There's some absolute GOLD in this. (Sorry, bit of a slog!)
Tom Selleck was Steven Spielberg's second choice for the role of Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford was his first, but George Lucas objected, since Ford had been in both American Graffiti (1973) and Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). Selleck was not able to take the role because he was committed to "Magnum, P.I." (1980). However, that series did not go into production until Raiders' filming had already wrapped. Selleck was in fact in Hawaii waiting for the series to start as the final scenes to be filmed (the opening sequence) were being shot in Hawaii. "Magnum" did an episode called "Legend of the Lost Art" that parodied "Raiders", complete with hat, whip, booby traps, etc.
Actors considered for the role of Indiana Jones included Nick Nolte, Steve Martin (who chose to do Pennies from Heaven (1981) instead), Bill Murray (who dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with "Saturday Night Live" (1975)), Chevy Chase, Tim Matheson, Nick Mancuso, Peter Coyote, and Jack Nicholson. Harrison Ford was cast less than three weeks before principal photography began.
When Indy is dragged under and then out behind a moving truck, it's a tribute to Yakima Canutt's similar famous stunt in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). In fact, it was a stunt that stuntman Terry Leonard had tried to pull off the year before, and failed to do so, on The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981). He was thrilled at the chance of having another shot at it, but only agreed to do it if his friend & colleague Glenn Randall Jr. was driving. The truck was specially constructed to be higher above the ground than normal so as to allow clearance for Indiana Jones to pass underneath safely. The center of the road was also dug out to allow more clearance. In Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) we see, on the camera slate, that the camera was set at 20 frames per second instead of the traditional 24 fps; in other words, the shots were done in "fast motion," so the truck was not really moving as fast as depicted on screen. Harrison Ford was actually dragged behind the truck for some of the shots, badly bruising his ribs. When asked if he was worried, Ford quipped: "No. If it really was dangerous, they would have filmed more of the movie first." During the chase, Harrison Ford dispatches all three of his stunt doubles, all of which are playing German soldiers. Terry Leonard plays the driver of the truck, who gets punched out of the cab by Harrison. Vic Armstrong and Martin Grace play soldiers hanging onto the side of the truck before being knocked off. The truck chase took approximately eight weeks to film.
For the DVD release, over 970,000 frames were cleaned up by Lowry Digital Images, the same company that cleaned up Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), North by Northwest (1959) and Sunset Boulevard (1950) for DVD.
To achieve the sound of thousands of snakes slithering, sound designer Ben Burtt stuck his fingers into a cheese casserole. This was augmented by applying wet sponges to the rubber on a skateboard.
Originally intended as a small low-budget adventure, production costs tripled to $22 million.
1981's biggest grossing film.
George Lucas first dreamed up the idea of an adventurous archaeologist about the same time he came up with the idea for the Flash Gordon-type space story which became Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977).
On the Bonus Features DVD, John Rhys-Davies talks about how when he auditioned for the role of Sallah, he was concerned since the script originally described Sallah as a "5-foot-2, skinny, Egyptian digger". Steven Spielberg mentioned that when he first heard Rhys-Davies speak, he reminded him of the Shakespearean character Falstaff. Spielberg then told Rhys-Davies that for his performance as Sallah, to combine his earlier role as "Vasco Rodrigues" from the miniseries "Shogun" (1980) with the character of Falstaff.
The opening scene in the lost South American temple is partly based on a classic Disney Ducks adventure written by the legendary artist Carl Barks, many of whose comic books have inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Exploring a lost temple, Donald Duck, his nephews, and Scrooge McDuck must evade a succession of booby traps, like flying darts, a decapitating blade, a huge boulder, a tunnel flooded with a torrent of gushing water, etc., in the story "The Prize of Pizarro" ("Uncle $crooge" no. 26, June-August 1959), which hit the newsstands when Lucas and Spielberg, both avowed fans of that comic book, were respectively 15 and 12 years old. Another Barks story, "The Seven Cities of Cibola" ("Uncle $crooge" no. 7, September 1954), has a native American lost city and a valuable idol that triggers a giant round rock to smash everything in its way.
George Lucas did some second unit work on the film.
Philip Kaufman shares story credit with George Lucas because they originally dreamed up the film together in the 1970's. Reportedly, it was Kaufman's idea to pursue the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Originally, Kaufman was going to direct.
Indy's battered leather jacket was actually brand new and had to be artificially aged by the costume department. There were 10 jackets for general wear and tear and stunt purposes.
