Raiders of the Lost Ark - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Raiders of the Lost Ark Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ December 24, 2010
The first of the successful series, an exhilarating and entertaining adventure with a delicious humor, a charismatic protagonist and a lot of fast-paced action, where each scene is more exciting than the one before - and it never lets the viewer down or loses its pacing.
Super Reviewer
March 16, 2007
Swashbucklers were deeply unfashionable at the time when Raiders was made, and it took the talents of the then new golden boy of Hollywood to breathe new life into the genre. With a bespectacled alter ego who is a million miles away from his action man persona like an archaeological Clark Kent, Indiana Jones became an iconic action figure who was often knocked on his backside, played fair only when it suited him and was far more interested than his treasure than getting the girl. Sound familiar? Yes without Raiders, Captain Jack would probably never have existed. Like POTC, this film takes its cues from the golden age of the Hollywood swashbuckler, to the point where Ronald Lacey's sinister yet effeminate secret policeman and Paul Freeman's amoral gentleman rogue could easily have been mistaken for Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet respectively. The action is as superbly handled by Spielberg as always, the truck chase scene being one of the all time great stunt sequences and the wholly unexpected finale that blends religious mythology with gothic horror is fantastic. A perfectly judged combination of slam bang set pieces and humour that makes for flawless family entertainment.
Super Reviewer
June 27, 2007
My love for this great classic is truly beyond words! As a kid, it was a moment of magic for me every time Indy in his iconic adventure gear appeared on screen. Whether it was narrowly escaping a giant boulder of death, or opening a can of whoop-ass when faced with some Nazi bad guys, you could always count on him to deliver some first-rate fun. And there couldn't have been anyone better to execute it than artisan story-teller Steven Spielberg. Nor any better music composer than the legendary John Williams, whose instantly recognizable themes are classics in their own right. Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman and John Rhys-Davies - there's not a single performance in here that isn't totally fantastic. So prepare yourself for a helluva good time. Because whenever Indy whips up some action, it's impossible not to stick around and watch.
Super Reviewer
June 23, 2013
A fun adventure/action story from the days before CGI when the story had to be the driving force behind a good action film. A true classic that should not be missed.
Super Reviewer
June 9, 2006
This is basically one of the all -time greatest action/adventure films ever made. It's also totally cool that it delves into fantasy/supernatural territory as well, as it doesn't feel out of place.

Set in 1936, this loving homage to action/adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s follows Indiana Jones- a college professor and archaeologist who, unlike most people in his profession, is also an adventurer who has no problems getting down and dirty to get the treasures and artifacts he needs.

Called upon by military intelligence agents, he sets out on a globe trotting quest to find and recover the Ark of the Covenant (the chest containing the remains of the Ten Commandments) before the Nazis do, who feel that they will be unstoppable if the Ark is in their possession. Joining him are Marion Ravenwood- his embittered former lover and daughter of his mentor (who was an expert on the Ark), and his comrade Sallah- 'the best digger in Cairo'. Along the way, Jones and Co. have to contend with Indy's rival French archaeologist Renee Belloq (who is working for the Nazis), relentless Gestapo officer Toht, a bunch of soldiers, and a ton of snakes (Indy's biggest fear).

Spielberg and Co. intended this to be just a loving B-movie homage to stuff from the past that they loved. They weren't trying to make an amazing work of art. However, the film was so well done that that is exactly what it became, transcending the level of genre pic to masterpiece of artistic adventure cinema.

Pretty much everything about this film shines: the script is tight, with the characterization and exposition expertly laid out with perfect pacing, the technical stuff like cinematography, editing, and all the effects (yay for no CGI!) are superb, then of course, there's the music. Hands down amazing. The score by John Williams pretty much drives the film, and is probably overall, what really makes it work. While the film does have dialogue, it's actually pretty sparse, with most of the film cruising along via visual storytelling, highlighted by the thrilling music cues.

