The hat. The whip. The ability to take a punch. It was 40 years ago this week that audiences fell in love with Indiana Jones’ best attributes in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Released June 12, 1981, this brainchild of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas (with plenty of Lawrence Kasdan, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Harrison Ford, John Williams, and others wrapped in) cast a spell on audiences to the tune of over $US200 ($257) million, three sequels (and counting), and countless unforgettable cultural landmarks. For the 40th anniversary, we decided to look back at Raiders and pick out 21 moments that helped us fall in love with Indiana Jones — both the man and the franchise.
Retrieving the idol
While the build-up to this moment is excellent, the way the music comes together with Harrison Ford’s mannerisms as he attempts to trick the trap is perfect. It tells us almost everything we need to know.
A daring escape
Obviously, the huge boulder is the most memorable moment of this scene, but Indy also gets betrayed, jumps over a gorge, slides under a rapidly closing wall… it’s just a barrage of classic Indy.
He always loses
Once Indy escapes, you’d think he was home free. Not the case. Belloq steals the idol from him, instantly making Indy an underdog we cheer for.
Indy’s wild run to the plane is super fun, especially when he swings on a vine into the river, but the real moment comes when he encounters a snake in the plane. This guy is a hero, but he’s flawed and human too.
That Indy doesn’t always dress in his trademark explorers’ outfit is one good reveal. But seeing how passionate and excited he gets about teaching — explaining the stories of these myths and archeology — is even better. He lays out the entire movie for these guys with such delight and energy, it’s awesome to see.
The drinking game
Indiana Jones isn’t just about Indy. It’s about the characters around him and Marion’s (Karen Allen) first scene, in which we see her going shot for shot with a very large man, is one of the greatest character introductions ever.
Travelling by plane
These iconic scenes not only keep the movie’s pace extremely propulsive, but they also make Indy feel so much more worldly.
We all know the behind-the-scenes story of how a would-be epic fight was changed into Indy off-handedly shooting the villain (Ford was sick that day and couldn’t film the full thing) — but as a result, it’s a legendary character moment that’s also funny. It’s everything Indiana Jones can be.
When Indy thinks Marion has perished in a truck explosion, he mourns her. He sits, he drinks, and when Belloq comes at him, he’s ready to die because she’s gone. Another scene that speaks to his humanity.
The Map Room
The setting. The music. The anticipation. Ford’s performance. This is the scene where a great movie turns into an all-timer.
“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”
In the Well of Souls, Indy famously encounters a room full of his least favourite animal: snakes. It pays off the aeroplane set-up from earlier, humanizes him again, and makes you think maybe this time Indy won’t get out of the jam. All in addition to being creepy as hell.
The clothes hanger
Raiders of the Lost Ark has plenty of humour in it but no moment as perfect and hilarious as this one, where a would-be torture device is revealed to simply be a hanger. It’s a reminder that this movie is meant to be fun.
The Ark revealed
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: Indy has done it. He’s found the Ark. And the way Spielberg chooses to film it, bathed in shining gold light combined with the Williams score, is perfect.
The aeroplane fight
It’s easy to remember this scene just for Indy fighting another huge mountain of a man, but there’s so much else going on. Marion with the aeroplane gun. Gasoline everywhere. Explosions. Indy fighting dirty and that propellor death. It’s the best action scene in the whole movie.
The plane scene goes immediately into a car chase, the highlight of which is a classic Indy move. He gets thrown out of the truck, hangs onto the front, and goes under, over, and back into the driver’s seat. A physical manifestation of the character if ever we’ve seen one.
A rare respite from all the action ends up being a scene that, again, helps Raiders of the Lost Ark be so memorable. We remember the romantic kissing of the places that don’t hurt, but there’s also Marion smashing the mirror into Indy’s face. Humour and heart, perfectly in balance.
Onto the submarine
By the moment in Raiders when Indy escapes his cargo boat to go on a German submarine, it’s like there’s nothing he can’t do or get up from. So when he appears on the sub and the crew of the boat cheers, they’re the audience. We’re cheering too.
Indy loves to knock out a guy and steal his outfit, but in this scene, he steals one that’s too small. It forces him to knock out a second, bigger guy, to steal his outfit, and it’s hilarious, confident, and amazing all at once.
Indy says he’ll blow up the Ark to defeat the Nazis, but Belloq knows better. He knows Indy would never do such a thing and calls his bluff. It’s such a genius turn of events because it shows us that no matter how many people he kills, Indy is that history geek at heart.
Action movies tend to end with the hero defeating the bad guy and getting the girl. But not Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones has lost. He’s defeated and captured, Marion along with him. But his knowledge and character tell him he doesn’t need to win, he just needs to let the Nazis lose… which they do when they’re killed by the spirits of the Ark.
As we’ve seen throughout the movie, Indy has his heart in the right place. It’s just that, sometimes, he just doesn’t get what he wants. He’s human. And the audience also gets that defeated — but still OK with it — feeling when the U.S. government takes the Ark and puts it away never to be seen again, kind of (it comes back in Indy 4 briefly). It’s the perfect moment where we understand and love everything about Indiana Jones, the man, and the franchise.