Top 100 Movie Review: #60 – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Good Fun with No Story.

Absolutely ridiculous at times — too ridiculous.Screen_Shot_2015-06-26_at_9.26.15_AM.0.0.png

American Film Institutes Ranking: #60/100
Awards: Nominated for nine winning the ones for sound and effects.
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

I can’t recall ever actually seeing this film, but somehow I knew quite a few bits and pieces. Maybe the Simpsons are to blame.

This movie cheesed me out. The movie continues to expect more and more suspension of disbelief until you reach an apex of phantasmagorical hallucination. Like a rich dessert, I was satisfied at first, but by the end, I reached a saturation point where I didn’t want anymore.

Harrison Ford as the Archeologist Indiana Jones.


The film opens with Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) braving a booby-trapped temple in hopes of obtaining the treasure within. After surviving pitfalls, boulders, and dart guns, he is apprehended by a local tribe under the influence of his Archeology rival Belloq (Paul Freeman). He acquiesces the bounty to Belloq, and Jones escapes with his life.

Jones returns to his day job as a professor. The FBI approaches him about his knowledge about the Ark of the Covenant which contains the original Ten Commandments Moses brought down the mountain. The Nazis are currently trying to apprehend it for its supposed mythical power. Jones is recruited to get to it first. He first must make contact with an old fling, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), since her father had an obsession about location of the Ark.

What follows is a series of rocking escapades involving exotic locations, an old arch nemesis, the supernatural, and the best Hollywood villains ever: the Nazis.

Harrison Ford with Karen Allen


This film made some bank and is still one of the highest grossing films of all time. It also is an intersection of star power (Harrison Ford), blockbuster director (Steven Spielberg), and effects guru (George Lucas). It’s a good combination of light-hearted comedy, adventure, and neat life-risking scenarios. I’m a sucker for freaking out about a pit of snakes or dead bodies, and this movie supplies plenty of both.

My problem was the slow crescendo of farcical scenarios that don’t tie in with the story. The ebb and flow of this movie is simple: we have the ark; we lost the ark; we have the ark; we lost the ark; surprise – the ark explodes. This giveth and taketh away destroys the story since the movie turns into a game of hot potato.

Let me explain.

There was a moment where I thought I had figured out a foreshadowing. The Nazis only have one side of the medallion to figure out where to dig for the Ark so they are in the wrong place excavating. Jones needs to sneak into the camp, use the staff correctly, and then find the true location of the Ark. Earlier, a Nazi had burned his hand on this medallion, imprinting the text on his palm, and this is shown quite vividly when he arrives on site.

“Uh-oh,” I said to myself. They will realize their folly when they continue to dig and find nothing. Then, someone will notice this man’s hand and piece together where they went wrong. “Jones is working with limited time here and needs to hustle to pull of his heist,” I thought anxiously, waiting to see this plot line resolve.

Except it never happened. 

What happens instead is that Belloq just walks onto the excavation in the morning and notices a big crew digging somewhere they shouldn’t be. Jones doesn’t get discovered because of some twist of fate, but rather just plain hubris for not covering his tracks. They trap Jones in a room with a pit of snakes that have survived a thousand years where he uses Herculean-like strength to topple a statue into a wall and then escapes out of an above ground tower which begs the question: if there was an above ground tower that lead to the Ark, why was there any problem finding it?

The story continues to ask more of the viewer with Jones performing an expanding list of impossible feats, including riding on the outside of a submarine for hundreds/thousands of miles. Then of course you have the supernatural ending where the Nazis are melted by the power of the Old Testament God.

Matthew Dicks makes this great point about the ending:

Indiana Jones is superfluous to the story. Had he refused the mission and remained back at the college, the Nazis would’ve found the Ark on their own, brought it to the island, opened it and died the same horrible death.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark 5.jpg
Nothing really matters.


“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is good fun with some wonderful action, it just doesn’t matter outside of the scenes they are shown in; there is no connection between actions and outcomes. No one really changes over the course of the movie, and the actions of the protagonist never matters to himself or history. It’s hard to get hyped up for a movie that is so one sided — eat your desert wisely.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time“Not one of the exposition scenes – call ’em “talky scenes” when you’re looking at them through a kid’s eyes – goes on too long for a typical child’s attention span.”
  • Menny Thoughts: “Overall, a good film with heavy adventure and action. Glad to see a huge cultural film cover a topic in the Bible. As I stated in a previous post, I’ll take vague allusions of the Bible vs. none any day.”
  • Embrace Your Geekness: “It is one of my personal favorite movies of all time and those people who complain about Indiana Jones not really affecting the plot are just looking for something to complain about. “

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