Raiders of the Lost Ark
Directed bySteven Spielberg
Written byGeorge Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Lawrence Kasdan
Produced byHoward Kazanjian, George Lucas, Frank Marshall
StarringHarrison Ford
Karen Allen
Music byJohn Williams
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
12 June 1981
Running time
115 min.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, is a film released by Paramount Pictures in 1981. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it is a fantasy adventure and the first released, though the twenty-fourth, chronologically, in a series of film and TV productions about the adventures of the heroic fictional archaeologist Indiana Jones.


Plot summary

The story introduces us to archaeologist, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). Jones is a professor of archeology and also acquires artifacts for Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), who works for a museum. On his adventure in the film, he is accompanied by Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). His adversary is Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman).

Set in 1936, the story begins with Jones's journey into the South American jungle with a few local guides to find a hidden temple that houses a golden idol head. Jones avoids various traps, betrayal by both his guides (one played by a young Alfred Molina), and, in a memorable and much-parodied scene, a giant rolling boulder that chases him out of the temple. Waiting for him outside is his old enemy, French archaeologist Rene Belloq, and a small army of natives. Belloq steals the idol from Jones, who barely escapes in his nearby float plane.

Back at the American university where he teaches, two US Army intelligence men explain to Jones and Brody that a secret, cryptic Nazi message mentions a Prof. Ravenwood being under the scrutiny of German intelligence. Jones, a former student of Ravenwood, interprets the message as an indication that the Nazis are close to finding the Ark of the Covenant — a golden chest that held the remnants of the original Ten Commandments. Legends imply that Hitler could use the Ark to render his army invincible.

The Germans believe that Ravenwood has the headpiece of the Staff of Ra needed to pinpoint the Ark's resting place. The headpiece is a golden disk that, when affixed to the top of a staff of a specific height, focuses a beam of sunlight on to a model of the ancient Egyptian city Tanis and thus reveals the Ark's location. According to Ravenwood, the Pharaoh Shishaq stole the Ark from Jerusalem and hid it in the Well of Souls, in Tanis, before the city was consumed by a sandstorm.

Jones flies to snowy, mountainous Nepal to speak with Marion Ravenwood, the professor's tough-minded and independent daughter, only to find that her father died and that she's reluctant to part with the headpiece. A Nazi agent named Toht who has followed Jones to Marion tries to take the piece from her by threatening her with a hot iron. Marion teams up with Jones, following a shootout between him and Toht's hired thugs in Marion's tavern. During the gunfight Toht seizes the medallion which had been lying in a nearby nest of flame. The object burns its image into his hand.

Jones and Marion fly to Cairo and meet Jones's friend Sallah, a skilled Egyptian digger and archaeologist, to find help in decoding the markings in the headpiece that specify the height of the staff needed to hold the headpiece. While touring Cairo's markets, Marion and Jones are chased by hired swordsmen. Nazi operatives grab Marion and throw her in a truck, but the vehicle crashes and explodes when Jones shoots the driver with his pistol. Fearing that Marion was most likely killed in the blast, Jones in a rage encounters Belloq once more in a Cairo tavern and wishes to kill him despite Belloq's sermon about the Ark's wonders. Sallah and his children rescue Jones from Belloq's henchmen.

That evening, Sallah takes Jones to an old wiseman who decodes the markings. He notes that one side of the headpiece says that the staff must be shortened out of respect for the Hebrew God. It appears that the Nazis have misread the headpiece (since they only have a copy of one side's markings from the image on Toht's hand). Their staff is too long, and they are thus digging for the Ark in the wrong location.

Infiltrating the dig, Jones and Sallah use the headpiece in the map room to then find the Ark deep within the snake-infested Well of Souls. Belloq and the Germans, led by the sadistic Col. Dietrich and his assistant Gobler, surround the entrance, take the Ark, and leave Jones and Marion to die in the snake-infested pit. They escape though a weak stone wall and arrive in time to see a Luftwaffe plane being prepared to ship the Ark to Berlin.

