The Big Picture
- Indiana Jones, inspired by early 20th century film serials, became a summer blockbuster hit and has captivated audiences for four decades.
- The Indiana Jones movies can be watched in either chronological order or order of release, offering different viewing experiences.
- The fifth installment, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, set in 1969, is slated to be the final chapter of this beloved franchise.
It’s now been four decades since George Lucas and Steven Spielberg first teamed up to bring Indiana Jones to movie screens. Inspired by the film serials of the early 20th century and designed as an American alternative to James Bond, the character of Indiana Jones, as portrayed by Harrison Ford at the peak of his powers, immediately struck a chord with audiences becoming more attuned to the idea of yearly summer blockbusters.
With the fifth Indiana Jones installment looking like it will finally start shooting later this spring, now might be a good time to tackle the famed archeologist’s first four cinematic adventures. You could just watch them in order of release, or, to mix it up a bit, you could also go through them chronologically in order of events with just some slight shuffling. Indy might be making it up as he goes, but you don’t need to with this handy guide!
Archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary artifact that can change the course of history.
- Release Date
- June 30, 2023
- James Mangold
- Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Boyd Holbrook, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
- Adventure, Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, War
The Indiana Jones Movies in Chronological Order
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was the second Indiana Jones film released, but it actually comes first in the timeline. Set in 1935, the film opens in Shanghai with Ford’s gruff adventurer escaping from Chinese gangsters after a treasure swap gone bad. From there the action moves to India, where Indy, his exuberant kid sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), and nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) fend off an evil cult that’s very into human sacrifice and child enslavement. The MacGuffin this go-round is a collection of Sankara Stones — sacred rocks that Indy thinks will provide him with “fortune and glory” but may serve a higher, more noble purpose. Fun fact: Over-protective parents in the ‘80s were not happy with Temple of Doom’s darker tone and gruesome violence, and the ensuing controversy helped lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Okay, yes, the film’s original title was simply Raiders of the Lost Ark, but for the sake of consistency, Lucasfilm has been tacking on the “Indiana Jones and the …” prefix for years now. We don’t necessarily agree with it, but we’ll roll with it here to avoid confusion. Anyway, Raiders was the first Indiana Jones film released, but it takes place in 1936, which makes it Indy’s second adventure chronologically. Here, Indy goes up against the Nazis, his most-hated group of enemies, in a race to find the Ark of the Covenant — the golden chest that held the ten commandments and is rumored to grant invincibility to any army who wields it. Joining him on his quest is Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), a feisty former flame who can more than hold her own, and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a gregarious Egyptian excavator. At one point in the movie, Indy proudly declares that he doesn’t believe in any literal magic or hocus pocus, despite the fact that just one year prior he had witnessed a dude continue on living after having his heart ripped out of his chest during a ritual sacrifice. So, you know … go easy on the continuity with these things.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
After a short prologue set in 1912 that features River Phoenix as a young Indy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade flashes forward to 1938, with Indy once again in a race against the Nazis as he searches for the Holy Grail, the legendary chalice that features heavily in both Christian iconography and Arthurian myth. The Grail might technically be the film’s MacGuffin, but what Indy is really out to discover is a renewed relationship with his father, Henry Jones (a perfectly cast Sean Connery). A mildly befuddled professor of Medieval literature, Henry Sr. accompanies Indy on the adventure, along with Rhys-Davies as Sallah and Denholm Elliott as Marcus Brody, Indy’s boss at the university who briefly appears in Raiders but has a much more substantial role this time around. After two movies featuring heroines who were (mostly) on Indy’s side, Last Crusade also gives us the slightly more enigmatic Elsa Schneider (Alison Doody), an Austrian art historian whose allegiances are ever-shifting.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
19 years would pass before series architects Lucas and Spielberg agreed to continue telling Indy’s story, and the in-universe timeline jumps ahead the same number of years to 1957. Cold War-era Russians replace Nazis as the bad guys as Indy sets out to find the legendary Crystal Skull, a mysterious artifact with possible ties to otherworldly beings. Indy’s companions on this latest adventure include a returning Marion Ravenwood, a motorcycle-riding son Indy didn’t know he had (Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams), and a former colleague who has gone insane on his quest for the Skull (John Hurt as Harold Oxley). Indy fans have been, shall we say, less than kind to Crystal Skull over the years (for mostly good reasons), but it does feature a fun performance by Cate Blanchett as a KGB agent obsessed with the Skull’s potential psychic benefits. Also, we assert that the “nuke the fridge” scene really isn’t all that bad.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
And now we have the latest addition to the franchise, set to arrive on Disney+ on December 1, 2023. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny features a prologue in 1944, but the majority of the story is set in 1969, the furthest along on the Indiana Jones timeline. Directed by James Mangold, the movie looks set to be the final chapter in this blockbuster franchise. The plot revolves around an ancient and mysterious dial, which is sought after by former Nazis. On the cusp of retirement, Indiana Jones is pulled away on a journey to find the dial by his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Lucasfilm has also announced that the irreplaceable John Williams will return to write the film’s score. While Indiana Jones 5 was a box-office disappointment, it was a worthy continuation and a fitting end to the adventures of the world’s favorite grumpy archaeology professor.
The Indiana Jones Movies in Order of Release
Of course, you could also just watch the Indiana Jones movies in the order they were released, which looks like this:
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – June 12, 1981
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – May 23, 1984
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – May 24, 1989
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – May 22, 2008
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny – June 30, 2023
Additionally, there was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, an “educational entertainment” series Lucas produced in 1992 and 1993. Inspired by the prologue in Last Crusade, it tracks two different versions of young Indy (both as a child and a teenager) as he moves through history, witnessing historical events and meeting real-world figures of note. There are also roughly 15,000 Indiana Jones books, comics, and video games out there in the wild. Many of them are out of circulation, but if there was ever a franchise that encouraged a little treasure hunting, this is it.
The Indiana Jones franchise is streaming on Disney+ in the U.S.
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