Raiders of the Lost Ark, later marketed as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, is a 1981 adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. It was the first released in the Indiana Jones quartet of films, but is chronologically the twenty-fourth installment in the timeline of the film's fictional protagonist. The story introduces us to archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), who is contacted by the government to go on a quest for the mystical lost Ark of the Covenant. Accompanied by his old friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and ex-flame Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), he must retrieve the ark before the Nazis and his adversary, French archaeologist Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman) acquire it first.

The original film sparked waves of interest in old 1930s style cliffhanger serials, leading to three sequel films and a television series titled The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles that chronicles the lead character, Indiana Jones, as a young man prior to his feature film adventures. It has since become a cult classic with a huge following.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

In 1936, atypical archaeologist Indiana Jones and two local guides move through a South American jungle to an ancient temple which houses a golden idol. After overcoming various traps and betrayal by both of his guides, he escapes with the idol. However, his rival, Frenchman Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), and a small army of natives are waiting. Belloq takes the artifact, but Jones escapes to a waiting seaplane, barely ahead of the hostile natives.

Later, at the University of Chicago, where Jones teaches, two US Army intelligence agents tell Jones and colleague Dr. Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) about an intercepted Nazi communiqué. It mentions Professor Ravenwood, Jones's former mentor, and the Staff of Ra. Jones realizes that the Nazis have discovered the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis where the Pharaoh Shishaq placed the Ark of the Covenant after stealing it from Jerusalem. Jones explains that the Ark was placed in the Well of Souls, but was lost after a sandstorm buried the city. According to Ravenwood, the Well of Souls can only be found by using the Staff of Ra to focus a beam of sunlight onto a model of Tanis, which is located in a map room. The Nazis are after Ravenwood because he has the headpiece of the staff, a small bronze medallion.

Jones flies to snowy, mountainous Nepal to speak with the professor, only to find out he has died. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), his daughter and Jones' former love interest, has the headpiece, but is reluctant to part with it. A brutally sadistic Nazi agent named Toht (Ronald Lacey) follows Jones to Marion and tries to take the piece from her by force, but Jones intervenes. The ensuing shootout eventually burns down Marion's tavern. During the fight, Toht's hand is scarred with the face of the medallion when he tries to pick it up, not knowing that it was heated by the flames. Jones ends up with both the headpiece and Marion, who invites herself on his quest.


The two fly to Cairo and meet Jones's friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a skilled Egyptian digger and archaeologist. They need help in decoding the markings on the headpiece that specify the height of the staff. While touring Cairo's marketplace, Marion and Jones are ambushed by hired swordsmen. Nazi operatives grab Marion and throw her in a truck, but Jones shoots the driver and the vehicle crashes and explodes. Believing Marion dead, Jones heads to a tavern, but instead encounters his old nemesis Belloq. Realizing that the Frenchman is now working for the Nazis, Jones mocks his archenemy for his alliance with the madman Hitler. Belloq tries to reason with Jones and discloses his nefarious scheme: let the Nazis use Belloq's talents so that he can secretly exploit Hitler's superstitious fetish for religious relics toward the end of satisfying his own crazed quixotic ambition. Belloq is after the ultimate treasure, God himself. And he foolishly hopes to contact God with the Ark, using it as a radio transmitter for "talking with God." The secular Jones dismisses the raving rant of his superstitious rival and sarcastically offers to help Belloq "talk to God" by offering to murder him. Jones pulls out his pistol and prepares to fire. But his attempt is foiled as several Arabs bodyguards, pretending to be customers, take out their guns and surround Jones. Jones is saved by Sallah's children who lead him from the bar. That evening, Sallah takes Jones to an old man, who deciphers the markings. He notes that one side of the headpiece says that the staff must be shortened. It appears that the Nazis have misread the headpiece (since they only have a copy of one side's markings from the image on Toht's hand). Their staff is too long, so they are digging for the Ark in the wrong location.