Indiana Jones's hat came from the famous Herbert Johnson hat shop in Saville Row, London. The hat was the shop's Australian model. On the Bonus Features DVD, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman said that in order to properly age the hat, she grabbed and twisted the hat, then she and Harrison Ford both sat on it, and it eventually looked like "a very lived-in and well-loved" hat.
Alfred Molina's screen debut. His first scene on his first day of filming involved being covered with tarantulas.
The giant boulder that chases after Indiana Jones at the start of the film was made of fiberglass. On the Bonus Features DVD, sound designer Ben Burtt said that in order to get the proper sound effects for the giant boulder, he and the sound crew tried pushing boulders down a hill, but the sounds they were getting weren't up to par with what they were looking for, and later that day, as they were leaving in a Honda Civic that they coasted down a gravel embankment, Burtt noticed that the sound was just what they were looking for, so he grabbed a microphone and held it near one of the Civic's rear tires to record the effect.
Cameo: [Frank Marshall] Pilot of the flying wing. All the stunt men were sick on the day that Indiana Jones hits the pilot of the Flying Wing over the head, so producer Frank Marshall agreed to do it. Unfortunately for him, the shot took three days and a lot of it involved him sitting in a cockpit that was in excess of 100 degrees.
The out-of-control airplane actually ran over Harrison Ford's knee, tearing his ligaments. Rather than submit to Tunisian health care, Ford had his knee wrapped in ice and carried on.
Production designer Norman Reynolds had found a rusty looking ship that was perfect for the Bantu Wind. However, when the time came for this sequence to be filmed he was horrified to discover that the ship had been repainted and now looked pristine. It had to be swiftly repainted to achieve its distressed look.
In a deleted scene, where the character of Sallah is confronted by a Nazi soldier, John Rhys-Davies who was suffering from cholera at the time was required to bend down. Unfortunately this prompted the very sick Rhys-Davies to soil himself.
Indy's whip is 10 feet long, although some shorter versions were used, depending on the shot required.
Three different stunt men were used to double for Harrison Ford: Vic Armstrong when riding the horse; Martin Grace at the falling statue and Terry Leonard when pulled behind the truck.
There are several deleted scenes unreleased on either DVD or VHS. Among the deleted scenes are: Marion explains to Indy the cause of Abner's death. As Indy was about to leave he returns to Marion to be kissed again. The shot appears in some DVD, VHS covers. - A longer version of Indy fighting against Pat Roach in the bar - The infamous planned sword fight duel - Imam the scholar forewarns Indy and Sallah not to touch or look at the Ark. Instead, this was not revealed until the climax. - While looking for a rope, Sallah spills water on a German officer. Because too much dust came from the background, the shot was spoiled. - A scene where a German student playing an officer threatens to execute Sallah. - Indy knocks out a local looking at him after coming out from the tomb - Indy clings to the periscope of the submarine all the way to the secret base by wrapping his whip around it and himself. It explains how he managed to survive in the sea all that time. However, prior to the advent of nuclear power, submarines were designed as surface ships that could go under water. They only submerged for defensive purposes. So, it is quite plausible that the German U-boat would have sailed on the surface of the water the entire time, enabling Indiana Jones to survive the trip without having to cling to the periscope.
Most of the body blows you hear were created by hitting a pile of leather jackets with a baseball bat.
To create the sound of the heavy lid of the Ark being slid open, sound designer Ben Burtt simply recorded him moving the lid of his toilet cistern at home.
The spirit effects at the climax were achieved by shooting mannequins underwater in slow motion through a fuzzy lens to achieve an ethereal quality.
The original name of the lead character in the script was Indiana Smith. His name was changed to Jones on the first day of production.
Indy's line to Marion when they are on the ship - "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage" - was ad-libbed by Harrison Ford.
During filming in Tunisia, nearly everyone in the cast and crew got sick, except director Steven Spielberg. It is thought that he avoided illness by eating only the food he'd brought with him: cans and cans of Spaghetti-O's.
Indiana Jones never loses his hat as an homage to the classic serials of the 1940s. In those serials, the heroes' hats stayed on heads through virtually any assault. This was done for continuity reasons, but also because it was considered poor taste for a gentleman to be without his hat in certain situations - even on the silver screen. It eventually becomes a running joke through the series. Indy does, however, lose his hat once each in both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
The building used for one of the exterior shots of the university is the large music conservatory on the campus of The University of the Pacific in Stockton, California.
Begins with a shot of a peak in the jungle which is reminiscent of the Paramount Pictures logo. See also Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
Indiana Jones' name comes from the name of George Lucas' dog and is a play on Steve McQueen's eponymous character name in Nevada Smith (1966). Indiana the dog, who was a Malamute, also served as the inspiration for Chewbacca in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). In the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), it is revealed by Indiana's father that Indiana is really named Henry Jr., but went by the name of his dog, Indiana.
