Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first collaboration between Star Wars creator George Lucas and Jaws director Steven Spielberg, launched the Indiana Jones franchise when the action-adventure movie opened on June 12, 1981. Styled after the film serials of the 1930s and 1940s, Raiders introduces archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), who teams with spirited former lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and old friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) as he sets out to thwart the Nazis — including the psychopathic Gestapo agent (Ronald Lacey) partnered with Indy's chief rival (Paul Freeman) — from discovering the Ark of the Covenant and using its supernatural powers in their quest for world domination.
The Spielberg-directed Raiders struck gold as the highest-grossing movie of 1981, earning $212 million for studio Paramount. Other big earners that year include On Golden Pond ($119 million), Superman II ($108 million), Arthur ($95 million) and Bill Murray comedy Stripes ($85 million).
Raiders went on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Visual Effects and Best Film Editing, and scored Spielberg his second Best Director nomination after 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The film also earned producer Frank Marshall his first Best Picture nomination.
Born out of Spielberg's desire to helm a James Bond movie, the young director committed to taking on what would become the first Indiana Jones picture while vacationing in Hawaii with Lucas, who wanted to "get away" for the opening of 1977 blockbuster Star Wars.
"I think one of the things we brought to the genre — and we didn't coin the genre; it's been around a lot longer than we've been around — but one of the things that George and I and, originally, Larry Kasdan, the writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark, brought to the genre, was the willingness to allow our leading man to get hurt and to express his pain and to get his mad out and to take pratfalls and sometimes be the butt of his own jokes," Spielberg told Vanity Fair in 2008 ahead of the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the director's fourth Indy movie.
"I mean, Indiana Jones is not a perfect hero, and his imperfections, I think, make the audience feel that, with a little more exercise and a little more courage, they could be just like him," Spielberg added of the often beat-up hero. "So he's not the Terminator. He's not so far away from the people who go to see the movies that he's inaccessible to their own dreams and aspirations. He's not even Bond. Bond's not a superhero, but he's more impenetrable."
Spielberg returned for 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, set before the events of Raiders, and 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Indiana Jones franchise intended to ride into the sunset by the close of the threequel that introduced former James Bond actor Sean Connery as Indy's father, but Lucas and Spielberg partnered again nearly two decades later when Ford reprised his role in Crystal Skull.
The currently untitled Indiana Jones 5 is now in development with Spielberg and Marshall back as producers for Disney-owned Lucasfilm. James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Logan) directs for a planned July 29, 2022 release date.
'Raiders of the Lost Ark' was released 39 years ago today. pic.twitter.com/i4Us5BGHjO— Films to Films 🎥🎬 (@FilmstoFilms_) June 12, 2020
#OTD Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) had its US release. The combination of George Lucas' story of a homage to Hollywood B serials, with Steven Spielberg's deft direction, and Harrison Ford as the intrepid relic hunter Indiana Jones resurrected the adventure film. pic.twitter.com/XOU7eJMBBE— Tico Romao (@TicoRomao) June 12, 2020
The whole idea was dreamt up by GEORGE LUCAS as an archaeologist version of James Bond. The name "Indiana" was the name of Lucas' dog, and he pitched the idea to his pal STEVEN SPIELBERG when they were on holiday together in Hawaii in 1977. pic.twitter.com/Agslfztk2h— All The Right Movies (@right_movies) June 12, 2020
“Its not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”
Released on this day: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK aka, One of My Favorite Things of All Time pic.twitter.com/EEZsZKzi2u— Brianna Ashby (@brianna_ashby) June 12, 2020
On this day in 1981... my dad took me to see the opening of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. It was glorious. pic.twitter.com/1d3MT5CsQf— ULTRA🛸BLAST (@ultrakillblast) June 12, 2020