Infiltrating the dig, Jones enters the map room and discovers the location of the Well of Souls. Jones and Sallah return to the soldiers' camp, and Jones enters a tent to avoid some angry troops. Within, he finds Marion, alive but tied up. He begins to free her but realizes that her absence will prompt an extensive search of the area and that the Germans will inevitably discover his and the Ark's location. He leaves Marion, promising to return for her once the Ark is secured.

Indy and Sallah gather a small crew of men and begin to dig at the correct location. After several hours, they break through the roof of the buried Well of Souls. When Jones is lowered to the floor of the temple, he finds it infested with deadly asps and other venomous snakes, including an egyptian cobra, much to Jones' dismay; he has a strong fear of snakes. Sallah joins him and they hoist the Ark out of the temple. Sallah climbs out and Jones prepares to join him when Belloq and the Germans, led by the sadistic Col. Dietrich (Wolf Kahler), surround the entrance and seize the Ark. They throw Marion into the temple and seal the opening, leaving her to die with Jones. As their torches burn out, the duo manage to escape by toppling an enormous statue through a stone wall. They emerge aboveground in time to see a Luftwaffe flying wing being prepared to transport the Ark to Berlin.

Jones attempts to sneak up on the pilot, but a burly mechanic (Pat Roach) spots him first. As Jones and the mechanic fight, Marion knocks out the pilot, who slumps over the controls, setting the plane rotating. She takes control of the plane's machine gun and fends off some infantrymen, while Jones maneuvers his opponent into the propeller. Leaking gasoline from a refuelling truck encircles the plane. Indy and Marion escape just before the plane blows up.

With the plane gone, Belloq and Dietrich put the Ark on a truck to Cairo, where it will be shipped to Berlin. Stealing a horse, Jones pursues the convoy escorting the truck, and in an extended chase sequence, seizes control of the vehicle. That evening, Jones and Marion leave Sallah and escort the Ark to England on board the tramp steamer Bantu Wind.

The next morning, a Nazi U-boat commandeered by Belloq and Dietrich stops the ship. Marion and the Ark are removed. Jones, having hidden himself on the ship, covertly boards the U-boat, and rides it to a secret submarine pen in the Aegean Sea. Jones sneaks into the base, steals a soldier's uniform and a rocket launcher, and follows Belloq and the Ark to an isolated canyon. Threatening to destroy the Ark with the rocket launcher, Jones is forced to surrender when his bluff is called; the archeologist in him is unable to harm the priceless artifact and Belloq knows it.


Marion and Jones are tied up and forced to watch a ceremonial opening the Ark. At first it seems to only contain sand, but a humming sound starts and strange glowing spirits emerge from within. They appear harmless at first, but then they suddenly transform into hideous manifestations of death. Jones realizes that the spirits must not be viewed and warns Marion to close her eyes. The Ark proceeds to kill the entire group of Germans and Belloq in especially gruesome ways. After clearing the area and freeing Jones and Marion of their bonds, the Ark closes itself once more with a crack of thunder.

Later, back in Washington D.C., the two Army intelligence men tell a suspicious Jones that they are carefully studying the Ark. However, it is shown that the artifact is sealed in a wooden crate marked top secret and stored in a giant government warehouse, filled with countless other crates.


  • Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Indiana is an adventurous professor and archaeologist, who often embarks on perilous adventures to obtain rare artifacts. He has a romance with Marion Ravenwood, and his arch nemesis is fellow archaeologist Rene Belloq.
  • Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood. Marion Ravenwood is Abner Ravenwood's daughter. She is a tough-minded, independent bar owner who had a past affair with Indiana Jones. After the gunfight that ends up burning down her bar, she quips: "Well, Jones, at least you haven't forgotten how to show a lady a good time!"
  • Paul Freeman as Rene Belloq. Jones' arch nemesis, Belloq is also an archaeologist after the Ark, but he is working for the Nazis. He intends to harness the power of the Ark himself before Hitler, but he is killed by the supernatural powers of the Ark after opening it.
  • John Rhys-Davies as Sallah. Sallah is "the best digger in Egypt", and has been hired by the Nazis to help them excavate Tanis. He is an old friend of Indiana Jones, and helps him obtain the Ark.
  • Denholm Elliott as Marcus Brody. Marcus is a museum curator, and buys whatever artifacts Indiana obtains for display in his museum.
  • Ronald Lacey as Arnold Toht. Toht is an interrogator for the Nazis, who tries to torture Marion Ravenwood for the headpiece of the Staff of Ra. He only manages to obtain one side of it through a burn in his hand. He is killed by the supernatural powers of the Ark.
  • Wolf Kahler as Colonel Dietrich. Dietrich is a ruthless Nazi officer leading the operation to secure the Ark. He is killed by the supernatural powers of the Ark.
  • Alfred Molina as Satipo. Satipo is one of Jones's guides through the South American jungle. He betrays Jones and steals the golden idol, but subsequently killed by one of the traps in the temple.
  • Frank Marshall as the pilot of the Nazi "Flying Wing" (also one of the film's co-producers).

Spoilers end here.



George Lucas officially started the project in 1977. Like Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, he saw it as an opportunity to create a modern version of the serials of the 1930s and 1940s. The early 1970s had been dominated by action films either with a certain gritty realism, such as the Dirty Harry series, or that were massive productions with huge casts and elaborate special effects such as The Poseidon Adventure. By contrast Raiders of the Lost Ark is comic book-like in tone, with a glamorous heroine, over-the-top villains, and impressive stunt work combined with moments of comedy. It was also limited in its ambitions as it was shot in only 73 days, the plot is rather straightforward, and there are only a few principal characters.

Lucas had conceived of the idea in discussion with Philip Kaufman who had worked on a treatment. In a "Making of..." TV special, Lucas said that the mental picture of Indy chasing the truck on horseback, in the style of a western hero chasing a runaway stagecoach, was his initial inspiration for the film. He told his colleague, "I want to see this movie!"

Steven Spielberg had expressed an interest in directing a James Bond film, but to no avail from EON Productions, the company that owned the rights to the character. Lucas convinced his friend Spielberg that he had conceived a character "better than James Bond": Indiana Smith. While on holiday in Hawaii, the pair worked out the basis for the film and changed the character's surname. At the time, Spielberg's career was suffering due to the expensive bomb 1941 so it was agreed that Lucas would produce and Spielberg would direct. A new screenplay was commissioned from Lawrence Kasdan. Comic book artist Jim Steranko was also commissioned to produce original illustrations for pre-production, which heavily influenced Spielberg's decisions in both the look of the film and the character of Indiana Jones himself. Spielberg stated on the Bonus Materials DVD that Indy's costume is based exactly on Steranko's first illustration.

Spielberg suggested casting Harrison Ford as Jones, but Lucas objected, stating that he didn't want Ford to become his "Bobby DeNiro" or "that guy I put in all my movies." Desiring a lesser known actor, Lucas convinced Spielberg to help him search for a new talent, and the actor they both became keen for was Tom Selleck, who possessed features similar to Ford's and a much larger physical frame. However, Selleck was infamously unavailable for the part because of his commitment to the television series Magnum, P.I.. Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Tim Matheson were also considered for the role of Jones. But in the end, Spielberg convinced Lucas to offer the role to Ford, who accepted, just three weeks before filming began in June 1980.[1]


The movie was mostly filmed in Tunisia, which stood in for Egypt (Sallah's entrance was filmed in Kairouan). The movie was also filmed at Elstree Studios for scenes involving the Well of Souls, opening interiors and Marion Ravenwood's bar. The opening exteriors were filmed in Kauai, Hawaii, and exteriors set in Washington D.C. were filmed outside of San Francisco's City Hall. The University of the Pacific stands in for (the unnamed) Marshall College where Jones works, and his home exteriors were filmed in San Rafeal.[2]

