Harrison Ford's leading man breakout in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of Disney+'s biggest hits.
Harrison Ford’s original turn as the world’s most famous archaeologist in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is number two on Disney+ and is in at least the top five worldwide. FlixPatrol shows the archaeological adventurer’s first movie dominating streaming globally as one of the top choices for viewing this week. In the lead-up to Ford’s fifth and final performance as the character in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, it’s no surprise that people are revisiting the original classic.
Having had his first big success as Han Solo in 1977’s Star Wars, which was followed in 1980 by The Empire Strikes Back, Harrison Ford was already popular. But when he teamed up with Star Wars creator George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg for Raiders of the Lost Ark, he showed his ability to carry a big-budget movie as the lead. This began a long and storied career that has shown him to be one of the most bankable movie stars of all time.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford stars as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, an archaeology professor in 1936 who travels the world in search of rare artifacts to be preserved and studied in museums. However, his passion for historical relics often gets him into trouble, as we see in the film’s opening sequence. Overcoming life-threatening obstacles (including hair-trigger booby trap darts and a giant, rolling boulder), he obtains an ancient Hovito idol, only to have it stolen by his rival, French archaeologist Dr. René Emile Belloq (Paul Freeman).
Harrison Ford’s physical ability as an actor, conveying Indy’s slapdash attempts at outrunning danger, defines the character in these opening scenes, not as the sort of highly-trained martial artist it seems everyone in every action movie is today, but as a smart, physically fit guy who really, really wants to save his own skin. Jones gets by not on his well-honed skills so much as his determination, gumption, and ability to overcome his own fear, awkwardness, and mistakes. This makes it even more believable that most of his daily life is spent as an academic.
It’s a testament to Harrison Ford as an actor, too, that he equally sells the intellectual side of Dr. Jones upon his return to the States. We see him just as much in his element lecturing about a dig site in front of a chalkboard, though he is deeply uncomfortable with how popular he is with his students—especially the young ladies. In his quest to escape them, however, he runs into his destiny when he is cornered by government agents who soon inform him that they want him to try to beat Hitler in a quest to recover the Ark of the Covenant, a biblical artifact of legend and great power.
The subtleties of Harrison Ford’s performance anchor the film and are tonally perfect for Spielberg and Lucas’ conception of the fist-throwing archaeologist cut straight from the 1940s Saturday matinee serials they loved as kids. Spielberg has a knack for blending high action with beautiful, reflective, human moments punctuated by humor. The film combines elements of noir with adventure cinema, featuring the engaging use of shadows, misdirection, sinister villains, complex heroes, and high-action cinematic spectacle.
The perfect mixture of these elements made the film a huge success and Harrison Ford a mega-star. In the summer of 1981, kids, teenagers, and their parents hit the movie theatres over and over again, keeping the film in cinemas until the following March. Ultimately, it would garner over $212 Million worldwide or over $708 Million in today’s money.
It was Paramount’s biggest release that year, and the studio, along with Lucas and Spielberg, were quickly working on getting Harrison Ford into a leather jacket and fedora again. The role has defined Ford’s career in many ways, as its success has allowed him to branch into many other types of films, including more Star Wars movies and other sci-fi, dramas like Regarding Henry, thrillers like the Jack Ryan films, and even into Westerns with his most recent work in the Yellowstone prequel series 1923, in which he costars with Helen Mirren.
Now 80, Harrison Ford might seem too elderly to play a swashbuckling adventurer—until you see him in action. The star has only looked better as Indy over the decades, even if Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a bit disappointing as a film. And no matter how the fifth movie turns out later this month, a guy who has found the Ark of the Covenant, beaten the cult of the Thugee with enchanted stones, fought off dozens of Nazis, and even drank from the Holy Grail will always have our respect.