Ford is perfect as Indiana Jones, if only we will be so
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a 1981 American action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg, with a screenplay 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 German 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 he shared the idea with Spielberg, who joined the project several months later. While the pair had ideas for set pieces and stunts for the film, they hired Kasdan to fill in the narrative gaps between them. Principal photography began in June 1980 on a $20 million budget and concluded the following September. Filming took place on sets at Elstree Studios, England, and on location mainly in La Rochelle, France, Tunisia, and Hawaii.
Though prerelease 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 $330.5 million worldwide and played in some theaters for over a year. It was a critical success, receiving praise for its modern take on the serial film, its non-stop action and adventure, and the cast, particularly Ford, Allen, and Freeman. The film was nominated for several awards and, among others, won five Academy Awards, seven Saturn Awards, and one BAFTA.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is now considered one of the greatest films ever made and has had a lasting impact on popular culture, spawning a host of imitators across several media, and inspired other filmmakers. The United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1999. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first entry in what would become the Indiana Jones franchise, which includes three more
films - Temple of Doom (1984), Last Crusade (1989), and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
(2008) - a television series, video games, comic books, novels, theme park attractions, toys, and an amateur remake. A fifth film is scheduled for release in 2023.
In 1936, American archaeologist Indiana Jones recovers a golden idol from a booby-trapped Peruvian temple. Rival archaeologist René Belloq corners him and steals the idol; Jones escapes in a waiting seaplane. After returning to the United States, Jones is briefed by two Army Intelligence agents that Nazi German forces are excavating at Tanis, Egypt, and one of their telegrams mentions Jones' old mentor Abner Ravenwood. Jones deduces that the Nazis seek the Ark of the Covenant, which Adolf Hitler believes will make their army invincible. The agents recruit Jones to recover the Ark first.
At a bar in Nepal, Jones reunites with Ravenwood's daughter
Marion - with whom Jones once had an illicit relationship -
and learns Ravenwood is dead. The bar is set ablaze during a scuffle with Gestapo agent Arnold Toht, who arrives to take a medallion from Marion. Toht attempts to recover the medallion from the flames, but only burns its image into his hand. Jones and Marion take the medallion and escape.
Traveling to Cairo, the pair meet Jones's friend Sallah. Sallah reveals Belloq is assisting the Nazis, who have fashioned an incomplete replica medallion from the burns on Toht's hand. Nazi soldiers and mercenaries attack Jones, and Marion is seemingly killed, leaving Jones despondent. An imam deciphers the medallion for Jones, revealing one side bears a warning against disturbing the Ark, and the other bears the correct measurements for the "staff of
Ra", an item used to locate the Ark. Jones and Sallah realize the Nazis are digging in the wrong location, infiltrate the Nazi dig site, and use the medallion and the correctly-sized staff of Ra to locate the Well of Souls, the Ark's resting place. They recover the
Ark - a golden, intricately decorated chest - but Belloq and the Nazis discover them and seize it. Jones and
Marion - whom Belloq has held captive - are sealed inside the well, but the pair escape and flee with a truck carrying the Ark. Alongside Marion, Jones arranges to transport the Ark to London aboard a tramp steamer.
A German U-boat intercepts the steamer and seizes the Ark and Marion; Jones covertly boards the U-boat. The vessel travels to an island in the
Sea, where Belloq intends to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to
Hitler. On the island, Jones ambushes the Nazi group and threatens to destroy the Ark, but surrenders after Belloq deduces that Jones would never destroy something so historically significant, also surmising that Jones wants to know if the Ark's power is real. The Nazis restrain Jones and Marion at the testing site as Belloq ceremonially opens the Ark but finds only sand inside. At Jones' instruction, he and Marion close their eyes to avoid looking at the opened Ark, as it releases spirits, flames, and bolts of energy that kill Belloq, Toht, and the assembled Nazis before sealing itself shut. Jones and Marion open their eyes to find the area cleared of bodies and their bindings removed. Back in Washington, D.C., the United States government rewards Jones for securing the Ark. Despite Jones' insistence, the agents state only that the Ark has been moved to an undisclosed location for "top men" to study. In a large warehouse, the Ark is crated up and stored among countless other crates.
- Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones: An archaeology professor and adventurer
- Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood: A spirited, tough bar owner and Jones' former lover
- Paul Freeman as René Belloq: A rival archaeologist to Jones, in the employ of the Nazis
- Ronald Lacey as Major Arnold Toht: A sadistic Gestapo agent
- John Rhys-Davies as Sallah: An Egyptian excavator and old acquaintance of Jones
- Denholm Elliott as Marcus Brody: A museum curator and Jones' loyal friend
Raiders of the Lost Ark also features Wolf Kahler as Nazi officer Colonel Dietrich, and Anthony Higgins as Major Gobler, 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 tramp steamer, and Fred Sorenson portrays Jones' pilot Jock.
Producer Frank Marshall appears as the Flying Wing pilot. Pat Roach and Vic Tablian each portray two characters in the film: Roach appears as the Nazi who brawls with Jones by the Flying Wing and one of Toht's Nepalese Sherpas; Tablian plays Jones's treacherous Peruvian guide Barranca, 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 shot by Jones.
Lucas wanted a relatively unknown actor, willing to commit to a trilogy of films, to play Indiana Jones. Those considered for the role included Bill Murray, Nick Nolte, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Tim Matheson, Nick Mancuso, Peter Coyote, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Bridges, John Shea, Sam Elliott, and Harry Hamlin. Casting director Mike Fenton favored Bridges but Lucas' wife and frequent collaborator Marcia Lucas preferred Tom Selleck. Selleck was contractually obligated to filming the television series Magnum, P.I. if it were to be made into a full series. Lucas and Spielberg asked the show's studio, CBS, to release him 10 days early from his contract. Realizing Selleck was in demand, CBS greenlit Magnum P.I., forcing him to drop out and leaving the production with no lead actor only weeks before filming. The actors' strike of 1980 later put the show on hiatus for three months, which would have allowed Selleck to star as Jones.
Spielberg said Ford was perfect for the role after seeing him in The Empire Strikes Back; Kanzanjian said Ford had always been considered but not cast because he was already a well-known actor. Lucas was concerned about seeming reliant on Ford by casting him in another film after Star Wars, and he also did not think he would commit to three films. However, Ford thought it would be a fun project and agreed to the deal. He negotiated a seven-figure salary, a percentage of the gross profits, and the option to re-write his dialogue. Ford undertook extensive exercise to enhance his physique and trained for several weeks under stunt coordinator Glenn Randall to use a bullwhip, becoming proficient enough to disarm the Monkey Man (Vic Tablian); his wrist had to be rehabilitated to compensate for an old injury. Ford's interpretation of the character was as an academic first and an adventurer second.
For Jones' love interest Marion, Spielberg wanted someone akin to early 20th-century leading ladies like Irene Dunne, Barbara Stanwyck, and Ann Sheridan, who equaled their male counterparts. Lucas wanted Debra Winger, but she was not interested, and Spielberg wanted his girlfriend Amy Irving, but she was unavailable. They also considered Stephanie Zimbalist, Barbara Hershey and Sean Young. Spielberg was aware of Karen Allen from her performance in Animal House (1978), portraying an independent female character, and she impressed him with her professionalism during auditions for Raiders. 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 relationship with Jones when she was 15–16, but Spielberg said it belonged in a different movie. Kasdan named Marion after his grandmother-in-law, and took Ravenwood from a Los Angeles street.
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. Giancarlo Giannini and singer Jacques Dutronc were also considered. Danny DeVito was approached to portray Sallah, described as a skinny, 5 ft (1.5 m) tall Egyptian like Gunga Din in 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 Shōgun. Spielberg asked him to play the character as a mix of his Shōgun 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 it offered more money.
PRODUCTION, CONCEPT AND DEVELOPMENT
George Lucas conceived Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1973, shortly after finishing 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 early 20th-century serial films he enjoyed as a youth, such as Buck Rogers (1939), Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939), Spy Smasher (1942), and Don Winslow of the Navy (1942). He wanted to make a B movie modeled on those serials and conceived The Adventures of Indiana Smith, featuring 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. He 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 story 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. Kaufman removed Lucas' vision of Smith as a nightclub patron and womanizer, 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 because he was already committed to working on the western The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Lucas paused the idea again and resumed working on Star Wars. In May 1977, Lucas vacationed in Hawaii to avoid any potential negative news about the theatrical debut of Star Wars. He invited
Steven Spielberg to join him and his wife. On a beach near Mauna Kea, Lucas and Spielberg discussed their next projects. Spielberg wanted to direct a James Bond film, but Lucas pitched him The Adventures of Indiana Smith. Lucas still hoped Kaufman would direct it, but a few months later it was clear he could not participate and Lucas asked Spielberg to replace him.
