This is the third article of my celebrations of Raiders of the Lost Ark reaching 40-years-old this month. In this one, I’m going to take a look at some Indiana Jones rip-offs, good and bad.
Whenever a piece of entertainment proves popular and profitable, others always jump on the bandwagon to try and cash in on that popularity. Raiders was no different and after its huge success back in 1981, plenty of movie studios began to churn out their own Indy-esque flicks, with varying degrees of quality. Films with the chiselled and rugged hero, travelling the world in search of some artefact or person. Usually having to deal with ancient, trap-filled temples/tombs/ruins. Often with some kind of period setting too. All while dragging a damsel in distress lass along for the ride. Some of these rip-offs were really quite subtle with just how much they were trying to copy Raiders of the Lost Ark and its template, others not so subtle…
Anyway, subtle or not, I’m just going to take a quick look at some well known and not so well known Raiders rip-offs of varying quality. For the first one, I’m going for a flick with a bit of an interesting link to Raiders of the Lost Ark outside of the borrowing of its style.
High Road to China (1983)
Aside from this film’s alternate title (Raiders of the End of the World) that was most definitely trying to ride on the coattails of success that was Raiders of the Lost Ark, it also has Tom Selleck in his first major starring film role. Of course, Indy fans will know that, after a screen test, Selleck was originally offered the role of Indiana Jones. However, he had already done the pilot episode for the TV show Magnum P.I. for the CBS network and was contracted to the show, the network just would not let him play Indy. As Selleck himself explained in an interview in 2017:
“After I did the pilot for Magnum, I tested for Indiana Jones and got the job. Steven [Spielberg] and George [Lucas] offered me the job. And I said, ‘Well, I’ve done this pilot’. And they said, ‘Thanks for telling us. Most actors wouldn’t do that, but we got cards to play with CBS’. Turned out, CBS wouldn’t let me do it. They held the offer out for about a month. Harrison Ford hates to hear this. Harrison, this is your role, and you’re indelible in it; it’s just an interesting story. I signed a deal for Magnum, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m proud that I lived up to my contract.”
A quick aside. Tom Selleck even did a parody of Raiders in Magnum P.I. in the Legend of the Lost Art episode from 1988. And I’ve really gone off track here, I’m supposed to be talking about High Road to China. Set in the 1920s and Patrick O’Malley (Tom Selleck) is a flying ace, who is hired by Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong) to help find her missing father. The two fly through six countries to get to China, where Eve’s father is located. Along the way, the duo get up to all sorts of shenanigans before they have to face an evil Chinese warlord. High Road to China is a very okay-ish kind of film. It most definitely has that Indiana Jones feel to it, even without any artefact hunting. While not as entertaining as Raiders, it’s still a watchable romp with some decent action and a few laughs too.
No, I didn’t just make that title up and yes, this film really does exist. Telling the story of Gwendoline (Tawny Kitaen), who is captured, but rescued by Willard (Brent Huff), a mercenary-adventurer. Gwendoline is in search of a rare butterfly that her father once tried to find. When Gwendoline’s maid is kidnapped, she hires Willard to help get her back, as well as seek out that rare butterfly.
Look, the plot of this flick is nonsensical and the film is really a very softcore porn version of Indiana Jones. It’s a low-budget French production that involves cannibal tribes and bondage… Though not at the same time. The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak is bizarre guff with a bit of nudity thrown in. A stupid slice of balderdash with a bit of blood and plenty of boobs. A fun and completely unnecessary watch.
Romancing the Stone (1984)
Directed by the awesome Robert Zemeckis is this rather great action-adventure flick. Romance novelist, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is forced to travel to Colombia when her sister is kidnapped. Joan has to deliver a map that tells the location of an enormous emerald as the ransom for her sister’s release. While in the jungles of Cambodia, Joan (literally) crashes into Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) and the two work together to get the emerald themselves before delivering the map and freeing Joan’s sister. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and there’s plenty of comedic action along the way.
Romancing the Stone is quite honestly a great film. It manages to capture that Indiana Jones flavour, but do its own thing along the way too. With a tight and often amusing plot, some good action sequences and a really believable bit of on-screen chemistry between Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. Plus, the film even manages to make a believable action hero out of Douglas too. The sequel, The Jewel of the Nile was not as good as the first film but still worth checking out for more Raiders-like fun.
The Goonies (1985)
I think it would be rather remiss of me not to give this flick a mention. Truth be told… I’m not much of a fan of The Goonies. Yeah I know, that’s kind of blasphemous as a fan of these flicks and a kid who grew up in the eighties. Learning that their homes will soon be foreclosed, a small group of kids who call themselves The Goonies, find themselves going on an action-packed adventure after discovering a treasure map. The map tells of a fortune that once belonged to a 17th-century pirate, One-Eyed Willy. However, The Goonies are not the only ones looking for the treasure as a family of criminals, the Fratellis want the loot for themselves.
There’s a very good reason why this feels very Indiana Jones, that reason is Steven Spielberg, who wrote the story and was executive producer on the film too. The Goonies really is a more kiddy version of Indiana Jones and it has that distinct Spielberg feel through the entire flick. I may not be a big fan of The Goonies, but I sure do respect and appreciate it for what it is.
King Solomon’s Mines (1985)
Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) is the Indiana Jones of the flick, and he’s hired by Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone). It seems that Jesse’s father has gone missing while on an expedition to find the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. It turns out that Professor Huston has been kidnapped by the German military who are also in search of the legendary mines, wanting to unearth their secrets.
