movie goer

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark (also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) is a 1981 adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by George Lucas and starring Harrison Ford. It is the first film in the Indiana Jones franchise, and pits Indiana Jones (played by Ford) against the Nazis, who search for the Ark of the Covenant, to make their army invincible. Indiana and the Nazis search for a medallion, owned by Indy's former girlfriend Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), which will pinpoint the Well of Souls in Egypt, the Ark's resting place. The film also co-starred Paul Freeman as Indiana's nemesis, French archaeologist Rene Belloq; John Rhys-Davies as Indiana's sidekick, Sallah; and Denholm Elliott as Indiana's colleague, Marcus Brody.

The film originated in Lucas' desire to create a modern version of the serials of the 1930s and 1940s. Production was based at Elstree Studios, England, and filming also took place in La Rochelle, Tunisia, Hawaii, and California from June to September 1980.

Released on June 12, 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark became the top grossing film of 1981; it remains one of the highest-grossing movies ever made. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1982 and won five (Art Direction, Film Editing, Sound, Visual Effects and Sound Effects Editing). The film's critical and popular success led to three additional films, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as well as a television series: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.


In 1936, in the Peruvian jungle, archaeologist/treasure hunter Indiana Jones braves several booby traps to retrieve the Golden Idol from an ancient temple. After escaping many booby traps, including a giant boulder, he finds rival archaeologist René Belloq waiting outside with a group of Hovitos, the local indigenous people. Surrounded and outnumbered, Jones is forced to give up the artifact to Belloq. Jones escapes from Belloq and the Hovitos after a jungle pursuit, and flies away on a waiting seaplane.

At the American college where he teaches archaeology, Jones meets with two Army intelligence agents who reveal that the Nazis, in their quest for occult power, are searching for Abner Ravenwood, Jones’ former mentor. Ravenwood is the foremost expert on the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis, rediscovered by the Nazis and believed to be where the Pharaoh Shishaq brought the Ark of the Covenant, a chest the Israelites built to contain the fragments of the Ten Commandments. Jones deduces that the Nazis seek Ravenwood because he possesses the headpiece to the Staff of Ra, an artifact essential to pinpoint the Ark’s current location. According to legend, the headpiece would reveal the exact location of the Well of Souls, the chamber containing the Ark, by focusing daylight onto the city mock-up at a certain time of day. Jones' colleague, Marcus Brody, further explains the legendary power of the Ark to render invincible any army it precedes.

Jones flies to Nepal, only to find that Ravenwood has died, and the headpiece is in the possession of Ravenwood's daughter, Marion, who is Indy's embittered former lover. The tavern owned by Marion is stormed by Nazis, led by sadistic Nazi agent Toht. A firefight immediately breaks out, burning the tavern to the ground, and searing the face of the medallion onto Toht's hand. Jones and Marion narrowly escape with the headpiece. The two travel to Cairo to meet Sallah, a skilled Egyptian digger who knows where the Nazis, now being assisted by Belloq and a replica of the headpiece, are digging for the Ark. In a Cairo bazaar, Nazi operatives kidnap Marion and fake her death in front of Jones. That evening, Sallah and Jones decipher the carvings on Ravenwood's double-sided headpiece to determine the proper length for the staff. They realize that the Nazi's reliance upon the single-sided and thus incomplete rendering preserved on Toht's scarred hand has led to an excessive length for the Nazi staff; the Germans are digging in the wrong location.

Infiltrating the dig, Indy sneaks into the map room, which contains a scale model of the city of Tanis. Although Sallah is nearly exposed and captured in the attempt, Indy successfully acquires the location with the staff and medallion. Jones also discovers Marion is alive but does not release her from her captors as they would realize he is there. Jones and Sallah gather a small crew and begin to dig at the correct location. After several hours, they break through the roof of the buried Well of Souls. Jones is lowered to the floor of the temple and finds it infested with multitudes of poisonous Egyptian asps, of which he is deathly afraid. After he and Sallah hoist the Ark out of the temple, Belloq and the Nazis appear and take possession of the Ark. Marion is tossed into the Well with Jones, and they are sealed in. The trio manage to escape, emerging above ground in time to find a Luftwaffe flying wing being prepared to transport the Ark to Berlin. After a fight, the plane is destroyed. The Ark is put on a truck to Cairo, where it will be shipped to Berlin. Stealing a horse, Jones pursues the convoy escorting the truck, seizes control of the vehicle and, after an extended pursuit, escapes with the Ark. That evening, Jones and Marion leave Sallah to escort the Ark to England on board the tramp steamer Bantu Wind.

