|Raiders of the Lost Ark|
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
|Directed by||Steven Spielberg|
|Produced by||Frank Marshall|
|Screenplay by||Lawrence Kasdan|
|Music by||John Williams|
|Edited by||Michael Kahn|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
Raiders of the Lost Ark[a] is a 1981 American action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Lawrence Kasdan based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. It stars Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies and Denholm Elliott. Ford portrays Indiana Jones, a globe-trotting archaeologist, vying with Nazi forces in 1936, to recover the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, a relic said to make an army invincible. Teaming up with his tough, former lover Marion Ravenwood (Allen), Jones races to stop rival archaeologist Dr. René Belloq (Freeman) from guiding the Nazis to the Ark and its power.
Lucas conceived Raiders of the Lost Ark in the early 1970s. Seeking to modernize the serial films of the early 20th-century, he developed the idea further with Kaufman, who suggested the Ark as the film's goal. Lucas eventually focused on developing his 1977 space opera Star Wars. Development on Raiders of the Lost Ark resumed that year when Lucas shared the idea with Spielberg; he joined the project several months later. While the pair had ideas for significant scenes in the film, they hired Kasdan to fill in the gaps between them. Principal photography began in June 1980 on a $20million budget. Filming took place on sets at Elstree Studios, England, and on location in La Rochelle, France, Tunisia, Hawaii and California.
Though pre-release polling showed little audience interest in the film, especially compared to the superhero film Superman II, Raiders of the Lost Ark became the highest-grossing film of 1981, earning approximately $330.5million worldwide. It played in some theaters for over a year because of its popularity. It was a critical success, receiving praise for its modern take on older serial films, and its non-stop action and adventure. The cast were all praised, particularly Ford, Allen and Freeman. Raiders of the Lost Ark received numerous award nominations and, among others, won five Academy Awards, seven Saturn Awards, and one BAFTA award.
In the years since its release, the film has grown in esteem, and many now consider it to be among the greatest films of all time, one of the greatest films of the 1980s, and one of the greatest action-adventure films ever made. It had a significant impact on popular culture; the film's success spawned a host of imitators across several media and inspired a variety of filmmakers. It continues to influence modern media. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first film in what would become the Indiana Jones franchise, that includes three film sequels--Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull--a television series, video games, comic books, novels, theme park attractions, toys, board games, collectibles and an amateur remake. The United States Library of Congress deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" when they selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1999.
In 1936, American archaeologist Indiana Jones overcomes an ancient booby-trapped temple in Peru to retrieve a golden idol. Though betrayed by his guides and cornered by rival archaeologist René Belloq and an indigenous tribe, Jones escapes in a waiting seaplane; Belloq steals the idol for himself. After returning to America, Jones is approached by two Army Intelligence agents. They reveal Nazis are excavating Tanis, and one of their telegrams mentions Jones's old mentor Abner Ravenwood. Jones deduces that the Nazis are searching for the Ark of the Covenant, which Hitler believes will make their army invincible, and the agents recruit Jones to recover the Ark first.
Jones travels to Nepal to recover the "headpiece to the staff of Ra", a medallion used to locate the Ark, from Ravenwood. He learns that Ravenwood is dead, and the headpiece is now in the possession of his daughter Marion, with whom Jones once had an illicit affair. The sadistic Gestapo agent Arnold Toht arrives at Marion's bar flanked by mercenaries. A gunfight erupts, and the bar is set ablaze. Toht attempts to recover the headpiece from the flames, but only burns its image into his hand. Jones and Marion take the headpiece and escape together.
They travel to Cairo, Egypt, where they meet Jones' friend Sallah. He reveals that Belloq is assisting the Nazis, and they have fashioned a replica headpiece (from the burns on Toht's hand). Nazi soldiers and mercenaries attack Jones and Marion; Marion is seemingly killed. Despondent, Jones confronts Belloq at a bar before regrouping with Sallah. An imam deciphers the headpiece for Jones; one side bears a warning not to disturb the Ark, the other the correct measurements for the staff of Ra. Jones and Sallah realize the Nazis are digging in the wrong location.
Jones and Sallah infiltrate the Nazi dig site and use the headpiece to locate the Ark's resting place, the snake-infested Well of Souls. They recover the Ark, a golden, intricately decorated chest, but Belloq, Toht and Nazi officer Colonel Dietrich interrupt them. They seize the Ark and throw Marion, who has been held captive by Belloq, into the well with Jones, before sealing it. Jones collapses a large statue into a wall, creating an opening to escape. At a nearby airstrip, Jones and Marion destroy the flying wing intended to transport the Ark to Berlin. The Nazis load the Ark onto a truck and flee, but Jones catches up on horseback, hijacks the truck, and escapes. He arranges to transport the Ark to London aboard a tramp steamer.
The following day, a Nazi U-boat intercepts the ship and seizes the Ark and Marion; Jones covertly boards the U-boat. The vessel travels to an island in the Aegean Sea, where Belloq intends to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to Adolf Hitler. En route, Jones ambushes the Nazi group with a rocket launcher but is forced to surrender after Belloq deduces that he would never destroy something of historical significance and also wants to know if the Ark's power is real.
The Nazis take Jones and Marion to the test site and tie them to a post. Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark, but finds only sand inside. Jones instructs Marion to close her eyes and not look at the Ark. Spirits emerge from the Ark, followed by flames that cause Dietrich's body to shrivel, Toht's face to melt and Belloq's head to explode, while bolts of energy shoot through the gathered Nazis, killing them all. A whirlwind of fire reaches from the Ark into the sky, dissipating as the Ark seals itself shut. Jones and Marion open their eyes to find the area cleared of bodies and their bindings removed; the pair embraces.
Back in Washington, D.C., Jones and Marcus Brody receive a large payment from the United States government for securing the Ark. Despite Jones' insisting they tell him what has happened to the Ark, the agents offer only that it has been moved to a undisclosed location for study by "top men". Elsewhere, the Ark is crated up and put into storage among countless other crates in a large warehouse.
As well as the main cast, Raiders of the Lost Ark features: Wolf Kahler as ruthless Nazi officer Colonel Dietrich, and Anthony Higgins as Major Gobler, Colonel Dietrich's right-hand man. Don Fellows and William Hootkins appear as United States Army Intelligence agents Colonel Musgrove and Major Eaton, respectively. George Harris plays Simon Katanga, captain of the Bantu Wind, and Fred Sorenson portrays Jones' pilot Jock. Producer Frank Marshall appears as the Flying Wing pilot. Pat Roach and Vic Tablian each portray two different characters in the film: Roach appears as the Nazi who brawls with Jones by the Flying Wing and one of Toht's Sherpas in Nepal; Tablian plays Jones' treacherous guide during the film's opening and the Monkey Man in Cairo. The film features the first theatrical appearance of Alfred Molina as Jones' guide Satipo.Terry Richards portrays the Cairo swordsman who is shot by Jones.
George Lucas conceived of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1973, shortly after finishing work on the comedy film American Graffiti (1973). An old movie poster of a heroic character leaping from a horse to a truck, reminded Lucas of the serial films made by Republic Pictures in the early 20th century. He was disappointed that no one was making the serials he had enjoyed as a child like Buck Rogers (1939), Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939), Spy Smasher (1942), and Don Winslow of the Navy (1942). Lucas wanted to make a B movie that he would want to see, modeled on those serials. He created The Adventures of Indiana Smith, an adventurous archaeologist, named after his Alaskan Malamute dog. Around the same time, Lucas was trying to adapt the space opera serial Flash Gordon (1936), but could not obtain the rights. Lucas shelved the Indiana Smith project to focus on creating his own space opera, Star Wars (1977).
