John Williams had actually written two themes for the film. He played them both for Steven Spielberg on the piano and Spielberg loved them so much, he suggested that Williams use both of them. He did and the result was the famous "Raiders March," performed by Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)'s London Symphony Orchestra (who did not perform in any more Indiana Jones films). The March has become one of the most popular movie themes of all time.
The famous scene in which Indy shoots a marauding and flamboyant swordsman was not in the original script. Harrison Ford was supposed to use his whip to get the sword out of his attacker's hands, but the food poisoning he and the rest of the crew had gotten made him too sick to perform the stunt. After several unsuccessful tries, Ford suggested "shooting the sucker." Steven Spielberg immediately took up the idea and the scene was successfully filmed.
Freeze-framing during the Well of Souls scene you can notice a golden pillar with a tiny engraving of R2D2 and C3PO from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). They are also on the wall behind Indy when they first approach the Ark.
Harrison Ford actually outran the boulder in the opening sequence. Because the scene was shot twice from five different angles, he had to outrun it ten times. Ford's stumble in the scene was deemed to look authentic and was left in.
During filming in Tunisia, nearly everyone in the cast and crew got sick, except director Steven Spielberg. It is thought that he avoided illness by eating only the food he'd brought with him: cans and cans of Spaghetti-O's.
George Lucas made what was at the time an unusual deal for this film. The studio financed the film's entire $20-million budget. In exchange, Lucas would own over 40% of the film and collect almost half of the profits after the studio grossed a certain amount. It turned out to be a very lucrative deal for Lucas. Paramount executive Michael Eisner said that he felt the script for this film was the best he had ever read.
Traditionally when one of his films is about to open, George Lucas goes on holiday to get away from all the hoopla. As Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) was just about to open, Lucas went to Hawaii where he was joined by Steven Spielberg. When the grosses for Lucas's film came in, and it was clear that his movie was going to be a hit, Lucas relaxed and was able to discuss other topics with his friend. It was at this point that Spielberg confessed he always wanted to direct a James Bond film, to which Lucas told him he had a much better idea - an adventure movie called "Raiders of the Lost Ark". The conversation came up while the two were making a sand castle. After their trip, they got together and developed the script with Lawrence Kasdan.
While filming the snakes scenes inside the Well of the Souls, First Assistant Director David Tomblin at one point had a python bite his hand and latch on without letting go. Tomblin then calmly asked someone to grab the python (still attached to Tomblin's hand) by the tail and whip it, so that the snap would send a wave up the snake's body and force it to let go. A stage hand did just that and the python released its bite from Tomblin's hand. Tomblin then got medical attention on his hand and the python itself was not injured.
Indiana Jones never loses his hat in the film, as an homage to the classic serials of the 1940s. In those serials, the heroes' hats stayed on heads through virtually any assault. This was done for continuity reasons, but also because it was considered poor taste for a gentleman to be without his hat in certain situations - even on the silver screen. It eventually becomes a running joke through the series. Indy does, however, lose his hat once each in both Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
Indiana Jones's hat came from the famous Herbert Johnson hat shop in Saville Row, London. The hat was the shop's Australian model. On the Bonus Features DVD, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman said that in order to properly age the hat, she grabbed and twisted the hat, then she and Harrison Ford both sat on it, and it eventually looked like "a very lived-in and well-loved" hat.
During the scene where Indiana threatens the Nazis with a bazooka, you can clearly see a fly creeping into the mouth of Paul Freeman. Contrary to popular belief, he did not swallow it. Freeman explained in an interview years later that the fly flew off at about the instant he uttered the word "bad," but Spielberg noticed it and decided it would be funny to cut out a few frames so the fly would not be seen flying away. This made it look as though Freeman ate it, and he found the edit highly amusing. Empire Magazine chose this scene as one of the most common scenes for which people press the "Pause" button on their VCRs.
The instructions for the construction of the Ark are found in Exodus 25:10. The clothing that Belloq wears while acting as a high priest during the ceremony at the end is found beginning in Exodus chapter 28.
The film was originally given an R-rating because of the exploding head at the end. They didn't want the picture to be rated R, so they added layers of fire in front of his face to make it appear less graphic.
