As Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny arrives in theaters, it looks to be the final conclusion of the saga. This leads to debate among fans as to which was the best Indiana Jones movie. That can be tricky as some may have their likes and dislikes and a few argue which worked or not.
However, it’s telling that some entries can be much better than others in how they succeed. The best ones put Harrison Ford’s daring adventurer in terrific wild situations and matched by Steven Spielberg’s direction and John Williams’ score. They can also be the perfect popcorn fare for any moviegoer. Here is how each Indiana Jones movie ranks and a reminder of how it’s a film saga like no other.
5. Temple of Doom
Perhaps a controversial choice for the “worst” Indiana Jones movie, as there is still some good action and wild moments. It’s also fun seeing future Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan as ally Short Round and the Williams score is fantastic. However, Kate Capshaw (the future Mrs. Steven Spielberg) is beyond annoying as the screaming, complaining Willie Scott, and the opening “musical number” is a baffling choice for a film that can’t quite seem to decide its tone between light-hearted or guys getting their hearts ripped out of their chest.
There is also the horrible presentation of Indian natives (see the entire dinner scene), and the bit of Indy under an evil influence is hard to take. Indeed, the entire film comes off just too dark, almost a horror movie at times, rather than the sparkling adventure fans were hoping for. Sure, Amrish Puri is sinister as Mola Ram and the mine car chase is a blast, but it just feels a lacking entry in many ways. It’s good, but it’s not as great as fans in 1984 hoped for in a big sequel.
4. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Fans have long debated bits from surviving a nuke in a fridge to the monkey swinging sequence to the use of aliens in the saga. There’s also wasting Ray Winstone as Mac, who can’t seem to decide whose side he’s on and the plotline of Indy facing the Red Scare is dropped too fast. Yet there is much to enjoy as Indy faces the issues of the 1950s with Shai LaBeouf engaging as new sidekick Mutt. It’s also wonderful seeing Karen Allen back as Marion and John Hurt is fun as the mentally addled mentor.
Cate Blanchett offers a compelling villainess and the action sequences, like a motorcycle chase through the college campus, work well. There’s also a big turn regarding Mutt and a finale that seemed to bring Indy to a good close. Even the alien influence works because of the 1950s setting and showing an older Indy back in the saddle. Yes, the CGI overload and ending are rough, but it’s better than its reputation suggests as a fun Indiana Jones adventure.
3. Dial of Destiny
This film is far better than many critics say it is. The entire prologue as Indy faces Nazis in 1944 is spectacular, with the CGI for a younger Ford well done. Seeing an aged and bitter Indy surviving the 1960s is a daring take as Ford shows him worn down but still able to fight for what he thinks is right. David Mangold does a good job copying Spielberg’s style while retaining his own magic. Indy comes off far more a real character than he ever has before, making this an emotional journey.
Mads Mikkelsen is appropriately wicked as the villain, while Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a delight as aide Helena, who has her own agenda and her sassy banter with Ford highlights the film. The search for this Dial to change history has classic motifs like the “red line across map journey” and a heart that Crystal Skull lacked. The climax may be a wild turn, but the final scene shows that if this is Indiana Jones’ final adventure, he went out in grand style.
2. The Last Crusade
This film kicks off nicely with a prologue of a young Indy (the late River Phoenix) in a chase that explains everything from his fear of snakes to his chin scar. But the actual reason this works rests on the genius casting of Sean Connery as Indy’s father, Henry. The pair are perfect together, showing some tension yet able to overcome it for a wild search for the Holy Grail. There’s also fantastic humor (see Indy’s reaction to realizing both he and his dad slept with spy Elsa) and the set pieces in a German castle and boat chase scene are beautiful.
There are great supporting turns from Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover and Alison Doody and a good storyline of father-son issues amid the question of what’s truly important in life. It’s a wonderful return to form for the saga, with snappy dialogue amid the action pieces. The final scene of Indy literally riding into the sunset could have been a fine coda for the series, yet it still stands as a magical entry for fans.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
What can be said about this movie that hasn’t been written of dozens of times? From the opening sequence with the giant boulder, Indiana Jones captures viewers and doesn’t let go. It’s packed with crowd-pleasing moments like his showdown with a swordsman and stunning how it all comes together. There’s not a false beat to be found as the first-ever “MacGuffin” of the Ark of the Covenant makes for a wild adventure.
There’s also Karen Allen making Marion a feisty match for Indiana, while Paul Freeman has his charm as villain Belloq. It’s a true love letter to 1930s adventures that remains timeless. The final sequence of the Ark opening is a horrifying yet remarkable old-school FX achievement and the last shot is a classic closing. Introducing everything from the iconic theme to his fear of snakes, it’s as perfect as any action-adventure movie can be and no wonder it retains its power four decades later.