After attempting to stop the pilot, Jones gets entangled in a fight with a muscular soldier (Pat Roach) around the spinning propellers of the plane. Marion knocks out the pilot and fends off some infantrymen with the plane's machine gun while Jones hides his face when his opponent is torn apart by a propeller. Gasoline leaking from a refuelling truck ignites and destroys the plane, causing Belloq and Dietrich to put the Ark on a truck instead. It will be driven to Cairo and shipped to Berlin from there.

Stealing a horse, Jones chases the truck convoy, he manages to take the wheel of the truck, throw the passengers off the back, fend off the other support vehicles, and escape, all in a rather dramatic chase scene. Retaking the Ark, Jones and Marion depart from a happy Sallah and sail with it on a ship bound for England.

A Nazi U-boat with Belloq and Dietrich stops the ship and takes the Ark and Marion, but Jones, having hidden himself somewhere on the ship, covertly boards the U-boat. It docks at a submarine pen on an island in the Aegean Sea, where Jones steals a soldier's uniform. Threatening to destroy the Ark with a rocket launcher, Jones is soon convinced by Belloq to surrender, giving in to his own deep desires as an archaeologist to see the Ark's contents.

Marion and Jones are tied up and forced to view a ceremony where Belloq opens the Ark in front of a group of German soldiers. Strangely the soldiers who touch the Ark are not struck down, as would be expected, but are able to remove the lid. Inside there is only sand which appears to disappoint Belloq and amuse Toht. The symbolism of the Ark containing only sand is known only to the director of the film. As Belloq ponders the Ark's disappointing contents a humming sound starts and strange and mysterious spirits emerge from within. At first they appear like angels and delight the witnesses but then they suddenly transform into hideous Angels of Death consuming Belloq (whose head explodes), Dietrich (who dries up like a raisin) and Toht (who literally melts). Jets of fire and energy emanate from the burning corpse of Belloq and vapourise the cowering soldiers, evaporating their souls into the afterlife. Jones and Marion are spared because Jones realizes that the spirits must not be viewed and shuts his eyes and instructs Marion likewise. The couple thus escape the wrath of God.

Later, back in Washington D.C., the two Army intelligence representatives tell Jones that "top men" are studying the Ark, but in a dramatic irony the Ark is sealed in a wooden crate and stored in a giant government warehouse filled with countless other similar crates.

Cast listing

Actor/Actress Role(s)
Harrison Ford Indiana Jones
Karen Allen Marion Ravenwood
Paul Freeman Dr. Rene Belloq
Ronald Lacey Major Toht
John Rhys-Davies Sallah
Denholm Elliott Dr. Marcus Brody
Alfred Molina Satipo
Wolf Kahler Colonel Dietrich
Anthony Higgins Gobler
Vic Tablian Barranca/Monkey Man
Don Fellows Col. Musgrove
William Hootkins Major Eaton
Bill Reimbold Bureaucrat
Fred Sorenson Jock
Patrick Durkin Australian Climber
Matthew Scurfield 2nd Nazi
Malcolm Weaver Ratty Nepalese (as Malcom Weaver)
Sonny Caldinez Mean Mongolian
Anthony Chinn Mohan
Pat Roach Giant Sherpa/1st Mechanic
Christopher Frederick Otto
Tutte Lemkow Imam
Ishaq Bux Omar
Kiran Shah Abu
Souad Messaoudi Fayah
Terry Richards Arab Swordsman
Steve Hanson German Agent
Frank Marshall Pilot
Martin Kreidt Young Soldier
George Harris Katanga
Eddie Tagoe Messenger Pirate
John Rees Sergeant
Tony Vogel Tall Captain
Ted Grossman Peruvian Porter
Peter Diamond German Soldier (uncredited)
Romo Gorrara German Soldier (uncredited)
Barrie Holland Archivist (uncredited)
Dennis Muren Nazi Spy on the Airplane (uncredited)
Glenn Randall Jr. Flying Wing Mechanic (uncredited)
Michael Sheard U-Boat Captain (uncredited)