In 1975, Lucas discussed his serial film idea with his friend Philip Kaufman. The pair worked on a script for two weeks. Lucas imagined his character as a college professor and archaeologist adventurer, based on his own appreciation for archaeology and famous archaeologists like Hiram Bingham III, Roy Chapman Andrews and Leonard Woolley. He described Indiana Smith as a regular nightclub patron, often surrounded by beautiful women. Kaufman removed the nightclub and womanizing, and suggested the Ark of the Covenant as the film's central goal; he learned of the Ark from his childhood dentist. The Ark provided a source of conflict for the hero and the Nazis, playing off Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's historical fascination with the occult. Lucas wanted Kaufman to direct the film, but he was already committed to working on the western The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Lucas paused the idea again and resumed his focus on Star Wars.
Afraid of its potential failure, in May 1977, Lucas vacationed in Hawaii to avoid the theatrical debut of Star Wars. He invited Steven Spielberg to join him and his wife on vacation. While on a beach near Mauna Kea volcano, Lucas and Spielberg discussed their next projects. Spielberg wanted to direct a James Bond film. Lucas said he had a similar project but without the Bond series' trademark gadgets and gimmicks. He pitched Spielberg The Adventures of Indiana Smith. Lucas still hoped that Kaufman would direct it, but that if that did not work out, he asked Spielberg to replace him. A few months later, it was confirmed that Kaufman could not direct the film, and Spielberg joined the project.
Spielberg was tasked with hiring a writer. He had recently discovered screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan and helped him sell the script for Continental Divide (1981). Although Kasdan had been working as a professional screenwriter for only one month, Lucas agreed with Spielberg's assessment after reading the Continental Divide script. In January 1978, Lucas, Kasdan and Spielberg worked nine hours a day for between three and five days at the house of Lucas' assistant in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles. The trio developed Lucas' outline and acted out scenes to help form a narrative structure. Spielberg hated the character's name. He thought it would remind audiences of the Steve McQueen character Nevada Smith. They agreed to use "Jones" instead.
Actors Clint Eastwood and Toshiro Mifune, and the James Bond character were the basis of Jones' character. Lucas wanted Jones to be a Kung fu practitioner and playboy, funding his lifestyle with the spoils of his adventures. Spielberg and Kasdan felt that the Jones character was complicated enough being an adventurer and archaeologist. Spielberg suggested making Jones an avid gambler or an alcoholic. Lucas disliked this idea because he wanted Jones to be a role model who is "honest and true and trusting". Both men felt it was important that Jones be fallible, vulnerable, and as capable of comedic moments as serious ones. They intended that he be someone the audience could relate to and idolize.
Spielberg and Lucas wanted to cast a young actress as Marion, who has a romantic past with the much older Jones. Lucas suggested she would have been 11 at the time; Spielberg replied, "She had better be older". Several ideas in the finished film came from these discussions, including the boulder trap, the monkey in Cairo, Toht burning the imprint of the staff headpiece into his hand and the final scene of government agents locking the Ark away. Kasdan quickly realized that Spielberg and Lucas had several set pieces in mind, but they were looking for someone else to do the hard work of piecing them together.
While Spielberg directed the action comedy film 1941 (1979), Kasdan made use of his offices to write Raiders of the Lost Ark. He wrote Jones as an anti-hero, an archaeologist reduced to grave-robbing. He took inspiration from the early 20th-century serials, and adventure films like Red River (1948), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Magnificent Seven (1960). Kasdan wanted to create a supporting cast with their own unique characteristics. He felt it was important that these characters, even those with little dialogue, had a memorable impact. He described the hardest part of writing as explaining how Jones would fall into successive dangerous events and then survive, and how he traveled between locations.
In August 1978, after approximately five months, Kasdan completed his first draft. He delivered it to Lucas who asked him to work on the script for his Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, following the death of the original writer Leigh Brackett. Spielberg described the first draft as good but "overly long"; Kasdan and Lucas collaborated to trim and refine it. The script was a globe-spanning tale set in the United States, Egypt, Greece, Nepal, and Shanghai. Several elements were cut, including a journey to Shanghai to recover a piece of the Staff of Ra. This journey would lead to a minecart chase and Jones using a gong to shield himself from gunfire; both ideas were re-used in the film's sequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Much of Kasdan's love story between Jones and Marion was trimmed, as were scenes showing the mutual attraction between Marion and Belloq. Jokes that did not fit the tone were removed, like a scene of a person fainting at the sight of people emerging from the Well of Souls. The screenplay was completed by December 1979.
Lucas wanted to fund Raiders of the Ark himself, but at the time he had limited cash assets. His attorney Tom Pollock and the financial chief of Lucas' studio Lucasfilm, Charles Webber, offered the project to several Hollywood studios. They rejected it, in part because of the proposed $20million budget, but also because of the deal Lucas offered. He wanted the purchasing studio to provide the budget, have no creative input and allow him to retain control of the licensing rights and any sequels.
Studios thought the film would be successful, but did not trust the budget or felt they would be burdened with all the associated risk and have no control. Even so, they still contacted Lucas to negotiate terms. The studios were also reluctant because of Spielberg's involvement. Though generally successful as a director, he had delivered a succession of films that were over schedule and budget. His most recent effort, 1941, was both over budget and a critical failure. Lucas refused to do the project without Spielberg as they had already fully developed their concept.
Then-Paramount Pictures president Michael Eisner called the deal "unworkable", but said the script was one of the best he had read. Eisner compromised with Lucas, agreeing to his deal in exchange for exclusive rights to produce any sequels and severe penalties if the filming schedule or budget were exceeded. Lucas agreed on the terms that included his involvement in any sequel. Reports of Lucas' and Spielberg's pay are inconsistent. Lucas is reported to have negotiated between $1million and $4million plus a share of the gross profits, though a separate report states he would only receive a share of the net profits. Spielberg received up to $1.5million as director and a share of the gross profits. Lucas also negotiated $1million for Lucasfilm.
Early on, Spielberg had expressed an interest in working with producer Frank Marshall. Marshall had worked on smaller independent films, and Spielberg believed that he would help keep the film on schedule and under budget. Lucas served as the film's executive producer, along with his old acquaintance Howard Kazanjian. Lucas hired Kazanjian because he would be a disciplined influence and not indulge the filmmakers' larger ambitions. Spielberg had worked previously with cinematographer Douglas Slocombe on the science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and liked his work. Spielberg also hired his frequent collaborator Michael Kahn as editor. Spielberg had wanted to work with production designer Norman Reynolds for a while, and Lucas brought in his long-time collaborator Robert Watts as associate producer and production manager. Paramount mandated a filming schedule of 85 days; Lucas, Spielberg, and Marshall agreed on a self-imposed 73-day schedule. Spielberg was determined to avoid criticism for another schedule overrun.
Pre-production began in December 1979 and took place over six months. Spielberg preferred to spend a year in pre-production, but worked at a faster pace to keep the budget low. Spielberg and Lucas were both working on other projects. Spielberg had the film extensively storyboarded to pre-visualize scenes and cut down time spent setting up shots. It was one of his most storyboarded films, with over 80% of the script represented, equalling approximately 6,000 images. Spielberg storyboarded action scenes, behaviors and dialogue. Ed Verreaux, Dave Negron, Michael Lloyd, and Joe Johnston did the storyboarding. The script only described the opening of the film as "all hell breaks loose". Each storyboard artist was tasked with envisioning what should happen. Each offered different aspects: spirits, flames, and weird light effects. Johnston was tasked with combining all three. Spielberg also had miniature sets of larger scenes built so he could visualize the layouts and lighting in advance. Miniatures included the Well of Souls, the Tanis dig site and the Cairo marketplace. They contained 1-inch tall figurines to suggest how many extras would be required.
Among changes made at this stage, Spielberg was forced to abandon his idea that Toht had a mechanical arm that could be detached and turned into a machine gun or flamethrower. Lucas said it put the film into a different genre than he intended.Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England, was chosen as the main production studio because it was already well-staffed with artists and technicians who had worked on Star Wars.
Auditioning actors had no script. Spielberg often held auditions in the Lucasfilm kitchens. To help the actors relax, he had those auditioning early help him bake cookies; those auditioning later would eat them. Actors called for a second audition would sometimes have a hastily written scene to read. Only those called back for a final audition were filmed.
Lucas wanted to cast a relatively unknown actor, who would commit to a trilogy of films, to play Indiana Jones. Those considered for the role included: Tom Selleck,Bill Murray, Nick Nolte, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Tim Matheson, Nick Mancuso, Peter Coyote, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Bridges and John Shea. Spielberg suggested casting Harrison Ford, but Lucas was concerned about using the actor in another film after Star Wars because he did not want Ford to become his "Bobby De Niro" or "that guy I put in all my movies"--a reference to Martin Scorsese's frequent collaborations with Robert De Niro. Lucas' then-wife and frequent collaborator Marcia Lucas favored Selleck; casting director Mike Fenton preferred Bridges; Bridges turned it down. Selleck had recently worked on the pilot episode of Magnum, P.I. and was contractually obligated to that show if it were to be made into a full series. He had 10 days left on his contract when Lucas and Spielberg asked the show's studio, CBS, to release him early so they could begin filming Raiders of the Lost Ark. When CBS realized that Selleck was in demand, they greenlit Magnum P.I., forcing him to drop out. Ironically, the actors' strike of 1980 put the show in hiatus for three months, which would have allowed Selleck to star as Jones.
The production had no lead actor three weeks before filming was to begin. Accounts differ on how Ford was cast. Spielberg said that he was perfect for the role after seeing him in The Empire Strikes Back; Kanzanjian said that Ford had always been considered but not cast because he was already a well-known actor. Lucas did not think Ford would commit to the three-film contract, as he was reluctant to do so to portray Han Solo in Star Wars. However, Ford thought it would be a fun project and agreed to the deal. He negotiated for a seven-figure salary, a percentage of the gross profits, and the option to re-write his dialogue so that Jones did not sound too much like Solo, to avoid being typecast. Ford undertook extensive training to enhance his physique and learned how to use a bullwhip; Lucas had always envisioned the character wielding a whip. Ford trained for several weeks with the whip under stunt coordinator Glenn Randall and on his own. He had to rehabilitate his wrist to compensate for an earlier injury that had never fully healed. Ford saw the character as an academic first and an adventurer second.
For Jones' love interest, Marion Ravenwood, Spielberg wanted someone akin to early 20th-century leading ladies like Irene Dunne, Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Sheridan, who could hold their own against their male counterparts. Lucas wanted Debra Winger for the role, but she was not interested. Spielberg wanted to cast his then-girlfriend Amy Irving, but she was unavailable. They also considered Barbara Hershey and Sean Young; Young went as far as screen testing for the role with Matheson. Karen Allen impressed Spielberg with her professionalism during auditions. One of the first things Spielberg asked Allen was "how well do you spit?" Allen developed a backstory for Marion that included her mother's death and her affair with Jones when she was 15-16, but Spielberg said it belonged in a different movie. Kasdan named Marion after his wife's grandmother, and took Ravenwood from a street in Los Angeles.
Belloq was intended to be a sophisticated villain to counter the "beer-drinking" hero. Spielberg cast Freeman after seeing him in the docudrama Death of a Princess (1980); Freeman's piercing eyes had captivated him. French Singer Jacques Dutronc and Giancarlo Giannini were also considered.Danny DeVito was approached to portray Sallah, described as a skinny, 5 ft (1.5 m) tall Egyptian like Sam Jaffe's portrayal of Gunga Din in the adventure film Gunga Din (1939). DeVito could not participate because of scheduling conflicts with his sitcom Taxi and because his agent wanted too much money. Rhys-Davies was cast based on his performance in the 1980 miniseries Sh?gun. Spielberg asked him to play the character as a mix of his Sh?gun role and the character John Falstaff. Ronald Lacey was cast as Toht because he reminded Spielberg of the late-actor Peter Lorre.Klaus Kinski was offered the role but chose to appear in the horror film Venom (1981) because the pay was better.
Principal photography began on Monday, June 23, 1980. Filming took place on sets at Elstree Studios Studios, and on location in La Rochelle in France, Tunisia in North Africa and Hawaii. Lucas often spent several weeks at a time visiting the locations during filming, and directed some second unit shots. Spielberg said he learned to "like" instead of "love" to avoid using too much time trying to achieve the perfect take. He said, "We didn't do 30 or 40 takes; usually only four... Had I had more time and money, it would have turned out a pretentious movie." On-location shooting cost around $100,000 a day in addition to crew salaries; sets cost an additional $4million. The production could only afford certain equipment for a limited time, including a Panaglide camera stabilizer for smoother shots, and a camera crane for higher angles. The budget impacted Spielberg's desire to have 2,000 extras as diggers; he had to settle for 600.
The loosely detailed script led to much improvisation; where the script described three people talking in a room, in the film it would take place in a quarry alongside 500 extras. Scenes like the young girl with "Love You" written across her eyelids and Marion putting on a dress to conceal a weapon were also improvised. Allen, Lacey, Freeman, and Rhys-Davies often spent time together between takes to talk and discuss their characters. Allen described Ford as a private person who would not discuss his character in detail. She said it took her a while to adapt to his working style.
The first scene was shot in La Rochelle; it featured the capture of the tramp steamer Bantu Wind by a Nazi U-boat. Watts borrowed a submarine from the war film Das Boot (1981) on the condition that it not be taken into deep waters. Lucas returned home after becoming sea sick during the shoot.World War II German U-boat pens in La Rochelle represented the U-boat dock. An original coal-fired tramp steamer boat could not be found for filming, so an Egyptian boat found in an Irish port was decorated appropriately and sailed to France. Filming in La Rochelle concluded by the end of the week.
Filming moved to Elstree Studios by June 30. The first interior scene featured an imam deciphering the staff headpiece for Jones. There were repeated delays while filming the Well of Souls scene: there were too few snakes, a lack of anti-venom and Stanley Kubrick's daughter Vivian--who was visiting Kubrick on the set of The Shining-- called the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) about the treatment of the snakes. The stage doors were kept open during filming for quick access to a waiting ambulance. The snakes, tight spaces, and special effects dust made Allen anxious and frustrated. She felt that little time was allotted to rehearse the scene or explore her character in depth. Animal handler Steve Edge donned a dress and shaved his legs to stand in for Allen at specific points. Kasdan was irritated by Marion's bar scene because much of the content he had written for it had been removed. The Peruvian temple set was also filmed at Elstree. The interior scenes at Jones' school were filmed at The Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth, near Hertfordshire; the exterior is the University of the Pacific in California.
