The Indiana Jones franchise is one of the most popular collections of films in cinema history, thanks to the adventurous tone set by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the acting talents of the cast led by Harrison Ford, and the sweeping score of John Williams. Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in 1981 on a budget of just $18 million dollars, and by the time Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the fourth film in the franchise, came out in 2008, it grossed almost $800 million worldwide.
As fun as it is following globe-trotting archaeologist Dr. Jones from hidden temple to dusty tomb, there are aspects about the franchise that haven't aged well. From horrible racial stereotypes to aging special effects to asinine performances by certain members of the cast, they work against an otherwise sterling film series. Here are ten things about the franchise that haven't aged well.
10 RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: TOMB RAIDING
At the time that Raiders of the Lost Ark took place, archeological digs were less dignified affairs, with frequent looting and plundering a constant impediment of progress. Digs were either done through academic research grants or funded by wealthy financiers like Lord Carnarvon (who funded Howard Carter’s excavation of King Tut’s tomb in 1922).
Indiana Jones was technically employed by Marshall College, a university that often funded his expeditions. The fact that they approved his unscrupulous methods of stealing a holy relic from an indigenous tribe in the opening prologue implies archaeologists do whatever is necessary to claim their prize, including tomb raiding.
9 RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: ARCHAEOLOGICAL DESTRUCTION
Even in the ‘30s when Raiders of the Lost Ark takes place, archaeological dig sites were an orderly and precise affair. Sites were entirely mapped out before they were excavated, divided into grids, then worked on by crews assigned to each grid plot.
Everyone involved with an archaeological dig was careful not to destroy any part of it, which makes it curious how Indy could have continued to be a part of them when he caused so much destruction, from South America to Egypt. True, the collateral damage was usually a part of a life or death conflict, but there’s no way anyone would have allowed him near a dig with his reputation.
8 RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE MELTING FACES
Prior to pioneering the groundbreaking effects on display in Jurassic Park, Spielberg and his creative team created a lot of pretty great visuals for the Indiana Jones franchise. Chief among them involved the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the Ark of the Covenant is finally opened.
In this sequence, the Ark is opened, a beam of light shoots upward into the sky, a vortex of wind blows, and people’s faces start melting and exploding. It looked remarkable at the time, but suffice it to say, the melting wax dummies look a little hokey now.
7 TEMPLE OF DOOM: RACIAL STEREOTYPES
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is generally regarded as the worst of the Indiana Jones films, mostly due to its painful stereotypes. The racial stereotypes begin with the Chinese mafia in the opening scene at Club Obi-Wan and continue with the remote villagers when Indy reaches India.
The stereotypes cling to every different culture Indy comes in contact with. The villagers treat him like a stereotypical “white savior," the prince serves him monkey brains and other stereotypically “weird” ethnic food, and is naturally involved with an overzealous religion depicted as a cult in the film.
6 TEMPLE OF DOOM: SHORT ROUND
While it was fun to see that Indy had a sidekick in Temple of Doom, Short Round wasn’t exactly a model embodiment. Indy was better off going on adventures with Marcus, Sallah, or even his dad, given how Short Round was depicted. If he ever shows up in the next Indy film, he'll hopefully get a character reset.
From the hokey accent to the dorky catch phrases, he existed purely for comic relief, and is more of an annoyance than an asset as the film goes on. He’s also depicted as Indy’s subordinate, and the racial stereotype of the Asian servant dutifully at the beckon call of his white master is uncomfortable to watch.
5 TEMPLE OF DOOM: KATE CAPSHAW
While Raiders of the Lost Ark had the fiery and capable Marion Ravenwood and The Last Crusade had the coldly practical Elsa, Temple of Doom had the shrill and obnoxious Willie Scott. She was spoiled, she was whiny, and unlike the other two women, never presented herself as Indy’s equal thanks to Kate Capshaw's performance.
As you watch Temple of Doom, you’ll find yourself probably wishing she’d get bitten by a poisonous insect, get impaled by a spike or have some otherwise permanent form of misfortune befall her. Unfortunately, she survives through the whole film, without ever learning the lesson of humility.
4 THE LAST CRUSADE: THE TANK FIGHT CRASH
Indy finds himself once again fighting relic-hunting Nazis in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with General Vogel being one of the most ruthless of his nemeses. Vogel enjoys humiliating Indy by repeatedly slapping him with his leather gloves and long drops off cliffs in tanks.
The tank fight sequence involving Indy and Vogel engaging in hand-to-hand combat aboard a moving tank is one of the more exciting (if improbable) brawls in the film, but it loses some of its punch when Vogel flies off a cliff in the tank and crashes at the bottom of a ravine. You can clearly see it’s a model tank with a doll/dummy in it.
3 THE LAST CRUSADE: SILLY NAZIS
The Last Crusade suffers from the same thing that Raiders of the Lost Ark did, but on a much grander scale: hapless and cheesy villains. Here, they take the form of Nazis, continuously on the quest for mystical relics that Hitler believes will give him an edge on the Allied Forces.
The problem with depicting Nazis as silly rather than horrifying is that it negates the danger inherent in their existence and their mission. Hitler wanted to rule the world by exterminating ethnic races he saw as subhuman, and was responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jewish people and 1.2 million children.
2 KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL: SHIA LABEOUF
When it came time to select a worthy successor to Indiana Jones, Steven Spielberg selected Shia LaBeouf personally to play Henry “Mutt” Williams III, the purported son of Indy and Marion Ravenwood. He was supposed to be "everything a father would hate," and mimic the dynamic between Indy and his own father by being what Henry Jones, Sr. hated about his son.
Mutt is supposed to be a greaser, based off of Marlon Brando in The Wild One or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. But LaBeouf is not either of those classic Hollywood heavyweights. Yes, he rides a motorcycle, but he isn't particularly mysterious or troubled, and generally comes across as the last off-brand Indiana Jones left on the shelf at the discount store for anti-heroes.
1 KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL: ALIENS, MAN
Where the first three films focused on the adventure serials Spielberg and Lucas watched as kids, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull mirrored sci-fi B-movies of the ‘50s. That meant Russian spies, atomic weapons, and yes, aliens.
Where the fourth film failed the other three was in dialogue, pacing, and overall plot. Russian spies want to obtain the mythical crystal skull so they can wield its alien-imbued psychic power, a gift from beings that are considered “extra-terrestrial archaeologists." The film ends with a giant UFO flying out of the Amazon rainforest, taking the integrity of the franchise with it.