Lawrence Kasdan, Spielberg's recent discovery, was chosen to write the script. Kasdan had been working as a professional screenwriter for only a month but Lucas agreed to hire him after reading his script for Continental Divide (1981). In January 1978, Lucas, Kasdan, and Spielberg spent about nine hours a day over three to five days at Lucas' assistant's house in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, developing Lucas' outline. Several ideas came from these discussions, including the boulder trap, the monkey in Cairo, Toht burning the medallion's imprint into his hand, and government agents locking the Ark away. Kasdan realized 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.
Spielberg hated the name Indiana Smith, believing it would remind audiences of the Steve McQueen character Nevada Smith. All three men agreed to use "Jones" instead. Actors Clint Eastwood and Toshiro Mifune, and the James Bond character were the basis of Jones' own. Lucas wanted Jones to be a kung fu practitioner and a playboy, funding his lifestyle with the spoils of his adventures, but Spielberg and Kasdan felt the character was complicated enough being an adventurer and archaeologist. Spielberg suggested making Jones an avid gambler or an alcoholic, but Lucas wanted Jones to be a role model who is "honest and true and trusting." Both men felt it was important Jones be fallible, vulnerable, and as capable of comedic moments as well as serious ones. They intended he be someone the audience could relate to and idolize. Lucas suggested Marion would have a romantic past with the much older Jones at the age of 11; Spielberg replied, "she had better be older".
While Spielberg directed 1941 (1979), Kasdan used his office to write Raiders, taking inspiration from the early 20th-century serials, and adventure films like Red River (1948), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Magnificent Seven (1960). He wrote Jones as an antihero, an archaeologist reduced to grave-robbing. Kasdan wanted a supporting cast with their own unique characteristics and believed it was important these characters had a memorable impact. He described the hardest part of writing was explaining how Jones would fall into successive dangerous events and survive, and how he traveled between locations. In August 1978, after approximately five months, Kasdan completed his first draft.
Spielberg described the draft as good but too long; Kasdan and Lucas collaborated to trim and refine it. The script was a globe-spanning tale set in the United States, Egypt, Greece, and Nepal. Several elements were cut, including a journey to Shanghai that would lead to a minecart chase and Jones using a gong to shield himself from gunfire, ideas later used in the prequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). To his frustration, much of Kasdan's love story between Jones and Marion was trimmed, as were scenes showing the mutual attraction between Marion and Belloq. The screenplay was completed by December 1979.
Lucas wanted to fund Raiders of the Ark himself, but lacked the money. Lucasfilm offered the project to several Hollywood studios. They rejected it, in part because of the proposed $20 million budget, but also because of the deal Lucas offered. He wanted the studio to provide the budget, have no creative input and allow him to retain control of the licensing rights and any sequels. The studios considered this deal unacceptable. They were also hesitant because of Spielberg's involvement because he had delivered a succession of films over-schedule and over-budget; his recent effort, 1941, was both over-budget and a critical failure. Lucas refused to do the project without Spielberg.
Paramount Pictures president Michael Eisner compromised with Lucas, agreeing to his deal in exchange for exclusive rights to any sequels and severe penalties for exceeding the schedule or budget. Lucas reportedly negotiated a salary between $1 million and $4 million plus a share of the gross profits, though a separate report stated he received only net profits. Spielberg received up to $1.5 million as director and a share of the gross profits.
Producer Frank Marshall, who had experience on smaller independent films, was hired because Spielberg believed he would keep the film on schedule and budget. Spielberg also hired cinematographer Douglas Slocombe and production designer Norman Reynolds because he liked their previous works and his long-time collaborator Michael Kahn as editor. Lucas served as a second unit director and the film's executive producer, along with his acquaintance Howard Kazanjian, whom Lucas believed would be a disciplined influence and not indulge the filmmakers' larger ambitions. He also 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.
