The Indiana Jones franchise recently celebrated its 40th birthday, as we marked the anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The series, created by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, stars Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and features iconic music by John Williams – and that’s all just beginning to scratch the surface of the connections to Star Wars – including the fact that current Lucasfilm President Kathy Kennedy has worked on all four Indiana Jones films as well.
I love the franchise, and much like is the case for Star Wars, that includes all the films. Even though there are some I enjoy more than others, I still do enjoy them all. So in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the franchise, and since we’ve recently been looking forward to the fifth film (which just began filming and is set to release next summer), I though I’d rank the four movies.
4. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Many Indiana Jones fans really disliked this movie; I wasn’t one of them. I enjoyed it… but I nonetheless recognize that it doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first three films and never really rises to that level. Much like The Phantom Menace and The Force Awakens in Star Wars, one of the things that made this film stand out was, in spite of any flaws or criticism, the fact that it was a return to an iconic franchise. For the first time in almost two decades, Indy returned! The opening sequence in the warehouse was fun, seeing Indy spring back into action again, even with him admitting, “damn, I thought that was closer” – an acknowledgement that maybe even our hero has lost a step. And one of the great things about the movie was also the return of Karen Allen as Marion, and she immediately hits it off with Ford/Indy once again. But one of the things that didn’t really seem to land quite as well for me was Mutt (Shia Labeouf), his interactions with Indy, and his overall role in the story. And while I actually don’t mind exploring extraterrestrial stuff in the film, it never really felt like the whole Crystal Skull storyline carried the same intrigue and weight as the quests in the previous three films did. I still really enjoy Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it clearly doesn’t reach the same heights as the other films did.
3. Temple of Doom
I think this movie is certainly the most underrated of the Indiana Jones films. It’s supposedly Steven Spielberg’s least favorite of the four, and it is without question the darkest. It was so dark, in fact, that this film was a major catalyst in getting the Motion Picture Association of America to create a new rating in-between PG and R, of PG-13. And I would agree that the film probably is too dark at times, especially for a series like Indiana Jones, made by Spielberg and George Lucas. But with all of that said, I do think that this movie is a lot better than some people remember it, and thankfully it seems like that’s becoming more and more common of an opinion. Just like Lucas’s The Empire Strikes Back was very different than Star Wars, so too was Temple of Doom even more different than Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a prequel, it didn’t include any of the familiar characters from the first film except Indy, it featured a totally different type of adventure, and it featured a totally different tone. That doesn’t mean that it hits every note (I’m not a huge fan of Willie Scott, played by Kate Capshaw), but when it does, it’s just as thrilling as we’d come to expect (like the mine car sequence).
2. The Last Crusade
In many ways, it’s a toss-up between these final two for my favorite of the franchise. In some odd way, The Last Crusade feels a lot more like a prequel than Temple of Doom does (the extended opening sequence of a young Indy is probably a reason why), as we are introduced to Indy’s father, Henry Jones, Sr., played by the incredible Sean Connery. It also features the return of Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davis), a sign that this film was going to be much more similar in style to Raiders of the Lost Ark – and it was, in the best of ways. But at the heart of this movie was a father and son story, seeing Indy and his father going after the Holy Grail together, and Ford and Connery (as we would expect) are fantastic in this. This dynamic is tremendous and makes the film incredibly fun, and I’m convinced that it’s the primary reason (though not the only one) for this movie re-capturing much of the magic of Raiders. It honestly might be my personal favorite.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
But it’s just really hard to top the film that started it all, and I still think that Raiders of the Lost Ark ever-so-slightly edges out The Last Crusade for the best in the series. It’s iconic and thrilling. There are so many memorable moments, from the opening sequence retrieving the idol, to Indy bringing a gun to a sword fight, to digging for the Ark, to Indy going after the Ark in the desert chase, and so much more. This movie does a terrific job of introducing us to Indiana Jones and throwing us right in the middle of an adventure (with the opening sequence) before then moving on to a new one, which we get to see in full. Harrison Ford is brilliant, as is Karen Allen as Marion, and their chemistry together is great. But it’s Ford who really steals the show as Indiana Jones, playing a heroic archeologist who seems to always be coming up with a plan on the fly, yet who has enough charisma, smarts, and brawn to make it work. This is an action-adventure movie at its best, and its no surprise that it has left a large and lasting legacy.