Retro Rewind — The Indiana Jones Franchise

Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Ark
©Paramount All Rights Reserved

As the world awaits the release of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, due in theaters June 30, 2023, we know the question you have: Do I have to see the original films to know what is going on?

While I can’t answer that until the new one is seen, I rewatched the first four films and put together a quick look back before you go forward. Doing this project has nothing to do with the fact that I really, really have a fond memory of them. It has nothing to do with the fact that they retain such a place in my moviegoing past. It’s for research and for you alone. That said, here is the eight-plus hours history boiled down to a quick read.

1981 — Raiders of the Lost Ark

Although these days this film is labeled in some circles as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in an attempt to fit the naming conventions of the newer films, it is simply Raiders to so many fans. Steven Spielberg came together with George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan and Philip Kaufman to give us a swashbuckling everyman hero that begins his adventures in the late 1930s.

NOTE: If you want to experience the series in timeline order, this would be the second film in your viewing.

Viewing Raiders with a fresh set of eyes in 2023 reminds us of just how amazing this original excursion appeared on film. Harrison Ford portrays a professor with good looks and sex appeal in the classroom while demonstrating the rugged toughness of the well-traveled archeologist battling Nazis on the other side of the world. This lethal combination creates a character that appeals to men and women, young and old, and is everything that legendary characters are made from.

Costars include Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliott, Alfred Molina and Wolf Kahler.

Villains not only include Nazis but also the creepy crawly creatures, including spiders and snakes, bound to get under the skin of some of the toughest individuals. Raiders takes us on a wild journey that feels part comic book and part thrill ride, even today.

What are your favorite memories of this action blockbuster, and when did you first see it?

1984 — Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

As we said before, although this was the second film in the franchise, the creators set it as a prequel. Instead of the Nazis being the focus, Jones finds himself searching for an artifact in India with a singer who escaped a mob boss alongside Indy. While she is out of place in the jungle, she is along for the ride, and a ride it will be.

Temple of Doom holds up with much of the same signature action, as is the case with all the films in the franchise. This film is fast-paced and relies heavily on the nonstop movements of the characters throughout the journey.

Other costars include Kate Capshaw and Ke Huy Quan (a recent Oscar winner for Everything Everywhere All At Once).

1989 — Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Fast forward to 1938, and we meet Dr. Jones — wait, we knew him — but we also get to meet his dad, who is portrayed by the incomparable Sean Connery, and that alone made viewers line up to see this third film in the franchise. Connery brings a certain je ne sais quoi to the franchise. Seeing Connery and Ford share the screen, I feel the rush back to my youth to a time when these two greats could rule the screen in an action movie or Shakespearean stage play. Engaging and fun, the two lead us on a romp to find the Holy Grail, and we are barely holding the seat for it all while munching an entire bucket of popcorn.

The Nazis are back at it in this one, and at one point, Jones actually meets Hitler. It’s easy to cheer for Jones, despite his flaws. Both Joneses for that matter. But it’s even easier as they take on one of the most hated men in history.

Other costars for this piece of the franchise include Alison Doody, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies and River Phoenix as a young Indy.

2008 — Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Welcome to the 1950s, Dr. Jones. We open with the Russians chasing down the remains from Roswell, but why? That magical hat appears, and we know this will be Indy’s return.

Jones sets off to the Amazon to find the new artifact hidden there, or is it to help new character Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) find his mom, who insisted on getting a letter filled with clues to Jones?

Costars in this effort include Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, John Hurt, Ray Winstone and Jim Broadbent.

This film is often dismissed by the Jones purists. While I think a lot of it was in the attempts to endear the viewing public to LaBeouf as a possible “new” keeper of the hat and heir to the Jones story, the film is just as exciting and fact-paced, but the alien story feels forced and a bit unnecessary. But with all the current buzz around aliens in the news, was this film ahead of its time?

Now we go forward to today as we all head to see Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

My hope for the film is that it gives viewers lots of action, lots of Ford, that signature hat and the most integral part of any Indiana Jones film — the amazing score from the one and only John Williams. At 91, he returned to do this film, and those notes, those sounds are the heartbeat for EVERY film in the franchise. It’s been a great ride so far, Indy.