The next morning, a Nazi U-boat commanded by Belloq and Nazi officer Dietrich stops the ship. Marion and the Ark are removed, while Jones covertly boards the U-boat. He follows Belloq and the Ark to an isolated island, where they plan to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to Adolf Hitler. Threatening to destroy the Ark with a Panzerschreck, Jones demands that the Nazis free Marion. Belloq calls his bluff, claiming that Indy, as an archaeologist, wants to see it opened as badly as Belloq; Jones is forced to surrender. Marion and Indy are tied up while Belloq performs a ceremonial opening of the Ark. Spirits emerge from within; Indy, aware of the supernatural danger of looking at the opened Ark, warns Marion to close her eyes. The Nazis, Belloq, Toht, and Dietrich, who do not look away, are all killed by the Ark's supernatural powers. The Ark closes itself once more, accompanied by a crack of thunder. Back in Washington, D.C., the two Army intelligence men tell a suspicious Jones that "top men" are carefully studying the Ark. In reality, the Ark is sealed in a wooden crate and stored in a giant government warehouse filled with countless similar crates.



In 1973, George Lucas wrote The Adventures of Indiana Smith. Like Star Wars, it was an opportunity to create a modern version of the serials of the 1930s and 1940s. Lucas discussed the concept with Philip Kaufman, who worked with him for several weeks and came up with the Ark of the Covenant as the plot device. Kaufman was told about the Ark by his dentist when he was a child. The project stalled when Clint Eastwood hired Kaufman to direct The Outlaw Josey Wales. In late May 1977, Lucas was in Maui, trying to escape the enormous success of Star Wars. Friend and colleague Steven Spielberg was also there, on vacation from work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While building a sand castle at Mauna Kea, Spielberg expressed an interest in directing a James Bond film. Lucas convinced his friend Spielberg that he had conceived a character "better than James Bond" and explained the concept of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg loved it, calling it "a James Bond film without the hardware", although Spielberg told Lucas that the surname Smith was not right for the character, Lucas replied "OK. What about Jones?". Indiana was the name of Lucas' Alaskan Malamute.

The following year, Lucas focused on developing Raiders and the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, during which Lawrence Kasdan and Frank Marshall joined the project as screenwriter and producer respectively. Between January 23-January 27, 1978 for nine hours a day, Lucas, Kasdan and Spielberg discussed the story and visual ideas. Spielberg came up with Jones being chased by a boulder, and Lucas came up with a submarine, a monkey giving the Nazi salute, and Marion punching Jones in Nepal. Kasdan used a 100 page transcript of their conversations for his first script draft, which he worked on for six months. Ultimately some of their ideas were too grand and had to be cut: a mine chase, an escape in Shanghai using a rolling gong as a shield, and a jump from an airplane in a raft, all of which made it into the prequel.

Spielberg and Lucas disagreed on the character: although Lucas saw him as a Bondian playboy, Spielberg and Kasdan felt the professor and adventurer elements of the character made him complex enough. Spielberg had darker visions of Jones, interpreting him as an alcoholic similar to Humphrey Bogart's character Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This characterization fell away during the later drafts. Spielberg also initially conceived of Toht as having a robotic arm, which Lucas rejected as falling into science-fiction. Comic book artist Jim Steranko was also commissioned to produce original illustrations for pre-production, which heavily influenced Spielberg's decisions in both the look of the film and the character of Indiana Jones himself.

As The Empire Strikes Back began post-production in September 1979, Lucas made a deal with Paramount Pictures to produce five Indiana Jones films. By April 1980, Kasdan's fifth draft was produced, and production was getting ready to shoot at Elstree Studios, with Lucas trying to keep costs down. With four illustrators, Raiders of the Lost Ark was Spielberg's most storyboarded film of his career to date, further helping the film economically, and he and Lucas agreed on a tight schedule to stylistically follow the "quick and dirty" feel of the Saturday matinée serials. "We didn't do 30 or 40 takes — production; usually only four. It was like silent film — shoot only what you need, no waste," Spielberg said. "Had I had more time and money, it would have turned out a pretentious movie." Lucas also directed some of the second unit.


