Yes, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull really is the weakest movie in the series. Still, we cannot bring ourselves to hate it with the rabid intensity the internet tells us we should. For starters, Harrison Ford was jazzed to be back in the leather jacket after visibly growing bored with many of his 2000s star vehicles. This Indy is older and grumpier (a bit like the actor), but there is a gleefulness in how he swings those fists, or sets up stuntmen to swing on those whips. His smile is infectious, too, when he gets to remind audiences this guy is a nerd. Additionally, even a bored and disengaged Spielberg can still stage the hell out of a set piece. The motorcycle chase through Indy’s university is as playful and light on its feet as anything the Beard has framed this century, and there’s a tangible pleasure from on 1950s nostalgia throughout.
Unfortunately, most of those best elements all occur in Crystal Skull’s first act, as does a misjudged beat where Indy survives a nuclear explosion in a refrigerator. Sure, the image of the man in the fedora meeting the atomic age is a potent one, but the movie does nothing meaningful with it. Instead we retread the Raiders formula with worse villains, a lame MacGuffin, and a truly miscast sidekick in Shia LeBeouf as Indy’s hitherto unknown son. Not even the sweet note of Indy and Marion tying the knot can salvage the movie’s muddled back half.
4. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
The 21st century Indy movies are admittedly a step or five down from the original trilogy. But unlike the previous entry on this list, we can fully go to bat for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The film is the obvious outlier of the five, marking the only time one of these was not directed by Spielberg. It’s also the first Indy to be shot on digital, the only installment to run over two and a half hours, and the lone aberration where Ford was at the fragile age of 79 during shooting. Nonetheless, the movie achieves a gracefulness that justifies its existence and which eluded Crystal Skull.
Pivoting toward a more melancholy and elegiac tone than the previous four films, Dial of Destiny leans into Dr. Jones’ advanced years and paints a portrait of the character that is both more human and bitterer than audiences remember. Yet those bold, dramatic choices allow the third act to reach an emotional crescendo as Ford’s Indy is able to take stock of his life while also doing what he always dreamed of: coming face-to-face with our ancient past. That outrageous Rod Serling-esque climax makes up for the movie’s faults, including a serpentine pacing, too much emphasis on the uncanny valley created by CGI de-aging, and the fact director James Mangold cannot stage a set piece anywhere close to Spielberg’s magic touch. But who can?
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is an imperfect movie, and yet it gives Ford the poignant swan song he missed in the previous outing. It also looks great in the scenes where it gets away from the blue screens, improving on Janusz Kaminski’s washed cinematography in 2008. The picture likewise adds one last great sidekick to the lore courtesy of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Helena. It turned out to be a final ride worth taking.
3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Of all the films on this list, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has aged the worst. Sure, every Indy adventure is based on romantic and antiquated ideas from the West’s ages of exploration and colonialism, but Temple of Doom is specifically modeled on Rudyard Kipling’s Gunga Din and features an extremely problematic depiction of India that is littered with evil, human-sacrificing cults which need to be put down by a white savior and the British Army. In other words, it ain’t for everyone in the year 2024.