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Hold on to Your Fedoras: Ranking Common Elements in the Indiana Jones Films

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageTo say that the Indiana Jones films are formulaic is accurate, but not necessarily negative.  C6H2(NO2)3CH3 is the chemical formula for trinitrotoluene, better known as TNT.  TNT’s formula has remained unchanged since its first (though ironically not explosive) preparation in 1863. 

My point is, if the formula works, there’s no need to mess around with it.  The formula for the Indiana Jones films works.  Boy, does it ever!  Of course there’s everyone’s favorite archaeologist going on another adventure, but there are several other common elements, ingredients that are key to the creation of these combustible cinematic cocktails.  There’s the sidekick, the love interest, the villain, and we can’t forget the artifact in contention.  Each of these has appeared in every film so far, and they all look to be present in the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  But how do these elements stack up against each other throughout the films?  If someone was to, say, rank them in order of all-out awesomeness, which would come out on top?   Hell that sounds like a splendid idea!  Let’s find out!

The Sidekick


(Dis)Honorable Mention – Satipo (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

OK, granted this guy was only in the first five minutes or so of Raiders, but for those five minutes he was Indy’s sidekick.  And what a crappy one he turned out to be!  He ends up on the right side of that chasm with Indy’s whip, and Indy is stuck on the wrong side.  And even after Indy was nice enough to brush all those tarantulas off his back (Eeewwww!), he still betrays Indy and steals that golden idol.  It belongs in a museum!


Third Place – Sallah (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

Sallah gets points for saving Indy from poisoned dates, helping Indy find and retrieve the Ark, and getting him, Marion, and the Ark on that ship to take the Ark to England.  He also is the only sidekick to show up in more than one film, appearing in Last Crusade as well as Raiders.  Sallah only gets third place because he seems more of an old friend of Indy’s than a true sidekick.


Second Place – Henry Jones Sr. (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

Let’s be honest here.  Henry is just about the worst sidekick an adventuring archaeologist could have.  He starts off getting kidnapped, forcing Indy to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold to rescue him, shreds the tail wing on their hijacked plane, forcing a premature landing, gets kidnapped a few more times and gets shot, forcing Indy to navigate the three tests to reach the Grail.  Sheesh!  But he’s there when it counts, pulling Indy back from the brink, not to mention he takes out a Nazi fighter plane using only an umbrella, which you’ve got to admit is pretty damn cool. 


First Place – Short Round (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)

Although I personally find Short Round to be a little annoying, I can’t deny his place at the top of this category.  Why is he deserving?  It’s simple really.  While other sidekicks have saved Indy’s life, Short Round saves Indy’s soul.  Consider the following:

After Indy is forced into the “black sleep of Kali”, he’s obviously in a pretty terrible place if he’s able to do that to what amounts to his son.  That Short Round suffers such a horror and still has faith in Indy and is able to bring him back, able to redeem Indy earns him the top spot.  No contest.


The Love Interest


Honorable Mention – The girl with the “love you” eyes (Raiders of the Lost Ark) 

So, I realize there was actually no relationship here, and this girl hardly qualifies as a love interest.  And by “hardly” I mean “in no way”.  But it’s such a great little moment, and Ford’s reaction is classic; you can see it again at the 6:00 minute mark in the following video, which is a sweet re-imagining of Raiders as an actual 1930’s movie serial that someone created for YouTube


Third Place – Wilhelmina “Willie” Scott (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)

Maybe it’s because I’ve never had a thing for Kate Capshaw, but Willie comes in third.  But really, this is about more than just attractiveness.  Indy needs a woman who can take care of herself, a woman who can kick a little ass.  Willie had the “damsel in distress” thing going for her more than any of the other women on this list, so it’s third place for her.


Second Place – Elsa Schneider (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

Oh Elsa.  I wanted to rank her higher, wanted to give her the top spot.  She is definitely the hottest of the three, with the blonde hair and Austrian accent, and her bad-girl tendencies just make her all the hotter, IMHO.  But as I said this  category is about more than hotness.  Granted, the idea of having sex with a woman with whom my father has already had carnal knowledge of costs her some points in the personal fantasy department, but that did make for some classic scenes in Last Crusade.  Ultimately because it was an affair doomed from the start (and the little detail that she was a Nazi), she can’t take the gold.