Filming began on June 23, 1980 at La Rochelle, France, for scenes involving the Nazi submarine, which was rented from the production of Das Boot. The U-boat pen was a genuine one that had survived from World War II. The crew moved to Elstree Studios for scenes involving the Well of Souls, the interiors of the temple in the opening sequence and Marion Ravenwood's bar. The Well of Souls required 7,000 snakes, though the only poisonous snakes on set were the cobras. However, one crew member was bitten by a python on set. To shoot the scene where Indiana comes face-to-face with the cobra, a glass sheet was put between Ford and the animal, partially visible in the film when the light hits it at a certain angle. Unlike the character he portrayed, Ford does not actually have a fear of snakes; Spielberg was not afraid either, but seeing all the snakes on the set writhing around made him "want to puke". The opening sequence featured live tarantulas: Alfred Molina had to have many put on him, but they did not move until a female tarantula was introduced. A fibreglass boulder 22 feet in diameter was made for the scene where Indiana escapes the temple; Spielberg was so impressed by production designer Norman Reynolds' realization of his idea that he told Reynolds to increase the length of the boulder run by 50ft.

All of the scenes set in Egypt and the canyon where Indiana threatens to blow up the Ark were filmed in Tunisia; many of the locations were previously used in the Tatooine scenes from Star Wars, since many people in the location crew were the same for both films. Notably, that canyon was the exact same location wherein R2-D2 was attacked by Jawas. Filming there was a harsh experience due to the heat and disease. Several members of the cast and crew fell ill; Rhys-Davies in particular defecated in his costume during one shot. Spielberg was never ill, as he only ate tinned foods from England. Spielberg did not like the area and quickly pushed forward a scheduled six-week shoot to four-and-a-half weeks. Much was improvised there: the scene wherein Marion puts on her dress and attempts to leave Belloq's tent was improvised, as was the entire plane fight. During shooting of that scene, Ford tore his cruciate ligament in his left leg as a wheel went over his knee, but he did not accept medical help and simply put ice over it. The fight scenes in the town were filmed in Kairouan; by then Ford was suffering from dysentery. He had enough, and did not want to shoot a fight scene between Indiana and a swordsman. He said to Spielberg "Why don't we just shoot the sucker?" Spielberg agreed, scrapped the rest of the fight scene, and filmed the gag of Indiana quickly shooting the swordsman. The truck chase was shot entirely by the second-unit who mostly followed Spielberg's storyboards, though they decided to add Indiana being dragged by the truck. Spielberg shot all the close-ups with Ford afterwards.

The interior staircase set in Washington, D.C. was filmed inside of San Francisco's City Hall. The University of the Pacific, located in Stockton, California, stands in for the exterior of the college where Jones works, while his classroom and the hall where he meets the American intelligence men was filmed at the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Hertfordshire, England. His home exteriors were filmed in the city of San Rafael, California. The opening exteriors were filmed in Kauai, Hawaii, with Spielberg wrapping in September, finishing under schedule in 73 days, in contrast to his previous film, 1941. The Washington, D.C. exterior was not included in early edits and, although it appeared in early drafts of the script, was actually added later when it was realised that there was no resolution to Indy's relationship with Marion. Shots of the Douglas DC-3 Indy flies on to Nepal were taken from Lost Horizon, while a street scene was cut from a shot in The Hindenburg.


Special effects were provided by Industrial Light & Magic. These largely featured in the climactic sequence where the Ark of the Covenant is opened and spirits come out to attack the Nazis. The melting of Toht's head was done by exposing a gelatine and plaster model of Ronald Lacey's head to a heat lamp with an under cranked camera, while Dietrich's crushed head was a hollow model from which air was withdrawn. The spirits were shot underwater for a ghostly look.

Ben Burtt, sound effects supervisor, made extensive use of traditional foley work in yet another of the production's throwbacks to days of the Republic serials. He selected a 30-30 Winchester rifle for the sound of Jones' pistol. Sound effects artists struck leather jackets and baseball gloves with a baseball bat to create a variety of punching noises. For the snakes in the Well of Souls sequence, cheese casserole and sponges were used for the slithering noises, while the opening of a toilet seat provided the sound for the opening of the Ark. In addition to his use of such time-honored foley work, Burtt also demonstrated the modern expertise honed during his award-winning work on Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). He employed a synthesizer for the sounds of the Ark, and mixed dolphins' and sea lions' screams for those of the spirits within.


  • Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones, an archaeology professor who often embarks on perilous adventures to obtain rare artifacts. Jones initially claims he has no belief in the supernatural, only to have his skepticism challenged when he discovers the Ark. Spielberg suggested casting Harrison Ford as Jones, but Lucas objected, stating that 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, who often worked with De Niro. Desiring a lesser known actor, Lucas persuaded Spielberg to help him search for a new talent. Among the actors who auditioned were Tim Matheson, Peter Coyote, John Shea and Tom Selleck. Selleck was originally cast in the role, but he was unavailable for the part because of his commitment to the television series Magnum, P.I. In June 1980, three weeks away from filming, Spielberg persuaded Lucas to cast Ford after producers Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy were impressed by his performance as Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.
  • Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, a spirited, tough former lover of Indiana's. She is the daughter of Abner Ravenwood, Indiana Jones' mentor, and owns a bar in Nepal. Allen was cast after auditioning with Matheson and John Shea. Spielberg was interested in her, as he had seen her performance in National Lampoon's Animal House. Sean Young had previously auditioned for the part, while Debra Winger turned it down.
  • Paul Freeman as Dr. René Belloq. Jones' arch nemesis, Belloq is also an archaeologist after the Ark, but he is working for the Nazis. He intends to harness the power of the Ark himself before Hitler could, but he is killed by the supernatural powers of the Ark after opening it when his head explodes.
  • Ronald Lacey as Major Toht. Toht is an interrogator for the Gestapo, who tries to torture Marion Ravenwood for the headpiece of the Staff of Ra. He is killed by the supernatural powers of the Ark when his face melts. Lacey was cast as he reminded Spielberg of Peter Lorre. Klaus Kinski was offered the role, but he hated the script.
  • John Rhys-Davies as Sallah. Sallah is "the best digger in Cairo", and has been hired by the Nazis to help them excavate Tanis. Although he fears disturbing the Ark, he is an old friend of Indiana Jones, and agrees to help him obtain it. Initially, Spielberg approached Danny DeVito to play Sallah, but could not play the part due to scheduling conflicts. Spielberg cast Rhys-Davies after seeing his performance in Shogun.
  • Denholm Elliott as Dr. Marcus Brody. Marcus is a museum curator, and buys whatever artifacts Indiana obtains for display in his museum. The US government agents approach him in regards to recovering the Ark, and he sets up a meeting between them and Indiana Jones. Spielberg hired Elliott as he was a big fan of the actor.
  • Wolf Kahler as Colonel Dietrich. Dietrich is a ruthless Nazi officer leading the operation to secure the Ark. He is killed by the supernatural powers of the Ark when his head implodes.
  • Alfred Molina, in his film debut, as Satipo. Satipo is one of Jones' guides through the South American jungle. He betrays Jones and steals the golden idol, but is killed by one of the traps in the temple.

Vic Tablian plays Barranca and the Monkey man. Producer Frank Marshall played a pilot in the airplane fight sequence. The stunt team was ill, so he took the role instead. The result was three days in a hot cockpit, which he joked was over "140 degrees". Pat Roach plays the large mechanic with whom Jones brawls in this sequence, as well as Toht's henchman in Marion's bar. He had the rare opportunity to be killed twice in one movie. Special-effects supervisor Dennis Muren made a cameo on the plane Indiana Jones takes to Nepal.


John Williams composed the score for Raiders of the Lost Ark, which most notably features the well-known "Raiders' March." This piece came to symbolize Indiana Jones and was later used in Williams' scores for the other three films. Williams originally wrote two different candidates for Indy's theme, but Spielberg enjoyed them so much that he insisted that both be used together in what became the Raiders' March. The alternately eerie and apocalyptic theme for the Ark of the Covenant is also heard frequently in the score, with a more romantic melody representing Marion and, more broadly, her relationship with Indy. The score as a whole received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, but lost to Vangelis's iconic synth-based score for Chariots of Fire.



The $20 million (USD) film grossed $384 million worldwide in its initial theatrical release. It remains one of the top twenty highest-grossing films ever made (when adjusted for inflation). The film was subsequently nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1982 and won four (Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration). It also received an additional Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing. It won numerous other awards, including a Grammy and Best Picture at the People's Choice Awards. Spielberg was also nominated for a Golden Globe.

