In 1973, before Star Wars was even conceived, George Lucas wrote a story called The Adventures of Indiana Smith, a pastiche of the adventure film serials of the 1930s and 40s, like Zorro. The project was shelved when Philip Kaufman was drafted to The Outlaw Josey Wales and Lucas went to work on Star Wars. Whilst on summer break in 1977, Lucas was in Hawaii with Steve Spielberg and they drafted an idea for a James Bond movie, however the project molded itself into Indiana Jones and the draft was made for the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
In 1978, they came up with the character of Indiana Jones and fleshed him out fully. He went from Bondian playboy, to a world weary adventurer and treasure seeker. Inspiration for the movie and character came from Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge comic: The Seven Cities of Cibola, The Treasures of Sierra Madre and Secret of the Incas.
In 1936, Indy braved a Peruvian jungle, treacherous bandits and a booby trapped temple in order to recover an ancient Fertility Idol relic. After narrowly escaping the temple with his life, Indy finds himself double crossed by his nemesis, Rene Belloq. He's forced to surrender the idol to Belloq and then makes his escape via floatplane back to the US.
Upon his return to the United States, Indy returns to his job as a professor of Archaeology at Marshall College. As he's leaving class, he's contacted by US Army Intelligence, They have received a communique from the Nazis regarding Abner Ravenwood, whom Jones studied under at The University of Chicago. They tell him about their project regarding The Staff of Ra, The Well of Souls and their race to find The Ark of the Covenant. They send Indy on the mission to stop the Nazis and get it first.
Indy travels to Nepal, where he meets with Marion, Abner's daughter. After rebuffing him first time round, Indy leaves. As Indy leaves, Arnold Toht, a Gestapo officer and a group of thugs come in to get the headpiece through force. Indy saves Marion from the Nazis after a brutal gunfight in her Tavern, however, the bar is burned to the ground. After realising that Marion has the headpiece, she joins up with Indy and they head to Cairo on the next phase of their journey.
Indy and Mario arrive in Cairo and meet with Sallah. He tells them all they need to know about the dig site at Tanis. Indy and Marion are out in Cairo's town square, where they are set upon by Nazi thugs. Marion is kidnapped and as Indy tries to rescue her, he meets with a swordsman, who is shot and Marion is apparently killed.
Afterwards, Indy and Sallah head to an Imam's house, who translates the inscriptions on the headpiece. Realising the Nazis have a badly made copy, they're realising they're digging in the wrong place. The next day, Indy infiltrates the dig site and finds the real location of the Well of the Souls. However, he realises he's been tricked about Marion and as he finds the Ark, the Nazis throw Marion into the Well and seal them inside after taking the Ark.
After Indy escapes from the well, he chases the Ark across the dig site to a nearby airfield, where the Nazis are planning to fly it back to Berlin. Indy gets into a brawl with a burly German mechanic and then destroys the flying wing. The nazis are panicked and transport the Ark via truck. Indy chases the convoy and hijacks the truck, taking it to Cairo, where he planned to get the Ark to London via a tramp steamer.
The tramp steamer, Bantu Wind, is captured by the Nazis who take the Ark and Marion aboard a U-Boat and heads towards Greece. Indy sneaks onboard the U-Boat and infiltrates the base. Belloq plans to give a test run of the Ark's power before giving it to Hitler. However, Indy threatens to blow up the Ark with a rocket launcher. Belloq calls his bluff and captures him. They are tied up at the demonstration site. Indy tells Marion to shut her eyes tightly and NOT look. Belloq opens the Ark and finds nothing but sand in it. Toht laughs at the apparent failure, but ghosts appear and turn from Angelic to Demonic. A vortex of fire appears from the Ark and using Belloq as a conductor, kills all the Nazis in attendance. With Dietrich, Toht and Belloq the only 3 left, the Ark's fury turns on them. Dietrich's face shrivels up. Toht's face melts right off the skull and Belloq's head explodes. After this, the Ark cleanses the island, sweeping everything into the Ark, where the lid comes crashing down and is sealed once again. Indy and Marion find their ropes burned off.
Back in Washington, Indy is frustrated to realise that he won';t be allowed to study the Ark as promised. Instead, it was being taken away to be studied by "top men". The movie ends with a gentleman pushing the crate into a secret government warehouse, to be stored indefinitely, along with other similar crates.
The movie was voted one of the greatest movies of all time and has won many awards over the last 35 years. It changed the way the Adventure franchise has been made since and has influenced many TV shows, movies and video games ever since. This is one movie that should be on people's watch lists as it is really is that great.