Decade Definers: 1980s – The Indiana Jones Trilogy

Written by Chris Gelderd

Fast forward 50 years to the year 2068 and let’s see how Hollywood and blockbuster movies are made. No film is every truly original. Everything from characters to plot devices to music and locations are influenced marginally by existing material that dates back half a decade or so before the release. From 2018, what will be influencing the future generations of Hollywood to create ground-breaking and genre defining work? Who knows.

But, for now, it’s the 1980s that is our focus for these current Decade Definers.

Looking back to one such inspiration that helped shape the adventure genre during and going forward from the 80s, we have to go back to the late 1800s, early 1920s and the 1960s. Take the literary works of Sir H. Rider Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fuse this with the fun of James Bond films pre-1979 and then add the name of a pet Alaskan Malamute dog. Cook all this up in the minds of directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and you have the foundations for one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, cinematic adventure hero of all time.

Indiana Smith*, portrayed by Tom Selleck.**

*Soon changed to Indiana Jones after Smith was deemed to boring

**Soon re-cast with Harrison Ford after scheduling conflicts for ‘Magnum P.I’.


The man with the hat” burst onto cinema screens in 1981, kicking off a decade full of inventive, creative, entertaining, fun and pretty much iconic movies spanning many genres that set a template for others to follow. ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’ (its original title before being re-branded with ‘Indiana Jones and the…’ prefixing it) was a loving homage to the Saturday morning serial adventures on television and B-movies that fuelled many a childhood before the dawn of computer games and multiplexes.

Director Steven Spielberg dared to take things back to basics film-making. His veteran cast and crew harnessed practical stunt-work over special effects, lovingly crafted models, authentic locations and props and an ol’ fashioned good v evil where the good guy is a dashing, rugged swashbuckling adventurer and the villains are the crux of ALL villainy in the guise of ruthless Nazis.

Harrison Ford, fresh from completing his second Star Wars film ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in which he became a household name on the back of his smuggling scoundrel Han Solo was primed and ready to craft yet another hero for his playlist. But yet Ford avoided a carbon copy of Han Solo set in a galaxy not so far away. He portrayed Indiana Jones as a man rougher around the edges, more focused on his work than his ego and grounded in a reality where he felt pain, he bled and he was in greater danger than just flying pretend space-ships and avoiding pantomime bad guys with laser swords on fictional planets. Ford seemed to evolve into a real man’s man during the era – an American 007 for the early 1940s.

Following on from ‘Raiders…’ came ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom’ in 1984 and ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ in 1989. A real book-end of adventure films at the beginning, middle and end of the 80s.


‘Temple Of Doom’ was, and still stands, as a brave sequel. It retains the formula of what worked previously whilst having the courage to introduce new themes, characters and stories. Not a carbon copy of ‘Raiders…’ in the slightest, it gave us more iconic practical, genre defining action that strayed from the modern era such as a perilous rope-bridge spanning a huge canyon, a nauseating mine cart chase and enough voodoo, slavery and black-magic to force even the easiest going film censor to work for his money.

While not initially as successful as its family-friendly predecessor, ‘Temple Of Doom’ is a fun affair on one hand but more mature and dark on the other – a’la ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ of sequels – pushing us out of our comfort zone with Indiana Jones to explore new dangers and face new villains. It certainly was a bold move but stands strong as the middle of the ‘then’ trilogy.

Rounding the decade out in ‘89, ‘The Last Crusade’ returned Indiana Jones and his audience back to familiar ground. The Nazis were back. The globe-trotting was back. The myths were back. The original cast were back. It was a comfort blanket, 8 years on from where it all began, except this time, Spielberg brought along one of the inspirations for the ride – James Bond himself, Sir Sean Connery, as Henry Jones Snr, Indy’s cantankerous father. After Spielberg lost out on the chance to direct Roger Moore as 007 in 1981’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’, it was only a matter of time before he had his chance in an “alternate universe” kind of way. Sean Connery’s 007 was a base for the creation of Indiana Jones, so what better way to have the man himself involved.


This pairing of Ford and Connery is one of the most beloved relationships in cinema thanks to their natural chemistry and mature performances that test their patience and tolerance, all the while cemented with a heart-warming love and developing appreciation for estranged father and son. Couple this with the award-winning mix of sun-kissed European, American and African locations, a stellar support cast and daring action, stunt-work and intrigue, ‘The Last Crusade’ proved that Indiana Jones brought a fresh look to the adventure genre in the 1980s that would resonate for decades and generations to come.

Everything about the trilogy felt and looked real. It was a breath of fresh air to audiences who wanted to escape the influx of science fiction or brutal horrors or macho action. They were, in essence, family friendly adventures that traversed the globe in search of mythical, fantastical artefacts from the past with adrenalin-fuelled stunt-work and action; all set around likeable characters and dastardly villains. Importantly, they were all set during crucial points in world history would be very familiar to audiences, allowing them to connect in some way to the story.

From a trademark opening sequence that was a love letter to the B-movies to often tense and chilling, (sometimes face-melting) climaxes blending fact and fantasy, Spielberg and Ford never gave you chance to catch your breath or be complacent from the start – the thrill ride was non-stop for each outing and it was created with such passion that it was impossible to falter, regardless of how strong, different or controversial the story was.


And it wasn’t just the visual side of things, but also the audible. Composer John Williams, who already had a back catalogue of scores to his name such as ‘Jaws’, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Superman’, gave us yet another soundtrack that speaks volumes without any need for dialogue. The triumphant, rousing and exciting score that accompanied Indiana Jones on his travels blended sweeping romance, eerie occult, uplifting joy, paternal mischief and a general sense of adventure that is so simple in execution, but never fails to swell the listener’s heart with its sense of pride, passion and power.

So timeless (ironically set over approximately 6 years in real time) was this trilogy of films that 19 years later in 2008 a fourth film was released – ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’ blending old and new techniques for a new generation of fans, whilst catering to what we loved from the original trilogy. While reception and expectation was not quite met, it still proved that for that sense of simple adventure and daring heroism, Indiana Jones is the man who still delivers.

Countless comic book adaptations, novels, computer games, toys and a host of other merchandise followed showing that the love for Indy never dwindled, and that love and will soon be heightened again with a 5th film planned, uniting Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford once more for an expected release date of 2020.

If the 80s proved adventure has a name, then that name is Indiana Jones.





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