We damn sure love us some Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)!
It should go without say that the Harrison Ford 1981’s timeless classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was a monumental landmark in the action movie landscape. The stunts. The fights. The infectious score that will have you humming it for weeks after watching, all the while plotting your next big adventure.
It is Steven Spielberg’s movie-making magic at its very finest, a genre-transcending adventure that is honestly just as enjoyable now as it was in the 80’s. Perhaps the film’s most remarkable feature was its ahead-of-its-time fight sequences, scenes so infectiously influential that to this day, Walt Disney World houses the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! so that audiences can relive the stunts in person.
Here are 5 reasons why the fight sequences in Raiders of the Lost Ark are still so respected today:
Indiana Jones’ Vulnerability
Unlike most action heroes of the era, Indiana Jones is not a “total badass” in the typical sense of the word. Sure, he daringly stands up for what is right and sticks to his guns, but it never feels like he has the upper-hand when knuckling up with an opponent. Where Schwarzenegger and Van Damme are intimidating figures, more mountains than men, Harrison Ford’s Dr. Jones looks like an average Joe.
In the majority of the film’s brawls, Indi is actually getting the crap kicked out of him until something fortuitous happens (i.e. a plane’s propeller makes short work of a particularly beefy Nazi mechanic who had been pounding Indi into a pulp). This vulnerability makes Indiana Jones a more relatable action hero, which really puts the audience into his shoes and makes the fight sequences feel larger than life.
While Raiders isn’t a comedy by definition, it does have a brilliant sense of humor. Indi’s brash, nonchalant swagger makes him so cool that it’s honestly hilarious when he stumbles or decides to fight dirty, which he actually does so quite frequently throughout the film.
For example, during the fight in the Egyptian bazaar, Indi faces off with a skilled swordsman. After the man briefly shows off his prowess, Indi gives an “I don’t have time for this” eye roll, then pulls out his gun and indifferently shoots the man in the head.
By inserting slight-yet-effective doses of humor into the stunts and fight scenes, the audience is reminded that this is, in fact, a movie, and that you are here to have fun.
The Stunts and Special Effects
Explosions! Car chases in the desert! Daring escapes from snake-infested tombs! This movie has arguably more notorious stunts than most films created in the 2000’s, despite the glaring improvements in technology and special effects. For evidence, you need look no further than Raiders’ opening scene, Indi’s infamous attempt to recover a golden idol from an ancient, booby-trapped temple. Even re-watching it today, you will be blown away by its spectacle.
No Damsel-In-Distress Here!
When we are introduced to Maion, Indi’s spurned ex-lover, she is literally out-drinking a man in a Tibetan bar. What a great way to immediately let the audience know that this character, although a woman, is no helpless maiden.
Marion is Indi’s equal in almost every way, and at no point does the audience feel as though she needs saving, even when she literally “needs saving.”
When she gets locked in the Nazi plane, she ends up figuring out how to use the plane’s weapons system and guns down an entire vehicle of soldiers. Given the times, it was a risky decision to make the film’s lead actress so independent, but it is a decision that really paid off in the long run.
The Realistic Stakes
Every fight scene in Raiders has a real feel of importance. However, it’s not the kind of movie where the world is at risk. Indiana Jones is simply trying to stop the Nazi’s from taking possession of the Ark of the Covenant, not necessarily because the Nazi’s will use the Ark or its power (as Indi addresses early on, he is skeptical of any supernatural device), but because the US government hired him to get it.
Because the stakes aren’t so implausibly grandiose, the audience can actually better understand why Indi is risking so much to recover the Ark. In this case, less is actually more.
Although he wasn’t born until 1991, don’t assume this feisty millennial can’t tell Tom Selleck from Tom Cruise. Nick Hemming has long been an action movie aficionado, comic book enthusiast (ONLY Marvel; DC sucks!), and all-around wunderkind. When he isn’t watching movies, he is probably writing about them.
Do you consider Raiders of the Lost Ark to be an ultimate action movie classic? Let us know in the comments!