Tunisia was used to portray Egypt. The temperature there was often over 130 °F (54 °C). Spielberg described this phase as one of his worst filming experiences. Most of the crew--over 150 people--became sick with amoebic dysentery from eating the local food. Spielberg was one of the few to remain healthy because he ate tinned food and bottled water he had brought from England. Lucas suffered a severe sunburn and facial swelling. The Cairo village was filmed in the city of Kairouan. A day of filming was lost there because over 300 TV antennas had to be removed from the surrounding houses. Stuntman Terry Richards, who portrayed the swordsman nonchalantly dispatched by Jones, spent weeks practicing sword skills for an extended fight scene. Ford was unable to perform for long periods of time because he had dysentery, and it was decided to shorten the fight scene significantly. The Sidi Bouhlel canyon near the city of Tozeur is the location where a rocket launcher-equipped Jones confronts the Nazis for the Ark. Lucas had used the canyon in Star Wars to portray the planet Tatooine. During the scene, a fly crawled into Freeman's mouth during his dialogue, but he continued to deliver his lines. Some scenes involved up to 600 extras.
In late September 1980, filming moved to Hawaii for exterior shots for the film's Peruvian opening. The Paramount logo dissolving into a natural mountain was an improvisation by Spielberg based on his own childhood habit of doing the same while making films; the mountain is Kalalea Mountain on the island of Kaua?i. Though the scene appears to be a single location, it was shot across 10 different areas in Hawaii, including the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge. It was originally more elaborate and longer, featuring an added betrayal by one of Jones' guides, resulting in a fight, and it had more dialogue; this was deemed unnecessary and removed for a tighter paced sequence. The cave's exterior was deemed a perfect location, though a nearby pool was a mosquito breeding ground; even with anti-mosquito equipment the crew were bitten. The donkeys used for the trek eventually suffered lameness. It was difficult to find replacements, and eventually, a pair of grey donkeys were painted brown with hair spray and flown by helicopter to the N? Pali Coast State Park to finish the scene.
Post-production lasted a few months and focused mainly on special effects and pick-up shots. Spielberg's first cut was close to three hours long before he and Kahn re-edited it to just under two hours. After Spielberg had shown the rough cut to Lucas, the trio were happy with it. The following morning, Lucas asked Spielberg if he could edit the ending to shorten it. Lucas and Kahn collaborated on the edit; Spielberg said he was happy with their changes. Marcia Lucas opined there was no emotional closure for Jones and Marion because she was absent following the closure of the Ark. Marcia is not credited in the film, but her suggestion led Spielberg to shoot a final exterior sequence on the steps of San Francisco City Hall showing Jones and Marion together.
Other changes included the addition of a scene where the Ark makes a humming noise in the Bantu Wind hold, and the removal of a scene showing Jones holding on to the U-boat periscope to follow the Nazis; Spielberg thought it looked poor and hoped the audiences would not care how Jones accomplished the feat. Shots of the Douglas DC-3 in which Jones flies to Nepal were repurposed from the adventure film Lost Horizon (1937), and a street scene outside Jones' home was taken from The Hindenburg (1975). Spielberg said that it was cost effective and only sharp-eyed viewers would ever notice. Special effects supervisor Richard Edlund has maintained the street scene was done with miniatures. The final cut of the film runs for 115minutes.
John Williams served as composer for Raiders of the Lost Ark. He said that the music did not have to be serious for the film and was instead theatrical and excessive. He spent a few weeks working on the Indiana Jones theme, more commonly known as "The Raiders March" that plays during the main character's heroic scenes. He played two separate pieces for Spielberg, who wanted to use both. These pieces became the main theme and musical bridge of "The Raiders March".
For the romantic theme, Williams took inspiration from older films like the drama Now, Voyager (1942) to create something more emotionally monumental that he felt would contrast well with the film's humor and lighter moments. Williams used "dark" orchestral pieces to represent the actions of the Nazis, using a "seventh degree on a bottom scale". He said this signified a militaristic evil. To create something suitably biblical for the Ark of the Covenant, he used a mix of chorus and orchestra.
Ford performed as many of his stunts as he was allowed, suffering several injuries. He used his bullwhip in stunts and had become proficient enough by filming that he could disarm the Monkey Man played by Vic Tablian.
The Peruvian temple scene was shot in the second week of filming at Elstree Studios. The interiors were life-sized sets. Several ideas planned for the temple were abandoned, including a crushing wall trap and a pit concealed by spider-webs. The Golden Idol also had mechanically operated eyes that could follow Jones. The giant boulder, made of fiberglass, plaster and wood was designed to be 65 ft (20 m) wide, but this was reduced to 22 ft (6.7 m) weighing 300 lb (140 kg). Spielberg liked the effect so much he had its ramp extended to give it more screen time. A steel rod in the wall, concealed by rubber rock outcroppings, controlled the boulder. Ford performed the stunt, completing it ten times for the different camera angles. Spielberg said he was an idiot for letting Ford do it, but that it would not have looked as good with a stuntman concealing their face. The tarantulas on Molina's body would not move because they were male and non-aggressive. A female spider was put on his chest to encourage movement. For the last part of the scene where Jones flees by plane, the first take ended in near-disaster when the plane crashed from a height of 20 ft (6.1 m) because Ford's dangling leg was blocking the aircraft's right flap. Ford and the pilot were unharmed.
Filming of the Well of Souls scene was delayed initially by a lack of snakes. There were 500-600 snakes to use for close shots and some mechanical snakes for wider shots, but Spielberg wanted more. A request was made to snake handlers from around London and Europe who produced anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 snakes in a few days. Afterward, they struggled to obtain anti-venom, and local supplies had expired; it had to be imported from India. Allen was reportedly so scared that she could not scream on cue. Spielberg dropped a dead serpent on her to elicit a genuine reaction. Vivian Kubrick's complaint to the RSPCA about the perceived poor treatment of the snakes required production cease while safeguards were added.
Reynolds and production artist Ron Cobb created the BV-38 flying wing used in the scene after Jones and Marion escape from the Well of Souls. Constructed by the British engineering firm Vickers, they then dismantled it because of its size, and shipped it to Tunisia. It was not designed to be flight-worthy, only to serve as a source of danger from its propellers. The Horten Ho 229, the Northrop N-1M and the Vought V-173 inspired its design. The plane was abandoned in Tunisia and slowly dismantled over the following decade by souvenir hunters before being demolished. The fight between Jones and the German underneath the plane was mainly improvised; Spielberg had to restrain himself from making it too long as each new idea led to another. During the fight, the moving vehicle rolled over Ford's foot and towards his knee before it was stopped. It took 40 crew members to move it off of him. He avoided injury through a combination of the extreme Tunisian heat making the tire soft and the ground being covered in sand. Dysentry had left the production with a lack of stuntmen, and Spielberg had Marshall stand in as the flying wing pilot. The scene was shot over three days. It was one of Spielberg's more difficult scenes to film, and he was reported saying he wanted to go home.
Second unit director Michael D. Moore filmed most of the truck chase. Spielberg had not used a second director before but agreed to it as the scene would take a long time to film being set in multiple locations. Moore completed wider shots where stuntmen stood in for Ford. He closely followed Spielberg's storyboarding but innovated a few shots that Spielberg considered improvements. Stuntman Glenn Randall suggested the scene of Jones traversing the underside of the truck. Ford sat in a concealed bicycle seat attached to the truck underside when clinging to its front. One of the convoy cars going over a cliff was a combination of matte painting background and stop motion animation of miniature figures falling out of the car.