First Place – Marion Ravenwood (Raiders of the Last Ark)

Marion tops the list for several reasons.  She can drink giant, Nepalese men under the table.  She owned her own bar.  In her hands a frying pan is for more than just scrambling eggs.  She can kick ass.  Yes, she got captured, but do you remember when she held her liquor against Belloq and almost escaped?  And there’s the biggest reason of all: she’s the love of Indy’s life.  End of story.  Marion wins.


The Villain


(Dis)Honorable Mention – Major Arnold Toht (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

You might not recognize him by name, but he’s the Nazi officer who gets one side of the headpiece to the Staff of Ra seared into the palm of his hand.  He plays second fiddle to the winner of this category, but he had some memorable scenes and exuded a sinister quality in all of them that was pitch-perfect for the role.


Third Place – Walter Donovan (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

Besides being a Benedict Arnold, a Nazi-sympathizer, and shooting Indiana Jones’ dad, Donovan isn’t all that villainous.  OK, those are pretty serious crimes, but when faced with the competition of Indy’s other foes, Donovan crumbles.  Plus, he automatically gets third place because he chose…poorly.


Second Place – Mola Ram (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)

Only second place, you might ask?  Yes, and I’ll tell you why.  With his command of black magic as the high priest of a sect worshiping the goddess Kali, he certainly seems to be the most powerful foe Indy has ever faced.  So even though he can do this:

…that only gets him penultimate status.  Let me explain by way of analogy.  Doomsday is arguably Superman’s most powerful nemesis (being the only one to ever kill him), but he’s not the Man of Steel’s archenemy.  That dubious honor goes to Lex Luthor.  By that reasoning, Mola Ram is Indy’s Doomsday, and his Lex Luthor is…


First Place – Rene Belloq (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

Belloq and Indiana Jones.  Darkness and Light.  Yin and Yang.  Lex Luthor and Superman.  The Joker and Batman.  Their dynamic might be best described in Belloq’s own words: 

“You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.”

I don’t know that I need to say much more, but I’ll add this.  You can't be an accomplished villain if you can't beat the hero, and Belloq repeatedly bests Indy throughout Raiders.  Belloq steals the Golden Idol, he kidnaps Marion, and he steals the Ark.  Also there seems to be so much history between these two that is only hinted at in the film.  Skip to 3:30 in the following video to revisit Belloq’s bad-ass introduction and to get a taste of what I’m talking about. 


The Artifact


Honorable Mention – The Golden Idol (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

Each movie starts with Indy and some minor artifact.  In Temple of Doom Indy is selling the remains of a Chinese emperor, and he actually recovers the Cross of Coronado in Last Crusade.  But I wanted to give special mention to the Golden Idol in Raiders due to the fact that Indy loses it to Belloq, and because it sets off one of the coolest booby traps ever, which incidentally you can re-watch in the video above.


Third Place – The Sankara Stones (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)

For reasons I’ll spell out in a moment, the stones in Temple of Doom come in last place.  Mola Ram had three of them, was looking for the remaining two, and hoped to use their combined power to rule the world.  I never quite figured out how they would facilitate such conquest, and beyond glowing and being able to burn a hole through fabric, they didn’t seem all that special to me. 


Second Place – The Holy Grail (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

While my Christian upbringing tempts me to pick the Grail as the greatest of the artifacts Indy has sought after, it only gets second place in this ranking.  My rationale is based mainly on considering what kick-ass supernatural powers the artifacts possess, and while miraculous healing ability and immortality certainly seem cool, evidently God has a tiny loophole that requires the recipient of everlasting life to remain in that musty old church in the middle of nowhere.  Who wants to live forever if you’re going to be bored to death, but unable to die?


First Place – The Ark of the Covenant (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

So by my rationale of awesome powers, the Ark takes the cake.  If I may quote Marcus Brody:

“The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it is invincible.”

Then, of course, there’s this:

Need I say more?