Indy retreats to a local tavern and encounters Belloq — hired by the Nazis to find the Ark — once more. Wishing to attack Belloq despite the Frenchman's sermon about the Ark's wonders, Sallah and his children rescue Indy from Belloq's bodyguards.
That evening, Sallah takes Indy to an old Imam who decodes the markings. He notes that one side of the piece said says that the staff must be shortened out of respect for the Hebrew God. It appears that the Nazis have misread the headpiece (since they only have a copy of one side's markings on Arnold Toht's hand). Their staff is too long, and they are thus digging for the Ark in the wrong place.
Indiana Jones finds Marion alive at the Tanis site. She has been bound and gagged by her captors but Jones decides to leave her behind and come back for her later, as her disappearance would jeopardize his finding the Ark.
Infiltrating the dig, Indy and Sallah use the headpiece in the map room to then find the Ark deep within the snake-infested Well of Souls. Belloq, Toht and the Germans, led by the sadistic Colonel Dietrich and his assistant Gobler, surround the entrance, take the Ark, push Marion into the pit, and then they leave Indy and Marion to die in the snake-infested Well of Souls. They escape though a weak stone wall and arrive in time to see a Luftwaffe aircraft being prepared to ship the Ark to Berlin.
After attempting to stop the pilot, Indy gets entangled in a fight with a muscular soldier around the spinning propellers of the plane. Marion knocks out the pilot and fends off some infantrymen with the plane's coaxial machine gun while Indy — outclassed by his foe — hides his face when his opponent is torn apart by a propeller. Indy and Marion flee as gas ignites the plane, but Belloq and Dietrich put the Ark on a truck instead planning to fly it from Cairo to Berlin.
Stealing a horse and charging off at the truck convoy, Indy manages to take control of the truck, defeating the Nazi soldiers in the truck and on the other support vehicles, and escaping from Belloq and Dietrich. Reaching Cairo with the Ark, Indy and Marion depart from a happy Sallah and sail with it on the Bantu Wind, a ship bound for England, under Captain Simon Katanga.
Opening of the Ark
A Nazi U-boat with Belloq and Dietrich on board stops the ship and takes back the Ark and Marion, but Indy covertly follows the sub (having already stowed on board). It docks at a submarine pen on an island in the Aegean Sea, where Indy steals a soldier's uniform. Threatening to destroy the Ark with a rocket launcher, Indy is soon convinced by Belloq to surrender, giving in to his own deep desires as an archaeologist to see the Ark's contents.
Marion and Indy are tied up and forced to view a ceremony where Belloq opens the Ark in front of a group of German soldiers. However, to his dismay, the Ark appeared to only contain sand, angering Dietrich and amusing Toht. But then, suddenly, a strange force destroys the filming equipment the Nazis were using to film the opening. Indy then tells Marion to shut her eyes as strange and mysterious spirits emerge from the Ark and float around the Nazis. Belloq shouts out it’s “beautiful”, but then, a spirit with the face of a woman floats towards him, and suddenly deforms into a corpse-like entity, revealing the spirits to be angels of death. Toht and Dietrich scream at the sight, and Belloq looks back into the Ark, and flames form above it. Bolts of energy then shoot through the gathered Nazi soldiers, killing them all. Shortly after, Dietrich‘s head shrivels up, Toht’s face melts off his skull, and Belloq’s head explodes. Flames then engulf the rest of the soldiers, evaporating their souls into the afterlife. The fire then rises through the clouds before the Ark seals itself shut. Indy and Marion realize their ropes have been burned off, and embrace after escaping the wrath of God.
Epilogue: Washington D.C.
Later, the two Army intelligence representatives in Washington DC inform Indy that "top men" are studying the Ark, but in reality the Ark is sealed in a wooden crate and stored in a giant government warehouse filled with countless other similar crates.