The scene where Indiana Jones shoots the sword-wielding assassin (played by Terry Richards) in the market was improvised on the set. Harrison Ford had been suffering from dysentery and exhaustion due to the extreme heat of Tunisia during filming. As originally planned, the scene was elaborately choreographed, with Jones facing the expert swordsman and trying to defeat him with just his whip. Some footage of the planned fight was shot (and was seen in at least one of the movie's trailers) but the filming was proving to be very tedious, both for Ford and the crew, and at some point Ford had had enough. Reportedly, he said something to Spielberg along the lines of, "Why don't we just shoot the sucker?" Spielberg liked the idea, scrapped the rest of the fight scene, and filmed the brief sequence of the shooting that appears in the movie.[3] Producer Frank Marshall also endured three days of heat as a cockpit pilot for one scene.

The scene in which Jones threatens Belloq with a rocket-propelled grenade was shot in the same Tunisian canyon where George Lucas shot a scene involving Tusken Raiders attacking Luke Skywalker in his film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977).

The U-boat scenes were shot at La Rochelle, both outside the harbour and inside the U-boat bunkers there, built by the Germans in 1942. Filming was done here due to the need to obtain a U-boat to film with — the film "borrowed" the U-boat that was being prepared for filming Das Boot.

During the Well of Souls scene, when Indiana stares down the cobra, the snake's reflection is visible in the glass which was placed to prevent the cobra from actually harming any of the actors (the reflection was digitally removed for the 2003 DVD release). Famously when 6000 snakes were bought on set, Spielberg still felt there were not enough, so crew members cut up plastic tubes and placed them carefully between live snakes. During Elstree filming, Harrison Ford also had to outrun the boulder 10 times, and Alfred Molina had to endure 100 spiders.[4] Whilst all the snakes were fine, one spider fell and died - as a result the movie does not have a 'No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Production' notification.

There were three stunt doubles for Harrison Ford, the primary one being British born stunt man Vic Armstrong, who reportedly resembled Ford to the degree that people off camera often mistook him for the real Ford. But Ford fought to do many of the fights and stunts himself, arguing there would not be much else for him to do if he was not in the thick of it.

The Washington exterior was a pick-up, as the film was to finish without any closure to Marion.

Spoilers end here.

Deleted scenesEdit

A famous scene from Kasdan's screenplay, which involved Indiana Jones stealing one half of the staff's head piece from an Asian museum, was cut before filming. Elements of it resurface in the sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.[5]

Other famous deleted scenes include a worker fainting after seeing Indiana and Marion emerge from the Well of Souls,[6] and he can be seen in the final cut. Other deleted scenes included a Nazi threatening to execute Sallah and a build up to a kiss between Indiana and Marion when they meet up at her bar.


Template:Sample box start variation 2 Template:Multi-listen start Template:Multi-listen item Template:Multi-listen end Template:Sample box end

Main article: Raiders of the Lost Ark (soundtrack)

Raiders Of The Lost Ark's soundtrack is most notable for featuring the rousing and iconic composition "The Raiders March" that came to symbolize Indiana Jones. The tune was composed by John Williams. The score also featured three other prominent themes: the grand yet mysterious "Ark Theme", a theme associated with Marion, and the loud, pompous Nazi March. The score would receive an Oscar nomination for best original score, but would lose to Vangelis' electro-synth based score for "Chariots of Fire".


When released on June 12 the $20-million film was a huge success, easily the highest grossing film (earning $383 million worldwide) of 1981, and, at the time, one of the highest-grossing movies ever made. According to the 2005 edition of The World Almanac (from Variety data), the first two Star Wars films are the only pictures released prior to 1981 that have out-earned Raiders. Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1982 and won four (Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration). It won numerous other awards including seven Saturn Awards.[7]

Raiders of the Lost Ark received universal acclaim from critics, On Rotten Tomatoes, The film has a score of 95% based on 79 reviews with an average score of 9.26/10.

