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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.