The inception of the Indiana Jones franchise actually began with the desire to make a film in another, already established film series. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were on vacation together in 1977 during the opening weekend of Star Wars when Lucas asked Spielberg—who was in post-production on Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the time—what kind of film he wanted to make next. Spielberg said he’d always wanted to direct a James Bond film, to which Lucas replied, “Well I’ve got that beat.” The Star Wars filmmaker proceeded to pitch an adventure film in the vein of the 1930s and 40s serials starring a heroic archaeologist named Indiana Smith. Spielberg loved everything about the pitch but the name, suggested Jones as the new surname, and thus one of the most enduring film franchises in history was born.
Though the Indiana Jones series only consists of four films (so far), it’s noteworthy in that it spans three decades yet was able to retain the same filmmaking team for each entry. The Bond comparisons are inescapable, but Spielberg, Lucas, and Harrison Ford crafted an iconic hero all their own who would be just as influential to the world of moviemaking—and the world at large—as the British spy.
The Indiana Jones franchise is also noteworthy in that no two films are too similar. Spielberg and Lucas were careful not to retread the formula of past movies, and while this resulted in a fresh story and structure each time out, not every entry was a home run. Below, I’ve ranked all four Indiana Jones films from worst to best while digging into the merits and shortcomings of each entry in this beloved, long-lasting, and ongoing franchise.