As soon as the Indiana Jones theme song starts, we know we’re in for a heart-pounding adventure. Indiana Jones was, after all, voted as the second greatest movie character ever by the American Film Institute (beaten only by Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch).
That just goes to show how enduringly popular Indy is, and how many people love his exploits. His films have always been financial successes—and with a fifth installment on the way, we can expect more excitement when it hits the big screen in 2022.
Indiana Jones has given us some of the greatest moments in cinema history, with many of his action sequences being parodied or paid homage to by other films and series.
But what were the best Indiana Jones moments? Which sequences stunned audiences and became truly iconic? Here are our picks for the most memorable Indiana Jones scenes!
7. The Area 51 Warehouse (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
When we sat down to the opening of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we’d not seen Indy in 18 years. But when an older, wiser, more curmudgeonly Dr. Jones was thrown from the trunk of a car? We felt right at home with our favorite archaeologist.
The sequence sees Indiana forced to help Soviet insurgent forces find the remains of an alien creature inside the Area 51 base. When things go awry and he chases down Cate Blanchett’s Spalko to recover the remains, it sparks a warehouse brawl that’s pure Indiana Jones.
The sequence was as good as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull got, but it gave us a moment we’d never forget—especially when the Ark of the Covenant is shown among the debris.
6. Choosing the Grail (The Last Crusade)
Facing the imminent death of his wounded father, Indy must go into the temple of the Grail to recover the one artifact that can save him.
First, Indiana Jones faces the three Challenges of Faith to gain access to the chamber that houses the Grail. Once inside, he finds a knight that’s hundreds of years old, who presents the final test: discerning which cup is the Grail.
The bad guy Donovan drank from the wrong cup and was turned into dust before Indy’s very eyes, so he must choose wisely. In the end, he does choose correctly and uses the water to save his father.
The sequence is brilliant as the audience also tries to figure out which cup is the true Grail. And the tension felt as Indy selects a cup before testing it on himself? Truly suspenseful.
5. The Minecart Sequence (Temple of Doom)
Indy, Willie, and Short Round’s escape from the mines underneath Pankot Palace is one of the most fun sequences in any Indiana Jones movie.
When the trio throw themselves into a minecart that takes them out of the mines, they take the risky right path instead of the safer left one. This leads them to fight off other carts full of enemies and they must navigate the treacherous tracks that lay ahead.
With all enemies bested and the brakes shot, they realize they’re about to hit a wall—which is when Indy uses his foot to slow the wheels, setting himself on fire in the process.
The action-filled chase is magnificent, laced with humor and peril, while always showing off Indy’s heroics.
4. The Opening Boat/Youth Sequence (The Last Crusade)
The opening to The Last Crusade finally told the story of how a young Indy (played by River Phoenix) got his hat. It wasn’t in the glory of a win but the pain of defeat, in which a young Henry Jones Jr. tried to rescue the Cross of Coronado from the hands of thieves.
As he stands defeated and forced by the law to hand over the Cross, one of the pursuers takes off his hat and places it upon Indy’s head.
Immediately the picture cuts to Harrison Ford smiling on a boat, wearing his hat while taking a punch. He retrieves the Cross and escapes before the ship blows up, killing everybody else on board.
The cut between younger and older Indy is the best in the whole franchise, while Indy’s theme plays behind it. It gives the feeling of pure delight to see Ford’s hero on screen again.
3. Opening The Ark (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
It’s the moment the whole film has been building up to—when Indiana Jones and Marion are bound to a stake, and the Nazis decide to open the Ark so they may see what lies within.
At first, it appears to be a bunch of sand; however, as the seconds pass, strange things begin to happen… and spirits start flying out of the Ark and around the waiting Nazis.
That’s when the horror begins, as the spirits turn into hellish creatures that attack everybody who looks at them. All are killed, and Belloq’s head explodes while Dietrich melts for daring to look inside.
Jones and Marion, who have both kept their eyes shut, open their eyes to find the soldiers gone and the Ark now closed. The sequence is iconic for its brutality and sheer horror, and it shows an audience how striking an Indiana Jones movie really can be.
2. The Bridge (Temple of Doom)
“Mola Ram! Prepare to meet Kali… in Hell!”Indiana Jones in Temple of Doom
After Indy, Willie, and Short Round have escaped the mines and are now making their way to the rope bridge, they become surrounded by the Thuggee.
With enemies closing in around them and with little time to think, Indy decides to hack away at the bridge’s ropes while they’re still on it—causing the bridge to collapse and fall.
As they climb the remains of the bridge, Mola Ram attempts to remove Indy’s heart with his power, although Dr. Jones finds the strength to push Mola Ram’s hand away from his chest. From there, Indy uses the Shankara stones to burn a hole in his bag and throw Mola Ram from the bridge to his doom.
Temple of Doom is the darkest Indiana Jones adventure that provides us with the grittiest action sequences. The bridge scene is an incredible set piece that showcases Indy’s willingness to risk his own life for the greater good.
1. The Opening Sequence (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
The only character introduction scene as good as the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first introduction to Sean Connery’s James Bond in Dr. No.
As Indiana Jones tracks through a dense jungle, he’s with two guides, one of whom tries to kill him when they find the temple opening. From there, Jones avoids traps and attempts to steal the idol, only to set off all the booby traps—causing the temple to fall apart.
He’s left for dead by his second compatriot and has to run his way out as everything collapses. The race against the giant boulder that rolls after Indy has become an iconic sequence that’s been parodied endlessly. Such is the cinematic brilliance of the escape.
Indiana Jones is understood from that moment onwards by the audience as a swashbuckling sarcastic man who’s blessed with great intellect and a penchant for getting himself into trouble.