Lucas' visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic handled the film's special effects, under the supervision of Richard Edlund. The team worked on both Raiders of the Lost Ark and the dark fantasy Dragonslayer (1981). Lucas felt that special effects were a financially economical method of delivering a good film. As long as they are emotionally involved in the story, he said that audiences would buy into even a poor special effect . Spielberg liked practical effects because he could regularly check the raw footage during filming, rather than waiting months for the completed composite effects.
Freeman said that he had no idea what was happening when he opened the Ark. He was told to imagine something coming towards him and to scream. The scene's gore did not concern Spielberg and Lucas. Special effects artist Steve Gawley created the Ark's spirits. He suspended small robed puppets in a clouded water tank in front of a blue screen. They were shaken to create a natural movement that was composited into the live footage. A Lucasfilm receptionist, dressed in a long white robe, was suspended in the air in front of a blue screen for the close-up of the ghost. She was filmed moving away from the camera and the footage was reversed to create an inhuman movement. Her visage was composited with a skeletal model for the monstrous transformation.
Freeman, Lacey and Kahler's death scenes were created using different models. A mold was made of Kahler's face for Dietrich; it was lined with bladders filled with air. Controlled by up to ten people, the air was then removed to create the appearance of the head shriveling. Special effects artist Chris Walas sculpted Lacey's melting face by using different colored layers of gelatin placed over a carved, stone skull that could withstand heat. The sculpture was then heated with propane heaters to melt the gelatin and filmed using a slower-than-normal camera so that the effect appears to take place rapidly when played at normal speed. Belloq's head mold contained a thin-plaster skull filled with blood bags and detritus. It was blown up using explosives, shotguns, and an air cannon. It took three attempts to get the desired effect. Belloq's death was considered so extreme that the Motion Picture Association of America initially classified the film with an R rating restricting its audience to those over 17 years of age unless supervised by an adult. Flames were superimposed over the scene to conceal the effect.
Kasdan scripted detailed montages during the transition between locations, but Spielberg saved money by showing a map and an animated line traveling between destinations. Skulls and rotting bodies made by chief make-up artist Tom Smith filled The Well of Souls catacombs; he used actual skulls for reference. To get the monkey to salute, the trainer hit it on the head to make it touch the affected area. When this did not work, the filmmakers hung a grape over its head to encourage it reach up; it took 50 takes to capture it performing the Nazi salute. A partially deaf rat was used for the scene of the ark "humming" in the hold of the Bantu Wind, giving it a unique and unnatural head movement.
Matte paintings by Michael Pangrazio were composited into the filmed footage to create more elaborate backgrounds: these included the establishing shot of Marion's Nepalese bar and the warehouse where the Ark is later stored. Spielberg disliked the painting of the China Clipper plane as he did not think it looked real against the water they had filmed. Jones' attire--a leather jacket and khaki pants--was based on Humphrey Bogart's in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and Charlton Heston in Secret of the Incas (1954). Costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis found Jones' hat in Bermans & Nathans, London. She dumped boxes of hats on the floor for Ford to try on. After picking the right style, Nadoolman Landis went to Herbert Johnson hatters and purchased an Australian model that she aged with Fuller's earth and mineral oil, and then scrunched beneath a bed. The hat allowed them to create a recognizable image even in silhouette. Designer Ralph McQuarrie was responsible for the Ark decorations.
Spielberg wanted a moodier film noir lighting style like that in The Informer (1935). Slocombe wanted to make things brighter and used backlighting to create a greater depth of field; Spielberg preferred his changes. Slocombe often employed natural light, using solar position predictions to plot a scene's layout. Spielberg liked the beams of sunlight glimpsed through scenery and tasked special effects artist Kit West with using a smoke machine to create artificial sunlight shards. For the bar fight, Spielberg wanted pitch-black shadows on the wall, but the lighting required to achieve this would have shrouded the actors' eyes; he settled for subtler shadings. He also wanted to illuminate the Well of Souls with a lighting effect through the ceiling opening, but once this was sealed it no longer made sense. The flaming torches used in the scene did not provide enough light, so he opted to use an artificial light source. Spielberg noted that Allen always looked beautiful in her scenes because Slocombe would spend twice as long setting up her lighting as he would Ford's.
Sound effects supervisor Ben Burtt recorded the film's many sounds. The snake slithering is a mix of Burtt running his hands through cheese casserole and wet sponges being dragged across grip tape; the rolling boulder is a Honda Civic driving down a gravel hill; and the Ark lid opening is the sound of a toilet cistern being opened. The Ark spirits are the cries of sea lions and dolphins filtered through a vocoder. Jones' revolver is the sound of a Winchester rifle firing, while his whip-crack was made by recording Ford using the whip.
By the summer of 1981 (June-September), the film industry had been in decline for over a year. There had been few box office successes and rising film production costs, diminishing audiences, and rising ticket prices were taking a toll. The summer period was predicted to be down 10% or $250million against the previous year. Studios were desperate to make the next blockbuster film, that could generate as much revenue in a short period as an average film could in a year. Studios scheduled more than 60 films for release--more than the previous year. This increased competition to attract an audience, most of which comprises those aged 12 to 24, at the most profitable time of the film year.
The superhero film Superman II was expected to dominate the season; it was already doing well outside North America. Based on industry experts and audience polling, Superman II was widely anticipated, followed by the comedy film History of the World, Part I, the latest James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, the comedies Nice Dreams and The Great Muppet Caper, and the science fiction film Outland. Conversely, audience polling by CinemaScore showed that there was no awareness or anticipation for Raiders of the Lost Ark until nationwide previews a week prior to its release.The New York Times reported Paramount had provided theater owners with a more beneficial deal than usual to ensure Raiders of the Lost Ark was screened in the best theaters and locations.
The press event for the film cost $10,000; it featured two camels, an elephant, and a python. Paramount supplied the film prints to theaters in a lead-sealed container to prevent tampering. They also wrote to theater managers advising them they were responsible for any misuse of the film. This letter inspired a whistleblower working at one theater to alert the studio of the planned theft of a Raiders of the Lost Ark print to make pirated copies. The FBI investigated and broke up an organized crime ring duplicating theatrical releases. The 1,200 film prints Paramount Pictures produced cost an estimated $1.7million.
In North America, Raiders of the Lost Ark received a wide release on June 12, 1981, in 1,078 theaters. The film earned $8.3million--an average of $7,705 per theater.Raiders of the Lost Ark finished as the number one film of the weekend, ahead of the adventure film Clash of the Titans ($6.6million) and History of the World, Part I ($4.9million), both in their first week of release. The film fell to the number three position in its second weekend with an additional gross of $8million--a decline of only four percent--behind the debuting Cannonball Run ($11.8million) and Superman II ($14.1million).
These positions remained unchanged in its third week of release. However, in its fourth week, Raiders of the Lost Ark began climbing box office charts, reaching the number two position with a gross of $7.3million, behind Superman II ($10.9million). By its sixth week, it had regained the number one position with $6.4million. The film spent most of the following nine weeks as the number one film, and forty-weeks straight as one of the top-ten, highest-grossing films. It had earned over $100million by mid-August, and had been declared the top box office film of the summer by early September, with a total approximate gross of $125million. Of this figure, $72 million was estimated to have been returned to the studio; the profit-sharing deal with Spielberg and Lucas meant that after marketing costs, Paramount had earned $23million in profit.