Crew listing


George Lucas originally became involved in the project in 1977. Like Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, he saw it as an opportunity to create a modern version of the serials of the 1930s and 1940s. The early 1970s had been dominated by action films either with a certain gritty realism, such as the Dirty Harry series, or that were massive productions with huge casts and elaborate special effects such as The Poseidon Adventure. By contrast Raiders of the Lost Ark is comic book-like in tone, with a glamorous heroine, over-the-top villains, and impressive stunt work combined with moments of comedy. It was also limited in its ambitions as it was shot in only 73 days, the plot is rather straightforward, and there are only a few principal characters.

Lucas had conceived of the idea in discussion with Philip Kaufman who had worked on a treatment. In a "Making of..." TV special, Lucas said that the mental picture of Indy chasing the truck on horseback, in the style of a western hero chasing a runaway stagecoach, was his initial inspiration for the film. He told his colleague, "I want to see this movie!"

Steven Spielberg had expressed an interest in directing a James Bond film, but to no avail from EON Productions, the company that owned the rights to the character. Lucas convinced his friend Spielberg that he had conceived a character "better than James Bond": Indiana Jones. While on holiday in Hawaii, the pair worked out the basis for the film. At the time, Spielberg's career was suffering due to the expensive bomb 1941 so it was agreed that Lucas would produce and Spielberg would direct. A new screenplay was commissioned from Lawrence Kasdan. Raiders was conceived by Paramount Pictures as a star vehicle for Tom Selleck but he was not available due to a commitment to star in the American television show Magnum, P.I., so Harrison Ford was cast instead.


The $20-million film was a huge success, easily the highest grossing film (earning $210 million approx.) of 1981, and, at the time, one of the highest-grossing movies ever made. According to the 2005 edition of The World Almanac (from Variety data), the first two Star Wars films are the only pictures released prior to 1981 that have out-earned Raiders.

The box office success of the film led to a prequelIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and a sequel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

In 1998, the American Film Institute placed the film at number 60 on its top 100 films of the first century of cinema. In 1999 the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

A fourth, as yet title-less, movie is apparently in pre-production for 2006. The Indiana Jones franchise eventually expanded to books, games, a television series, and even theme park attractions. (See Indiana Jones for more information.)



Raiders Of The Lost Ark' is the soundtrack that is most notable for featuring the rousing and iconic song "The Raider's March" that came to symbolize Indiana Jones. The tune was composed by John Williams.


  1. "The Raiders March"
  2. "Main Title: South America"
  3. "In The Idol's Temple"
  4. "Flight From Peru"
  5. "Journey To Nepal"
  6. "The Medallion"
  7. "To Cairo"
  8. "The Basket Game"
  9. "The Map Room: Dawn"
  10. "Reunion And The Dig Begins"
  11. "The Well Of The Souls"
  12. "Airplane Fight"
  13. "Desert Chase"
  14. "Marion's Theme"
  15. "The German Sub/To The Nazi Hideout"
  16. "Ark Trek"
  17. "The Miracle Of The Ark"
  18. "The Warehouse"
  19. "End Credits


Raiders of the Lost Ark was nominated for eight Academy Awards in 1982 and won four (Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration). It won numerous other awards including seven Saturn Awards.

Home video release issues

For its 1999 VHS re-issue, and the subsequent DVD release four years later, the outer package has been retitled Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, the title in the film itself remains unchanged, even in the restored DVD print. The newer video boxes of the movie on VHS and DVD are likely titled Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in order to correlate with the film's prequels and sequels.

Video games

The only video game based exclusively on this movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark (Atari 2600), released in 1982 by Atari for their Atari 2600 console.


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