Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Indiana Jones Edition

*Last Updated: 12/15/2023  

*Still Largely Under Construction

On my way to making a list of the all-time greatest action sequences this summer, I have decided to create several mini-lists as preparation work. I recently posted a list of the all-time best Star Wars action sequences and now I turn my attention to another George Lucas creaiton, the Indiana Jones franchise. Alongside of Star Wars, Indiana Jones rules the late 1970's through to the late 1980's.

For my money, I think 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the best film of the bunch, but I admit its close to a toss-up wit Raiders of the Lost Ark. For this list we are working with the four major Indiana Jones films released from 1981 to 2008. By my count, there were about 15 significant sequences between the four films. Remember that singling out action sequences and comparing them to each other is an inherently unfair and subjective process. You can read my previous Star Wars list for more on why  or iff you'd like to read a bit more about my philosophy on action scenes, you can click here. If not, you can see the list below with some commentary to follow.

All Indiana Jones Actions Scenes Rated & Ranked


20. “Jungle Tragedy: Jeeps, Monkeys, and Ants” -Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
- Commentary:

19. "Scuba Jones vs. Eels" -Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
- Commentary: Every Jones feels has to have some kind of creepy animal moment right? Unfortunately, the fifth entry tries to cram this franchise tradition into a short action sequence where Indy is attacked by a large group of eels while he is recovering a relic underwater. Filming underwater scenes are always a gamble since they often look fake and people move really slowly. The gamble doesn't pay off here. This is just as lame as the title I gave it sounds.

18. “Emergency Boat Parachuting” -Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
- Commentary:

Mediocre sequences that lack anything that makes them stand out. Decent, but forgettable.

17. "Opening: Nazi Relic Train Heist" -Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
- Commentary: What a strange way to open up what you hope is going to be a return to form for the Indiana Jones series. The opening action sequence is a twenty three minute long flashback to an Indy adventure at the end of World War II. Indy is captured trying to steal back ancient relics from a Nazi general and through a meandering series of events that include little spurts of action, he ends up on moving train here he acquires the titular relic, disposes of the Nazi general, and all before the Americans bomb the train. The problem with the sequence, which a lot of money clear went into, is that it feels like an entire prequel movie (introducing characters, side stories, homages, etc) jammed into what is supposed to be an action opening. On top of that, the entire thing feels created by a computer. The aging effects on Ford are decent, but feel off at times. The biggest culprit here is trying to cram obvious CGI backgrounds and other various things around a few practical sets. The whole thing just never quite feels like it hits an interesting stride or was shot in a practical "that's a fun stunt" way. It's baffling for the movie to open this way given all the flak Kingdom of the Crystal Skull took for its overuse of distracting CGI. 

Largely mediocre sequences that have some redeeming or standout feature. This, to me, is where the average decent action sequence ranks.

16. "NYC Ticker Tape Horse Chase" -Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
Commentary: This sequence is another casualty of a trend plaguing this fifth film: action scenes that feels simultaneously large scale and also like it was shot on just a couple of sets (overlayed by CGI). The concept is pretty strong on paper - Jones is chased from a college library in downtown New York and must eventually escape by making use of the convenient ticker tape street parade going on for the Apollo 11 astronauts. Once Jones commandeers a police horse and makes his way through the parade and down into a subway, the scene gets fairly interesting. This is where that reliance on CGI for re-creating late sixties New York and hiding Ford's stuntwork forces the production to alternate between wide shots that look like sets with CGI extensions and a lot of close-ups to cover up Ford's inability to do some of the stunts. In the end, it's makes an impression but if you take away the impressive setting, it's really not that exciting.

15. “Venice Boat Chase” -Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
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14. “Abandoning the Zeppelin & Escape Two Fighter Planes” -Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
- Commentary:

Good sequences that have some issue holding it back from being solid.
13. “Cairo Marketplace Chase” -Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
- Commentary:

12. “Escaping from Area 51 and a Nuclear Bomb Blast” -Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) Link
- Commentary: 

11. “Shootout in a Nepal Bar” -Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Link
- Commentary:

10. “Opening: Raiding a Tomb for an Idol” -Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Link
- Commentary:

Good action sequences with much to commend about them. They are a solid entry into their genre.

9. "Shanghai Opener: Club Obi-Wan Shootout & Chase" -Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) Link
- Commentary:

8. "Tangiers Tuk Tuk Chase" -Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
- Commentary: What a missed opportunity this sequence is! After a failed auction in a Tangiers cafe, the dial of destiny becomes the much sought after object of several different parties, including Indiana Jones. The cafe scuffle ultimately brings the dial to the villainous Nazi Dr. Schmidt who makes off in a car for the Tangiers airport. Jones, Helena, and Tangiers mobsters give chase on the crowded city streets in small tuk tuks. There are some really great chase moments here when the sequence is allowed to go wide and show real vehicles driving fast/swerving around and real stuntmen fighting/jumping/tumbling into the streets. This sequences easily contain the best moments of the whole fifth film. Unfortunately, every time the sequence cuts to our lead characters it is so obviously being filmed on sets with CGI surroundings that it hurts my soul. The frequent intercutting from authentic wide to artificial close-ups provide a constant contrast that really limits the enjoyment ceiling here. 

7. "Escape from Castle Grunwald & Chase" -Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Link
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6. “Escaping the Tannis Dig: Snakes & Planes” -Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Link - Partial
- Commentary:

5. “KGB Chase: Through the University by Motorbike” -Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) Link
- Commentary:

Very good action sequences with something holding them back from greatness. They are typically best in their film and represent something above and beyond expectations.

4. “Mine Cart Madness: Freeing the Minors & Busting Out” -Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) Link - Partial
- Commentary:

3. “Opening: Young Indiana, a Train, and the Cross of Coronado” -Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Link
- Commentary:

These are great action sequences with some minor issue(s) holding them back. They are typically best in their film and potentially best of the year.

2. “Tanks a Lot: Indiana Goes Over the Edge” -Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Link
- Commentary:

Great action sequences that can compete for best of the year and best of all-time.

Raiders of the Lost Ark -- Truck Chase | Indiana jones, Indiana ...
1. “Truck Chase: Getting Back the Ark” -Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Link
- Commentary: Although I've grown to enjoy The Last Crusade more as an overall film, there's no denying that the truck chase to get back the ark of the covenant is the most definitive and best action sequence in the entire franchise. This is Indiana Jones at his finest. The evil doppelganger of this sequence can be seen at the #15 slot from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The jungle chase sequence so many of the pitfalls of bad chase sequences: obvious use of green screen, reliance on coincidence, superhuman stunts that cross the line of our suspension of disbelief, stupid gags we are supposed to enjoy, and an unnecessarily bloated running time.

The truck chase in Raiders however is a focused, practical, and filled with memorable moments and stunts that serve to highlight not just the bravery and adventure of Dr. Jones, but his fallibility and vulnerability as well. There's some visual effects here to make certain things pop, but you always get the feeling that the majority of the sequence was filmed on location, with real vehicles, with real people, doing risky stunts. Indiana Jones is at his best, like James Bond, in large scale, high production, chase sequences. Jones is a brave fighting archaeologist, but unlike James Bond, his action is grittier, lacking polish, filled with improvisation, and self-deprecating humor. It's no surprise that Jackie Chan was inspired by this franchise - both feature great technical achievements in action, both feature stars doing great stunts, but both understand its the vulnerability and borderline "this might not work" nature that gives action a special comedic/adventurous edge. There's few who do it better than Spielberg's Bond - Indiana Jones.