The film remained a steady success; six months after its release, industry executives joked that Raiders of the Lost Ark would be the year's big Christmas film. Its success continued into the following spring (March-May). The film officially left theaters on March 18, 1982, although some were still playing it over a year later. By the end of its run, Raiders of the Lost Ark had earned an approximate box office gross of $212.2million. This figure made it the highest-grossing film of 1981, ahead of the drama film On Golden Pond ($119.3million), Superman II ($108.1million), and the comedy film Stripes ($85.3million). According to estimates by Box Office Mojo, this indicates that over 77million people bought tickets to see the film. As of 1997, the box office returns to the studio--minus the theaters' share--was $115.6million.Raiders of the Lost Ark remains the "leggiest" (referring to the difference between the highest-weekend gross earned and the time taken to achieve the overall total gross) film ever released.
Outside North America, the film earned a further $141.7million, making it the number one film ahead of For Your Eyes Only ($140.5million) and Superman II ($82.2million). This figure gives it a cumulative worldwide gross of $354million, making it the highest-grossing film of 1981 worldwide, again ahead of For Your Eyes Only ($195.3million) and Superman II ($190.4million).
Raiders of the Lost Ark has been re-released several times. It was first re-released in July 1982, when it earned an additional $21.4million. The studio re-released it March 1983, when the film earned an additional $11.4million. A remastered IMAX version, supervised by Spielberg, was released in 267 North American theaters. The success of the release led to the run being extended to 300 additional theaters. The film earned a further $3.1million. These releases have raised the film's worldwide theatrical gross to an estimated $389.9million.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was released to general acclaim by critics and audiences. The National Board of Review and critic Vincent Canby listed it as one of the ten best films of the year.
Canby labelled the film an "instant classic" and one of the most humorous and stylish American films ever made. He described it as having refined the old serial films into their most perfect form for a modern audience.Roger Ebert called it a series of "breathless and incredible" adventures inspired by, and celebrating childhood stories told in comic books and movies. He concluded that the film is successful in its singular goal of entertaining, creating an adventure epic in the vein of Star Wars, the James Bond films, and Superman. Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Arthur Knight said that Lucas and Spielberg had successfully created another "goldmine" film. The review continued that a constant stream of thrills kept the film moving at a steady pace. Writing for Variety, Stephen Klain called the film "exhilarating escapist entertainment". He continued that the film successfully balanced action, comedy, and suspense with mystical mythologies.Michael Sragow described it as the "ultimate Saturday action matinee".Gene Siskel said it was as entertaining as a "commercial movie" could be; the kind of film that makes children excited about cinema.
Richard Schickel called it a return to form for Spielberg, demonstrating a competence not seen since Jaws. He described it as a film Walt Disney would have made were he still alive, featuring an "enchanting" combination of fantasy and cinematic movement.Stanley Kauffmann said that while the film's thrills did work on him, the frequency eventually irritated him. He criticized the film's reliance on nostalgia and updating older films instead of innovating new ideas.Pauline Kael was critical of the film, saying that Lucas and Spielberg had thought like marketeers, in creating a film that would appeal to the broadest masses. Kael said that though Raiders of the Lost Ark is a sophisticated update of older serials, that avoids cliches with clever editing, it is too focused on surpassing each previous action spectacle to the detriment of characterization or plot progression. She opined that the failure of 1941 had made Spielberg too cautious, and scenes evidenced that he was rushing and not achieving the best possible take as in his previous work. Lucas later named a villain in his 1988 fantasy film Willow after Kael.Dave Kehr said that the constant rush between setpieces felt monotonous. He also criticized the story for allowing the hero to choose to rescue the Ark over his romantic interest on multiple occasions, believing it made Indiana Jones difficult to support.
The principal cast was generally well received. Ebert said that the amusing and unusual characters elevated the film beyond just a technical accomplishment. He described Ford's performance as taciturn and stubborn character in the vein of Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but with the ability to laugh at himself. Klain described Ford's performance as "riveting", marking a major career highlight. Canby described Ford and Allen as both "endearingly resilient". Ebert said that Allen gives Marion a charming toughness. Knight appreciated that Marion did not become idiotic when the male star was in danger. His review concluded that the character was the definition of an activist. Srawgow said that Allen's physical performance made her every bit the equal of Ford, and her vitality provided a positive counter to Ford's deadpan performance. Kael was critical of many cast performances, feeling they were stilted and heavily scripted. She singled out Freeman for praise, however, for continuing his performance after a fly crawled into his mouth; Freeman jokingly called it the best review of his career. Klain called Lacey's Toht one of the most offensive Nazi stereotypes seen in cinema since World War II. However, he praised Rhys-Davies' and Elliott's performances.
Several reviewers singled out the opening of the Ark as one of the film's best special effects. Knight said that the effects artists deserved a "special accolade" for their work. Canby described it as a visual display as "dazzling" as the denouement of Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Ebert said the truck chase stunt was the best he had ever seen, ahead of those in films like Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971). Several reviewers noted that the film's PG rating--meaning any child could see it unsupervised--was too lenient for such a scary film filled with a variety of on-screen deaths. An intermediate rating between PG and R, PG-13, would not be introduced until 1984, in part a response to the violence of the Indiana Jones sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Some children were reported to have suffered nightmares afterward.
At the 1982 Academy Awards, Raiders of the Lost Ark received five awards:Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn); Best Production Design (Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, and Michael D. Ford); Best Sound (Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, and Roy Charman); Best Sound Editing (Ben Burtt and Richard L. Anderson); and Best Visual Effects (Richard Edlund, Kit West, Bruce Nicholson, and Joe Johnston). The film received a further four nominations: Best Picture (losing to historical drama Chariots of Fire); Best Cinematography (losing to Reds); Best Director (losing to Warren Beatty for the drama Reds); and Best Original Score (losing to Vangelis for Chariots of Fire). It tied with the drama film Ragtime for the third-most nominations, behind On Golden Pond and Reds.
For the 39th Golden Globe Awards, Raiders of the Lost Ark received one nomination for Best Director, again losing to Beatty for Reds. At the 9th Saturn Awards, Raiders of the Lost Ark won seven awards, including Best Fantasy Film, Best Actor (Ford), Best Actress (Allen), Best Director, Best Music (Williams), Best Writing (Kasdan), and Best Special Effects (Edlund). Spielberg received a Directors Guild Award nomination, losing to Beatty.
The 35th British Academy Film Awards earned the film one award for Best Production Design (Reynolds), and a further six nominations: Best Film (losing to Chariots of Fire); Best Supporting Actor for Elliott (losing to Ian Holm for Chariots of Fire); Best Original Music (losing to Carl Davis for The French Lieutenant's Woman); Best Cinematography (losing to Ghislain Cloquet and Geoffrey Unsworth for Tess); Best Editing (losing to Thelma Schoonmaker for Raging Bull); and Best Sound for Charman, Burtt, and Bill Varney (losing to The French Lieutenant's Woman). The film also received a Grammy Award for William's score, a People's Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture, a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and a nomination for Best Original Screenplay at the 34th Writers Guild of America Awards.
After years of declining audiences and profits, the summer of 1981 set new box office records, becoming the most successful recorded season of its time. This success was attributed mainly to the performances of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Superman II. By August, a record $1.95billion had been earned at the box office. This represented a 15.6% increase over the previous year, with a 22.5% increase in ticket sales. This showed audiences had not stopped wanting to view films in theaters, but were waiting for films they wanted to see. In particular, the most successful film genres of the year offered fun, comedy, and escapism. Even so, there were unexpected failures such as The Great Muppet Caper and Outland.Superman II broke many box office records, but it was Raiders of the Lost Ark that earned the most money and was still playing in theaters over a year later thanks to repeat business. In July 1988, The New York Times reported that when showings of Superman II sold out, audiences went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark; they only considered other films when both of them had sold out. Despite pre-release predictions and audience polling showing no interest in the film, it became one of the top-four highest-grossing films ever; the highest-grossing films were dominated by Lucas and Spielberg with The Empire Strikes Back, Jaws, and Star Wars.
