Raiders of the Lost Ark is a 1981 American action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Set in 1936, the film stars Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, a globetrotting archaeologist vying with Nazi German forces to recover the long-lost Ark of the Covenant which is said to make an army invincible. Teaming up with his tough former romantic interest Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Jones races to stop rival archaeologist Dr. René Belloq (Paul Freeman) from guiding the Nazis to the Ark and its power.
Lucas conceived Raiders of the Lost Ark in the early 1970s. Seeking to modernize the serial films of the early 20th century, he developed the idea further with Kaufman, who suggested the Ark as the film's goal. Lucas eventually focused on developing his 1977 film Star Wars. Development on Raiders of the Lost Ark resumed that year when he shared the idea with Spielberg, who joined the project several months later. While the pair had ideas for set pieces and stunts for the film, they hired Kasdan to fill in the narrative gaps between them. Principal photography began in June 1980 on a $20 million budget, and concluded that September. Filming took place on sets at Elstree Studios, England, and on location mainly in La Rochelle, France, Tunisia, and Hawaii.
Pre-release polling showed little audience interest in the film, especially compared to Superman II. Despite this, Raiders of the Lost Ark became the highest-grossing film of 1981, earning approximately $330.5 million worldwide, and played in some theaters for over a year. It was a critical success, receiving praise for its modern take on the serial genre, its non-stop action and adventure, and the performances of the cast, particularly of Ford, Allen, and Freeman. The film was nominated for several awards, and won five Academy Awards, seven Saturn Awards, and one BAFTA, among other accolades.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is now considered one of the greatest films ever made, and has had a lasting impact on popular culture, spawning a host of imitators across several media and inspiring other filmmakers. The United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1999. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first entry in what became the Indiana Jones franchise, which includes four more films—Temple of Doom (1984), Last Crusade (1989), Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), and Dial of Destiny (2023)—a television series, video games, comic books, novels, theme park attractions, toys, and an amateur remake.
Plot - In 1936, American archaeologist Indiana Jones recovers a Golden Idol from a booby-trapped Peruvian temple. Rival archaeologist René Belloq corners him and steals the idol; Jones escapes in a waiting seaplane. After returning to the United States, Jones is briefed by two Army Intelligence agents that Nazi German forces are excavating at Tanis, Egypt, and one of their telegrams mentions Jones' old mentor Abner Ravenwood. Jones deduces that the Nazis seek the Ark of the Covenant, which Adolf Hitler believes will make their army invincible. The agents recruit Jones to recover the Ark first.
At a bar in Nepal, Jones reunites with Ravenwood's daughter Marion—with whom Jones once had an illicit relationship—and learns Ravenwood is dead. The bar is set ablaze during a scuffle with Gestapo agent Arnold Toht, who arrives to take a medallion from Marion. Toht attempts to recover the medallion from the flames, but only burns its image into his hand. Jones and Marion take the medallion and escape.
Traveling to Cairo, the pair meet Jones's friend Sallah. Sallah reveals Belloq is assisting the Nazis, who have fashioned an incomplete replica medallion from the burns on Toht's hand. Nazi soldiers and mercenaries attack Jones, and Marion is seemingly killed, leaving Jones despondent. An imam deciphers the medallion for Jones, revealing that one side bears a warning against disturbing the Ark, and the other bears the correct measurements for the "staff of Ra", an item used to locate the Ark. Jones and Sallah realize that the Nazis are digging in the wrong location, infiltrate the Nazi dig site, and use the medallion and the correctly-sized staff of Ra to locate the Well of Souls, the Ark's resting place. They recover the Ark—a golden, intricately decorated chest—but Belloq and the Nazis discover them and seize it. Jones and Marion—whom Belloq has held captive—are sealed inside the well, but the pair escape and Jones captures a truck carrying the Ark. Alongside Marion, Jones arranges to transport the Ark to London aboard a tramp steamer. A German U-boat intercepts the steamer and seizes the Ark and Marion; Jones covertly boards the U-boat. The vessel travels to an island in the Aegean Sea, where Belloq intends to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to Hitler.
On the island, Jones ambushes the Nazi group and threatens to destroy the Ark, but surrenders after Belloq deduces that Jones would never destroy something so historically significant, also surmising that Jones wants to know if the Ark's power is real. The Nazis restrain Jones and Marion at the testing site as Belloq ceremonially opens the Ark but finds only sand inside. At Jones' instruction, he and Marion close their eyes to avoid looking at the opened Ark, as it releases spirits, flames, and bolts of energy that kill Belloq, Toht, and the assembled Nazis before sealing itself shut. Jones and Marion open their eyes to find the area cleared of bodies and their bindings removed.
Back in Washington, D.C., the United States government rewards Jones for securing the Ark. Despite Jones' insistence, the agents state only that the Ark has been moved to an undisclosed location for "top men" to study. In a large warehouse, the Ark is crated up and stored among countless other crates.