Steven Spielberg Once Got Real about His ‘Biggest Contribution’ to Indiana Jones

Steven Spielberg is renowned for his many contributions to cinema. And indeed, since his directorial debut with 1971’s Duel, Spielberg has brought to life some of history’s most popular movies. So it’s no surprise then that he is considered the highest-grossing director of all time. What is a surprise is how much of the Indiana Jones franchise actually didn’t come from Spielberg. Here’s what he considers his “biggest contribution.”

Harrison Ford faces an enemy swordsman (Terry Richards) in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’
Harrison Ford and Terry Richards | CBS via Getty Images

Although Spielberg’s career is populated by mostly hits, he hit a particularly strong streak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During this period, many of his most successful films hit theaters to strong box office and critical acclaim. These include Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. But Spielberg also directed Raiders of the Lost Ark around that time, which introduced the world to Indiana Jones.

Harrison Ford had already played Han Solo in the Star Wars saga before that point. Yet, no one expected him to create arguably an even more iconic big-screen hero in Indiana Jones. That initial 1981 release was followed by three more Spielberg-directed adventures in 1984, 1989, and 2008. However, while he helmed those four movies, Spielberg doesn’t take much credit for shaping the mythos of the Indiana Jones series.

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The director wasn’t the driving force behind the Indiana Jones story

Rather, Indy’s throwback adventures exploded straight from the mind of George Lucas. Like Star Wars, Indiana Jones served as a throwback to the classic pulp adventure serials of Lucas’ youth. And while Spielberg’s vision brought Indy to the screen, it was Lucas who produced and created the story behind the character. In 2011, Spielberg admitted to Entertainment Weekly what he considers his most notable contribution.

“I’ve always told George’s stories. George wrote all four stories for all four movies. My biggest contribution was adding the father to the third movie. That was my idea, to cast Sean Connery as Harrison’s father. I am best friends with George, and I’m very obedient to the stories that he writes. I’ll fight things I don’t believe in, but ultimately, if George wants to bring interdimensional beings into [2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull], I will do the best job I possibly can to acquit George’s idea and make him proud.”

Again, as with Star Wars, Lucas’ storytelling instincts are hit and miss. Many fans didn’t care for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And even 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — a film which Spielberg has since disowned — let down some fans at the time of its release.

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George Lucas isn’t involved in the upcoming ‘Indiana Jones 5’

Now fans are on the verge of a whole new era for Indiana Jones. With Lucas’ 2012 sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, the latter studio is hard at work at keeping the franchise alive. Ford is back in the role for the first time in over a decade. And Spielberg is stepping down as director, choosing to executive produce while James Mangold (Logan) directs.

As for Lucas, the still-untitled Indiana Jones 5 marks the first film in the series that he’s not involved with at all. The movie has a lot to make up for, according to some fans. But with such a drastic changing of the guard behind the scenes, perhaps this next installment can redeem the series from its previous entry.