- Indiana Jones .... Harrison Ford
- Marion Ravenwood .... Karen Allen
- Belloq .... Paul Freeman
- Toht .... Ron Lacey
- Sallah .... John Rhys-Davies
- Brody .... Denholm Elliott
- Satipo .... Alfred Molina
- Dietrich .... Wolf Kahler
- Gobler .... Anthony Higgins
- Barranca .... Vic Tablian
- Col. Musgrove .... Don Fellows
- Major Eaton .... William Hootkins
- Bureaucrat .... Bill Reimbold
- Jock Lindsey .... Fred Sorenson
- Australian Climber .... Patrick Durkin
- 2nd. Nazi .... Matthew Scurfield
- Ratty Nepalese .... Malcom Weaver
- Mean Mongolian .... Sonny Caldinez
- Mohan .... Anthony Chinn
- Giant Sherpa .... Pat Roach
- Otto .... Christopher Frederick
- Imam .... Tutte Lemkow
- Omar .... Ishaq Bux
- Abu .... Kiran Shah
- Fayah .... Souad Messaoudi
- Monkey Man .... Vic Tablian
- Arab Swordsman .... Terry Richards
- 1st Mechanic .... Pat Roach
- German Agent .... Steve Hanson
- Pilot .... Frank Marshall
- Young Soldier .... Martin Kreidt
- Katanga .... George Harris
- Messenger Pirate .... Eddie Tagoe
- Sergeant .... John Rees
- Tall Captain .... Tony Vogel
- Peruvian Porter .... Ted Grossman
- Anubis (Statue)
- Apple-carrying student
- Blond Driver
- Cairo Henchman
- Capuchin monkey
- Forrestal (Remains)
- Jasmine el-Kahir
- Moshti el-Kahir
- Jesus Christ (Mentioned only)
- Anna Jones (Mentioned only)
- "Love you" student
- Michaelson (Mentioned only)
- Nazi Agent
- Number One
- Abner Ravenwood (Mentioned only)
- Second German Agent
- Second German Mechanic
- Third German Agent
- Tough Sergeant
- Oskar Schomburg
- Unfortunate Cairo thug
- Wurrfler officer
- South America
- United States
- Marrakech (Mentioned only)
- Turkdean Barrow (Mentioned only)
- Mount Horeb (Mentioned only)
Vehicles and vessels
- Pan Am Clipper
- Douglas DC-3 operated by Air East Asia
- Flying Wing
- Troop car
- Mercedes-Benz LG3000
- Bantu Wind
Behind the scenes
In the early 1970s, during what was supposed to be research for his space-fantasy story, The Star Wars, a distracted George Lucas began noting ideas for an archaeologist who was actually a grave robber that sought out supernatual artifacts.
Like Star Wars, Indiana Smith–as it was then known–was inspired by the 1930s and '40s matinee serials that Lucas had enjoyed in his youth. Where the space-fantasy was influenced by Flash Gordon, Indiana Smith had its basis in the likes of Don Winslow of the Navy, the globetrotting serviceman who took the fight to the Nazis, and Tim Tyler's Luck whose protagonist "was always looking for the lost graveyard of the elephants or the golden eye of some idol" according to Lucas. He felt that making the latter comparatively more realistic had appeal. However, the main visual that struck the filmmaker was the image of Zorro leaping mid-chase from horseback onto a moving truck.
The early 1970s had been dominated by action films either with a certain gritty realism, such as the Dirty Harry series, or that were massive productions with huge casts and elaborate special effects such as The Poseidon Adventure. By contrast Raiders of the Lost Ark is comic book-like in tone, with a glamorous heroine, over-the-top villains, and impressive stunt work combined with moments of comedy. It was also limited in its ambitions as it was shot in only 73 days, the plot is rather straightforward, and there are only a few principal characters.
Lucas had conceived of the idea in discussion with Philip Kaufman who had worked on a treatment. In a "Making of..." TV special, Lucas said that the mental picture of Indy chasing the truck on horseback, in the style of a western hero chasing a runaway stagecoach, was his initial inspiration for the film. He told his colleague, "I want to see this movie!"
Steven Spielberg had expressed an interest in directing a James Bond film, but to no avail from EON Productions, the company that owned the rights to the character. Lucas convinced his friend Spielberg that he had conceived a character "better than James Bond": Indiana Jones. While on holiday in Hawaii, the pair worked out the basis for the film. At the time, Spielberg's career was suffering due to the expensive bomb 1941 so it was agreed that Lucas would produce and Spielberg would direct. A new screenplay was commissioned from Lawrence Kasdan. Raiders was conceived by Paramount Pictures as a star vehicle for Tom Selleck but he was not available due to a commitment to star in the American television show Magnum, P.I., so Harrison Ford was cast instead.
- Right before Indy leaves the Raven he comes to Marion Ravenwood and they kiss.
- The original version of the Cairo swordfight pitted the Arab Swordsman's sword against Indy's whip.
- The Imam warns Indy and Sallah about the dangers of the Ark of the Covenant: if anyone touches or looks at the Ark they will die, thus explaining the final moments of the film when Indy and Marion are spared from the wrath of God.
- While Indy is down in the Map Room, Sallah accidentally spills water from a marmite on two soldiers and promises to return with more.
- Dietrich orders that Sallah be executed and directs a young soldier to do it, but the boy is unable to do it and lets Sallah go instead.
- Right when Indy and Marion escape the Well of Souls, Indy comes face to face with a surprised Arab guard and knocks him out.
- When the Nazi submarine goes underwater, Indy lashes his whip onto the periscope and rides all the way to the Nazis' secret island base.
