In honor of Raider of the Lost Ark’s upcoming fortieth anniversary, here is our selection of all the Indiana Jones films ranked from worst to best.
Forty years ago, Raiders of the Lost Ark made its premiere and introduced us to one of blockbuster cinema’s most iconic heroes—Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), a hardboiled globetrotting archeologist dressed in a leather jacket and fedora and armed with a whip. Conceived by George Lucas as a throwback to adventure serials of the 1930s, director Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films offer a unique blend of international period adventure, thrilling action, and rendezvouses with the supernatural. In addition to four feature films (and a fifth on the way), the franchise has proven its popularity with an expanded universe featuring a television series, comic books, games, theme park attractions, and even a legendary shot-for-shot fan remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Indiana Jones films have also proved to be wildly influential on the action-adventure genre, inspiring films like 1999’s The Mummy and National Treasure, and even video games like the Tomb Raider and Uncharted franchises.
It’s easy to see why these films are so influential and beloved by movie audiences—they’re instantly watchable with their memorable characters, riveting action sequences, John Williams’ rousing scores, and above all a remarkable sense of craftsmanship and creative passion evident in their filmmaking. Here is our assessment of all the Indiana Jones films, ranked from worst to best.
4. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL
Released almost twenty years after The Last Crusade, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is easily the weakest entry in the Indiana Jones series. It lacks the genuine sense of spectacle and charm that the other films had, especially with the obvious CGI and glossy look, and scenes like the fridge nuke sequence are embarrassingly ridiculous. The set pieces are competently made but aren’t particularly thrilling or even convincing, and it’s a big stretch to see an older Harrison Ford leap, swing, tumble, and fight like he’s a few decades younger. Meanwhile, the screenplay feels like it’s trying too hard to be clever by making showy references to past films and often the humor doesn’t land.
Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) is a forgettable and underdeveloped sidekick, and his chemistry with Harrison Ford pales in comparison to the sidekick dynamics in the previous films. The stock Russian villains are predictable, but Cate Blanchett’s turn as a KGB scientist is strangely watchable. While it drifts into silly territory towards the end, the ancient aliens plot is intriguing and fits well with the 1950s setting. John Williams’ score is also a highlight of the film, providing a rousing musical accompaniment to the action as well as an eerie theme for the skull. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t entirely bad, but it’s nowhere as compelling and exciting as its predecessors.
3. INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM
The Temple of Doom stands out from the rest of the series with its significantly darker tone, and its violence and shock factor actually led to the creation of the PG-13 rating (but received a PG rating for its release). It’s very over the top, especially in scenes like the clumsily culturally insensitive banquet scene, and you get the impression that it’s trying too hard to shock. Meanwhile, the screenplay has trouble balancing its darker tone with lighter moments of humor that don’t always land, especially most of the scenes with the poorly written Willie (Kate Capshaw), who serves as more of a plot device and annoying scream queen than a compelling character.
While not as robust and crowd-pleasing as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade, The Temple of Doom almost plays like a big-budget exploitation flick, and, as a fan of provocative genre cinema, that angle makes it more intriguing. Despite the rocky storytelling, the filmmaking is still top-notch with creative action sequences like the mine car chase, opening musical number and nightclub escape, and rope bridge showdown, ensuring a nonstop thrill ride from beginning to end. Once again, John Williams’ bombastic score adds plenty of musical excitement and terror, and the scenes in the underground temple are impressive with the stunning set design and shadowy red lighting that creates an ominous visual atmosphere. It’s certainly a flawed film, but charming enough in its campiness and relentlessly frenetic energy.
2. INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE
Returning to familiar territory with Nazi villains and a story about the search for a biblical relic, The Last Crusade often feels a bit derivative of Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, the father son relationship between Indy and Henry (Sean Connery) gives this a distinct emotional core that grants the film genuine heart and humor, and the pair’s onscreen chemistry makes this incredibly watchable. We’re also given a deeper look into Indy’s life with the opening prologue that introduces his fear of snakes and his rocky relationship with his father, and these brief moments continue to enrich the already-iconic protagonist. And compared to the other films, it’s insane just how much action is in here—we get to see a horse and train chase, a boat chase, a motorcycle jousting chase, an airplane chase, and a thrilling fight and chase atop a tank—all in the span of just over two hours. Relentlessly exciting and full of memorable character moments, this third entry in the Indiana Jones series is a robust piece of action-adventure filmmaking that they just don’t make anymore.
1. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
There’s no doubt that Raiders of the Lost Ark is the top entry in the Indiana Jones series. It’s one of one of those few films where every element comes together into a near-perfect whole, from Harrison Ford’s effortless performance to Spielberg’s sharp direction to Lawrence Kasdan’s brilliantly paced screenplay full of memorable lines like, “Why did it have to be snakes?” Breathtaking scenes like the thrilling truck chase through the desert to the dazzling map room sequence to the otherworldly finale showcase an inspired level of cinematic craftsmanship with their jaw-dropping stuntwork, practical effects, and visual ambition. And just like with Star Wars, John Williams’ stirring score crafts a rich tapestry of action, romance, and supernatural intrigue from the iconic “Raiders March” to the haunting theme for the Ark. Packed full of exciting set pieces and an infectious sense of movie magic, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one the greatest pieces of blockbuster entertainment and reminds us of the awe-inspiring power of a great film.
Featuring all Indiana Jones films in 4K Ultra HD, The Indiana Jones 4 Movie Collection will be released on June 8, 2021.