Rewind to summer 1981, and a box office slump. A variety of factors were to blame for the downturn, including rising movie ticket prices and production costs (sound familiar?). But the summer season ended on a high note after Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark rode to the rescue.
Raiders of the Lost Ark, directed by Steven Spielberg from a story and concept by George Lucas, provided actor Harrison Ford with his own franchise that spanned two additional films during the course of the 1980s. The trio successfully revived the action-adventure series with 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, which dug up nearly $800 million at the worldwide box office. But that was another time, and another place.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny — the fifth and final installment in the storied series — opened to an underwhelming $60.4 million at the domestic box office over the June 30-July 2 weekend. Many films would be pleased with such a sum; one costing a huge $295 million to produce before marketing isn’t one of them.
Below, The Hollywood Reporter ranks each of the five Indy movies according to their opening weekends at the domestic box office when adjusted for inflation, from highest to lowest. (Surprises could be in store.)
1. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Indy fans showed up in force to welcome their swashbuckling hero back to the big screen after a 19-year hiatus. The Crystal Skull opened a huge $152 million in North America over the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, including $100.1 million for the weekend proper. That equals $146.9 million when adjusted for inflation, according to handy calculations provided by Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore. Crystal Skull received mixed decidedly mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike, but was a box office win on its way to amassing north of $790 million at the worldwide box office for Lucasfilm and Paramount, unadjusted. It was the No. 2 film of the year domestically behind The Dark Knight after beating out the likes of Quantum of Solace, Mamma Mia! and Iron Man. Put another way, Disney’s decision to keep the franchise alive after buying Lucasfilm in 2012 and pursue a fifth installment isn’t a shock.
Domestic opening adjusted for inflation: $146.9 million
2. The Temple of Doom (1984)
Temple of Doom debuted to $33.9 million domestically, or $106.4 million when adjusted for inflation, according to Dergarabedian. Temple of Doom went on to earn $331 million globally, including $179.9 million in North America (unadjusted). For the year, however, it got beat out by Beverly Hills Cop and Ghostbusters. The lasting legacy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in terms of box office is arguably the PG-13 rating. Spielberg advocated for the Motion Picture Association to create the new ratings category between “G” and “R” after parents complained about some of the movie’s scenes being too dark (they made similar complaints about the Spielberg-executive produced Gremlins, which opened around the same time). Spielberg’s entreaties were heard by the MPA, with PG-13 quickly becoming the go-to rating for Hollywood studios looking to appeal to the widest group of people, whether families or adults looking for some action.
Domestic opening adjusted for inflation: $106.4 million
3. The Last Crusade (1989)
The Last Crusade smashed Memorial Day records in North America with four-day earnings of $37 million. That included $29.4 million for the three days, or $77.5 million when adjusted. The threequel was the highest-grossing film of 1989 at the global box office with an unadjusted total of $474.2 million, beating Batman. But in North America, Batman prevailed (can’t win them all).
Domestic opening adjusted for inflation: $77.5 million
4. The Dial of Destiny (2023)
Did Indiana Jones’ luck finally run out? The filmmakers might have been wondering the same thing when The Dial of Destiny opened to $60.4 million over the June 30-July weekend, a not-so-auspicious start for a tentpole costing $295 million (by way of perspective, Crystal Skull likewise ran over budget, but its price tag was $185 million). Dial of Destiny fared even worse overseas, opening to $70 million. The movie was beset with numerous delays, capped by Spielberg’s decision to step aside and turn the franchise over to another director, in this case James Mangold. The news was revealed in February 2020 just before the COVID-19 lockdown. In the intervening years, Indy fans have aged. Those who were 12 when the first movie came out are now 54; those who were 24 are 66 now (you get the idea). Yet in the post-pandemic era, older adults have become became all the more discerning in terms of what they’ll watch in theaters. On opening weekend, the largest segment of Dial of Destiny’s audience, or 23 percent, was 55 and older. Normally this demo might only make up 5 percent. Lucasfilm and Disney are hopeful that Dial of Destiny will have legs, particularly among families. It could prove a tough assignment, considering that Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part One opens July 12, followed a week later by Barbie and Oppenheimer (all three likewise appeal to older adults). If not, the fifth and final Indiana Jones movie could quickly become a box office artifact.
Domestic opening: $60.4 million
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The movie opened to $8.3 million from 1,068 theaters over the June 12-14 weekend (emphasis on the location count; in those days, movies still rolled out relatively slowly). When adjusting for inflation, Raiders of the Lost Ark started off with $31.5 million domestically, says Dergarabedian. The film was an overnight sensation, amassing more than $212 million in its original run at the North American box office, and $248.2 million including rereleases. When adjusted for inflation, this translates to at least a franchise-best $940 million. Globally, Raiders of the Lost Ark was the biggest film of 1981 with $354 million in worldwide ticket sales, beating On Golden Pond and Superman II. If ever a movie had legs, it was Raiders of the Lost Ark, which fell to No. 2 in its sophomore outing when the Superman sequel opened. Not to worry — Spielberg’s pic only dropped a scant 8 percent in its second weekend before climbing back up the chart to No. 1 in its sixth weekend. All told, Raiders spent 42 weeks in the top 10. That, folks, is how a Hollywood franchise is born.
Domestic opening adjusted for inflation: $31.5 million