Harrison Ford is terrific as Indy, and among his most iconic roles, this one's probably the best, and that's taking into consideration that I'm a big Star Wars fan. Paul Freeman is amazing as Belloq, who is a terrific character. Yeah, he's the villain, but he's actually quite layered and complex, and not really that typical of a villain. Basically he and Indy are pretty morally gray, but Belloq is a tad bit darker. Arnold Lacey is friggin creepy as Toht, and he really makes your skin crawl. As Marion, Karen Allen is great, and the character is more than just a pure damsel in distress. John Rhys-Davies is fun as Sallah, and it's great seeing Alfred Molina in his film debut as a guide who helps Indy on a mission prior to the Ark quest.

The film is fun, funny, and very thrilling. I've seen it many times, and it never gets old. Yeah, there's a few cheesy moments, but they mostly add to the charm and enjoyment of things. I got the chance to see this on the big screen, and, let me tell you, it really added to the experience, and made me love this film even more.

If you've somehow managed to never see this, you really must. It's crackling good entertainment, and truly one of the best.
Super Reviewer
September 25, 2010
Raiders of the Lost Ark is pure cinematic entertainment at it's finest. Harrison Ford works wonders here as a fight for the possession of the wonderous ark is on the rise. The first half of the film is mostly buildup to the finale, but the second half of the film is where it really got me. The first half is a bit slow for my taste, but it picks up around the middle, creating a fantasy adventure for everyone to love. The ending made my jaw-drop, and the outcome is brilliant. Steven Spielberg directed the hell out of this film and it shows both visually and in the story on screen. I loved "Raiders of the Lost Ark" from start to finish. This is one fantastical action/adventure!
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ February 10, 2013
Trying to analyse Indiana Jones is every bit at tricky as analysing Star Wars. Both have become such indelible parts of our popular culture that it often seems fatuous to question their legacy, with every year throwing up new examples of films which either directly imitate Lucas and Spielberg or which owe a passing debt to them in some way.

But if we attempt to wade through the reputation, and look under the brim of that famous fedora, how well does the original hold up after 32 years? In the case of Star Wars, a great deal of admiration remains for its technical proficiency, but its narrative and character shortcomings are increasingly in plain sight. The story of Raiders of the Lost Ark is every bit as fanciful in its roots and execution, but under Spielberg's guiding hand it soars, resulting in a truly great action film that barely misses a beat.

For all the things you could feasibly hold against George Lucas, one thing he does deserve credit for is rescuing Spielberg's career. After the release of 1941, Spielberg's reputation had declined from a wunderkind who couldn't fail to a reckless liability. Studios had let the production delays on Jaws and Close Encounters slide due to their phenomenal grosses, but when 1941 failed to match these returns, the blank cheque was permanently torn up. To get back in Hollywood's good books, Spielberg had to demonstrate that he could make a wide-appeal film that would come in on-time and on-budget - on low-budget, to be exact.

Looking at the two films side by side, it's hard to believe that Raiders and 1941 were made by the same man, let alone within two years of each other. Put simply, Raiders of the Lost Ark succeeds in every way that 1941 so dismally failed. Its storytelling is focussed and well-structured where 1941 was a meandering mess; its characters are memorable and well-developed inside of simply zany or kooky; the sets are properly lit and directed; and the comic timing is impeccable. It is indeed ironic that Lucas, who is neither a disciplined director nor a brilliant storyteller, should be the one to rein Spielberg in and get him back to what he always did best.

Like many great low-budget works, so much of Raiders of the Lost Ark is the product of happy accidents. The project changed several times between Lucas first developing it and the cameras rolling, with the lead originally being called Indiana Smith and Spielberg wanting the Nazi Major Toht to have a robotic arm. But in addition much of the location shooting in Tunisia was blighted by crew illness due to poor quality food and the extreme heat. The now-iconic sword vs. gun scene was initially meant to involve Indiana fighting the swordsman with a whip, but on the day of shooting Harrison Ford had dysentery and couldn't perform the stunts. He allegedly said to Spielberg, "let's just shoot the f***er", and the rest is history.

The key difference in quality between Star Wars and Indiana Jones lies in understanding the relationships between the films and the sources that inspired them. In my review of A New Hope, I remarked that Star Wars came from pulpy, pantomime stock but tried to pass itself off as something a little more serious. The mythology that Lucas constructed from a variety of difference sources may have brought depth to the characters' universe, but at the consequence of making the finished product seem more than a little po-faced.