An early draft of the script had Indy traveling to Shanghai to recover a piece of the Staff of Ra. During his escape from the museum where it was housed, he sheltered from machine gun fire behind a giant rolling gong. Also in the same script, Indy and Marion flee the chaos caused by the opening of the Ark in a wild mine-cart chase sequence. Both of these scenes were cut from the script, but ended up in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
Director Steven Spielberg was quoted as saying: "I made it as a B-movie... I didn't see the film as anything more than a better made version of the Republic serials."
The crate in which the Ark is placed at the end of the movie has the number 9906753.
Indiana Jones' kangaroo-hide bull whip was sold in December, 1999 at Christie's auction house in London for $43,000. His jacket and hat are on display at the Smithsonian.
The musical theme for the Ark of the Covenant is heard several times throughout the film. Each time, it either trails off, segues into a different theme, or modulates into a different key. Only at the climax of the film is the entire theme heard and resolved in its original key.
Cameo: [Dennis Muren] Appears as a Nazi spy who is tracking Indiana Jones on the airplane. Only his eyes can be seen, though, as most of his face is hidden behind the magazine he's reading, which is Life volume 1 number 2 (30 November 1936), which has pages 42-43 dedicated to the water color paintings of Adolf Hitler.
Cameo: [Glenn Randall Jr.] the stunt coordinator appears as the mechanic with the monkey wrench at the flying wing.
George Lucas made what was at the time an unusual deal for this film. The studio financed the film's entire $20-million budget. In exchange, Lucas would own over 40% of the film and collect almost half of the profits after the studio grossed a certain amount. It turned out to be a very lucrative deal for Lucas. Paramount executive Michael Eisner said that he felt the script for this film was the best he had ever read.
Just before the fight around the flying wing, Gobler (Anthony Higgins) says to Dietrich (Wolf Kahler) in German: "The plane is ready. It can be loaded."
In the submarine pen, the German who comes upon Indiana says, in German, "Good day" "Tired? Why do you sleep? Wash yourself! And straighten your shirt, so that you don't look like a pig at your court martial..." "Stand up... [straight]" He is cut off by Indiana's punch.
Amy Irving and Debra Winger were considered for the role of Marion. Sean Young was used as Marion in the screen test for all who auditioned for the lead role of Indy. Tim Matheson and John Shea were used for Karen Allen's screen test. Young would later star opposite Ford in Blade Runner (1982).
In the map room, one of the buildings has red graffiti written on it that says, "Nicht stÃ¶ren", which is German for "Do not disturb".
The truck used in the chase scene from the excavation is actually a WWII 2 1/2 ton GMC CCKW-353, with the hood and cab converted to approximate a pre-war Mercedes truck.
The floatplane in the opening sequence has the registration prefix "OB-", which indicates that the action takes place in Peru.
Although the Nazis speak German in many scenes, most of the lines were dubbed for the German versions of the film because the actors spoke very bad German with a very strong American accent. Some lines were simply wrong. On the recent DVD release, no German lines are wrong. The majority of the German lines seems to be spoken by native German speakers with a slight south German accent.
WILHELM SCREAM: as one of the German soldiers falls out the back of the truck Indiana Jones is driving.
The name Marion Ravenwood was a combination of two names: Marion was the grandmother of Lawrence Kasdan's wife, and Ravenwood was from Ravenwood Court, a small street off Beverly Glen.
Instead of the standard Blue Mountain opening logo used between 1975-87, the opening logo was a version of the Paramount logo used in the 1940s or 1950s which read: "A Paramount Picture". The only difference is that it also read "A Gulf+Western Company". This logo was also used in the sequels instead of the Blue Mountain logo or the CGI Majestic Mountain (in the case of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
The scene where Jones fires at the truck was a botched stunt. The truck was supposed to flip over by means of a telegraph pole being fired by explosives through the floor. The explosive wasn't powerful enough and it simply forced the truck to tip over at an angle as can be seen in the finished movie. Time did not permit any further attempts at getting it right.
The instructions for the construction of the Ark are found in Exodus 25:10. The clothing that Belloq wears while acting as a high priest during the ceremony at the end is found beginning in Exodus chapter 28.
The last line to be added to the script was Dietrich's "I am uncomfortable with this Jewish ritual" because after reading through the script, the screenwriters realized that there was no mention of Jews or the Nazis' hatred of them.