Six months of pre-production began in December 1979. 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 simultaneously working on other projects. Artists Ed Verreaux, Dave Negron, Michael Lloyd, and Joe Johnston provided extensive storyboarding, with over 80% of the script represented, equaling approximately 6,000 images. This helped Spielberg pre-visualize scenes and limit the time taken to set up shots. The script described the opening of the ark only as "all hell breaks loose", and the artists were 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 to plan layouts and lighting, including 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 abandoned his idea for Toht to have a mechanical arm that could be replaced with a machine gun or flamethrower. Lucas said it put the film into a different genre.
Principal photography began on June 23, 1980. Filming took place on location in La Rochelle in France, Tunisia in North Africa, and Hawaii, and on sets at Elstree Studios, England. Elstree was chosen because it was well-staffed with artists and technicians who had worked on Star Wars. On-location shooting cost around $100,000 a day in addition to crew salaries; sets cost an additional $4 million. The production could afford certain equipment only for a limited time, including a Panaglide camera stabilizer for smoother shots, and a camera crane for higher angles. To maintain the tight schedule, Spielberg said he "...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."
Filming began in La Rochelle, depicting the capture of the Bantu Wind by a Nazi U-boat. Watts borrowed a submarine from the war film Das Boot (1981) on condition it not be taken into deep waters. 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.
The production moved to Elstree Studios by June 30. Interiors included the scene featuring an imam deciphering the staff headpiece and the Peruvian temple. 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 interior of Jones' school was filmed at The Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth, near Hertfordshire; the exterior was the University of the Pacific in California.
Tunisia was used to portray Egypt. Spielberg described this phase as one of his worst filming experiences: the temperature was often over 130 °F (54 °C), and over 150 crew members became sick with amoebic dysentery from the local food. Spielberg was one of the few to remain healthy because he ate food and water he brought from England. Lucas also 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. Budget constraints affected Spielberg's desire to have 2,000 extras as diggers; he had to settle for 600. 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 while suffering from dysentery, and it was decided to shorten the fight scene significantly. The Sidi Bouhlel canyon near the city of Tozeur is 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 onto Freeman's lip during his dialogue, but he continued to deliver his lines. Although it appeared to be eaten, Freeman clarified it flew away.
In late September, 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 Kauaʻi. Though the scene appears to be a single location, it was shot across 10 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 considered a perfect location, though a nearby pool was a mosquito breeding ground; even with anti-mosquito equipment the crew was bitten. The donkeys used for the trek suffered lameness. It was difficult to find replacements, and eventually, a pair of grey donkeys were painted brown with colored hairspray and flown by helicopter to the Nā Pali Coast State Park to finish the scene.
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 believed the latter scene focused on her character seducing Belloq, undermining her loyalty and love for Jones. She and Freeman collaborated to develop the idea of Marion getting Belloq drunk instead. Allen, Lacey, Freeman, and Rhys-Davies often spent time together between filming to talk and discuss their characters. Allen described Ford as a private person who would not discuss his character in detail, and it took her a while to adapt to his working style. Filming concluded in September 1980, after 73 days. Lucas described it as the film he had the least problems with because of the lack of studio interference.
Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) 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). He felt special effects were a financially economical method of delivering a good film; as long as they were emotionally involved in the story, he said 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 he had no idea what was happening when he opened the Ark. He was told to imagine something coming towards him and to scream. Special effects artist Steve Gawley created the Ark's spirits by suspending 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; it was lined with bladders filled with air. Controlled by up to ten people, the air was removed to make the head shrivel. Special effects artist Chris Walas sculpted Lacey's melting face using different colored layers of gelatin placed over a carved, heat-resistant stone skull. Propane heaters were used to melt the gelatin and filmed using a slower-than-normal camera so 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 the Motion Picture Association of America initially classified the film with an R rating restricting it to those over the age of 17 without 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. To get the monkey to perform a Nazi 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 to reach up; it took 50 takes to capture. 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.
RELEASE & BOX OFFICE
By the summer of 1981 (June–September), the film industry had been in decline for over a year. This was the result of few box office successes, rising film production costs, diminishing audiences, and increasing ticket prices. The season was predicted to be down 10% or $250 million against the previous year. Over 60 films were scheduled for
release - more than the previous year - by studios eager to make the next blockbuster film. This increased competition to attract audiences, mainly those aged 12 to 24, at the most profitable time of the year.