Raiders of the Lost Ark comes from exactly the same pulpy stock - boys'-own adventure stories, Saturday morning serials, 1940s B-movies and the like. But where Star Wars tries to eschew or overlook its predecessors, Raiders actively embraces them. It operates under the same logic and conventions of its predecessors, reinventing and updating the genre within these boundaries as it goes along. Spielberg is retelling old stories in his own style with his particular emphases, and sometimes he draws attention to the riper, more ridiculous elements in order that we may revel in them. Proof of this lies in John Williams' score; the main theme is fantastically distinctive, but the music also has a big role in the storytelling, reflecting the melodramatic roots of the series.

If you stopped for any given length of time, you could begin to unpick the plot of Raiders without much difficulty. On top of the usual contrivances of characters just happening to converge in the right place and time, there are numerous practical questions which the story glosses over. If Indiana can so easily break his staff over his knee, why didn't it snap when he dropped it into the Well of Souls? Why didn't Belloq notice the digging on the hill (not to mention the singing) a lot sooner? How did the snakes get into the chamber and survive there for so long without any food? And how did the baskets get switched around so that Marian didn't get killed?

While these are all valid questions in isolation, to linger on them too long would be to miss the point. None of these potential plot holes are problematic enough to undermine the overall story, and the film moves so fast and fluidly that you either don't notice them or they don't seem to matter. This is something that very much comes with the territory: the main priority of adventure stories is to keep things moving so that the audience is entertained. If it all ties up nicely in the end, that's a nice bonus, but a few loose ends can be allowed provided the pay-off is strong enough (and it is).

One of the most distinctive features of Raiders is its pacing. Its opening sequence, from the Universal logo to the plane taking off, is perhaps the best-paced opening sequence to any 1980s film. There is not a single second that could have been cut out to make it more efficient or dramatic, and every single edit is in the right place, both to slowly reveal our main character and to crank up the tension when he's retrieving the idol. Even after its opening, the film barely misses a beat over nearly 2 hours, and when you're dealing with so many different twists and locations, that's quite an accomplishment.

The great thing about Indiana Jones as a character is that he always feels human even when he accomplishes the extraordinary. In Star Wars the characters were archetypes that only became human in the later films; they were still enjoyable and likeable up to a point, but all too often convention got in the way of distinctive characterisation. Indiana Jones may well be pure masculinity, but Harrison Ford also brings a vulnerable quality to the role, allowing us to swoon over him one minute and admire him the next.

The set-pieces in Raiders are all brilliantly constructed. Many of the more elaborate sequences, like the truck chase, were shot entirely by the second unit; they filmed as close as they could to Spielberg's storyboards, with the director shooting all of Ford's close-ups much later. But even then Spielberg deserves enormous credit for how well-developed these set-pieces are, with every one going through several movements and using the full potential of their settings and props. All the little touches are lovingly witty, whether it's the fruit on the end of an impaler's sword or the monkey doing the Hitler salute in the bar.

Being the product of pulpy adventure stories, we should not take the film's comments on religion (in this case Judaism) any more seriously than its depiction of Nazis. The Ark of the Covenant is essentially a McGuffin, built up as something of significance but with its main purpose being to drive the plot forward. If, however, you do want to read into the symbolism, the film does allow you do so and gives you a little to chew on alongside your popcorn. From this perspective the film becomes about modernity, with Man questioning the rule of God and paying the consequences. It's a film in which intentions and morals are clearly emphasised; Indy and Marion survive because they didn't covet the Ark as a source of power. The series would return to these ideas in greater detail in Last Crusade some eight years later.

