Hard to believe another Indiana Jones movie is in theaters. After Indy and his pop rode away into the sunset in Last Crusade, going on another adventure seemed doubtful.
Alas, here we are on the opening of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which, ah, well … more on that later!
But with the new film in theaters, we felt compelled to sort through Steven Spielberg‘s action franchise and offer a proper ranking. Put on your hat, grab your whip, and read at your own risk — here’s Indiana Jones, ranked from worst to best.
5. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
I don’t know where to start with this bloated, wannabe epic. I went in with modest expectations after reading early reviews. I braced myself for James Mangold’s new approach to the franchise, taking the reins from Steven Spielberg. After watching the Star Wars series spiral out of control, my faith in Lucasfilm already hung by a thread. Still, I wanted to like Dial of Destiny and was moderately entertained for the first half. Then the third act hits, and the film morphs into that terrible Alamo Jobe episode of Amazing Stories. Did this thing really cost $400M?
Where did it all go wrong? Dial of Destiny has brief sparks of creativity, like an early action scene where a de-aged Harrison Ford battles Nazis in WWII. However, the production is so devoid of life and freshness that any positives quickly fade away.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge steals the show, whether by design or out of necessity. Harrison Ford’s age appears to limit his participation in action sequences. The actress injects the film with energy and director Mangold wisely relies on her playful demeanor, albeit at the expense of his star. While Ford delivers a commendable performance, he’s given little to do aside from grumble exposition. There’s a poignant moment where Indy shares what he would do if given a chance to travel back in time. Unfortunately, the film fails to revisit or utilize this insight to drive the iconic hero’s journey. Stakes are low, and ultimately, the film feels both hollow and unengaging.
Moreover, Mangold takes too long to set up action sequences, and the payoff is seldom worth the wait. A high-speed car chase is thrilling, but lacks Spielberg’s creative wit and energy. Mangold isn’t Spielberg — who is? — but you’d think he’d put more effort into replicating Spielberg’s style. Raiders, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade skillfully blended various genres, but Dial of Destiny feels surprisingly generic in its execution. It’s a routine action pic far too tame for a franchise featuring face-melting Nazis and heart-ripping cult leaders.
4. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
No surprise here. I won’t go too hard on this much-maligned Spielberg misfire, especially since my stance has softened in recent years. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull may not hold a candle to the original trilogy, but it still offers plenty of entertainment and a few thrilling action sequences. It’s always great to see Ford don the hat and leather jacket, even if Spielberg doesn’t give him much to do.
That’s the problem with this entry — it lacks substance. Spielberg detests the alien angle, which stalls the film’s last third. However, he still loves Indy and delivers some well-executed action via a chase sequence set at Area 51 and another across a college campus. I also enjoy Shia LaBeouf as Mutt Williams, but his character hangs around without much to do.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t bad. I’d rank it with the Star Wars prequels as a sporadically fun return to a beloved franchise that entertains despite missing the mark by a few thousand feet.
3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
I go back and forth between Temple of Doom and Last Crusade when it comes to my personal rankings. I enjoy both, but have probably watched Temple of Doom more. Why? It has the franchise’s best opening, the best sidekick in Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round, and an astonishing production design.
Is it extreme? You bet. Hearts are ripped from chests, bugs leap all over Kate Capshaw’s hair, kids are whipped and beaten, and that’s all before Indy drinks demon blood and loses his mind. I understand the hate. Even after Raiders’ face-melting finale, Temple of Doom feels like one giant step too far. But the extremes Spielberg and George Lucas are willing to go to make this rip-roaring sequel unpredictable, chaotic fun.
The one thing holding Temple of Doom back is the lackluster MacGuffin — three magical rocks that grow crops aren’t quite as memorable as the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. And while beautifully staged, the nonstop action in the third act lacks the dramatic stakes of Raiders’ truck chase and Last Crusade’s thrilling tank battle. None of it is terrible, but the film could end at any moment and not miss a beat.
Funny, unexpected, and ambitious, Temple of Doom is an absolute blast from start to finish. This could’ve been the best of the series with a bit more heart and soul, a stronger female lead, and a better MacGuffin.
2. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation for Last Crusade has increased. Maybe it’s the father in me, or perhaps I’m more enamored by human drama than nonstop action. Yes, this sequel sticks to the formula and plays it safe — Spielberg practically dares you not to like this film — but does everything so well that it hardly matters.
Seriously, everything in Last Crusade lands. The action, the jokes, the characters, the romance, and the drama — all crafted by a director at the top of his game. No one but Steven Spielberg could have made this movie.
Of course, the secret ingredient here is Sean Connery’s Henry Jones Sr. The iconic actor is delightful as the eccentric professor, and brings both wisdom and humor to the proceedings. Connery’s chemistry with Ford is remarkable, and their energy is contagious. By the time they ride off into the sunset, a father and son reunited amidst John Williams’ jaw-dropping score (my favorite of the series), it’s hard not to walk away with a giant smile plastered on your face.
If I were to offer a few criticisms, Alison Doody doesn’t leave much of an impression as Indy’s love interest. She’s cast aside immediately after showing her true colors, before a perplexing last-second change brings her back to the light. Ultimately, the Last Knight/Holy Grail bit raises far too many questions. We’re not meant to think about it too much, but what’s the point of a cup that grants immortality if you can’t take it outside? Also, would the earthquake have happened if Elsa had just run away with the cup? Such questions have puzzled me for years.
Last Crusade makes up for its narrative shortcomings with an abundance of heart and soul. I can see why some view it as the best in the franchise. This is one hell of a blockbuster and a film too often taken for granted.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1980)
As much as I gush over Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, I could never place either above the iconic original.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a damn fine film — probably the most rewatchable summer blockbuster outside of Jaws. From the iconic boulder sequence to the horrifying Ark finale, Raiders soars and hits every mark it aims for. The truck sequence alone is worth the price of admission, but Spielberg isn’t content to deliver a typical adventure. Instead, he downshifts into horror and delivers an astonishing finale that still gives goosebumps.
Indiana Jones remains a marvelous creation, a perfect concoction of legend and vulnerability. At the same time, Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood stands tall as a fiercely capable woman who can hold her own in dangerous situations. She’s the perfect complement to Indy.
Raiders is a perfect example of the heights cinema can reach when everyone works to achieve the impossible. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to enjoy this extraordinary adventure needs to gather the family, hop on the couch, and prepare for one of the all-time greatest spectacles in cinema history.
Sign up for Disney+