Indiana Jones returns: The secret behind a 40-year phenomenon

Indiana Jones returns for another thrilling adventure, leaving fans eager to unravel the secret behind the character's enduring global appeal for over 40 years.

 HARRISON FORD  in ‘Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny.’  (photo credit: DISNEY/LUCASFILM)
HARRISON FORD in ‘Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny.’
(photo credit: DISNEY/LUCASFILM)

Over four decades have passed since the bravest archaeologist in Hollywood history first entered our lives, and he will soon return to the big screen in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

Behind the “Indiana Jones” film series stand three heavyweights in Hollywood: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and composer John Williams. The character of Indiana Jones, who was originally called Indiana Smith, was borne from the mind of George Lucas in 1973. Four years later, during a vacation in Maui, Lucas, seeking to get away from all the buzz surrounding him after the release of the first Star Wars film, met Steven Spielberg, who was also taking a break there after the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The two sat under a parasol, sipped pineapple juice, and chatted.

Spielberg told Lucas that he wanted to direct a new James Bond film. "Forget James Bond," the seasoned filmmaker told him. "I have an idea that’s a thousand times better!" Spielberg was skeptical, but after Lucas told him his idea and summarized the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark - which would become the first film in the Indiana Jones series - Spielberg was convinced. "It sounds amazing," said the Jewish filmmaker. "We just need to change one thing: the name Indiana Smith doesn't roll off the tongue well." 

The original trilogy 

After that, they picked up the phone and called composer John Williams, who had already worked with both of them (Williams composed the soundtracks for Lucas' Star Wars films and for Spielberg's Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and 1941).

 Harrison Ford (credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
Harrison Ford (credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

Raiders of the Lost Ark takes place in 1936 and tells the story of an adventurous American archaeologist who tries to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. The film was a tremendous box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film in the United States in 1981, and winning five Oscars.  

Lucas’ original idea was to sign the main star for a trilogy of films, and indeed three films were released in the 1980s. The second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released three years later and served as a prequel to the first film. It was much darker than the first one and at times felt like a horror film, but it had many fans who considered it the best film in the series.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was also a great box office success and became the third highest-grossing film in the United States in 1984. The only films that surpassed it were Beverly Hills Cop (first place) and Ghostbusters (second place).

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade concluded the original trilogy in the late 1980s. In terms of the plot, the film serves as a direct sequel to the first film, and in it, Sean Connery joins the cast as Indiana Jones's father, Professor Henry Jones Sr., who dedicated his life to the search for the Holy Grail and "forgot" that he is Indiana's father. 

The dynamic cast 

Connery was cast as the father despite being only 12 years older than Ford, but the casting proved to work: Connery brought emotion, humor, and depth to the story. River Phoenix, who portrayed Ford's character as a young man in The Mosquito Coast was chosen to play young Indiana Jones.

The addition of Connery and Phoenix and the decision to return to the lighter tone of the first film proved beneficial at the box office. The third Indiana Jones film became the most profitable film in the United States in 1989, as well as one of the most successful films of the 1980s. 19 years later in 2008, the series; fourth film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, was released. It takes place in 1957 and features Soviet KGB agents. Spielberg directed this film as well, and Lucas produced it. Ford once again starred in the lead role, and this time he was joined by Shia LaBeouf as Indiana's son.

Now it's time for the long-awaited fifth film in the series, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, with a production cost of around $300 million. 

Ford's final journey as Indiana Jones 

“I am Indiana Jones," said Ford in response to those who dared to claim that maybe it was time to replace him, as is common in the world of James Bond, for example. "When I'm no longer here, he won't be here either," he emphasized.

This new film is supposed to be Ford's last portrayal of Jones—or so they claim—but Ford has no intention of retiring from acting, and he has other planned projects. 

In an interview regarding the new film, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Ford stated "I wanted to directly confront the question of age. Not to hide my age, but to leverage it as part of the story. Six years ago, I thought maybe we should try to make one more film, and I wanted it to deal with the theme of age because I believe it brings the story we've told to a close and brings it to the right place." When asked if he's sad that it's ending, he replied, "Not at all, it's time for me to grow up."