It was June 1981 and I had just gotten out of school for the summer. Ninth grade was behind me and I was moving to a new school for high school following the summer. I was looking forward to more than two months of riding my bike, going to the beach and just hanging out. Of course, I was also looking forward to summer blockbuster movies. That summer was stellar for films, especially for a 14-year-old. Clash of the Titans. Superman II. Cannonball Run. Stripes. For Your Eyes Only. Escape From New York. Arthur. Heavy Metal. An American Werewolf in London. Even Zorro the Gay Blade! I saw them all and more…but summer 1981 will always be about one film — Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It was the dawn of the summer blockbuster. The year before Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back took in $290,271,960 in the U.S. In 1982 E.T. raked in $435,110,554. In 1983 Return of the Jedi brought in $309,205,079. Prior to 1980 only Jaws ($260,000,000) and Star Wars ($460,998,007) had ever taken in those kinds of numbers. Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas had changed the game forever. You may have a favorite from these great summer blockbusters, but mine was, and still is, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Indiana Jones was the perfect hero for a young teenager. He was smart, capable of amazing physical feats, had a wicked sense of humor and of course the ladies loved him. Not only that, he was fighting the Nazis! This film made Harrison Ford the biggest movie star in the world. Sure, he was Han Solo, but he was just a supporting character in that. In Raiders of the Lost Ark he was the leading man and action hero.
What I love so much about the film is that it’s non-stop action from the moment it begins. The first scene where he tries to steal the idol from the natives is one of the most memorable action sequences ever filmed and the scene with the boulder rolling after him has become iconic. Indiana Jones made archaeology exciting, which let’s be honest is not an easy thing to do. Another iconic scene is when Indy is chasing the ark and is jumping back and forth between the Nazi trucks trying to steal the truck from the driver. When he loses his grip off the front of the truck but slides under and hangs on by his whip it’s pure Hollywood. And of course, the final scene with the ark getting lost in the rows and rows of boxes in that giant government warehouse…spot on political commentary. My favorite scene is when he comes face to face in Cairo with the huge guy with giant Arabian swords and instead of fighting him a just reaches down for his gun and shoots the guy. LOL.
For me Raiders of the Lost Ark is the ultimate adventure film, and while many have tried to imitate it none have captured the greatness of this Hollywood classic. It’s just as cool and exciting today as it was in 1981 and the proof is that my son and I watched it recently and he loves it too. I suspect sometime 20 years or so from now his kids will love it as well.
Next: The African Queen
2 thoughts on “AFI #66: Raiders of the Lost Ark”
Great post, Len. Supposedly, Harrison Ford was suffering from dysentery on the day the filming of the sword-gun fight scene took place. He suggested to Spielberg, “Let’s just shoot the sucker,” which saved him the hassle of having to do a fight scene while sick. A classic scene was born.
Great movie! One of my all time favorites. And you’re correct in it’s timeless appeal. Our kids love that movie as much as we do. Pretty sure I know what Lorenzo and I will be watching this weekend…