Ford was cast in the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner because of his performance in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kasdan became one of the most in-demand writers in Hollywood. Allen expressed some disappointment in the film. Although her performance had provided many new opportunities, she lamented that her character had been motivated more by her relationship with Jones and money than with her father and his obsession with the Ark. She had lobbied unsuccessfully for rewrites to address this. Shortly after the film's release, Stanley Rader and Robert Kuhn filed a lawsuit against the filmmakers for $210million. They alleged the film was based on a screenplay and unpublished novel, Ark, by Kuhn. The outcome of this lawsuit is unknown.
In the early 1980s, the VCR home video market was rapidly gaining popularity. In previous years, VHS sales were not a revenue source for studios, but by 1983 they could generate up to 13% of a film's total revenue; the North American cassette rights could generate $500,000 alone. In November 1983, Paramount released a then-record 500,000 home video copies of the film, priced at $39.95. Paramount deliberately priced their home videos significantly lower than their competition, reasoning that it would broaden the sales audience and promote home video watching. By September 1985, over one million copies of the film had sold, making it the best-selling VHS of its time. By 2000, the film was marketed as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark for consistency with its sequels' titles.
In 2003, the film was released on DVD as a bundle with its then-two sequels. Like the VHS it was a success for its time, selling over one million units and becoming the fastest-selling DVD box set. This set introduced additional materials including Making the Films, a two-hour documentary about the making of the films including deleted scenes, and Behind the Scenes, a series of archival featurettes. The film and its sequels were released as a collection on Blu-ray disc in 2012, as Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures. Spielberg worked on the films' restoration for the higher-quality format. This release included the additional content of previous releases.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a pastiche of cinematic history, inspired by and referencing many films. Spielberg stated explicitly the film is about movies and designed as a tribute to filmmaking. Alongside directly referenced inspirations like early 20th-century serials (Buck Rogers, Zorro's Fighting Legion, Spy Smasher, and Don Winslow of the Navy), the film contains references to Citizen Kane (1941), the film noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955), the samurai film Yojimbo (1961), and the epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962), among others.Citizen Kane is referenced directly in Raiders of the Lost Arks last scene where the Ark is secured in a vast warehouse, a fate similar to that of the beloved childhood sled belonging to Citizen Kanes principal character.Raiders of the Lost Ark also references several of Lucas' own films: the translation of the German U-boat announcement is "1138", a reference to science fiction film THX 1138 (1971); and numerous nods to Star Wars including the characters of R2-D2 and C-3PO appearing as hieroglyphics inside the Well of Souls.
A common theme shared by Raiders of the Lost Ark and another 1981 film, Superman II, is that American security is at risk. These films are emblematic of their time and the contemporary fears of American citizens. The Nazi characters are based on a former threat to America, and like Superman II, Raiders of the Lost Ark requires the intervention of a superhuman, fantasy character to prevent destruction at the hands of enemy forces--a character that audiences can admire, but never possibly emulate. Janet Maslin argues that the fantasy of these films and the larger-than-life characters are designed to satisfy audiences who do not want to reflect on the world around them. Jones is striving to recover the Ark both to stop the Nazis but also for personal glory; Raiders of the Lost Ark never dwells on the regular people around the world who would be affected by an invincible Nazi army. The period setting of the film also presents audiences with a time tinged in romantic nostalgia and filled with the possibility for adventure. The film also offered a counter to the American national embarrassments of its defeat in the Vietnam War (1955-1975), and the political scandal of Watergate (1972); Jones is an American hero who steps in reluctantly to save the world by overcoming almost exclusively foreign enemies.
The film can also be seen as a tale of Jewish fantasy about punishing the Nazis for the Holocaust. Spielberg is Jewish, and the Ark is a Jewish artifact described as holding the Ten Commandments passed down to the Jewish people by God. In biblical descriptions, the Ark is a gold-plated wooden box that must be carried with poles because it is too holy to be touched. There is irony in the Nazis attempting to use a Jewish artifact to subjugate the world. The artifact is too pure and holy for them to touch and actively rejects them by destroying their symbol emblazoned on the Ark's transportation crate while leaving the crate itself unharmed. Eventually, it also destroys the Nazi forces that open it. The Nazis are stopped by the literal intervention of Godly power that leaves the perceived protagonists unharmed. In another scene, Jones falls underneath a moving truck when its hood-ornament, a Mercedes logo, snaps, mocking Mercedes' involvement in aiding the Nazis.
There are also themes of greed and deception. Satipo betrays Jones and is punished quickly by death. Jones is hunting the Ark, in part, for the glory attached to its recovery. When given the opportunity to destroy it to prevent its misuse, Belloq calls his bluff and Jones backs down. Belloq suggests that he is a skewed reflection of Jones, and that only a small change would turn Jones into Belloq. A 2013 episode of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory ("The Raiders Minimization") argues that Jones accomplishes nothing in Raiders of the Lost Ark, as the Nazis would have eventually found the Ark, opened it, and died regardless of Jones' actions. A 2014 essay by Esquire agreed, with the caveat that Marion would have almost certainly died at Toht's hands, and that the Ark would have been flown successfully to Germany on the Flying Wing and opened for Hitler, likely killing him. However, Jones' involvement ensures the Americans secure the Ark, preventing the Germans from using it.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is considered one of the best films ever made. It had a significant and lasting impact on popular culture. It is considered a touchstone of modern cinema, creating a film framework that is still emulated by other films. Spielberg has said that he considers it the most perfect film of the series. He never wanted to modify it or change anything about it.
The film led to an increase in students studying archaeology, and many modern archaeologists have cited the film as an inspiration. Rhys-Davies said that he had met over 150 lecturers, professors, and archaeologists who told him their interest in the field began with the film. Conversely, archaeologist Winifred Creamer described Jones as the "worst thing to happen to archaeology" as he "walks a fine line between what's an archaeologist and what's a professional looter." The original Indiana Jones costume hat and jacket were stored indiscriminately after filming, at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, until 2012. Nadoolman Landis recovered the items to be exhibited as part of a Hollywood costume display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The film works on many levels, not only thanks to Ford's superb performance and Spielberg's skill at piling on the action and excitement, but also because Lawrence Kasdan... delivers a script that is more than just an old-fashioned adventure. His hero is a complicated, less-than-perfect guy... The heroine, [Marion] isn't your archetypal girl-in-distress either, but a physically capable woman who (most of the time) can rescue herself and doesn't need the hero at all... Raiders is a perfect package of adventure, humor, effects, escapism, and terrific performances that has been imitated (but never equaled)...
In 2000, as part of his The Great Movies series, Ebert said that while the special effects had not aged well, they were perfect for this type of film. He concluded that it was a "whiz-bang slamarama" made with "heedless joy". In 2005, the Writer's Guild of America's (WGA) listed the film's screenplay as the forty-second greatest screenplay of the preceding 75 years on their 101 Greatest Screenplays list. In 2008, Empire listed the film at number two on its list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, behind the 1972 crime film The Godfather. They said, "no adventure movie is quite so efficiently entertaining". In 2014, a poll of 2,120 entertainment-industry members by The Hollywood Reporter ranked it the thirteenth best film of all time. In 1997, the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked Raiders of the Lost Ark number60 on its 100 Years...100 Movies list recognizing the best American films. They reassessed to number66 in the 2007 anniversary edition. On the AFI's list of the 100 Best Thrills, the film was ranked number10, and the 2003 list of the 100 Best Heroes & Villains ranked the Indiana Jones character as the number two hero, behind Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).
