In 1977, George Lucas was lounging on a beach in Hawaii. The filmmaker had retreated to the tropical paradise in advance of Star Wars’ release, a tradition he’d continue for the opening weekends of all of his films.
Joining Lucas in Hawaii was his friend and fellow auteur, Steven Spielberg. As news of Star Wars’ success began to trickle in, the two celebrated. Then the conversation quickly turned to what dream projects they hoped to work on next. Unknown to both men, they were about to lay the ground for their next blockbuster: Indiana Jones.
“I had been looking for action/adventure — I had been looking to do something that would take me globetrotting,” Spielberg recalled in a documentary chronicling the creation of Indiana Jones. “I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to direct a James Bond picture. And George said, ‘I’ve got that beat. I’ve got a better idea. It’s called Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Inspired by film serials of the ’30s and ‘40s, Lucas had sketched a story that focused on an archaeologist and his quest to find artifacts that were both historical and supernatural in nature. The filmmaker had initially outlined the concept before Star Wars, but the intergalactic adventure stole his attention and time. Lucas knew he didn’t want to direct Raiders, preferring to take a backseat so he could enjoy the film from a fan’s perspective. Spielberg jumped at the chance to helm the project.
It would be four more years before Raiders of the Lost Ark hit the silver screen, but the wait was worth it. The film was the highest grossing of 1981, received universal praise and earned five Academy Awards. It also set into motion one of the most successful film franchises of all time, as Raiders and its sequels have earned close to $2 billion at the global box office.
We’ve rounded up 11 stories you may not know from the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark.