Unearthing the Early Theatrical Releases, Home Video Appearances & TV Premieres of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’

theatrical poster art for 1981's
© Paramount Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Theatrical poster art for 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, which will return for a very brief big-screen re-release in June 2023.

2023 is a great time to be an Indiana Jones fan!

It’s cool enough that the next, and final, feature film starring Harrison Ford as the intrepid archaeologist — Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny — will be here soon, hitting theaters on Friday, June 30, and that all of Indy’s previous film and TV adventures will be available to stream on Disney+ starting Wednesday, May 31.

On top of that, Fathom Events is presenting a limited theatrical re-release of the movie that started it all: 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It will be an extremely limited release; as in, it will only be screening on two non-consecutive days in early June: Sunday, June 4, and Wednesday, June 7, 2023. You can click here to see if Raiders will be playing in a theater near you on those days.

Seeing Raiders again, or for the first time, in a theater is a recommended experience. The Steven Spielberg-directed, George Lucas-produced adventure classic is enjoyable in any format, but the widescreen truly offers not only a great and more expansive visual experience, but also a chance to especially bask in the audio glory of John Williams‘ iconic musical score, as well as the film’s Oscar-winning sound effects (including those satisfyingly bone-crushing punches Indy doles out to his Nazi foes).

Pat Roach (left) as a Nazi mechanic immediately after being punched by Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford, on the right) in a fight scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The mechanic is large, bald, shirtless, sports a mustache and looks imposing. His nose is bleeding after this and other previous punches from Jones, and he is falling back a bit. Jones' arm and fist are in the follow-through after punching the Nazi, and he has a determined look on his face, which is also bloodied from taking his own punches. He is wearing his traditional brown leather jacket and brown fedora with black band. They are in closeup, fighting in front of a "flying wing" plane, the cockpit of which can be seen immediately behind them.

The punches Indy gives Nazis sound even more thunderous on the big screen! (© Paramount Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection)

As a kid in the early ’80s, when Raiders of the Lost Ark became my all-time favorite movie, I would have loved the options young Indy fans have today.

It’s true that there were plenty of opportunities to see it during its original theatrical run, since it was an impressively long one, even in an era when films were given a bit more time to breathe and a chance to find an audience in theaters; certainly more than they are given now.

After premiering on the big screen June 12, 1981, Raiders did not officially leave theaters until more than nine months later, on March 18, 1982.

I certainly did take advantage of seeing Raiders on the big screen a few times during that run, and once again when it was promptly re-released for a few weeks starting in July 1982.

The film was apparently also re-released for another few weeks starting in March 1983, but I don’t recall being aware of that run.

But during those years, theatrical films, especially blockbusters, usually took a good amount of time before reaching home video, and even longer to come to television.

So, after seeing Raiders a few times in the theater during 1981-82, I then had to wait until very late in 1983 before Raiders hit the home videotape market and I could rent it from one of my local video stores (either Video City or Video Connection; many cities around that time probably had businesses with similar, if not those exact, names).

And I did rent it. A lot.

I especially liked that the tape featured additional excitement beyond the movie even right at its beginning, where it teased the production of Indy’s next big-screen adventure that was slated to reach theaters in the summer of 1984, a film called Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

(In 1987, a Beta videotape of Temple of Doom would become the first movie I ever purchased myself, having saved up the nearly $30 it cost — which seemed a bargain during a time when movies on videotape were more often priced to rent, not to buy, and could cost nearly $100 if you did want to purchase.)

In November 1984, about a year after its video debut and nearly three-and-a-half years after its original theatrical release, Raiders finally made its television premiere, on HBO. That was a big deal, and it was hyped on the cover of HBO’s little monthly programming guide as well as in ads like this one:

a black-and-white print ad for the television premiere of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1984. The ad is in a small square area. Taking up the left of the ad is an image from the movie's theatrical poster, with a drawing of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in the process of cracking his bullwhip. Immediately to his upper right is the movie's title treatment, with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" presented in the old-style adventure film font. Below that reads the message: "The blockbuster adventure comes to TV!" Below that says "Thursday 7pm" right above the HBO logo (with the slogan "There's no place like HBO" right below that. Running across the top of the ad in a thin strip reads the hype line "Action ... Suspense ... Romance ... Thrills!"


And you can be sure that I was tuned in that Thursday night, ready to set my family’s VCR to “Record” and finally have a copy of Raiders to enjoy over and over without having to rent it.

A year, maybe two, after the movie’s HBO premiere, another big Raiders TV event occurred when it made its broadcast television premiere as The ABC Sunday Night Movie.

This was such a major event that ABC even overdubbed its usual music for the Sunday Night Movie intro with William’s iconic “Raiders March” theme. The SNM announcer then came on with his usual voiceover hype, which might have been even more heightened given the nature of this breathlessly action-packed film.

Over the decades since those times, of course, Raiders and the subsequent Indiana Jones films have been a lot easier to come by on home video — first on tape, then laser disc, then DVD (I’m not sure if it ever came to video disc; my friend’s family had an RCA VideoDisc player in the early ’80s, and we watched a lot of movies on it, but I don’t recall Raiders).

I’ve since seen the first Indy movies on the big screen a few more times following their initial releases. They have also been shown on television with a lot more frequency and much less fanfare than way back then, especially in the past decade or so; it seems like every other weekend now Paramount Network is showing the Indy movies practically all day both days.

So, while my pre-teen self might find this thought to be sacrilege, knowing how he would have to wait years to see these films after their theatrical runs, it does now seem like there could almost be too much Indiana Jones for me at times.

After a little while, though, that thought passes and I’m back to remembering how much I love the film and the character, and the memories I’ve had with them — especially Raiders of the Lost Ark — since 1981.

And that’s why I’ll be trying to get to this Fathom Events re-release to enjoy the first and best of them all, yet again.