#151) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)


#151) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

OR “The First Indy Movie” (I am not proud of that one)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Lawrence Kasdan. Story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman.

Class of 1999

The Plot: 1930s archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is enlisted by the U.S. government to find the legendary Ark of the Covenant before it falls into the power-hungry hands of Nazis, aided by Indy’s rival Belloq (Jonathan Freeman). Indy’s trip to Egypt is sidetracked by a rendezvous with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), a former flame, as well as the daughter of his old mentor. With their combined knowledge of the Ark, as well as the skill set of local digger Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), they travel from action sequence to action sequence in a mission to find the Ark.

Why It Matters: Despite a detailed plot synopsis, the NFR write-up has no justification of why “Raiders” is on the list. Whoever wrote some of these did not care for the more populist entries.

But Does It Really?: If the NFR won’t put in a good word, I will. “Raiders” is one of the rare films that completely succeeds at what it wants to be. Spielberg, Kasdan, and company made an updated version of the classic adventure film serials that doesn’t feel like a tribute, but rather like the real thing. The film is endlessly inventive, and is still as fresh and as fun as it was in 1981. Its impact on filmmaking can still be felt, and it is undeniably deserving of a place in the NFR.

Shout Outs: Indy’s truck stunt is an homage to a similar stunt in “Stagecoach”. And be on the look out for a brief reference to “Star Wars”.

Everybody Gets One: Most of the supporting cast, notably: Jonathan Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, and a young Alfred Molina in his film debut!

Seriously, Oscars?: The runaway hit of 1981, “Raiders” scored eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. But the trend of small indie darlings taking home the grand prize was just beginning, and the Academy opted for “Chariots of Fire”. “Raiders” did, however, win four competitive awards (Art Direction, Editing, Sound, & Visual Effects), as well as one special award for Sound Design. Spielberg lost Best Director to Warren Beatty for “Reds”, and John Williams’ legendary score lost to Vangelis for “Chariots of Fire”. Another iconic score for sure, but come on.

Other notes

  • How did this film not get an Original Screenplay nomination? Another count of “Seriously, Oscars?”
  • And that’s how you introduce an iconic film character!
  • My long-standing fan theory is that this entire film is Han Solo’s carbon freeze-induced fever dream. This applies to “Raiders” as well as one of the “Blade Runner” cuts. I can’t remember which.
  • The iconic boulder chase wins the award for “Best Movie Scene Based on an Uncle Scrooge Comic
  • The establishing shot of Indy’s school was filmed at the University of Pacific in my hometown of Stockton, California. It looks like an Ivy League school, but is remarkably cheaper to film at!
  • One of the government agents is Britain’s go-to American William Hootkins, aka “Porkins”.
  • This may be the first mainstream film to turn Hitler into an archetypal film villain. The real Adolf Hitler wasn’t obsessed with the occult, but an action-adventure movie’s embodiment of evil would be!
  • What happens to Indy’s class when he goes off on his adventures? Is there a boring substitute? Or does Indy only schedule his trips around weekends and holidays?
  • Marion’s drinking game is one my favorite scenes in the film. I’m a sucker for a good one-shot sequence.
  • Shout-out to Ronald Lacey as the dreaded Gestapo agent A Peter Lorre-Type.
  • I hear you, Frank Welker as the Nazi Monkey. Those are your Abu noises!
  • This movie does not portray Egyptians well. Where’s Omar Sharif when you need him?
  • One of the film’s subtle joys is that they only give you the essential exposition, and then it’s back to another action scene. It helps the pacing tremendously.
  • The “just shoot the guy” scene is a classic for a reason. It makes me laugh out loud every time.
  • How did the Nazis know Marion’s dress and shoe size? Is that the information they tortured her to get?
  • I have no problems with snakes, but this film doesn’t help.
  • Unless I missed something, that’s the first “Wilhelm Scream” on this blog.
  • And then a Jeep veers off a giant cliff that was not geographically established earlier and seemingly comes out of nowhere. It’s the only time I laughed at the film, as opposed to with.
  • Let the record show that once the steamer ship is captured, Indy does not wear his trademark hat for the rest of the film. He wears a similar but different hat in the last scene to match the suit.
  • I know it’s coming, but the exploding heads are always a bit gruesome. Someone please invent the PG-13 rating!
  • Can we use the Freedom of Information Act to get the Ark back?


  • For starters, this is the reason Harrison Ford stopped being known only as Han Solo.
  • Three sequels (Okay fine, two sequels and one prequel. Happy?) with another one slated for 2020, should we all live that long.
  • A TV series that amped up the more “Forrest Gump” aspects of young Indy.
  • Perhaps the most video game spin-offs of any NFR film (except for “All About Eve”, of course).
  • Countless knock-offs in the ‘80s, including a misguided attempt at turning 1880s literary character Allan Quatermain into an action hero.
  • With its exotic locales and iconic action scenes, is it any wonder “Indiana Jones” has lent itself so well to theme parks?
  • This is another one of those movies where literally every shot has been spoofed at some point.
  • Speaking of, some kids spent most of the ‘80s filming a shot-for-shot remake. It’s “Raiders” meets “Boyhood”!
  • “Raiders” was inspired in part by the “Scrooge” comics, and “Ducktales” got the go-ahead thanks to “Raiders”. Cue “Circle of Life”!
  • And finally, some loser on the internet keeps trying to make “Belloq Film” a thing. Let it go, man.

Further Viewing: Back in the late ‘00s, YouTuber Ivan Guerrero created a series of “premakes”: trailers for classic films comprised solely of clips from earlier films. His “Raiders” video pays tribute to the film’s original influences, primarily 1954’s “Secret of the Incas”. Check out his channel, they’re all great.

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