1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark introduced an entirely new action hero to the world. Swashbuckling archeologist Indiana Jones has since gone on to appear in four films over three decades (with a fifth supposedly on the way for the 2020s) while the entire franchise has now earned $2 billion at the box office.


The character of Indiana Jones was co-developed by Steven Spielberg and Star Wars director George Lucas, who originally envisaged him being called “Indiana Smith.” The name was only changed when Spielberg protested its similarity to the title character of a 1966 Steve McQueen western, entitled Nevada Smith. Lucas and Spielberg still wanted Indiana to have a fairly commonplace surname, however, so “Smith” was simply swapped for “Jones” and the character was born.


Having just finished work on The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas wasn’t too keen to reuse Harrison Ford so quickly, fearing that he would gain a reputation for being “that guy I put in all my movies.” Instead, a long list of other Hollywood stars—including Steve Martin, Nick Nolte, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Tom Selleck—was put together, with Ford’s name noticeably absent from it. The role was eventually offered to Selleck, but when he was forced to turn it down at the last minute to star in the detective series Magnum P.I., Raiders of the Lost Ark was left without a lead actor just three weeks before shooting was due to begin. It was only then that Ford was cast—leaving him less than a month to prepare for the role.


Ford used the few weeks he had to prepare for the movie by working to bulk up his physique and learning how to use a bullwhip. He also managed to negotiate a handsome deal with the studio, earning a seven-figure fee for his performance (plus a percentage of the profits) and was given the prerogative to change any of his lines that he felt were too similar to Han Solo, to avoid him becoming typecast.


Considering that the Indiana Jones movies are, on the surface at least, fairly family-friendly, the second film in the series, The Temple of Doom, contains some fairly gruesome scenes—including one character being crushed in a rock mill, another being torn apart by crocodiles, and a third having his still-beating heart pulled from his chest before being lowered into a lava pit. Violence like this would ordinarily have earned a film an immediate R rating in the USA, but well aware that such a rating would scupper the movie’s box office pull, Spielberg wrote to MPAA president Jack Valenti to personally suggest implementing a new rating. As a result, Valenti introduced the PG-13 rating—advising that parents are “strongly cautioned” about showing the movie to children under the age of 13—which remains in use in America to this day.


The third Indiana Jones film, The Last Crusade, fleshed out his character by adding his father (memorably played by Sean Connery). Knowing that portraying the father-son relationship as realistically as possible on screen would be imperative to the film’s success, Spielberg had a ghostwriter look over the script ahead of shooting, to develop and rework the dialog between Indiana and his father so it came across as natural as possible. That ghostwriter? None other than four-time Tony Award-winning playwright, Sir Tom Stoppard.