Hate to make anyone feel old, myself included, but Raiders of the Lost Ark is now thirty years old. I can still remember seeing it at my local movie theater, which has long been demolished, and all the related hubbub the movie created when it came out.
Like Star Wars, it was a blockbuster that captured the hearts and imaginations of moviegoers young and old, and seeing it again recently, it holds up extremely well.
As Steven Spielberg recalled in DGA Magazine, he was in Hawaii “to sort of hold George [Lucas’s] hand” the day Star Wars opened in 1977.
“When the phone rang and he found out that every single 10:30 a.m. show throught the entire nation had been sold out, George became euphoric, and, in his euphoria, immediately began thinking about the future.
“He asked me what I was doing next. I said I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to try again to get [producer] Cubby Broccoli tolet me direct one of the James Bond films. And George said I’ve got something better than James Bond, it’s called Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Spielberg, perhaps in a reaction to the negative press he received from his big budget flop 1941, shot Raiders fast and furious, and as the film’s executive producer Howard Kazanjian says, “This was Steven’s first film he’d done on budget. We had a terrific crew, we were well prepared, we were ready, so you never had to wait for anything.
“Our attitude was we’re making a B movie, no Oscars here, let’s get it done, let’s have a lot of fun doing it, and have the audience enjoy it. Steven’s attitude was if he tried to do a particular shot once or twice and it wasn’t working, adjust it or move on.” (And funny enough, Raiders was nominated for Best Picture and Spielberg for Best Director, and it lost to Chariots of Fire, and Warren Beatty for Reds respectively.)
Raiders was of course an homage to the great serials of yesteryear, and Lucas, Kazanjian, and Spielberg were all big fans of them. “I have an extensive collection of serials,” Kazanjian says, “and if you liked serials over the years, you’d presume that Raiders would be successful. With serials, every thirteen or fifteen minutes there’s a cliffhanger, and every scene in Raiders was designed as a cliffhanger.”