In 1975, Steven Spielberg invented the summer blockbuster with Jaws. Only two years later, George Lucas perfected it with Star Wars. And then, the two filmmakers combined their forces and beards to come up with an idea they thought would change movies forever: giant sharks in space. Then they quickly scrapped that idea in favor of Raiders of the Lost Ark, an action-adventure film that would resurrect the spectacle of early film serials combined with enough action and humor to melt the audience’s faces off.
Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Raiders. That’s three decades since Harrison Ford first dodged that rolling boulder, and I’m going to celebrate by watching the whole trilogy-plus-one on DVD. That’s right, even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That’s just how dedicated I am. It’s an especially good weekend for it since the Indy movies are really the only Spielberg films not referenced in Super 8. Well, also Amistad, I’m guessing.
There’s almost no franchise I can think of that is as much unadulterated fun. Whereas the Pirates of the Caribbean movies—which owe a clear debt to Indiana Jones’ mix of rousing action and roguish humor—get bogged down and bloated in extraneous plotlines and nonsensical character motivations, the first three Indy films are great examples of wonderfully simple, instantly memorable storytelling. From Alfred Molina dying straight through to the iconic, strangely ominous final shot of the government warehouse, the original Raiders is essentially a perfect work of pure pulp entertainment, a type of movie even rarer than those considered “cinematic masterpieces.” In fact, it’s so rare that it belongs in a museum.
And that’s true even if you think they nuked the fridge with the fourth film and if news that a fifth one may be on the way makes you want to let out a Wilhelm scream. So how are you going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Raiders? Don’t choose…poorly.