How Indiana Jones Was Inspired By A Duck

Indiana Jones is one of the great adventurers in all of pop culture, so it does feel a little weird that he was inspired by a duck.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

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Indiana Jones is one of the great pop culture creations of the 20th century. If George Lucas had not also created the Star Wars franchise in all its confusing and frustrating glory, the adventurous archaeologist/graverobber/Nazi-puncher would have undoubtedly been a fine legacy. Through the course of four movies (and soon to be a fifth), a TV series prequel, innumerable video games, novels and comic books, and a pretty decent pinball machine, Indiana Jones has become an immortal part of our culture as a whole. It is strange to consider that what eventually resulted in Harrison Ford with a bullwhip was inspired by a duck. This duck, specifically: 

indiana jones

That’s right. Indiana Jones is, in part, inspired by Scrooge McDuck, the Scottish-American, miserly uncle of Donald Duck. To be fair, there were a lot of things that inspired George Lucas to create his famed adventurer, which we will get into in a minute. But according to George Lucas himself, a large part of the eventual creation of Indiana Jones was the Carl Barks adventure comics that starred Scrooge McDuck. He had been a fan of the comics as a child and partially modeled Indiana Jones after how Scrooge had evolved as a character. Barks had initially created Scrooge McDuck as a one-off character in a Donald Duck comic. He first appeared in “Christmas on Bear Mountain,” in which he was portrayed as a hate-filled recluse, himself inspired by Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge and Citizen Kane.

OG Scrooge McDuck

However, the character became unexpectedly popular and was eventually given his own ongoing comic book, which is still published today. That comic, Uncle Scrooge, eventually morphed into an adventure-themed series, with Scrooge and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie traveling around the world to ancient jungle temples, the pyramids of Egypt, and many other exotic locales in search of treasure. Sound familiar? Indiana Jones took much inspiration from the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, to the point that the famous opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark was directly lifted from a 1954 issue titled “The Seven Cities of Cibola.” See for yourself:

But that is not where the similarities between Indiana Jones and Scrooge McDuck end. While Scrooge initially began as a misanthropic miser and borderline villain, he grew to become a resourceful, skilled, and pragmatic globetrotter. His miserliness became something more like a neverending quest for treasure, or, as Indiana Jones might put it, “fortune and glory.” Also, both Indiana Jones and Scrooge McDuck wear a hat pretty much all the time, which clinches things. 

Obviously, Scrooge McDuck is not the only thing that George Lucas drew upon to create Indiana Jones. Legendarily, Steven Spielberg met with George Lucas when the two were both vacationing in Hawaii. They had both achieved recent enormous successes, Spielberg with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Lucas with Star Wars. According to the pair, Spielberg opined that he would like to make a James Bond movie (which probably sounded fun and direct after the stress of making a movie about an obsessive man who abandons his family to get on a sparkly starship). However, George Lucas told him he had something better than James Bond, a script he had written with Phillip Kaufman titled The Adventures of Indiana Smith. A quick and desperately needed title edit and the two were off to get a five-picture deal with Paramount with the ease that only two men who had recently made some of the biggest movies ever could manage.

In addition to Scrooge McDuck and James Bond, Indiana Jones has a plethora of inspirations. Many have pointed out the character’s similarities to Allan Quartermain, the H. Rider Haggard character known for his rugged adventures in King Solomon’s Mines. The movies that resulted were themselves heavily influenced by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s childhood memories of Republic serials, much in the same way Star Wars took its beats from the Flash Gordon serials that were unable to be licensed.

Indiana Jones is now wholly his own character, even if his component parts are easily identified. Harrison Ford brought the charm and humor that helped defined the character, while George Lucas supplied the nostalgia and boy’s own stories and Steven Spielberg brought his unparalleled talent for directing adventure. Scrooge McDuck, we thank you for your service.