Ranking all 5 Indiana Jones movies, from Raiders of the Lost Ark to The Dial of Destiny
With the release of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Harrison Ford has now played the artifact-seeking archaeologist in five movies spanning over 40 years, all to quite varying (and polarizing) degrees of success. He’s teamed with legendary director Steven Spielberg for nearly all of them (The Dial of Destiny being directed by James Mangold, Spielberg gets the producing nod) and the two of them have built one of the few pillars in the adventure genre.
And this franchise spans generations as many packed into theaters these past weeks showing their children and grandchildren the possibilities that come with one of the best director-actor combos to ever grace the screen. Indiana Jones is one of the true titans of the film industry, so I thought I’d take some time to reflect on the past entries in the franchise and eventually rank them in some rough order.
As is the case with all popular franchise material, some of these movies are famous (or infamous) for specific reasons. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom had a quick moment in the culture a few months back when Short Round actor Ke Huy Quan won best supporting actor at the Oscars, sparking a reexamination of his place in the film industry and specifically that movie. The Last Crusade still contains touchstones to past film history as Sean Connery plays the role of Indiana Jones’ father Henry; the movie acts as a whimsical, adventurous father/son story set to the tune of classic Indiana Jones adventures.
And then there’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which I had admittedly never seen before preparing to write this piece, but I knew what I was in for. Fans of the franchise generally despise this movie, noting that return to this world years later should’ve been a more rewarding experience. The movie plays campy, riffing on many of the audacious elements that sharply streamed through the first three movies (a notable shift in tone that I likened to the self-referential nature of “The Last Jedi” – still the best of the new-era Star Wars, mind you).
I like when franchise entertainment gets weird and tries to reinvent itself, so while trying to avoid spoiling my list, I had quite a bit of fun with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and I’m a bit surprised at the overwhelmingly negative sentiment that it’s owned for quite some time now – although that seems to be shifting ever so slightly with the release of The Dial of Destiny as folks are reappraising these past works. They’re all good (except for one), but it seems to be to varying degrees. Some are raunchier and bolder than others, while some focus on costume design and set pieces. There’s a little for everyone in these movies, it’s just a matter of personal preference – I’m sure that won’t save me from ranking Kingdom of the Crystal Skull *not* at the bottom of this list.
It’s still not a franchise I grew up fawning over, in fact I hadn’t seen the middle section of this franchise before prepping for this list. I had obviously laid eyes on Raiders of the Lost Ark years before, but the rest was new to me – and pretty refreshing. Which made it even worse when I didn’t care for much of The Dial of Destiny outside of the bookending action sequences. The movie has easily the worst characters in any of the installments, and I couldn’t bring myself to be even slightly interested with the twists and turns lazily revealed along the way.
Not everything can be perfect, and maybe I’ll come around to it on a second viewing, but that won’t be for years as I’m not dying to sit through 150 more minutes of it in a movie theater. With that being said, here’s my Indiana Jones ranking, notably NOT starting with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
5. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
I’m surprised at how much of this movie didn’t really feel effective or interesting given that much of the talent still left from the early iterations of this franchise helped conceive of this new movie. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny felt like a studio hammering home new characters, trying to build enough equity in order to build out the Indiana Jones lore into miniseries and other movies. This wasn’t more apparent than with Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), who is so deeply mischaracterized that her character is unbearable from the first act on.
It’s incredible that fans essentially bullied Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg to return to this world for one more rodeo given that The Dial of Destiny amplifies what they hated so much about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – terrible CGI, unimaginative characters, and soundstage work so obvious that it feels unreal that this movie cost $300 million to make. (Link to full review here)
4. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
On its own merit, maybe I’d like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a bit more. It’s light and quirky, and introduces enough new characters to skate by, most notably Short Round that I mentioned earlier. But it still pales in comparison to the first, which feels like a concise vision built from a strong foundation. The Temple of Doom is odd, and in a way that makes me wonder if they just threw too many ideas at a wall to see what stuck.
But it still has a strong opening, and the third act has some incredible set design between the cave-like structures and the final set piece on an unsteady bridge. It leans heavily on Harrison Ford returning as Indiana Jones, but he does enough to push it over the finish line. Not the worst Indiana Jones movie, but I would argue the most forgettable (besides The Dial of Destiny o’ course).
3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Call me crazy, but I think that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull occasionally works. It’s best when it’s pulpy, obviously angering fans wanting a tone more closely resembling past works in the franchise, but I admire The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for doing something daring and original. What’re we doing returning to a franchise gone for nearly 20 years if there’s nothing new to say?
The lead fridge sequence certainly turned away viewers early on in the movie, but I found it so odd and perplexing that it was actually kind of fun (?). Shia LeBeouf stars as Indiana Jones’ son, and LeBeouf’s acting chops feel more natural in a spot like this than in angsty, overdone action relics like Transformers. Overall, not as appalling as I was expecting.
2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Serving as the perfect Father’s Day movie, The Last Crusade is easily the second most successful Indiana Jones movie. The humor lands at an incredibly high clip thanks to the chemistry between Indiana and his father Henry Jones (Sean Connery). The movie explores more reaches of the globe than Temple of Doom and feels like a more fully realized idea for a movie than the last.
The Nazis are more intertwined in The Last Crusade, making for a more effective third act climax than any of the sequels, specifically the Nazi reintroduction in The Dial of Destiny. The franchise could’ve gone in many different directions to expand on the world and mythology outside of Indiana Jones, and I’m glad that they stuck to examining Indiana’s relationships with his family members, and the one with his father seems like the most effective in any of the sequels. A real gem.
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1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
I may like to play devil’s advocate here and there, but no shot was I going to dare put an Indiana Jones sequel ahead of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s an incredibly detailed and structured world built out of thin air that has rarely been matched in this genre since. This was the perfect role for Harrison Ford to maneuver into after two Star Wars movies as Han Solo. It cements him as a legend in the industry and a titan for blockbuster filmmaking.
And then there’s the Steven Spielberg piece of it. Raiders of the Lost Ark elevates him to an even higher level than after Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This movie is the cross-section of two people that would dominate pop culture for the next 30 years, sparking a franchise that hasn’t died since. Raiders of the Lost Ark has to be number one, there isn’t much of a debate.