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas argued over who Indy's companion should be. One idea was that she was to be a Nazi spy. After discarding that idea, they couldn't decide if they wanted the character to be Indy's former mentor, or an old lover. It was Lawrence Kasdan's idea to combine the two ideas, by making her the daughter of Indy's teacher. The idea of Indy traveling together with a Nazi spy was re-used for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).
The last line to be added to the script was Dietrich's "I am uncomfortable with this Jewish ritual" because after reading through the script, the screenwriters realized that there was no mention of Jews or the Nazis' hatred of them.
When Indy is dragged under and then out behind a moving truck, it's a tribute to Yakima Canutt's similar famous stunt in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). In fact, it was a stunt that stuntman Terry Leonard had tried to pull off the year before, and failed to do so, on The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981). He was thrilled at the chance of having another shot at it, but only agreed to do it if his friend & colleague Glenn Randall Jr. was driving. The truck was specially constructed to be higher above the ground than normal so as to allow clearance for Indiana Jones to pass underneath safely. The center of the road was also dug out to allow more clearance. In Great Movie Stunts: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) we see, on the camera slate, that the camera was set at 20 frames per second instead of the traditional 24 fps; in other words, the shots were done in "fast motion," so the truck was not really moving as fast as depicted on screen. Harrison Ford was actually dragged behind the truck for some of the shots, badly bruising his ribs. When asked if he was worried, Ford quipped: "No. If it really was dangerous, they would have filmed more of the movie first." During the chase, Harrison Ford dispatches all three of his stunt doubles, all of which are playing German soldiers. Terry Leonard plays the driver of the truck, who gets punched out of the cab by Harrison. Vic Armstrong and Martin Grace play soldiers hanging onto the side of the truck before being knocked off. The truck chase took approximately eight weeks to film.
When Brody first goes to Indy's house to discuss the mission, Jones is dressed the way he is because he was entertaining a young woman in his bedroom. The script originally planned to show her before moving to the next scene to give Indy a more worldly persona (like James Bond). However, her appearance was cut out as Spielberg thought that being a playboy did not fit Indy's character.
The giant boulder that chases after Indiana Jones at the start of the film was made of fiberglass. On the Bonus Features DVD, sound designer Ben Burtt said that in order to get the proper sound effects for the giant boulder, he and the sound crew tried pushing boulders down a hill, but the sounds they were getting weren't up to par with what they were looking for, and later that day, as they were leaving in a Honda Civic that they coasted down a gravel embankment, Burtt noticed that the sound was just what they were looking for, so he grabbed a microphone and held it near one of the Civic's rear tires to record the effect.
The models used for the German U-boat were rented from the production company that was making Das Boot (1981) in the same area at the time. The company, however, had forgotten to tell this to the crew of Das Boot, who were surprised to find the model suddenly missing.
The monkey raising his paw and saying (in his own language) "Heil Hitler" was thought up by George Lucas and is one of Steven Spielberg's two favorite scenes (in the video box set, he says his other favorite is the "where doesn't it hurt" love scene on the ship). In Empire magazine, Frank Marshall said that they got the monkey to do the Nazi salute by putting a grape on a fishing pole and getting the monkey to reach for the grape, which was dangling just out of camera range. This took about 50 takes before it actually looked like a Nazi salute. Voice-artist Frank Welker provided the chattering sounds for the monkey, including the "Sieg Heil"-like chirp that the monkey gives when it raises its paw in salute. (Welker later provided similar monkey chatter for Abu, the spider monkey in Disney's Aladdin (1992).)
The opening scene in the lost South American temple is partly based on a classic Disney Ducks adventure written by the legendary artist Carl Barks, many of whose comic books have inspired George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Exploring a lost temple, Donald Duck, his nephews, and Scrooge McDuck must evade a succession of booby traps, like flying darts, a decapitating blade, a huge boulder, a tunnel flooded with a torrent of gushing water, etc., in the story "The Prize of Pizarro" ("Uncle $crooge" no. 26, June-August 1959), which hit the newsstands when Lucas and Spielberg, both avowed fans of that comic book, were respectively 15 and 12 years old. Another Barks story, "The Seven Cities of Cibola" ("Uncle $crooge" no. 7, September 1954), has a native American lost city and a valuable idol that triggers a giant round rock to smash everything in its way.