The climax of the film sees these themes being brought to the foreground, in a special effects ending which has dated incredibly well. After a series of conventional jump scares, such as Marian falling through the skeletons, we get a series of great effects shots which put a series of scary faces on the wrath of God. The shift in the angel's face remains deeply terrifying, while the face-melting and head explosions (in a PG film!) are up there with anything Lucio Fulci or David Cronenberg were doing at the same time. It's an ending that meets our genre expectations while also breaking new ground, either in content or the extent of presentation.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a really great film which fully earns its reputation as one of the most iconic and influential works of the 1980s. Spielberg's direction is really first-rate, providing humour, thrills and plenty of heart to compliment the light-hearted story and the feisty performances of Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. Even after 32 years, all the sequels and a legion of imitators, it remains one of Spielberg's finest achievements, being a classic in its time and in ours.
Super Reviewer
October 13, 2012
'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. Harrison Ford's mischievous, charming smile sums up this whole film. A landmark action adventure that's fun and exciting the whole way through.

The Swordsman v Gun, ominous coat hanger, boulder escape, that brilliant car chase recovery. Gosh, so many brilliant scenes.

Spielberg's direction lets the action flow, and I love the way he plays with light and dark in the many memorable silhouettes throughout the film.

Ford is simply dashing as the ruggedly handsome Dr. Jones. Again, that mischievous smile is so uniquely his. Oh, and Karen Allen, beautiful and sexy all at once.
Samuel Riley
Super Reviewer
September 9, 2012
The original and best of Indiana Jones's adventures. Filled with so many recognized characters, lines and scenes, such as the infamous boulder escape. This is a major highlight for Harrison Ford as the legendary adventurer, whom is still praised as one of the greatest protagonists by all generations.
Super Reviewer
January 15, 2012
Since I just saw this movie in IMAX, it's time for a new review of it. Raiders of the Lost Ark was made in 1981, so obviously, I wasn't alive to see it in theaters. The first time I saw it was when I bought it on DVD a few years ago and I loved it. I still love it to this day and I got so much joy out of seeing it on the big screen. Raiders of the Lost Ark is about an archaeologist by the name of Indiana Jones on a quest to save the Ark of the Covenant, a religious item said to carry the ten commandments, from the Nazis. Harrison Ford stars as Indiana Jones and he's awesome in it. He's the hero that you root for no matter what and Ford is always good at making the character believable. Karen Allen plays the love interest and this movie was made back when she was hot. She's also not your stereotypical damsel in distress, she's the girl who stands up for herself and she kicks ass. (Take notes, Bella Swan.) The thing I like about Raiders is that it's the type of movie that isn't synthetic and it doesn't suffer from lacking any of its own charm. All the action scenes are exciting and there's humor added to any given situation. The one scene with comic relief that everybody remembers is when Indy comes face to face with a swordsman. The swordsman starts brandishing his sword around in a really stylish and badass way and Indy handles it by just simply shooting him and walking away like nothing ever happened. That scene never get old. The action scenes in Raiders are also great. The stuff that's happening on screen is what happened when the scene was actually being filmed. There's no special effects added and there's not an overload of CGI. The action scenes are genuine and authentic. For example, the truck chase scene. Indy is chasing the Nazis and he fights a nazi in the truck, he gets dragged along a dirt road, he's hanging onto the grill of the truck, it's all great. You really get the sense that Indy is in danger in this movie. Everything that happens in the movie feels important and you're on Indy's side the entire time. The musical score is one of the best things I've ever heard. John Williams conducted the music and he created one of the greatest movie scores of all time. If you've never heard the theme song for Indiana Jones, then you truly are living under a rock. I cannot praise this movie enough. It's my favorite action movie of all time, one of my favorite movies of all time and being able to sit in a theater and experience it was simply awesome.
Super Reviewer
July 13, 2012
The introduction of one of my all time favorite characters is a blast to view. I can't recall having much more fun at the movies.
Super Reviewer
June 24, 2007
The first of the Indiana Jones movies. Indy and Marion try to retrieve the Lost Ark from the Nazis. Great action movie.
Super Reviewer
January 12, 2007
When it comes to adventure movies with class that are well-made pieces of cinema, I can't think of a better example than the brainchild of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. I'm talking about the great Raiders of the Lost Ark (or Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark as they title it on the box art now). It's one of the last truly great action adventure films of the last thirty years that not only delivers on the genre's expectations, but also turns in remarkable performances, beautiful photography and incredible production values. It may have come first in the eventual series of films, but it's also the best. I also consider it to be one of the top five best films of Spielberg's entire career. Everything just came together like clockwork on this movie and it turned out better than anyone expected. It also holds up incredibly well as a dynamic and well-made popcorn movie. There would be sequels with the runaway success of the movie, of course, but this entry is a perfect mixture of talent, and it will never be topped, no matter how many sequels they make.
Super Reviewer
September 15, 2011
Wow, where to begin. The first scene is one of the most iconic set pieces ever created, what a way to kick the movie off. Just looking at the names before viewing, I knew it was going to be amazing: Speilberg (director), Lucas (producer), and Ford (lead actor)! The acting was on point, the action scenes were thrilling, and it was suspenseful throughout its entirety. Truly one of a kind.
Super Reviewer
July 31, 2009
It's tough to fault a film which begins with one of the very greatest set-pieces of all time and one of the most iconic images in film. Raiders of the Lost Ark's constant "outdo the last scene" mentality means that each scene is more bombastic than the last, moving from a giant boulder rolling after our hero to a nail biting truck ride through the desert to the head-melting power of the ark itself. As well as this we have the introduction one of the greatest characters ever committed to celluloid, one of the most recognisable scores of all time and one of the most whip-smart and funny scripts of the 80s. And besides all these technical factors the overriding factor of the film is the fact that it's fun. Constantly. Impossibly, ludicrously, timelessly fun.

