Audiences discovered Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when it opened in theaters on May 22, 2008. The fourth film in the long-running Indiana Jones franchise that first rode into the sunset with 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the sequel again starring Harrison Ford as gruff archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark star Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood re-teamed series creator George Lucas with franchise director Steven Spielberg. Introducing franchise newcomer Shia LaBeouf as Indy and Marion's son, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull teased a passing of the torch — or the whip — before Disney-owned Lucasfilm began developing Indiana Jones 5 with Ford reprising the titular role.
In Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, set during the height of the Cold War in 1957, Jones learns from greaser Mutt (LaBeouf) old colleague Harold "Ox" Oxley (John Hurt) disappeared while investigating the legendary Crystal Skull of Akator in Peru. On their adventure uncovering the seemingly extraterrestrial origins of the Crystal Skull, Indy and Mutt are reunited with Marion, Mutt's mother, and must keep one step ahead of Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and an army of Soviet agents wanting to use the powerful artifact to conquer the world.
Almost 20 years after its last installment, the fourth Indiana Jones film earned $790 million worldwide, making it the second highest-grossing movie of 2008 behind only The Dark Knight. The film received mixed to positive reviews and holds a 78% "fresh" approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
"For me, making the latest installment of Indiana Jones was like getting back on the bicycle I hadn't ridden in 18 years. And I was able to keep my balance without training wheels," Spielberg told Vanity Fair in a 2008 interview. "I was sort of amazed that all of us got our Indy legs back in the first couple of days of shooting, and that was the good news. It was a real reunion, with the sweetest memories we shared from 1980 through 1989, when we made three Indiana Jones features. And to have Karen Allen back, and to get Harrison back in such great form! I screened the movies for myself, too. I screened the films back-to-back before I began directing the fourth one."
The plot involving inter-dimensional beings was initially contested by Spielberg, who "quite liked" an unused script penned by Frank Darabont pitting Jones against latter-day Nazis instead of the Soviets.
"George and I had a disagreement over it, and George and I have always agreed to agree. So when we take each other's temperatures, if I really am passionate about something, George will give in to me, and if George is really passionate about something, I'll pretty much go his way," Spielberg said. "And in this case George was passionate that this was not the story he wanted to tell at this point in the Indiana Jones saga. And I think it's a wonderful script."
Explaining his insistence on involving Soviets and "alien" creatures in a joint interview with Spielberg, Lucas told Entertainment Weekly in 2008, "The idea was to take the genre of Saturday-matinee serials, which were popular in the '30s and '40s, and say, 'What kind of B movie was popular in the '50s, like those B movie serials were popular in the '40s?' And use that as the overall uber-genre. We wouldn't do it as a Saturday-matinee serial. We'd do it as a B movie from the '50s."
A fifth film, the first not directed by Spielberg, is currently scheduled to open July 29, 2022.