Several publications have ranked it as one of the greatest films of all time, including: number two by Empire; number five by Time Out; it is unranked by MSN. It has also appeared on lists of the best action films, including: number two by IGN and Time Out; number11 by The Guardian and The Telegraph; and unranked by Time Out.IGN also named it the best action film of the 1980s. The British Film Institute called it one of the greatest 10 action films of all time, saying "for all its barnstorming staging and boy's-own-adventure larks, it's refreshing that Indy's greatest foil comes in three dimensions: not Belloq and his cartoon-Nazi chums, but the hard-drinking, wise-cracking, upstagingly brilliant Karen Allen". Similarly, several publications have identified it as one of the greatest adventure films, including: number 14 by Rotten Tomatoes; and unranked by Esquire.
In 2005, Channel 4 viewers in the United Kingdom, ranked Raiders of the Lost Ark as the numbertwenty best family film of all time. In 2018, Empire magazine readers named it the seventh-best film of all time. In 2019, it was ranked the sixteenth best film of all time, based on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes user votes and critical ratings. In 2020, readers of the Los Angeles Times voted it the number one summer film, ahead of competition including Jaws and Alien (1979).
Rotten Tomatoes assesses a 95% approval rating from the aggregated reviews of 76 critics, with an average rating of 9.23/10. The consensus reads, "Featuring bravura set pieces, sly humor, and white-knuckle action, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most consummately entertaining adventure pictures of all time." The film has a score of 85 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 15 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
In 1999, the United States Library of Congress selected the film to be preserved in the National Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Assessing the film's legacy in 1997, Bernard Weinraub, opined that "the decline in the traditional family G-rated film, for 'general' audiences, probably began..." with Raiders of the Lost Ark. He continued, "whether by accident or design... the filmmakers made a comic nonstop action film intended mostly for adults but also for children".
Several filmmakers have spoken of their appreciation for Raiders of the Lost Ark or cited it as an inspiration in their own careers, including The X-Files creator Chris Carter,Simon Kinberg, Jon Turteltaub,Dan Brown and Joe Johnston. Johnston worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark. The experience had an explicit influence on his directorial effort Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), including villain Arnim Zola being dressed similarly to Toht. Director Steven Soderbergh released a black-and-white edit of the film in 2014 removing all the original sounds. He intended for viewers to focus on Spielberg's staging and editing. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, it was among the action films director James Gunn recommended people watch, and one of the 35 films recommended by The Independent.
The film has inspired or been referenced in other media including film (Romancing the Stone, The Goonies,The Mummy,National Treasure), television shows (The X-Files, The Simpsons, Robot Chicken), and video games (Pitfall, and the Tomb Raider and Uncharted series). Between 1982 and 1989, in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, then-children Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb made an amateur remake of the film. Titled Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation they shelved the project when the friends grew apart. Their film came to the attention of director Eli Roth in the mid-1990s, who brought it wider attention during a film convention in late 2002. Spielberg wrote directly to Strompolos, Zala, and Lamb to congratulate them on their accomplishment.
In 2005, Channel 4 viewers in the United Kingdom ranked Raiders of the Lost Ark as the numbertwenty best family film of all time. In 2018, Empire magazine readers named it the seventh-best film of all time. In 2019, it was ranked the sixteenth best film of all time, based on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes user votes and critical ratings. In 2020, readers of the Los Angeles Times voted it the number one summer film, ahead of competition including Jaws and Alien (1979).
Film merchandising was a relatively new concept created mainly by the success of the Star Wars series, reaching a peak with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 1982. The enduring popularity of Raiders of the Lost Ark has resulted in it being represented with a wide variety of merchandise for fans, including: comic books, video games, novels,Lego sets, action figures and vehicles, playsets, candles and board games.
Several video game adaptations have been released. In 1982, Atari released Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600 console. Although the game sold well, it underperformed against Atari's expectations. Released in 1993, Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure is a pinball game featuring elements inspired by the original trilogy of films.Factor 5 developed a platformer game, Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures, for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994. The 1999 game Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine includes a bonus level that returns players to the Peruvian temple from Raiders of the Lost Arks opening scene. The Lego-themed adventure game Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (2008) and its 2009 sequel Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues represent the film and its sequels.
The Adventures of Indiana Jones role playing game was released in 1984. It was poorly received, and when the manufacturer lost the license in the late 1980s, all remaining copies had to be burned. The remnants of the destruction were encased in plastic and turned into the Diana Jones Award--"...diana Jones" being the only legible part of the burnt remains". A novelization of the film, written by Campbell Black, was released in 1981. The book was a worldwide sales success and included details not present in the film. Among them is Marion was aged 15 when she and Jones had their affair and that the staff the of Ra headpiece has explicit instructions not to look at the opened Ark, It includes a scene of Brody finding Jones at home after having just entertained one of his students. Black, who was paid $35,000 plus royalties, sued Lucasfilm in 2005 for not paying him his percentage of the book sales profits.Marvel Comics produced a comic book adaptationof the film shortly after its release.
The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! is a live amusement show at Walt Disney World Resort, Florida, that has been in operation since 1989. It features several live stunts based on set pieces from the film.Raiders of the Lost Ark was also one of several films that made up The Great Movie Ride (1989-2017).
The success of Raiders of the Lost Ark spawned several sequels. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was in development by 1982, while the original film was still in theaters. It serves as a narrative prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, following Jones' quest to recover the sacred Shankara stones and liberate the slaves of the cult leader Mola Ram. Spielberg returned to direct, based on a story by Lucas with Ford again in the lead role. Temple of Doom was also a financial success, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of 1984 and breaking box office records set the previous year by the Star Wars entry Return of the Jedi. It fared less well with critics who accused it of racism and misogyny. It was also criticized for its darker tone and violent content that children saw because of the more lenient PG rating. Parents' response to this led in part to the creation of the PG-13 rating.
A narrative sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released in 1989. It serves as the final film of the original trilogy. The film follows Jones on an adventure to recover the Holy Grail and locate the man searching for it, his father, portrayed by Sean Connery. Like its predecessor, Last Crusade broke box office records, becoming one of the year's highest-grossing films. It was also well received by critics. Spielberg has said that the film was, in part, an "apology" for the reception to Temple of Doom. Following the conclusion of the film series, Lucas developed a television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, that debuted in 1992. The series features an elderly Jones--portrayed by George Hall--recounting his earlier adventures throughout his youth. Ford, Sean Patrick Flanery, and Corey Carrier portray Jones at different ages.
A fourth film was released in 2008, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It features the return of Allen as Marion Ravenwood, and introduces Shia LaBeouf as her son with Jones, Mutt Williams. The setting moved from the 1930s to the 1950s, pitting Jones against Russians to recover a Crystal Skull. The film was a financial success but polarized critics and fans. It also originated the term "nuke the fridge", a reference to a derided scene where Jones hides in a refrigerator to survive a nuclear blast. As they did with Temple of Doom, Lucas and Spielberg have defended the film and apologized for its reception. A fifth film is in production as of 2020.