When Indiana Jones is set on the hunt for the legendary Ark of the Covenant, he soon finds out that he's not the only one and that his competitors will stop at nothing to get there first.

Stephen Spielberg had already made some incredible films, Jaws being the main one with Sugarland Express and Close Encounters of the Third as well. But he'd just made his first truly bad film with 1941 and he needed to get back on track. Well, he did. In his typically restrained though rich imagery, Spielberg makes every shot count every time. His understanding of his audience is shown through the nuance of each shot, whether it's the zoom in on a slowly turning Indy as he sees the boulder bearing down on him or the wide expanse of a hillside teeming with bloodthirsty natives. The fact that he's able to sustain this inspired imagery the whole way through the film shows his immense passion and expertise in his craft. He's able to handle the big moments as well as the smaller ones like the moments between Marion and Indy. He also subtly adds humour into everything he does, something added to immensely by Harrison Ford's fantastic performance as Indy.

It's this performance that elevates the already fantastic character of Indiana Jones to something mythical. Whether it's a wry smile or a look of complete confusion, Harrison Ford creates a character who is not only someone to root for but also completely human in his limitations and the fact that, in his own words, "I'm just making this up as I go!" Karen Allen plays Marion Ravenwood, a girl with more fire than most of the action hero dames of late. She, like Ford manages to wring humour out of every situation as well being damn scary in others. Critically, and here's where all other action movies should take not, she's not just the princess to be rescued. Sure there are times when she in trouble and calling for Indy to give her a hand, but a lot of the time she's working on getting herself out of trouble, drinking her captors under the table before whipping out a knife, fighting side by side with Indy, she is in no way Indy's inferior and she's brilliant to boot. Thanfully we don't get treated to a spiel about women are just as good as men, preferring to talk with her actions. These two are a fantastic double act as well as being great on their own. Their often fiery conversations are as hilarious as they are telling about the undercurrent of sexual tension and they constantly try to outdo each other. The rest of the cast perform well too, John Rhys-Davies' Sallah is a booming delight and Paul Freemon's Belloq is fantastic as well.

Whether you've seen the film or not, it's difficult to have gone through life without hearing John Williams' amazing score. A perfect combination of upbeat and triumphant, Williams' main theme soars through the thrilling moments, making them that much more thrilling to watch. Typical of Williams he punctuates the action, drama and thrills to equal effect, each one with its own iconic sound and each one linking together in a beautiful harmony. It's an amazing achievement though, in a body of work this incredible, it's almost just another day at the office for Williams. He is the undisputed master of score and this is one of his most unforgettable masterpieces.

Lawrence Kasdan's script is another of the factors in an already fantastic movie. Each line is quotable and memorable, specifically because he never says more than he has to say. In a brilliant display of understanding his character, Kasdan offers up lines which suit Indy to a tee; funny, dry and sardonic. The delivery of the actors may makeable certifiable gold but Kasdan's words should be an inspiration to action writers from now till kingdom come.