Following the box office success of Raiders, two more feature films were produced: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which is a prequel, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which is a sequel. Another sequel, known only as Indiana Jones 4, is also in pre-production. A TV series, entitled The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, also spun off from this film, and details the early years of the character leading up to this film. Numerous other books, comics and video games have also been produced.

In 1998, the American Film Institute placed the film at number 60 on its top 100 films of the first century of cinema. In 1999 the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

An amateur shot-for-shot remake was made by Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb, then children in Biloxi, Mississippi. It took the boys seven years to finish, from 1982-1989. After production of the film, called Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, wrapped in 1989, it was shelved and forgotten until 2003, where it was discovered by Eli Roth [8] and acclaimed by Spielberg himself [9] who congratulated the boys on their hard work and said he looked forward to seeing their names on the big screen.[10] Scott Rudin and Paramount Pictures have purchased the trio's life rights and will be producing a film based on their adventures making their remake, known as the Untitled Daniel Clowes Project (2006).[11]


Video gamesEdit

The only video game based exclusively on this movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark, released in 1982 by Atari for their Atari 2600 console.

The first third of the video game Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures, released in 1994 by JVC for Nintendo's Super Nintendo Entertainment System, is based entirely on the film. Several sequences from the film are reproduced (the boulder run and the showdown with the Cairo Swordsman among them); however, several odd anachronisms make their way into the game as well, such as Nazi soldiers and bats being present in the Well of Souls sequence, for example. The game was developed by LucasArts and Factor 5.

DVD releaseEdit

IJRaiders BRD Front

For its 1999 VHS re-issue, and the subsequent DVD release four years later, the outer package has been retitled Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, the title in the film itself remains unchanged, even in the restored DVD print. The newer video boxes of the movie on VHS and DVD are titled in order to correlate with the film's prequel and sequel.

Under the supervision of director Steven Spielberg and sound designer Ben Burtt, the three original Indiana Jones films were remastered in 2012 and made available in stores on November 19th, 2013. The HD restoration of included:

  • Teaser Trailer (HD)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD)
  • Re-Issue Trailer (HD)
  • Digital Copy (available via iTunes)

Trivia and goofsEdit

  • In the opening scene, the rolling boulder booby trap is very similar to the climax of the 1943 Abbott and Costello film, Hit The Ice. In that film, Lou Costello and a bank robber that he had been fighting with roll down a snowy mountain and become enveloped in a large ball of snow. As it rolls down the hill it comes very close to running over Bud Abbott who is on skis in front of the ball of snow.
  • In addition, the opening scene can also be compared to the 1954 Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge adventure "The Seven Cities of Cibola" (Uncle Scrooge #7). The movie plot is also similar (and probably inspired as well) to many Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge comic books, which were often center around journey for a famous (historical/legendary) treasure. In fact, one episode of Duck Tales (a series based on the Uncle Scrooge comic books) is title "The Riders of the Lost Harp".
  • Ralph McQuarrie drew the picture of the Ark of the Covenant in the Bible Indiana looks at during an early exposition scene.[12]
  • Pat Roach, the actor who played the large mechanic with whom Jones brawls in the famous plane sequence was seen as such a formidable physical opponent for Jones that he returned in both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in similar roles as huge, burly fistfighters.
File:20040113 2 bg.jpg
  • In the scene where Indiana Jones is lifting the Ark of the Covenant out of its holding place in the Well of Souls, one of the hieroglyphs is meant to resemble Star Wars characters C-3PO and R2-D2.[13]
  • The film was originally set to be rated R by the MPAA because, during the climax where the Nazis who look at the Ark die, there is a visual of an exploding head. After it was partially obscured behind a column of fire, the rating was lowered to PG (there was no PG-13 at the time).


External linksEdit

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations from or about:
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.

Fandom may earn an affiliate commission on sales made from links on this page.

Stream the best stories.

Fandom may earn an affiliate commission on sales made from links on this page.

Get Disney+