The words that Belloq slowly recites before opening the ark are (badly pronounced) Aramaic, and are part of a paragraph recited in many Synagogues today when the Ark that holds the Sefer Torahs (the Old Testament handwritten on Parchment) is opened as part of the Sabbath service.
For the conceptual process/drawings, Ralph McQuarrie was not brought in but, instead, George Lucas brought in Marvel artist Jim Steranko.
Voted number 20 in Channel 4's (UK) "Greatest Family Films".
Cameo: [Frank Welker] prolific voice actor provides the monkey's sounds, uncredited.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #66 Greatest Movie of All Time.
Harrison Ford actually outran the boulder in the opening sequence. Because the scene was shot twice from five different angles, he had to outrun it ten times. Ford's stumble in the scene was deemed to look authentic and was left in.
Renowned British wrestler Pat Roach gets killed twice in this film - once as a giant Sherpa left in the burning Nepalese bar and once as the German mechanic chewed up by the plane's propeller.
The Pan American seaplane that Indiana Jones flies to Nepal in is a Short Solent Mark III flying boat modified by matte effects to resemble a Boeing 314 Clipper. The producers contacted the owner of the craft about using the flying boat for the movie and though he responded that he was happy to help out, he informed them that only one of the flying boat's engines had been restored to working order, therefore, for the shot used in the movie, we see only that single engine running. Additionally, in order to convey the fact that it was a passenger aircraft, the director had several production assistants dressed in period clothing and filmed them simply walking through the doorway of the plane.
The monkey raising his paw and saying (in his own language) "Heil Hitler" was thought up by George Lucas and is one of Steven Spielberg's two favorite scenes (in the video box set, he says his other favorite is the "where doesn't it hurt" love scene on the ship). In Empire magazine, Frank Marshall said that they got the monkey to do the Nazi salute by putting a grape on a fishing pole and getting the monkey to reach for the grape, which was dangling just out of camera range. This took about 50 takes before it actually looked like a Nazi salute.
During the scene where Indiana threatens Nazis with bazooka, you can clearly see a fly creeping into the mouth of Paul Freeman, and he swallows it. Empire Magazine chose this scene as one of the most common scenes people press "Pause" button on their VCR for.
In order to make it match the follow-up movies in the DVD collections, 2008 DVD cover artwork changes the film's logo to read "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" instead of just "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
Steven Spielberg originally wanted Danny DeVito to play Sallah and DeVito was set for the role, but he had to drop out due to conflicts with "Taxi" (1978). DeVito later appeared as a second banana to Michael Douglas in the Raiders tribute/derivative, Romancing the Stone (1984).
In filming the Well of Souls sequence, the producers scoured every pet shop in London and the South of England for every snake they could lay their hands on. Hence there are snakes that are identifiable from many different geographical areas. However, once all the snakes were on set, it became clear that there were not nearly enough of them, so Steven Spielberg had several hoses cut into lengths, and these were used as well. Looking closely, you can tell which are the real snakes and which are not. Some of the weeds in the scene were lifted by Lawrence Kasdan from the Dagobah set of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980). A sheet of glass separates Harrison Ford and the arched (and highly dangerous) cobra when he falls in. The snake actually did spray venom onto the glass.
Traditionally when one of his films is about to open, George Lucas goes on holiday to get away from all the hoopla. As Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) was just about to open, Lucas went to Hawaii where he was joined by Steven Spielberg. When the grosses for Lucas's film came in, and it was clear that his movie was going to be a hit, Lucas relaxed and was able to discuss other topics with his friend. It was at this point that Spielberg confessed he always wanted to direct a James Bond film, to which Lucas told him he had a much better idea - an adventure movie called "Raiders of the Lost Ark". The conversation came up while the two were making a sand castle. After their trip, they got together and developed the script with Lawrence Kasdan.
Director Trademark: [Steven Spielberg] [music]
Steven Spielberg originally envisioned Giancarlo Giannini for the role of Dr. Rene Belloq and then considered French actor/singer Jacques Dutronc who turned out to not speak a word of English. Spielberg then chose Paul Freeman because he thought Freeman had "striking eyes". Also at one point, Spielberg was concerned if Freeman could act with a French accent. Spielberg then contacted Freeman (who was on vacation at the time) and asked if he could come back to London to meet with him and act out some lines in a French accent for him.
Steven Spielberg and Melissa Mathison wrote a script during shooting breaks on the location of this film. Mathison was there to visit her husband, Harrison Ford and Spielberg dictated to her a story idea he had; that script was eventually called E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
Despite having the dream team of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg behind the film, it was initially turned down by every studio in Hollywood. Only after much persuasion did Paramount agree to do it.