The $20-million film was a huge success, easily the highest grossing film (earning $210 million approx.) of 1981, and, at the time, one of the highest-grossing movies ever made. According to the 2005 edition of The World Almanac (from Variety data), the first two Star Wars films are the only pictures released prior to 1981 that have out-earned Raiders.
Film aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 94% rating, calling it, "one of the most consummately entertaining adventure pictures of all time." Metacritic gave the film 90/100, saying it's, "...one astonishing cliffhanger after another...".
The box office success of the film led to a prequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and two sequels, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
Critics consider the 1954 Paramount Pictures adventure film Secret of the Incas starring Charlton Heston as adventurer Harry Steele on the trail of an ancient Incan artifact, to be prototypical to Raiders of the Lost Ark in both theme, and style. While the film is not officially credited as an influence, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman notes that the Steele character's outfit was the direct inspiration for Jones's attire and recognises Secret of the Incas as Raiders almost shot for shot.
In 1998, the American Film Institute placed the film at number 60 on its top 100 films of the first century of cinema. In 1999 the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
An amateur shot-for-shot remake was made by Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb. It took the boys seven years to finish from 1982-1989. It was discovered by Eli Roth, given notoriety by Harry Knowles of AintItCoolNews and acclaimed by Spielberg himself.
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1982 and won four (Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration). It won numerous other awards including seven Saturn Awards.
The film was released on VHS, Beta, CED and laserdisc, and was one of the first films which led to the concept of consumers owning films, rather than renting them.
For its 1999 VHS re-issue, and the subsequent DVD release four years later, the outer package bears the new title Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, the title in the film itself remains unchanged, even in the restored DVD print. This change was made to correlate with the titles of the film's prequel and sequel. Raiders was later released on DVD in 2003 and was reissued in May 2008.
The only video game based exclusively on Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in 1982 by Atari for their Atari 2600 console.
There was a toy line for Raiders of the Lost Ark released in 1982. The line was made by Kenner and was a huge hit. It only lasted through 1983. Numerous action figures, vehicles, playsets, and a 12 inch Indiana Jones large sized action figure were released. Years later, in 2001, Disney Parks released an Indiana Jones toyline based on Raiders. A second line was also released in 2003. On May 1, 2008, a brand new Raiders toyline hit stores in conjunction with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
- Steven Spielberg suggested casting Harrison Ford as Jones, but George Lucas objected, stating that he didn't want Ford to become his "Bobby DeNiro" or "that guy I put in all my movies." Desiring a lesser known actor, Lucas convinced Spielberg to help him search for a new talent, and the actor they both became keen for was Tom Selleck, who possessed features similar to Ford's and a much larger physical frame. However, Selleck was infamously unavailable for the part because of his commitment to the television series Magnum, P.I.. Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Tim Matheson were also considered for the role of Jones. But in the end, Spielberg convinced Lucas to offer the role to Ford, who graciously accepted.
- The gag where Indiana Jones shoots the sword-wielding assassin in the market was improvised on the set. Harrison Ford had been suffering from dysentery and exhaustion due to the extreme heat of Tunisia during filming. As originally planned, the scene was elaborately choreographed, with Jones facing the expert swordsman and trying to defeat him with just his whip. Some footage of the planned fight was shot (and was seen in at least one of the movie's trailers) but the filming was proving to be very tedious, both for Ford and the crew, and at some point Ford had had enough. It has been widely reported that he said something to Spielberg along the lines of, "Why don't we just shoot the bastard?" Spielberg liked the idea, scrapped the rest of the fight scene, and filmed the brief sequence that is the iconic scene in the movie.
- All of the scenes taking place in Cairo, Egypt were actually filmed in Kairouan, Tunisia.
- In the scene where Jones threatens to destroy the ark, he's holding a Soviet RPG-7, which didn't appear until 1961, well after the war. He should be using either an anti-tank rifle or a rifle-fired grenade, since the film takes place years before the outbreak of the Second World War. This scene was also shot in the same Tunisian canyon where George Lucas shot a scene involving Jawas kidnapping R2-D2 in his earlier film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
- Later in the scene, when Belloq is negotiating with the RPG-toting Jones, it appears that a fly crawls into actor Paul Freeman's mouth. In the DVD version, however, you can see it fly off at the moment it "enters" his mouth.
- The scenes of the Tanis excavation and Jones leaping from horseback onto the convoy truck were filmed just a few hundred meters from the Tunisian canyon at Sidi Bouhlel on the outskirts of Tozeur.
- Pat Roach, the actor who played the large mechanic with whom Jones brawls in the famous plane sequence was such a formidable opponent for Jones that he returned in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in similar roles as huge, burly fistfighters.
- In the airplane scene, a drivechain can be seen turning the plane's undercarriage in several shots.
- In the scene where Indiana Jones is lifting the Ark of the Covenant out of its holding place in the Well of Souls, one of the hieroglyphs is meant to resemble Star Wars characters C-3PO and R2-D2.
