In the 1980s, the Indiana Jones movies were pop-cultural touchstones, celebrated not only by the public but also by critics. After years of inactivity, the series returned in 2008, with a followup film planned. With four films as of 2019, the Indiana Jones series has brought us classic characters, dazzling adventures and even a sense of history to the big screen. It’s easy to say that every film in the series is worthy of praise and admiration, but alas, the list requires me to rank the films. Without further ado, here are the four Indiana Jones films ranked!
4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
This seems almost inevitable, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I find Crystal Skull to be a mostly solid, if somewhat by-the-numbers action flick. But considering that the series in question is Indiana Jones, by-the-numbers just isn’t acceptable. In this film, which trades the World War II backdrop of the previous films for a Cold War setting, Indy must travel to South America to locate the titular Crystal Skull. Along the way, he runs into old friends and even discovers he has a long lost son named Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf). Can Indy and son recover the Crystal Skull, or will disaster win out?
Crystal Skull is certainly the worst of the four films, but while that’d be an indictment against most franchises, it merely means that this film is solidly fun, while the others are fantastically so. As such, perhaps that’s not such a harsh criticism after all.
3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
It might seem blasphemous to rank the first in a franchise as being second to lost, but once more, that’s just a testament to how strong the next two films are. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, we meet Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) for the first time, where he’s trying to recover the titular Ark of the Covenant from Nazi soldiers. As his adventure takes him all across the world including Peru to Egypt, Indy encounters many friends and many foes. Can he recover the Ark and save the day, or will evil prevail?
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a fantastic set-up for the formula of later films in the series. It might not have the most surprises or daring set pieces, but it starts off the classic series on the right track.
2. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Before Crystal Skull earned the title in 2008, Temple of Doom was largely seen as the red-headed step-child of the Indiana Jones franchise. From its darker tone to its refusal to use the Nazis as villains again, Temple of Doom has been largely misunderstood. But sometimes, the best films are the ones that were met with confusion and dismissal in their day, Temple of Doom included. In this film, Indy must rescue a tribe of children in India from a mysterious cult. Joined by the usual sidekicks, he must brave the usual traps and bandits. Can Indy save the day?
The set pieces in this film are fantastic. Ranging from fantastical to intensely exciting, they are an absolute delight to watch. If one is looking for an Indy film that is pure escapist fun, then Temple of Doom is just what they’re craving.
1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Here we have it, the best film in the series! The Last Crusade may not have Temple of Doom’s daring action sequences, but it does have the best character interactions of any of the films. In this one, Indy must once again face-off against Nazi officials, this time in pursuit of the Holy Grail. Along the way, he’s joined by his father, Dr. Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery), who is also an archaeologist, albeit a much less adventurous one. As the two travel through Europe, they must learn to set aside any differences they once had and save the world from the nefarious Nazis. Can the two succeed, or will the Holy Grail be swindled away?
The Last Crusade contains a gripping story, fun action sequences, and great character interactions. It perfects what works best about the franchise and as such, it’s the top Indiana Jones film.