Raiders of the Lost Ark
Spielberg’s homage to the cliffhanger serials of his childhood introduced one of the most beloved globetrotting action heroes of the modern age.
The legend goes that Spielberg and his pal George Lucas were sitting on a beach somewhere in 1977, worrying about the prospects of their respective sci-fi movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, and came up with the archaeological adventurer Indiana Jones as a distraction. That’s probably not 100% true, but it’s a swell origin story for one of the most beloved action heroes of the modern age. An homage to the cliffhanger serials Spielberg and Lucas watched as kids, Raiders of the Lost Ark casts Harrison Ford as the dashing hero whose skill at retrieving priceless artifacts for museums and study — or, from another point of view, robbing them from the tombs in which they were deposited — makes him the only man to beat Hitler’s henchmen to the Ark of the Covenant, a sacred relic said to make any army that carries it invincible. Shootouts, punch-ups, chases, reversals of fortune, and the odd monkey-poisoning ensue, each one more thrilling than the next. (The truck chase is an all-timer, sure, but the Flying Wing sequence — with its simple fistfight complicated by angry troops, gunfire, a locked cockpit, propellers, and burning jet fuel — is a symphony of everything Spielberg loves about this genre.) Through it all, Indy’s reconnection to Marion Ravenwood (the magnificent Karen Allen) reawakens his conscience, a theme that’s exquisitely threaded through Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay, along with a healthy dose of ’70s cynicism.
Content advisory: violence, frightening scenes, coarse language, mature themes