Set in the 1930s against the backdrop of the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazis, revered New York archaeologist Indiana Jones is tasked by US government agents with finding the most holy of religious artefacts, the Ark of the Covenant.
Believed to hold the power to talk directly to God, and make whatever army carries it invincible, handsome whip-wielding Indy (played by Harrison Ford), has to get to a dig in the desert outside Cairo where the ark is believed to be buried first – and all before the Nazis get their hands on immortality.
The action-adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark is packed with stunts from the get-go – and no need to do a spoiler alert as it first played to hundreds of US movie houses in the summer of June 1981 – Indiana eventually finds the ark, rescues the girl, Marion Ravenswood (played by Karen Allen) and saves the world from Nazi domination.
Conceived by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, the Paramount movie made $US389.9 million ($512 million) and won five Oscars, including nominations for best picture and best director.
There have been three sequels, of course, along with Disneyland rides, endless toys, clothes, posters, books and games.
And you’ll often find references in modern-day movie scripts – think 2021 kids action movie Finding ‘Ohana when big brother Ioane tries to scare his younger sister Pili: “Remember that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Nazis’ faces melt off?”
In Australia, to wish the film happy birthday, audiences have the chance to relive their 1981 year and see Raiders with John Williams’ epic score performed live to picture by The Metropolitan Orchestra in Sydney and Melbourne.
(Tickets went on sale on June 16.)
“In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the film that gave the world one of its greatest movie heroes, Indiana Jones, is back and better than ever before!” TegDainty writes on its website.
Trust me. Just to get you in the mood right now, here we go!
As Raiders turns 40, a few of its stars have reflected on the making of the movie, how they were cast and their favourite scenes.
The snake scene
Karen Allen, cast as Indiana Jones’ ex-flame famous for her drinking prowess in the Nepal bar she owned, told The Hollywood Reporter on June 9 the film “forever shaped her career and life”.
Producer Frank Marshall said the story would only be believable if Jones had a counterpart who could hold her own. Casting the right actress was crucial.
“Marion was feisty, smart and funny. She was an action hero in her own way,” Marshall said.
“She didn’t depend on him, but he had to depend on her.”
Allen’s most memorable scene? Fighting off snakes after being trapped in the Well of the Souls with Jones. And it taking eight days to film.
“It was a challenging section of the film to make for me,” Allen told The Hollywood Reporter.
“The cobras were handled in a very special way … there was an ambulance just outside the set and a nurse who had anti-venom.
“Often there was plexiglass between us and them. Still, there were a few people on the set who were bitten.”
Tomb raider or preserver of antiquities
There’s debate about Indy’s motives, but ultimately the archaeologist is there for the good of mankind, and seeks to find antiquities and hand them over to museums, or secret government warehouses as in the Ark’s case.
In the opening 12-minute scene – which has been labelled the greatest in action film history – Indy and his spider-covered guide make their way through a series of tunnels and boobytraps to collect a gold statue.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Spielberg loved the giant fibreglass boulder so much in the opening scene, he extended the ramp to give the scene more screen time and deadly impact.
Marshall added: “It’s an amazing sequence, all of those things tell you what kind of movie it’s going to be.”
It’s not over
Harrison Ford will reprise his role as Indiana Jones at 78 under Spielberg’s direction in the fifth instalment of the franchise. Filming started last year and it’s set to be released in the summer of 2022.
Ford told Vanity Fair the upcoming film is not a reboot, but a continuation of the saga.
“I can’t tell you any details, but I’m delighted to come back,” he said.
“We made the efforts to make it fun and ambitious as the originals. It’s going to be good.”
Don’t shut your eyes. Just in case your memory needs a little tickle in Raiders’ famous, final, face-melting scene – you’re welcome.