The film received positive reviews from most critics. In his review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby praised the film, calling it, "one of the most deliriously funny, ingenious and stylish American adventure movies ever made. Roger Ebert in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "Two things, however, make Raiders of the Lost Ark more than just a technological triumph: its sense of humor and the droll style of its characters [...] We find ourselves laughing in surprise, in relief, in incredulity at the movie's ability to pile one incident upon another in an inexhaustible series of inventions. He later added it to his list of "Great Movies". Rolling Stone said the film was "the ultimate Saturday action matinee–a film so funny and exciting it can be enjoyed any day of the week. Bruce Williamson of Playboy claimed: "There's more excitement in the first ten minutes of Raiders than any movie I have seen all year. By the time the explosive misadventures end, any movie-goer worth his salt ought to be exhausted." Stephen Klain of Variety also praised the film. Yet, making an observation that would revisit the franchise with its next film, he felt that the film was surprisingly violent and bloody for a PG-rated film. New Hollywood champion Pauline Kael, who once contended that she only got "really rough" on large films that were destined to be hits but were nonetheless "atrocious," found the film to be a "machine-tooled adventure" from a pair of creators who "think just like the marketing division." (Lucas later named a villain, played by Raiders' Nazi strongman Pat Roach, in his 1988 fantasy film Willow after Kael.) Today, the film is considered to be a classic of the action and adventure genres by many contemporary critics and carries a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


Following the success of Raiders, a prequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and two sequels, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, were produced. A television series, entitled The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, was also spun off from this film, and details the early years of the character. Numerous other books, comics, and video games have also been produced.

In 1998, the American Film Institute placed the film at number 60 on its top 100 films of the first century of cinema. In 2007, AFI updated the list and placed it at number 66. They also named it as the 10th most thrilling movie, and name Indiana Jones as the second most thrilling hero. In 1999, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Indiana Jones has become an icon, being listed as Entertainment Weekly's third favorite action hero, while noting "some of the greatest action scenes ever filmed are strung together like pearls" in this film.

An amateur, near shot-for-shot remake was made by Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb, then children in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. It took the boys seven years to finish, from 1982-1989. After production of the film, called Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, wrapped in 1989, it was shelved and forgotten until 2003, where it was discovered by Eli Roth and acclaimed by Spielberg himself who congratulated the boys on their hard work and said he looked forward to seeing their names on the big screen. Scott Rudin and Paramount Pictures have purchased the trio's life rights and will be producing a film based on their adventures making their remake.

Assessing the film's legacy in 1997, Bernard Weinraub, film critic for The New York Times, which had initially reviewed the film as "deliriously funny, ingenious, and stylish", maintained that "the decline in the traditional family G-rated film, for 'general' audiences, probably began" with the appearance of Raiders of the Lost Ark. "Whether by accident or design," found Weinraub, "the filmmakers made a comic nonstop action film intended mostly for adults but also for children." Eight years later, in 2005, poll respondents of the BBC's Channel 4 rated the film as the twentieth best family film of all time, with Spielberg taking best over-all director honors.


The only video game based exclusively on this movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark, released in 1982 by Atari for their Atari 2600 console. The first third of the video game Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures, released in 1994 by JVC for Nintendo's Super Nintendo Entertainment System, is based entirely on the film. Several sequences from the film are reproduced (the boulder run and the showdown with the Cairo Swordsman among them); however, several inconsistencies with the film are present in the game, such as Nazi soldiers and bats being present in the Well of Souls sequence, for example. The game was developed by LucasArts and Factor 5. In Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine a bonus level brings Indy back to 'Peru, South America' from this movie. He can explore the cave and he discovers another hidden idol. LucasArts released Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures on June 3, 2008 in North America and June 6, 2008 in Europe to coincide with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Lego also released several building sets based on the film in early 2008.

In 1981, Kenner released a 12-inch doll of Indiana Jones, and the following year they released nine action figures of the characters in the film, three playsets as well as toys of the Nazi truck and Indy's horse. They also released a board game. In 1984, miniature metal versions of the characters were released for a role playing game, and in 1995 Micro Machines released die-cast toys of the vehicles in the film. Hasbro released action figures based on the film, ranging from 3 to 12-inches, to coincide with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on May 1, 2008.

A novelization by Ryder Windham was released in April 2008 by Scholastic to tie in with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Home video

The film was released on VHS in pan and scan only and on laserdisc in both pan and scan and widescreen. For its 1999 VHS re-issue, the film was remastered in THX and made available in widescreen. The outer package was retitled Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark to correlate with the film's prequel and sequel. The subsequent DVD release in 2003 features this title as well. The title in the film itself remains unchanged, even in the restored DVD print. In the DVD, the glass partition separating Indy from the cobra in the Well of Souls was digitally removed. The film (along with Temple of Doom and Last Crusade) was re-released on DVD with additional extra features not included on the previous set on May 13, 2008.



Further reading

External links

Search another word or see movie goeron Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature