The moxie required to rock both a fedora and a bullwhip is a rare quality achieved only by one Indiana Jones — and one other guy in Australia, probably. The "Indiana Jones" series is a cinematic darling loved by generations of movie fans, and the adoration is largely thanks to a suave, snarky Harrison Ford performance and also dress shirts that refuse to stay buttoned. It’s hard to play favorites with every frame in the series, but there are some undeniably great moments that rise to the top.
Given the series’ notoriety, no doubt there are images from the movies you instantly recognize, even if you haven’t seen any of the films. In total, there are 485 minutes of screen time teeming with scenes worthy of a pause in order to fully soak in all their glory. We whittled every second down to a handful of shots that are truly iconic. Find out if your favorite made it on the list as we examine the most paused moments in all of the "Indiana Jones" films.
The opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark
You would be hard-pressed to find many folks who don’t know Indiana Jones nowadays. But when it was first released in 1981, audiences had no idea what was in store. All everyone knew was that Han Solo was the guy on the movie poster, and he was wielding … a whip? In the opening sequence of "Raiders of The Lost Ark," director Steven Spielberg does an incredible job of letting us know exactly what this man is all about. There are puzzles, traps, betrayal, and a giant boulder hell-bent on smooshing our hero.
Indiana navigates the deadly traps and arrives at the treasure he seeks. We are then left in suspense as Indiana stares down a beautiful gold relic. The moment hangs in the air for longer than expected, but rather than the hesitation making us anxious, we wait patiently. We trust that Indiana knows what he is doing. Given that we only met this man minutes earlier, it is quite the achievement. Plus, we get to find out what that sack full of sand is all about (even if it didn’t exactly work out).
Fighting the mechanic next to airplane propellers
You can lock him in an ancient, snake-riddled throne room — which hasn’t been opened in thousands of years — but that won’t keep Indiana Jones down. He’ll just demolish walls and find alternate passageways leading to an exit — which is also conveniently by a Nazi-occupied air strip somehow. Good thing, too, because at this point in "The Lost Ark," it has been far too long since we have seen Indiana engage in fisticuffs. Fortunately, our lust for action is satiated by a burly, mustachioed Nazi who is eager for battle.
Indiana isn’t always the top dog in the battle arena, but what he lacks in fighting prowess, he makes up for in ingenuity. (The man is a professor, after all.) His enemy in this scene looks formidable, but Indiana always manages to find a clever way to overcome his opponent. However, in this case, defeating this gladiator Nazi on the airstrip is entirely a matter of blind luck. The series of events that has to happen for this Final Hipster Boss to go face-first into airplane propeller blades borders on "Looney Tunes" … and it is fantastic, truly a wonder to behold. It’s always a fun time finding out how Indiana Jones is going to come out on top.
Indiana stares down an angry snake
Indiana Jones presents himself as a fearless protagonist throughout the entire film series. However, there is no denying the fear in his eyes when faced with a serpent. Indiana can trudge through spiderwebs, stare down heart-extracting shamans, and leap between moving vehicles, but Lord help museum artifacts should he be faced with snakes. The temple which houses the Ark is crawling with the slithery devils — a setting befitting the dangerous power contained within the Ark of the Covenant.
Indiana hijacks a portion of the Nazi dig site in the desert once he discovers the real location of the Ark. There is a moment that follows when Indiana falls to the ground and looks up to discover he is face-to-face with a hissing cobra. He locks eyes with the creature before scrambling away, and in that moment, you can see the face of pure panic. Unfortunately, Indy ends up being ambushed by his arch-nemesis Belloq (Paul Freeman) while excavating his prize. The jerks throw Marion (Karen Allen) into the tomb with him and seal it shut.
The unveiling of the Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant is shrouded in mystery for most of the first film. We are left in the dark as to what exactly is contained within that beautiful, gold sarcophagus. After Indiana combats Nazis across the globe for over 90 minutes, it is time for the final reveal of The Ark. With all we have emotionally invested in the journey, what lies inside that ancient tomb best be mind-blowing … and it quite literally lives up to that expectation.
When Marion is nabbed by the evildoers, Indiana trails them atop a submarine that never submerges for some reason. Everyone involved arrives at an isolated island. Indy doesn’t do so well in foiling any plans and winds up tied to a stake on a mountain top while the bad guys ceremoniously open The Ark. What is unleashed is an unholy wave of destruction that melts faces and explodes skulls. The spirits whip around the area and annihilate anything that dares look upon them. Watching the sinister Nazi henchman, Toht (Ronald Lacey), release a high-pitched scream when staring into the eyes of an evil spirit is a viewing experience that continues to deliver the goods over and over again.
Indiana knowingly makes eye contact with his companions right before cutting the rope bridge
In "Temple of Doom," Indiana Jones manages to escape his captors in a wild mine cart ride that feels like Steven Spielberg’s audition for Disneyworld. It’s a fun ride, and any naysayers should be reminded that we all tuned in for the second film because in the first one, we got to see Nazis’ faces get melted off by evil spirits. The escape reaches a climactic moment when Indiana and pals are surrounded by the baddies on a rope bridge extending over a canyon. A river teeming with crocodiles lies several hundred feet below.
A typical action movie hero would probably expect his best bud (who we forgot about from an hour earlier in the film) to suddenly swoop in with a hang glider and save the day. Tropes aren’t Indy’s style, though. Instead, he offers up a knowing glance to his sidekick, Shortround (Ke Huy Quan), as he raises his sword to cut the bridge. He knows everyone, including him and his allies, will be sent tumbling to the cliffside along with the collapsing bridge. It seems extreme, but staring death in the face and smirking is just a part of daily life for Indiana Jones.
Mola Ram holding a human heart as it bursts into flames
When "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" was released in 1984, there was no such thing as a PG-13 rating. Thanks to the chaotic whimsy of the "Indiana Jones" universe (and an unholy heart transplant), the Motion Picture Association of America decided to create a rating to bridge the gap between PG and R ratings. No doubt this stemmed from the nightmare fuel that was tossed on an entire generation of kids who saw this PG-rated installment of "Indiana Jones."
In "Temple of Doom," circumstances result in Indiana and his companions being stranded in India after a plane crash. All roads force them to a society housing a dark secret — mostly a mind-controlling shaman named Mola Ram (Amrish Puri), who leads an army of acolytes with aspirations of world domination. Indiana gets back-row seats to one of their ceremonies and witnesses Ram use his bare hand to reach into a man’s chest and pull out his heart. He then holds the still-beating heart while the man remains alive long enough to be lowered into a lava pit. As the man screams in agony below, the heart in Ram’s hand bursts into flames. It’s a haunting image that certainly warranted a re-examination of our movie rating system.
Indiana scrambling to find the antidote in a Shanghai nightclub
The opening scene of "Temple of Doom" had a lot to live up to, considering the now-iconic boulder chase scene in the first film. The second film in the series opens with a glamorous showtune with lots of sparkly dresses. Moments later, in steps Indiana Jones: not clothed in his usual leather jacket and fedora but in a fancy white tuxedo. There is an exchange taking place between Jones and some shady characters. We don’t exactly know what is being traded, but that’s not the point. The point is Harrison Ford looks sharp, and it’s time for another adventure.
In acknowledgement of a successful deal, Indiana cheers a glass of champagne and gulps it down. The bad men begin cackling with laughter because our hero just drank poison. The antidote is in an extremely durable vial that winds up being kicked around the dance floor while the entire dining room erupts into chaos. Watching Indiana scramble about chasing the vial around the dance floor is a fun, comical experience. But all jokes aside, the man looks genuinely freaked out about the poison coursing through his veins.
Indiana fighting Nazis on top of a tank
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but Indiana Jones knows that in order for good to prevail, you are going to have to punch some Nazis in the face. The pesky villains always find a way to stay on Indy’s trail and bogart any of his discoveries. This time, they kidnapped his father (Sean Connery) in an attempt to force him to reveal the location of the Holy Grail. Good thing Henry Jones Jr. can take a punch and still think straight; without that presence of mind, pops would be squashed underneath the unforgiving tread of a tank.
Indiana’s father is being kept inside a tank and guarded by truckloads of soldiers, but Indy blasts his way through them all in order to help his dad get out of that musky military vehicle. In a series of unfortunate events, Poppa Jones falls onto the treads and is about to be whisked off to his death before Indy pulls out his trusty whip and latches it onto his father’s leg. Indiana then has to hold on to the weight of a full-grown man while a Nazi jerk pummels his kidneys. It’s an action scene that proves Indiana Jones is the Alpha Archeologist.
The motorcycle chase scene with Indiana and his father
One of the most enjoyable car chase scenes in cinematic history involves a motorcycle, jousting, and Sean Connery in a motorcycle sidecar. We are going to be honest: It was really difficult to pick just one image from this entire experience. Everything works together beautifully to create an exciting, action-packed sequence that is also modestly hilarious. Seeing the man who defined James Bond in a dorky hat and glasses protecting his briefcase and umbrella while refusing to acknowledge his son’s awesomeness speaks to the essence of "The Last Crusade."
Indiana Jones and his father escape on a motorcycle with a sidecar, but their would-be captors are in hot pursuit. After rolling through a barricade, Indiana grabs a flagpole and uses it as a lance to knock an incoming Nazi off his bike. The loose bike zips off and crashes into several other pursuers. The final motorcycle baddie is finished off when Indy uses the remaining fragment from his makeshift lance and plunges it into his enemy’s wheel spokes. The only acknowledgement he gets from his father at this miraculous escape is an expressionless face as he winds up his pocket watch. Typical.
