Raiders of the Lost Ark (also known as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) is a 1981 film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Harrison Ford as archeologist Indiana Jones. Created and produced by George Lucas, it was the highest-grossing film of 1981 and would go on to spawn three sequels and, like other products of Spielberg and Lucas of the time, a dedicated fanbase.
An action-adventure epic with inspirations like 1930s serials, pulp heroes, the James Bond movies, and Biblical folklore, the story took place in pre-War Africa, where Jones is employed by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis and rival René Belloq do, enlisting the help of an old friend named Sallah, and an old flame named Marion Ravenwood.
Like the following three films, the Paramount Pictures logo dissolves into the shape of a mountain in Peru, and the opening prologue of the film.
It's 1936, and a daring treasure hunter named Indiana Jones leads a gang of cowardly guides into the dense jungle, which causes them to retreat in fear along the way. With one man left, Satipo he finally arrives at his destination: a booby trap-laced cave housing a gold artifact shaped like a head (referred to only as "the idol.") After obtaining the idol, the cave begins to give way, and Jones is betrayed by Satipo (who is killed by a trap on his own), and narrowly escapes after being chased by a giant boulder. Once outside, his prospects don't improve, as he is greeted by his French rival René Belloq, who uses the local Hovito tribe to intimidate Jones into handing over the idol, before chasing him into the jungle. He escapes via seaplane as the natives attempt to shoot him with poisonous darts.
Back home at his college teaching post in the States, Jones is approached by the U.S. government through his friend and museum curator Marcus Brody, about a digging operation being conducted by the Nazis in the ancient city of Tanis; according to the agents, Hitler is a "nut" over Biblical artifacts, and is searching for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. The reason for contacting Jones is to reach his former mentor Abner Ravenwood, an expert on the subject and last known possessor of the Staff of Ra's headpiece which, according to legend, can pinpoint the exact location of the Ark. Although he hasn't spoken to Ravenwood in years, he agrees to look for him and the headpiece, fully aware of the dangers his journey faces.
Jones travels to Nepal where he reunites with Marion, a former lover of Jones' and Abner's daughter, who owns a bar in the mountains. Their relationship did not end well, so they argue after the bar is closed and abandoned, before it is invaded by a Gestapo agent named Toht searching for the headpiece himself. Indy and Marion fight off Toht's men as the bar burns down, and in trying to grab the red-hot headpiece the Nazi burns its markings onto his hands before escaping.
After her bar is destroyed, Marion agrees to help Indy and the two travel to Cairo, where they meet Jones' old friend Sallah, who offers to guide them to a man who can translate the markings on the headpiece. While Jones and Marion are in a Cairo market, however, they're attacked by Nazi thugs and Marion is kidnapped and thought to be killed in the crossfire when the truck she's being held in explodes. Devastated, Indy goes to meet Belloq at a nearby bar, and they speak about the Ark's power, and Jones is intimidated out of killing him. That night, he and Sallah decipher the markings on the headpiece successfully, but find that they're still being hounded when their monkey companion drops dead after eating a poisoned date.
The next day, Indy and Sallah sneak onto the Nazi digging site disguised as Arab workers, and into the Tanis map room. Using the headpiece and an accurately-measured staff at the right time of day, the sun's rays shoot through the center of the piece to show Jones to Ark's true location. He and Sallah are escorted away by German soldiers soon after, and while blending into the camp Jones discovers Marion is still alive, tied up in one of the officers' tents; at first ecstatic to see her, he realizes it's better to leave her there and not cause a distraction, which upsets her.
That night, Jones and Sallah assemble a team of diggers to excavate the site as designated by the headpiece. They find a huge, deep fortress called the Well of Souls occupied by colossal statues and architecture, and thousands of snakes, Indy's key phobia. He reluctantly ropes down into the cave with Sallah and they find the Ark, arranging for it to be lifted to the surface. Meanwhile, Marion is held captive by Belloq, who gives her a white evening dress that she tries on in front of him while they get drunk on wine. The following morning, Belloq, along with Toht and a German colonel named Dietrich see Jones' team on the hill, and instantly take it over. After Sallah exits the cave, they trap Indy in the Well of Souls, and throw in Marion. Still bitter at one another, the two of them tip over a massive statue to break through the fortress walls and find a way out. The traverse through a series of booby traps before finding an escape leading to a German airfield.
While attempting to take over a specialized Luftwaffe "flying wing," Jones gets tangled into a fight with a large German soldier, and wins when he is brutally disembodied by the plane's fuselage off-screen. Indy and Marion escape just as the plane is destroyed by an ignited fuel container, which alarms the rest of the base of his status. The Nazis load the Ark onto a truck and scramble away in a convoy of troops, chased on horseback by Indy. In the chase, he systematically knocks the soldiers to the roadside, and even narrowly survives after being thrown under the truck, before runs Belloq and the Nazis off the road and escapes into a hideaway provided by Sallah.
At nightfall the Ark is loaded onto a steam cleaner called the Bantu Wind, helmed by a captain named Katanga, and Indy and Marion bid farewell to Sallah. Before going to bed, the two of them share an intimate moment, but Indy falls asleep before anything comes of it. They're awaken the next morning as the ship is being boarded by a Nazi U-boat. Of course, it's Belloq, and the Germans once again take back the Ark, and kidnap Marion. They leave once Katanga tells them that he killed Jones, when in reality he sneaks on to the U-boat as it departs, waving goodbye to the cheering crew of the Bantu (in deleted scenes, Jones uses his whip to attach himself, so to speak, to the sub after it went underwater, allowing him to cruise along at the ocean's surface; this explains why he is so wet in the next scene.) They arrive at a naval base in the Mediterranean, where Jones disguises himself as a German officer and follows Belloq to a site at which he plans to carry out a religious ritual to bring about the Ark's power. Indy tries to intercept the team's march by threatening them with a Panzerschreck rocket launcher, but Belloq convinces him not to destroy "history" before he is captured.
Jones and Marion, together again, are tied up as the Germans observe the ritual as carried out by Belloq. As the ceremony begins to make way, he tells her to keep her eyes closed no matter what happens. Neither one witnesses as the spirits that emerge from the Ark, at first beautiful and scenic, turn ghastly and horrifying before the Ark's power destroys all but Indy and Marion, who are in turn set free after the carnage. In the aftermath, the U.S. government confiscates the Ark, angering Jones and Brody for undermining its power, and Indy goes down the agency's Washington, D.C. steps bitter. He is cheered up by Marion, who tells him she'll buy him a drink.
The epilogue shows a warehouse clerk rolling the Ark into an endless hall of crates, just another artifact kept in a box.