In filming the Well of Souls sequence, the producers scoured every pet shop in London and the South of England for every snake they could lay their hands on. Hence there are snakes that are identifiable from many different geographical areas. However, once all the snakes were on set, it became clear that there were not nearly enough of them, so Steven Spielberg had several hoses cut into lengths, and these were used as well. Looking closely, you can tell which are the real snakes and which are not. Some of the weeds in the scene were lifted by Lawrence Kasdan from the Dagobah set of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980). A sheet of glass separates Harrison Ford and the arched (and highly dangerous) cobra when he falls in. The snake actually did spray venom onto the glass.
The name of the sadistic Nazi interrogator is never mentioned in the film, but it is Toht, pronounced like Tod, the German word for Death. The role was offered to Klaus Kinski, who writes in his book "Kinski Uncut" that Steven Spielberg offered him a part in this movie, but he turned it down. "[...] as much as I'd like to do a movie with Spielberg, the script is as moronically shitty as so many other flicks of this ilk." Kinski chose to appear in Venom (1981) because the salary was better. Michael Sheard also auditioned for the role. Ronald Lacey, who had given up acting to become an agent, was chosen because he reminded Steven Spielberg of Peter Lorre. Toht only speaks a total of fourteen lines in English. The rest of his dialogue is in German.
Although the Nazis speak German in many scenes, most of the lines were dubbed for the German versions of the film because the actors spoke very bad German with a very strong American accent. Some lines were simply wrong. On the recent DVD release, no German lines are wrong. The majority of the German lines seems to be spoken by native German speakers with a slight south German accent.
In the submarine pen, the German who comes upon Indiana says, in German, "Good day" "Tired? Why do you sleep? Wash yourself! And straighten your shirt, so that you don't look like a pig at your court martial..." "Stand up... [straight]" He is cut off by Indiana's punch.
On the Bonus Features DVD, John Rhys-Davies talks about how when he auditioned for the role of Sallah, he was concerned since the script originally described Sallah as a "5-foot-2, skinny, Egyptian digger". Steven Spielberg mentioned that when he first heard Rhys-Davies speak, he reminded him of the Shakespearean character Falstaff. Spielberg then told Rhys-Davies that for his performance as Sallah, to combine his earlier role as "Vasco Rodrigues" from the miniseries Shogun (1980) with the character of Falstaff.
Tom Selleck was Steven Spielberg's second choice for the role of Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford was his first, but George Lucas objected, since Ford had been in both American Graffiti (1973) and Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). Selleck was not able to take the role because he was committed to Magnum, P.I. (1980). However, that series did not go into production until Raiders' filming had already wrapped. Selleck was in fact in Hawaii waiting for the series to start as the final scenes to be filmed (the opening sequence) were being shot in Hawaii. "Magnum" did an episode called "Legend of the Lost Art" that parodied "Raiders", complete with hat, whip, booby traps, etc.
Shooting in Tunisia proved to be so stressful and so hot that Steven Spielberg managed to compress a six-week shoot into four-and-a-half weeks. This helped the production complete principal photography 12 days ahead of schedule.
The words that Belloq slowly recites before opening the ark are (badly pronounced) Aramaic, and are part of a paragraph recited in many Synagogues today when the Ark that holds the Sefer Torahs (the Old Testament handwritten on Parchment) is opened as part of the Sabbath service.
The tune that Sallah keeps singing, "A British tar (is a soaring soul)," is from Gilbert & Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore." He also sings the words "I am the Monarch of the Sea, The Ruler of the Queen's Navee" from the song "Give Three Cheers" which is from the same musical.
In a deleted scene, where the character of Sallah is confronted by a Nazi soldier, John Rhys-Davies who was suffering from cholera at the time was required to bend down. Unfortunately this prompted the very sick Rhys-Davies to soil himself.
Production designer Norman Reynolds had found a rusty looking ship that was perfect for the Bantu Wind. However, when the time came for this sequence to be filmed he was horrified to discover that the ship had been repainted and now looked pristine. It had to be swiftly repainted to achieve its distressed look.
The Pan American seaplane that Indiana Jones flies to Nepal in is a Short Solent Mark III flying boat modified by matte effects to resemble a Martin M-130 with the name "China Clipper". The producers contacted the owner of the craft about using the flying boat for the movie and though he responded that he was happy to help out, he informed them that only one of the flying boat's engines had been restored to working order, therefore, for the shot used in the movie, we see only that single engine running. Additionally, in order to convey the fact that it was a passenger aircraft, the director had several production assistants dressed in period clothing and filmed them simply walking through the doorway of the plane.