There might only be a dozen films ever made that you can watch anytime in any mood and this is among them. Vintage Spielberg, Ford at the top of his game and, of course, that theme. What more could you want?

Defining Scene:
That first brilliant scene. Despite the increasingly fantastic action set-pieces, for a start to a film and an introduction to a character, you don't get much better than this.

Where shall I find a new adversary so close to my own level?
Try the sewer.

Throw me the idol, I'll throw you the whip!

You're not the man I knew ten years ago.
It's not the years honey, it's the mileage.

Snake. Why'd it have to be snakes?
Asps. Very dangerous. You go first.

I don't know, I'm making this up as I go!
Super Reviewer
February 28, 2011
I'm not the biggest fan...But it's a classic. Don't really is much to say.
Super Reviewer
½ May 29, 2006
It's a great start for our favorite archeologist, Indiana Jones, to start his journey.. Steven Spielberg made another well-packed action movie that made the audience will having some fun while watching it.. I must say Harrison Ford successfully playing the character Indiana Jones which looks a little bit like James Bond when he get closer to woman, while Karen Allen made the movie more lively with her performance as a brave young woman.. The story itself was okay, at least I have fun while watching it.. John Williams made a great and memorable score for this movie.. Overall, it's not a really great movie, but it's particularly a good movie to be watched, especially for family fun..
shahmeer h.
Super Reviewer
June 19, 2011
Let me start by saying that this was one of the most excellent films of the 80s. Exciting, fast-paced, and a masterpiece itself. The debt that Harrison Ford brings to his character is outstanding, and nothing made his carreer lift off as well as this. This film is perfect in many ways, besides the dialogue. but for right now, I'll start with the story. The idea of finding the Lost Ark is not very original, for it was attempted many times in real life. But the fact that an archeoligist, inside a Nazi camp, with plenty of back-stabbers, and the sexiest, most beatiful women he'll ever meet AND trying to find the lost ark. Now thats original. Then the acting in this film is pure goodness. Sadly, Harrison Ford wasw robbed of a nomination-yes, not an award, but a NOMINATION- and thats just sad for the Academy. The acting by lead actress Karen Allen isnt as good as I hoped, but still a passing grade. Which is just one of the reasons why I gave this film an 8, not an expected 10, like most people. So, acting is good. Then comes the cinematagrophy. Wow. Next is the sound and soundtrack. This main theme might have been one of the best ever. Its one of the most recognizable, and it is such a pity that it didn't win the Academy Award. John Williams seemed to have put in a ton of effort into building this soundtrack, and it paid off. Never has a main theme been more enjoyable to listen to, other than Star War's and Pirates of the Carribean's. It will live on not in just movie history, but musical history, as well. Then I move on to the special effects. The special effects in this film were very gratifying, especially in the 80s. When I saw this film, I could've sworn it wasn't a movie from the 20th century. But, as usual, the wonders if film tricked me again. What great effects and what genuine editing. It's all simply marvelous. But then I move on to what mainly gave this movie an 8. The dialogue. Some of the dialogue in this film was to much to handle, and I really couldn't. When the dialogue was good, it was alright, but when it was bad, it was horrible. And most of the time it was bad. "You can't do this to me, I'm an AMERICAN," was one of the most memorable quotes. Yes, most memorable. But I wont complain anymore, because all in all, this film is as adventure films get. In the end, I give it a deserving 80/100
Super Reviewer
February 26, 2011
One of the greatest films of its time, it was amazing. Harrison Ford was born for this role, he oozes cool and excitement in an amazing way. The plots a work of art because it brings together bible legends, puzzles, treasure, and one of the greatest stories ever made. Music has stood the test of time and the theme is classic. Chase scenes and action moments were well done and totally Spielbergs work. Love this movie.
Super Reviewer
½ September 4, 2007
i love the indiana jones franchise, they are all interesting, exciting and funny.
I love the storylines and i love harrison ford as the lead.
This is just an entertaining and enjoyable movie that i cant fault and should be watched.
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