Indiana Jones is a franchise of moments. Some die-hard fans may recall the precise steps the hero took to locate and procure the Ark of the Covenant (i.e. the plot), but damn near everyone remembers "Snakes... Why did it have to be snakes?" The series is defined and embodied by individual flourishes, images and icons that stubbornly refuse to leave fans' minds, and sometimes even get stuck in pop culture as a whole. As for which ones, well -- that may be different for different people. This is a list of moments that represent Indiana Jones for me: the moments that always evoke a knowing smile or elevate the pulse; the moments I look forward to every time I watch. Some are obvious, some are not, and some of the obvious ones are missing -- but hey, make your own list.
1. Raiders: "Start the engine!"
Oh sure, most people would probably list Indy and Satipo navigating the booby traps of ancient temple to retrieve the golden idol in Raiders' deservingly legendary opening sequence. And yes, that's cool. But what I love even more is a moment that comes a few minutes later: with Rene Belloq and the Hovitos on his tail, Indy comes barreling across a plain, hollering at his companion to "START THE ENGINE" of a waiting seaplane. It's intense, absurd, exciting, funny: everything everyone loves about the series, in the span of a few seconds. 2. Raiders: Indy Shoots the Sword-Wielding Henchman
Indy often resorts to elaborate stunts, but he prefers not to screw around. In the middle of the big Cairo melee, a Nazi operative confronts Indy with a bunch of elaborate and supposedly-intimidating swordplay. Indy rolls his eyes, takes out his gun, and shoots the guy; without giving him a second look, he turns around, having already moved on to his next task. Hey, no one ever said Indiana Jones had to play fair; he's obsessed with history, not personal honor. Yet another reason he's such a singular action hero.
3. Raiders: "Ha ha ha ha... son of a bitch."
"What a fitting end to your life's pursuits," Belloq sneers at Indy just before locking him and Marion in the Well of Souls with those pesky snakes. "You're about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something." Indy's response -- a sarcastic laugh transitioning seamlessly into a muttered curse -- is priceless. Levity and a personal insult in the face of near-certain death: what better way to epitomize Indiana Jones?
4. Temple of Doom: The Dinner Scene
I already raved about this scene in my retro review of Temple of Doom, and I don't have too much to add. It's a perfect encapsulation of the films' ability to weave in humor -- often broad humor -- without betraying their tone or degenerating into camp.
5. Last Crusade: "That belongs in a museum!"
I relish the occasional moment when the movies acknowledge that its amazing action hero is in fact a college professor. I love the rare glimpse of Dr. Jones teaching one of his classes and, at one point in Last Crusade, even holding office hours. So too with this timeless line, delivered once by River Phoenix and once by Harrison Ford, about the legendary Cross of Coronado. It reminds us that Indy isn't fighting for justice or defending the weak -- he's protecting the integrity of artifacts. And that's awesome.
6. Last Crusade: "Poor Marcus"
This is a variation on the old Hollywood saw of having a character deliver an impassioned speech about how he will never, ever do X, or how X will never, ever happen, followed immediately by a cut to the character doing X or of X in fact occurring. When Elsa and Walter Donovan realize that good old Marcus Brody is in possession of the Henry Jones diary pages they desperately need to find the Holy Grail, Indy witheringly sings Marcus's praises: "He's got a two day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody's got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan; he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom; he'll blend in, disappear, you'll never see him again. With any luck, he's got the Grail already." Cut to: Brody ambling down a Middle East street in a ridiculous white suit and hat, asking whether anyone speaks English. Hilarious, and a wonderful indirect illustration of Brody and Jones' adorable relationship.
7. Crystal Skull: Motorcycle Fight Scene
Here I'd rather not give too much away, but there's a point in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when Indy hightails it out of danger on the back of Shia LaBoeuf's motorcycle, pursued by baddies in cars. Eventually, he climbs into a chasing sedan full of henchmen, throws a few punches, scrambles out the other side and gets back on the motorcycle that Mutt has thoughtfully pulled around. No sweat. Most of the theater applauded in appreciation. It's a moment similar to #1 on this list, and it's reassuring that the franchise can still produce this sort of gleeful action flourish.