The superhero film Superman II was expected to dominate the season, and based on industry experts and audience polling, films including History of the World, Part I, the latest James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only and The Great Muppet Caper, were also expected to perform well. Conversely, audience polling by CinemaScore showed little awareness or anticipation for Raiders until nationwide previews a week before its release. The New York Times reported Paramount had provided theater owners with a more beneficial deal than usual to ensure Raiders was screened in the best theaters and locations.
Featuring two camels, an elephant, and a python, the press event for the film cost $10,000. Film prints were supplied to theaters in lead-sealed containers to prevent tampering alongside a letter to theater managers stating they were responsible for any misuse of the film. This letter inspired a whistleblower at one theater to alert Paramount of the planned theft of a Raiders print to make pirated copies. The 1,200 film prints cost an estimated $1.7 million. The theatrical release poster was created by Richard Amsel.
In the United States (U.S.) and Canada, Raiders of the Lost Ark was released on June 12, 1981, in 1,078 theaters. The film earned $8.3 million—an average of $7,705 per theater, and finished as the number one film of the weekend, ahead of the debuts of Clash of the Titans ($6.6 million) and History of the World, Part I ($4.9 million). The film fell to the number three position in its second weekend with an additional gross of $8
million - a decline of only four percent - behind the debuts of The Cannonball Run ($11.8 million) and Superman II ($14.1 million). By its fourth week, Raiders began climbing box office charts, reaching the number two position with a gross of $7.3 million, behind Superman II ($10.9 million). In its sixth week, it regained the number one position with $6.4 million. 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 was declared the top box office film of the summer by early September, with a total approximate gross of $125 million. 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 $23 million in profit.
The film remained a steady success; six months after its release, industry executives joked Raiders would be the year's big Christmas film. The film officially left theaters on March 18, 1982, although some were still playing it by July. Raiders earned an approximate total box office gross of $212.2 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 1981, ahead of On Golden Pond ($119.3 million), Superman II ($108.1 million), and Stripes ($85.3 million). An estimate by Box Office Mojo suggests over 77 million tickets were bought to see the film. Raiders remains the "leggiest" film ever released, referring to the difference between the highest-weekend gross and the time taken to achieve the overall total gross.
Outside the U.S. and Canada, Raiders earned a further $141.7 million, making it the highest-grossing film ahead of For Your Eyes Only ($140.5 million) and Superman II ($82.2 million). In total, the film earned a worldwide gross of $354 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 1981 worldwide, again ahead of For Your Eyes Only ($195.3 million) and Superman II ($190.4 million).
Raiders has been re-released several times, first in July 1982, when it earned an additional $21.4 million and again in March 1983, when the film earned an additional $11.4 million. A remastered IMAX version, supervised by Spielberg, was released in 267 U.S. and Canadian theaters. The success of the release led to the run being extended to 300 additional theaters. These releases have raised the film's worldwide theatrical gross to an estimated $389.9 million.
The record $1.95 billion summer box-office of 1981 represented a 15.6% increase over 1980, with a 22.5% increase in ticket sales. This success was attributed mainly to Raiders and Superman II. The most successful film genres of the year offered fun, comedy, and escapism. Superman II broke box office records, but it was Raiders that earned the most money and played in theaters for over a year. The New York Times reported that audiences considered other films only if both Superman II and Raiders were sold out. It became one of the top-four highest-grossing films ever, a list dominated by Lucas and Spielberg with The Empire Strikes Back, Jaws, and Star Wars.
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 the film was 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 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 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 Lucas and Spielberg had thought like marketeers, in creating a film that would appeal to the broadest masses. Kael said though Raiders was a sophisticated update of older serials, avoiding cliches with clever editing, it was too focused on surpassing each previous action spectacle to the detriment of characterization or plot progression. She opined the failure of 1941 had made Spielberg too cautious, and scenes evidenced 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 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 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 said Ford's performance was "riveting", marking a major career highlight. Canby described Ford and Allen as both "endearingly resilient". Ebert said Allen gives Marion a charming toughness. Knight appreciated Marion did not become idiotic when the male star was in danger. His review concluded the character was the definition of an activist. Sragow said 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 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). Aljean Harmetz, Klain, and Siskel asserted 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 prequel, 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 Art Direction (Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, and Michael D. Ford); Best Film Editing (Michael Kahn); 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; Best Director; Best Cinematography; and Best Original Score. 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 received one nomination for Best Director. At the 9th Saturn Awards, Raiders 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.
The 35th British Academy Film Awards earned the film one award for Best Production Design (Reynolds), and a further six nominations: Best Film; Best Supporting Actor for Elliott; Best Original Music; Best Cinematography; Best Editing; and Best Sound for Charman, Burtt, and Bill Varney. The film also received a Grammy Award for Williams' 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.
Raiders of the Lost Ark has had a lasting impact on popular culture. It is considered a touchstone of modern cinema, creating a film framework still emulated by other films. Spielberg has said he considers it the most perfect film of the series because he never wanted to modify it or change anything about it.
Ford's performance led to his casting in the 1982 science fiction cult classic film Blade Runner. Kasdan became one of the most in-demand writers in Hollywood, and helped write Lucas' Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Despite opening new opportunities for Allen, she expressed disappointment with the film because her character was motivated more by her relationship with Jones and financial gain than with her father and his obsession with the Ark. She unsuccessfully lobbied for rewrites to address this and explore her character further. Even so, Allen affirmed that many women and girls had appreciated and been inspired by her character. 40 years after the film's release, Allen affirmed she still received positive feedback from young women. Shortly after the film's release, Stanley Rader and Robert Kuhn filed a lawsuit against the filmmakers for $210 million alleging the film was based on Ark, a screenplay and unpublished novel by Kuhn. The outcome of this lawsuit is unknown.
The film led to an increase in students studying archaeology, and many modern archaeologists have cited the film as an inspiration. Rhys-Davies said he had met over 150 lecturers, professors, and archaeologists who told him their interest in the field began with the film. 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.
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 "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". Lucas' frequent collaborator Gary Kurtz said that Raiders of the Lost Ark marked the turning point where Lucas became convinced that audiences cared more about "the roller-coaster ride" than the story.
VHS, DVD 7 BLU-RAY
In the early 1980s, the Videocassette recorder (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 U.S. and Canadian cassette rights could generate $500,000 alone. In November 1983, Paramount released a record 500,000 home video copies of Raiders, priced at $39.95. Paramount priced their home videos significantly lower than their competition, reasoning 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. In 1991, McDonald's launched possibly "the largest video sales promotion...to date" during which videocassettes of the first three Indiana Jones movies were sold at their restaurants for $5.99 each. Almost 10 million cassettes of the Indiana Jones series had been sold by this point. This promotion was expected to sell at least 5 million more. By 2000, the film was marketed as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark for consistency with other titles in the franchise.
In 2003, the film was released on DVD as a bundle with its then-two sequels. Like the VHS, it was a success, 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. For its 40th anniversary in 2021, the film was released in a remastered 4K resolution Ultra HD Blu-ray based on the original film negative, as part of a boxset including the series' other films.
SEQUELS & SPINS OFFS
The success of Raiders of the Lost Ark has spawned three sequel films thus far. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was in development by 1982, while the original was still in theaters. A narrative prequel to Raiders, Temple of Doom follows Jones' quest to recover sacred stones and liberate the slaves of a Thuggee cult leader. The film became one of the highest-grossing films of 1984 and broke box office records, but fared less well with critics who accused it of racism, sexism, and containing content inappropriate for child audiences.
A narrative sequel to Raiders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, was released in 1989. It serves as the final film of the original trilogy and follows Jones and his father, portrayed by Sean Connery, on a quest to recover the Holy Grail. Like its predecessor, The 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 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 (1992–1993), featuring Ford and other actors as Jones at different ages.
A fourth film was released in 2008, titled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It features the return of Allen as Marion Ravenwood and introduces Shia LaBeouf as her and Jones' son. 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. As with Temple of Doom, Lucas and Spielberg have defended the film and apologized for its reception. A fifth film is scheduled for release in July 2023.
Novels, comic books, and video games have also been released detailing the further adventures of Indiana Jones and his supporting cast from the films. Often set before and after the events of the films, these globe-spanning tales depict Jones' first marriage, and his adventures to discover the Spear of Destiny, Merlin, an Infernal Machine in the Tower of Babel, the Covenant of Buddha, the staff of Moses, the Philosopher's Stone, dinosaurs, a Unicorn horn, the Oracle of Delphi, the secrets of the Sphinx, Noah's Ark, and the fate of Atlantis. Jones is sometimes aided by Sallah in his conflicts against Belloq and Lao Che (from Temple of Doom), among others.