- When Indiana Jones is breaking out of the Well of Souls, he shoves a heavy stone block out of the wall. The sound effects and shadow indicate the block bounced.
- The U-boat scenes were shot at La Rochelle, both outside the harbor and inside the U-boat bunkers there, built by the Germans in 1942. Filming was done here due to the need to obtain a U-boat to film with — the film "borrowed" the U-boat that was being prepared for filming Das Boot, which was also filming at the same time and in the same area.
- The film was originally set to be rated R because, during the climax of the film, there is a visual of an exploding head. After it was obscured by a column of fire, the rating was lowered to PG.
- During the Well of Souls scene, when Indy stares at the cobra, the snake's reflection is visible in the glass separating the two to prevent the cobra from actually harming any of the actors (the reflection was digitally removed for the DVD releases).
- There were three stunt doubles for Harrison Ford, the primary being British born stunt man Vic Armstrong, who reportedly resembled Ford to the degree that people off camera often mistook him for Harrison Ford. But Ford fought to do much of the fights and stunts himself, citing there wouldn't have been much else for him to do if he wasn't in the thick of it.
- When Belloq, Dietrich and Toht die, all of their deaths have something to do with their heads.
- In the opening scene, the rolling boulder booby trap was inspired by the 1954 Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge adventure "The Seven Cities of Cibola" (Uncle Scrooge #7). The movie plot is also similar (and probably inspired as well) to many Carl Barks "Uncle Scrooge" comic books, which were often center around journey for a famous (historical/legendary) treasure. In fact one episode of DuckTales, a series based on the Uncle Scrooge comic books, is titled "Raiders of the Lost Harp".
- The Chachapoyan fertility idol, sought by Jones and Satipo in South America in the opening scenes of the film, was designed with eyes that would unnaturally follow Jones around the room. Although this was eventually cut from the film, the idol's eyes can be seen scanning back and forth briefly as the camera pushes in for its first real look at the artifact, just after Jones bounds over the steps leading up to the sanctuary.
- Comic book artist Jim Steranko was commissioned to produce original illustrations for pre-production, which heavily influenced Spielberg's decisions in both the look of the film and the character of Indiana Jones himself.
- In the Nepal scene, one of the Nazi thugs is seen firing an MP40, which was designed in 1938, entered service in 1939, and didn't exist back in 1936.
- The Nazis in the film wore uniforms of the Afrika Korps of the German Army, which didn't exist until 1941 (the film took place in 1936). It was the SS affiliated Ahnenerbe, (which was never part of the Afrika Korps) who went digging for artifacts during that era. Considering that Egypt was still a British protectorate in 1936, armed and uniformed Germans wouldn’t be permitted there.
- The scene in which Jones threatens Belloq with a rocket propelled grenade was shot in the exact same Tunisian canyon where George Lucas shot a scene involving Tusken Raiders attacking Luke Skywalker in his film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977).
- Later in the scene, when Belloq is negotiating with the RPG-toting Jones, it appears that a fly crawls into actor Paul Freeman's mouth. In the DVD version, however, you can see it fly off at the moment it "enters" his mouth, ending rumors that Freeman swallowed the bug.
- Pat Roach, the actor who played the large mechanic with whom Jones brawls in the famous plane sequence was seen as such a formidable physical opponent for Jones that he returned in both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in similar roles as huge, burly fistfighters. Roach also played the hulking gunman accompanying the SS operative Toht in Nepal. Thus, Roach is one of very few actors who is seen being killed twice in the same movie.
- Vic Tablian plays not only Barranca, who attempts to murder Jones by the water just after the opening credits (and is later seen as a victim of the Hovitos), but also the "Monkey Man" who rides the motorcycle following Jones in Cairo. His face is seen in close-up as both characters, yet effective makeup and costuming make him very difficult to recognize.
- Director David Lean cited this as one of his favorite films after it came out. Lean's Lawrence of Arabia is on record as being director Steven Spielberg's favorite film. During the Map Room scene, Indy is dressed very similar to Lawrence.
- Several of the vehicles used by the Nazis are either anachronistic or not German at all, or both. The Cairo truck that flips over and blows up is a Mercedes-Benz L 701, which wasn't manufactured until 1943. The gas truck and troop carrier seen at the Tanis airfield are both British Morris-Commercial models, CD and CV respectively, and are both from two to three years after the movie is set.
- The German Mercedes-Benz 320 staff car is actually a Jaguar MK9 with a modified MK5 body, two were built for the movie by Classic Cars of Coventry. The cargo truck is a Mercedes-Benz LG3000 replica built on a GMC CCKW. The troop car is a total fabrication.
- The Staff of Ra and the Ark of the Covenant were both added as background elements to the Clone Wars television series.