Director Trademark: [Steven Spielberg] [stars]
The first time Steven Spielberg ever directed in the UK.
Shooting in Tunisia proved to be so stressful and so hot that Steven Spielberg managed to compress a six-week shoot into four-and-a-half weeks. This helped the production complete principal photography 12 days ahead of schedule.
The advance trailer for this film played up Steven Spielberg's earlier films with the exception of his previous film, 1941 (1979), which was considered a failure at that time.
The name of the sadistic Nazi interrogator is never mentioned in the film, but it is Toht, pronounced like Tod, the German word for Death. The role was offered to Klaus Kinski, who writes in his book "Kinski Uncut" that Steven Spielberg offered him a part in this movie, but he turned it down. "[...] as much as I'd like to do a movie with Spielberg, the script is as moronically shitty as so many other flicks of this ilk." Kinski chose to appear in Venom (1981) because the salary was better. Michael Sheard also auditioned for the role. Ronald Lacey, who had given up acting to become an agent, was chosen because he reminded Steven Spielberg of Peter Lorre. Toht only speaks a total of fourteen lines in English. The rest of his dialogue is in German.
The infamous scene in which Indy shoots a marauding and flamboyant swordsman was not in the original script. Harrison Ford was supposed to use his whip to get the swords out of his attacker's hands, but the food poisoning he and the rest of the crew had gotten made him too sick to perform the stunt. After several unsuccessful tries, Ford suggested "shooting the sucker." Steven Spielberg immediately took up the idea and the scene was successfully filmed.
All of the German vehicles in the desert chase sequence are replicas of actual pre-WWII German vehicles. The Mercedes-Benz 320 staff car is actually a Jaguar MK9 with a modified MK5 body; two were built for the movie by Classic Cars of Coventry. The cargo truck is a Mercedes-Benz LG3000 replica built on a GMC CCKW. Gobler's troop car is a replica of a Mercedes-Benz G5 'Gelaendewagen.'
Voted #2 on Empire magazine's 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (September 2008).
The well-known line "Indy, they're digging in the wrong place!" is in fact a misquote. The true line is simply "They're digging in the wrong place," and is spoken by both Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Indiana (Harrison Ford).
John Williams had actually written two themes for the film. He played them both for Steven Spielberg on the piano and Spielberg loved them so much, he suggested that Williams use both of them. He did and the result was the famous "Raiders March," performed by Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)'s London Symphony Orchestra (who did not perform in any more Indiana Jones films). The March has become one of the most popular movie themes of all time.
The German plane that the Ark was going to be transported on is an experimental flying wing design by Blohm and Voss, a shipbuilding company that designed some rather unorthodox aircraft in the 1930s and 1940s. This particular model only exists in the film, but borrows various design elements from authentic period aircraft.
Ishaq Bux is crediting in the end titles as playing Omar but it is impossible to spot him in the film.
According to Graham Hancock's book "The Sign and the Seal", the Lost Ark of the Covenant actually resides in the city of Axum (Ethiopia), at the Saint Mary of Zion church.
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas argued over who Indy's companion should be. One idea was that she was to be a Nazi spy, an idea later used for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). After discarding that idea, they couldn't decide if they wanted the character to be Indy's former mentor, or an old lover. It was Lawrence Kasdan's idea to combine the two ideas, by making her the daughter of Indy's teacher.
Jeff Bridges turned down the role of Indiana Jones.
The words that Belloq slowly recites before opening the ark are (badly pronounced) Aramaic, and are part of a paragraph recited in many Synagogues when the Ark that holds the Sefer Torahs (the Old Testament handwritten on Parchment) is opened as part of the Sabbath service.
Early concept art for the character who ultimately became Toht depicted him as a uniformed Nazi officer with a mechanical arm that doubled as a machine gun and a radio antenna built into his head.
SPOILER: In a 2001 "making of" special, it was revealed that the effects used in the three antagonists' rather gruesome deaths (Dietrich, Toht, and Belloq) were a vacuum machine, heat gun with time-lapse photography, and shotgun, respectively. When the movie was submitted for an MPAA rating, it was given a rating of "R" because of the exploding head. In order to lower the rating, flames were superimposed over this image. The result was the appearance of a head exploding behind a dense curtain of flames. The rating was lowered to "PG" (at the time, the PG-13 rating did not exist).
SPOILER: According to the novelization, the writing on the headpiece of the Staff of Ra included a specific warning not to look into the Ark. This is why Indy and Marion survive the conflagration at the end simply by closing their eyes. It may be an allusion to 1 Samuel 6:19, where God "smote" the men of Beth Shemesh for looking into the Ark.