Indiana hanging off the ledge trying to reach for the Grail
All roads lead Indiana Jones, his companions, and their Nazi captors to a canyon housing a centuries-old temple. Inside this temple is a series of booby traps that can only be navigated with decades of research and some quick thinking. Behind all these contraptions lies the Holy Grail. The Cup of Christ is known to be a source of immortality … but there are some caveats.
After water from the cup heals Henry Jones Sr.’s gunshot wound, the flip-flopping Elsa (Alison Doody) picks it up and begins excitedly proclaiming that glory is theirs. Her hubris causes her to forget the ancient crusader’s warning to never take the cup past the temple’s seal. The earth rumbles, and the ground breaks open to ultimately send Elsa falling to her doom. Indiana also ends up falling into the same crevice, but his father grabs his hand at the last moment. The Holy Grail is barely out of reach on an opposite ledge, and Indiana desperately reaches out for it, despite his father’s hand slipping. Connery injects serenity into the chaos and speaks softly, "Indiana. Let it go." It’s a statement that carries an extreme amount of weight. It means Father Jones’ life’s pursuit is meaningless next to the life of his son.
Harrison Ford and Sean Connery tied together while in a room going up in flames
When Indiana finally tracks down his abducted father’s location, he is betrayed by his would-be lover, Elsa (Alison Doody). The subtlety with which Ford and Connery act out the realization they both slept with the same woman is a rewatchable moment all in of itself here. Father and son end up being tied up together as the Nazis rummage through all their research. They also discover the man who hired them is behind all the mischief. It’s all well and good for the story line, but the real fun begins when Connery fumbles a Zippo lighter and sends their lush prison up in flames.
Indiana and his father are tied back-to-back against some chairs and are powerless to escape as the entire room ignites into flames… because apparently Nazis’ interior decorating involves kerosene. The two men hop their way over to the fireplace to escape the fire. While frantically trying to free himself from his restraints, Indiana discovers that the fireplace has a trap door leading to a Nazi command room. Not exactly the help they were hoping for because the soldiers immediately open fire on them. What follows is a humorous sequence of events involving deception and locking a bunch of Nazis in a makeshift furnace. Eat your heart out, Tarantino.
Indiana survives an atomic bomb by taking shelter in a refrigerator
There are many things we expect from an "Indiana Jones" experience, but most importantly, we are looking for action right from the get-go. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" had almost 20 years between its release and 1989’s "The Last Crusade," and it was an absolute necessity that we hit the ground running. Steven Spielberg made sure we got just that. The film opens in a government facility we all recognize from the ending of the first film: a warehouse containing all sorts of secrets — the Ark of the Covenant being one of them. Indiana must not be very good at choosing his friends because he is betrayed once again by his companion and forced to help the bad guys find the treasure they seek.
Indiana winds up escaping, of course … via a rocket cart determined to shatter the land speed record. After that, he ends up in a small town, which he slowly realizes is a dummy town — that’s about to be on the receiving end of a nuclear bomb test. Indy hops inside a lead-lined refrigerator, and the blast launches him far away, where he stumbles out unscathed. How? Because he’s Indiana Jones. Shut up. Plus, the image of Indiana climbing to the top of a hill to witness the ensuing mushroom cloud is a beautiful one. It almost feels as though Spielberg wanted this particular image put to the screen and worked backwards from there. We’ll allow it. Bravo.
Indiana shoots a swordsman instead of engaging in a duel
One of the most iconic scenes in all of the "Indiana Jones" series (and possibly all of cinema) was entirely a result of filming circumstances. The scene in question involves Indiana and Marion fighting off an endless stream of foes in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." As they weave through the city streets trying to escape, the crowd suddenly parts to reveal a menacing foe wielding a large sword. Rather than pull out his trusty whip and engage in an epic melee battle to the death, Indiana simply pulls out his gun and dispenses the would-be assassin with a single bullet.
The stuntmen who played the swordsman had trained for months for his small part but wound up only being needed for several minutes on set. The cast and crew had been shooting "Raiders" under the Tunisia sun for weeks, battling dehydration and debilitating sunburns in over 110-degree weather. Also, Harrison Ford was dealing with dysentery and could only film in 10-minute increments. The scene was supposed to take three days to shoot, but Ford says he was looking for a way to get out of this long shoot — also, after fighting off waves of enemies in the scene before, he felt this fight was somewhat redundant. The idea was offered up to have Indy just shoot the bad guy and be on his merry way. Thus, cinematic history was made. Sorry stunt guy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.