Ah, Indiana Jones. We love you so much. As embodied, with extra roguish charm, by Harrison Ford, the archeologist/adventurer is one of the most iconic characters to ever hit the big screen. With the 30th anniversary of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and continued talks of another big-screen Indy outing from Ford and Steven Spielberg, we thought we’d recap the franchise so far. Toss me the whip!
4. ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ (2008)
Remember when we were all so excited that Indiana Jones was back on the big screen? And then in the opening moments we were assaulted by a computer-generated gopher (and that was arguably the visual effects highpoint of the entire movie)? For some reason George Lucas was obsessed with having Indy discover space aliens in this Cold War-set installment (they later became “inter-dimensional beings”), but nothing really felt like the classic series (keep in mind that the last movie ended with our heroes literally riding off into the sunset). Between Cate Blanchett’s silly Russian villain (what’s the point of giving her psychic powers if she doesn’t use them for anything), the abundance of cut-rate visual effects (the “Tarzan scene” still gives us nightmares) and pretty much everything about Shia LeBeouf’s Mutt Williams, this was a sequel that should have never been. If you want a much-better would-be version, track down Frank Darabont’s unused screenplay. Structurally it’s pretty similar but with bigger stakes, better bad guys and a couple of insane set pieces.
3. ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ (1984)
You would never guess that this movie was made by a couple of grumpy white men going through a pair of highly contentious divorces … oh wait. Both Lucas and Spielberg, under extreme emotional distress, headed into the first Indy sequel and their anger and depression manifests itself pretty obviously on screen. (Fun fact: the sequel was supposed to deal with a haunted house, but Spielberg was coming off of “Poltergeist;” there’s a sequence in “Last Crusade” that references this initial idea. Another concept had Indy discovering a lost world in China but Chinese officials refused them shooting permits.) Technically a prequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” this installment features child slaves, Indian death cults, and some of the most egregiously xenophobic sequences in mainstream cinema (monkey brains anyone?) “Raiders of the Lost Ark” writer Lawrence Kasdan wanted to be distanced from the film, calling it “mean” and “nasty” (although some deleted sequences from his script for the first film made it into this, including the inflatable raft sequence at the beginning). So brutal that it was partially responsible for the birth of the PG-13 rating.
2. ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (1989)
All of the criticisms previously leveled at the film – it’s fan-service-y vibe, how it somewhat replicates the tone and feeling of the first film – were demolished in the wake of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Now it’s rightfully seen as a wonderful action movie that rests, if not right alongside “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” then at least in the same league. The big get for this installment is obviously the addition of Sean Connery as Indy’s dad, who gets embroiled in a quest by the Nazis to find the Holy Grail. (Could they just stop with that?) Spielberg is clearly having a blast, with a number of thrilling and inventive action set pieces and a climax that is a masterclass is sustained tension (pretty much everything after Connery gets shot). Sure, it’s tone sometimes trips uncomfortably into the realm of saccharine sweetness, but when it’s this entertaining, who really cares?
1. ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981)
Not just the best Indiana Jones movie, but one of the best action movies ever and arguably Steven Spielberg’s best movie. Driven by their shared love of old timey B-movie serials and Spielberg’s desire to make a James Bond movie, the two concocted this character, a swashbuckling archeologist who occasionally tracks down occult objects and seduces beautiful women. What more is there to love? Much of the film’s success has to do with the pitch-perfect script by Lucas confederate Lawrence Kasdan and Harrison Ford’s instantly iconic performance as Jones. But you can feel that everyone involved in the film is working at the top of their game, from cinematographer Douglas Slocombe to composer John Williams (that theme!) to editor Michael Kahn. Watching the movie today, it’s surprising just how violent the film is (it’s bloody) and how relentless, too. It moves like few movies do. Sure, just closing your eyes to avoid death from an otherworldly biblical force seems kind of silly, but how else were you going to end that thing in a satisfying way? You still get to see Nazis’ heads explode! How cool is that? If there had only been this movie in the entire Indiana Jones canon, we’d still be happy.