“It’s not the years, it’s the mileage”: ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ turns 40 on Saturday

On June 12, 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced the world to a new kind of action hero: a college professor by day, swashbuckling archeologist by night, by the name of Indiana Jones.

Harrison Ford became iconic as the man in the hat — ironic, considering he wasn’t the first choice to play the role. Tom Selleck was, but his Magnum P.I. contract wouldn’t allow it.

Based on a story from Lucas and his pal Phillip Kaufman, the first Indy film opened in 1936 South America. A golden idol Indy just swiped from a booby-trapped shrine gets stolen from him by his old nemesis René Belloq, played by Paul Freeman.

Freeman’s character orders the local natives to catch Jones — but in reality, the actor revealed to ABC Audio, he was ordering something different. “George said they hadn’t they hadn’t written anything. They didn’t know what language they were going to speak.”

“Make something up,” Lucas recommended.

Freeman recalls with a laugh, “What I actually said…was ‘Make mine a BLT’ — of course, I have to dub [the line] later to get the right thing — and then the natives run away! 

Of course, Belloq later joins the Nazis on a quest to recover the lost Ark of the Covenant — for him, an unmatched archeological find; for Hitler, an unstoppable weapon to be unleashed on the world. Thankfully, Jones — and, presumably the Man Upstairs — puts a stop to the Nazis’ plans.

Freeman adds that the film certainly doesn’t seem 40 years old. “It has to be said that the speed of it and the energy of it and the and the humor, I keep going on about the humor of it, but that all makes it a young film which continues to live.”

Karen Allen played Indy’s hard-hitting — and hard-drinking — love interest, Marion Ravenwood. She recalls, “Working with Steven Spielberg, which was just such an extraordinarily wonderful thing, and Harrison I had a great time…trying to find the right that kind of perfect love-hate relationship between those two characters.”

Allen says, “I have so many incredible memories of just being there and making it on these incredible sets that they built in London. I mean, just phenomenal, the Well of Souls and all those kinds of more magical places…and then going off to the edge of the Sahara Desert in the summer and Tunisia when it was about 110 degrees on the set,” she laughs. “That was memorable.”

She also adds with a laugh, “Working with 7,000 snakes, that certainly left an impression on me, and a monkey that really had no interest in being with any of us at all. It was like the furthest thing from that monkey’s mind is that he was going to have to sit on my shoulder or something.”

Raiders of the Lost Ark became 1981’s top-grossing movie, raking in nearly than $390 million worldwide. It earned eight Oscar nominations and five wins, including one for John Williams‘ unforgettable score. It is regarded as one of the best films of the decade, and spawned three sequels: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — in which Marion returned — in 2008.

A fifth film is currently shooting in the U.K.

To help you celebrate Raiders‘ 40th birthday, the 4K Ultra HD Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection just hit stores.

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