Philip Kaufman shares story credit with George Lucas because they originally dreamed up the film together in the 1970's. Reportedly, it was Kaufman's idea to pursue the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Originally, Kaufman was going to direct.
The scene where Jones fires at the truck was a botched stunt. The truck was supposed to flip over by means of a telegraph pole being fired by explosives through the floor. The explosive wasn't powerful enough and it simply forced the truck to tip over at an angle as can be seen in the finished movie. Time did not permit any further attempts at getting it right.
In order to make it match the follow-up movies in the DVD collections, 2008 DVD cover artwork changes the film's logo to read "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" instead of just "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
Director Steven Spielberg admitted in the "Making of" DVD that watching the stage hands preparing the Well of Souls set by laying out the thousands of snakes for the scene really made him nauseous--even to the point where he nearly wanted to puke a few times.
The musical theme for the Ark of the Covenant is heard several times throughout the film. Each time, it either trails off, segues into a different theme, or modulates into a different key. Only at the climax of the film is the entire theme heard and resolved in its original key.
Steven Spielberg originally envisioned Giancarlo Giannini for the role of Dr. Rene Belloq and then considered French actor/singer Jacques Dutronc who turned out to not speak a word of English. Spielberg then chose Paul Freeman because he thought Freeman had "striking eyes", having seen him act in Death of a Princess (1980). Also, at one point, Spielberg became concerned as to whether Freeman could act with a French accent. Spielberg then contacted Freeman (who was on vacation at the time) and asked if he could come back to London to meet with him and act out some lines in a French accent for him.
Instead of the standard Paramount logo used between 1975-87, the opening logo was a version of the studio logo used in the 1940s or 1950s which read: "A Paramount Picture". The only difference is that it also read "A Gulf+Western Company". This logo was also used in the sequels instead of then-current logos to parallel the series' set time period.
An episode of "The Big Bang Theory" includes mention of a theory stated by the character Amy that Indiana Jones supposedly had no effect on the outcome since the Nazis actually did get the ark. This is false, however, because Belloq states in the beginning of the movie that following Indy around is his usual way of finding things, which is the basis of their rivalry. This along with scenes where Belloq is advising the Nazis indicate that Belloq has told the Nazis to follow Indy around until he leads them to the ark, as he has led Belloq to previous discoveries.
An early draft of the script had Indy traveling to Shanghai to recover a piece of the Staff of Ra. During his escape from the museum where it was housed, he sheltered from machine gun fire behind a giant rolling gong. Also in the same script, Indy and Marion flee the chaos caused by the opening of the Ark in a wild mine-cart chase sequence. Both of these scenes were cut from the script, but ended up in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).
Indiana's primary weapon is a Smith & Wesson model 1917 .45 ACP revolver with the barrel cut down from six inches to four inches. He also carries as a backup weapon a Browning Hi Power 9mm automatic, used during the shootout in Marion's tavern in Nepal.
All of the German vehicles in the desert chase sequence are replicas of actual pre-WWII German vehicles. The Mercedes-Benz 320 staff car is actually a Jaguar MK9 with a modified MK5 body; two were built for the movie by Classic Cars of Coventry. The cargo truck is a Mercedes-Benz LG3000 replica built on a GMC CCKW. Gobler's troop car is a replica of a Mercedes-Benz G5 'Geländewagen.'
The German plane that the Ark was going to be transported on is an experimental flying wing design by Blohm and Voss, a shipbuilding company that designed some rather unorthodox aircraft in the 1930s and 1940s. This particular model only exists in the film, but borrows various design elements from authentic period aircraft.
The Flying Wing in the fighting scene in Egypt is not a real plane. It was designed for the movie by production designer Norman Reynolds and built by Vickers. It was inspired by the Horten Ho 229, a prototype German fighter/bomber that never entered production during World War II.
Harrison Ford did most of the stunt work himself, including the scene in which he is getting dragged behind the jeep. He sustained several bruised ribs from the stunt and later said "if the stunt was dangerous, we wouldn't have done it."
The Air East Asia airliner that Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood take to Cairo is an example of the iconic Douglas DC-3. One of the most significant aircraft of all time, the DC-3 and its military variant (the C-47) were produced from 1936 to 1950.
The well-known line "Indy, they're digging in the wrong place!" is in fact a misquote. The true line is simply "They're digging in the wrong place," and is spoken by both Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Indiana (Harrison Ford).
As scripted, the scene where Indy and Marcus meet with the Army Intelligence officials in Washington was to be followed immediately by the Ark being stored in the warehouse. The filmmakers realized there was no resolution for Indy's relationship with Marion, and the new scene was written. It was filmed on the steps of San Francisco's City Hall.
Steven Spielberg asked producer Frank Marshall to find a mountain that looked like the paramount logo. Marshall had to drive around the whole island until he found one and with a suitable location to shoot.
One of the USPs of the Indiana Jones movies was its sound quality. Ben Burtt, the sound designer, said that the sounds used after the Ark was opened were synthesized using human vocalizations and recorded animal cries of dolphins and sea lions to make it sound otherworldly. The sounds for the subsequent sparkle and beams were recorded with the old gear used for the early Frankenstein movies.
The Bible that Indiana hands to Major Eaton and Colonel Musgrove in the beginning of the movie is a old Dutch version and shows 2 Chronicles 5, which describes how "the ark of the Lord's covenant is brought to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim."
According to Empire Magazine, at the UK casting auditions, one quite famous UK actor astonished the production team during his interview by badmouthing Steven Spielberg's film 1941 (1979). The actor in question was not hired.
The Life magazine read by Toht on the plane to Nepal is dated November 30, 1936, which is also the day the social activist Abbie Hoffman was born. Steven Spielberg would years later be initially slated to direct a project about Hoffman and his fellow defendants in the Chicago Seven.
Versatile, but not so well-known German actor Wolf Kahler plays the cold, ruthless Nazi military commander Colonel Dietrich who assists in the seizure of the Ark. In Barry Lyndon (1975), he plays a completely opposite role as the dandy German aristocrat Prince of Tubingen with makeup and cheek rouge of the 18th century.
A visit by Stanley Kubrick's daughter, Vivian Kubrick, to the Elstree set led to an investigation by the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals. She had complained that the snakes in the tomb scenes were being unfairly treated and this led to filmed being delayed by one day.
Pilot of the flying wing. All the stunt men were sick on the day that Indiana Jones hits the pilot of the Flying Wing over the head, so producer Frank Marshall agreed to do it. Unfortunately for him, the shot took three days and a lot of it involved him sitting in a cockpit that was in excess of 100 degrees.
Appears as a Nazi spy who is tracking Indiana Jones on the airplane. Only his eyes can be seen, though, as most of his face is hidden behind the magazine he's reading, which is Life volume 1 number 2 (30 November 1936), which has pages 42-43 dedicated to the water color paintings of Adolf Hitler.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The submarine pen on the island where the Ark is taken and finally opened is not a set, but in fact an actual German U-Boat pen left over from World War II in La Rochelle, France. Producer Robert Watts was amazed at how preserved the submarine pen was (even down to the graffiti on the walls) that he described it as "a actual set in existence".
Although there is a fan theory that Indiana Jones has no impact on the plot (the Nazis found the Ark and opened it despite his attempted intervention) this fails to account for Marion. Had Indy not shown up, the Nazis would have killed her. He also saved her life again when the Ark was opened and he told her to close her eyes, something she wouldn't have done had he not been there.
According to the novelization, the writing on the headpiece of the Staff of Ra included a specific warning not to look into the Ark. This is why Indy and Marion survive the conflagration at the end simply by closing their eyes. It may be an allusion to 1 Samuel 6:19, where God "smote" the men of Beth Shemesh for looking into the Ark.
In a 2001 "making of" special, it was revealed that the effects used in the three antagonists' rather gruesome deaths (Dietrich, Toht, and Belloq) were a vacuum machine, heat gun with time-lapse photography, and shotgun, respectively. When the movie was submitted for an MPAA rating, it was given a rating of "R" because of the exploding head. In order to lower the rating, flames were superimposed over this image. The result was the appearance of a head exploding behind a dense curtain of flames. The rating was lowered to "PG" (at the time, the PG-13 rating did not exist).