This Raiders rip off makes no bones about what it is. Quite often making fun of and referencing Indiana Jones directly several times. It even features John Rhys-Davies who played Indy’s old friend, Sallah in the Indy films. As for its quality as a film… It is pretty dire, to be honest. But I think it falls into one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ type of flicks. It’s cheesy, badly acted and the story is unbelievably bland too. Sharon Stone is truly awful in this, it’s hard to believe that she would go on to be nominated for an Oscar… Eleven years later… And for a very different film.
Also, this is actually a remake, a second remake too. Based on the 1885 novel of the same name, the first version came out in 1937 and another in 1950. The 1950 version is actually a pretty decent watch. Oh, and the 1985 version even had a sequel released the following year. Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold was filmed back to back with the first film. It too is fucking awful with both Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone returning. A quick aside, the 1950 version of this film was actually one of the main influences behind the creation of Indiana Jones. So can I honestly claim this remake is a Raiders rip off when an earlier version of the film is what helped create the film it is ripping off? Yes I can because this is my blog and I can say what I like.
Armour of God (1986)
This is really a melding of two cinematic heroes. Of course, this is very Indiana Jones-esque, but there’s a good slice of James Bond thrown in too. Asian Hawk (Jackie Chan) is a treasure hunter who is hired by an old friend to help in the safe return of his kidnapped girlfriend. An evil religious cult are the ones who have kidnapped the fair maiden and they have two pieces of a legendary armour called the Armour of God. Asian Hawk must bring the remaining three pieces of the armour to complete the set and the cult will let their captor go.
When it comes to films that are clearly inspired by the Indiana Jones template, they don’t really get much better than Armour of God. I’ve been a fan of Jackie Chan for many years, long before he became such a huge star. I was brought up watching martial arts flicks and I got to see this one as a kid. Easily one of the best film in Jackie’s rather impressive career. Full of that trademark Jackie Chan humour, action and stunt work. Speaking of which, Jackie almost killed himself in this film when shooting a stunt where he had to jump from the top of a wall to a tree. The tree branch broke and Jackie fell five meters, cracking his head on a rock. To this day, he has a hole in his head after undergoing eight hours of surgery. The sequel, Armour of God II: Operation Condor is also worth checking out.
From one martial arts legend to another. This one sees Max Donigan (Chuck Norris) and Leo Porter (Louis Gossett Jr.) as two veteran treasure hunters. When a psychic gives them a map that is said to show the way to a massive stockpile of gold, the duo can’t help but go in search of it. Of course, they are not alone in the hunt for riches as someone or something else is after the loot too, something the psychic calls a red cyclops.
This one is played for straight-up laughs, it’s a comedy first and an action-adventure flick second. It was the first time that Chuck Norris had tried a non-serious role and makes fun of his tough-guy action persona in the film many times. And yes, it directly parodies Raiders too. Even John Rhys-Davies pops up in the flick, he must’ve made a career out of being in Indy rip-offs. As for the film itself, if I were to tell you that it’s brilliant, I’m sure you’d know I was lying. Firewalker is utter pants, but if you go in knowing that it is a crappy Indy clone with very little effort put into it, you might get some enjoyment out of its terribleness. I mean, this is a Cannon Group flick and they were famed for cheap and nasty, low-budget dreck. It is cheesy Chuck Norris guff, but still has a few laughs along the way.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
“Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earthquakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, ‘Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it’.”
Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a fast-talking and blusterous truck driver/wannabe hero. When his friend Wang Chi’s (Dennis Dun) green-eyed fiancée is kidnapped by mysterious bandits, the two set out to get her back. They soon find themselves being dragged into a strange underworld of Chinatown in San Francisco, where face off against an ancient sorcerer, David Lo Pan (James Hong). It is this sorcerer who has captured Wang’s girl as he needs a woman with green eyes to marry to life a curse.
I fucking love this flick, I’d even put it up there as one of the greatest films ever made. John Carpenter is one of my favourite writer/directors, I’ve always had a soft spot for Kurt Russell and back in the eighties, I loved kung-fu flicks. Big Trouble in Little China combines all of that into the Indiana Jones mould and throws in some supernatural elements that feel very much at home too. This really is a crazy cocktail of a film, and one that was lambasted by critics when it was released. Big Trouble in Little China was a massive flop, as all John Carpenter flicks were when originally released. But it has since gone on to have a very strong and cult following over the years. I have always said that there are two kinds of people in the world, people who enjoy Big Trouble in Little China and think that it is amazing… And then there are people who are wrong.
“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favourite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that: ‘Have ya paid your dues, Jack?’ ‘Yes sir, the check is in the mail’.”
Here we have Tennessee Buck (David Keith) the Indy rip off for this film. In this one, two shallow, blonde, rich socialites, Kent (Brant von Hoffman) and Barbara (Kathy Shower) are on a river tour in the jungle of Borneo. Kent is on the lookout for a rare tiger to hunt. Things go wrong when their tour guide is killed by an elephant. Barbara almost goes the same way too, until Tennessee Buck turns up and saves her life. Tennessee is then hired by the couple to take them further into the dangerous jungle so they can continue their tour. So, of course, various jungle-based misadventures ensue.
Like the previously mentioned The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak, this too is a comedic romp with a touch of nudity. It does feature Kathy Shower, an ex-Playboy model, so of course, there are boobies in this one. Like The Perils of Gwendoline, it’s also a load of old guff. While there are some okay-ish moments in this one, it’s just a mess of a film that doesn’t really seem to know where it is going or what it wants to do. If you want some crap jokes, low-budget action and titties, then this is the flick for you.
The Mummy (1999)
For my final pick, I’m gonna jump to the end of the century with this rather decent remake of a Universal Studios horror classic. Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) is a rough and ready adventurer. When Rick crosses paths with Evelyn and Jonathan Carnahan ( Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah), who are in possession of a map that leads them to Hamunaptra, Egypt. Rick is hired as a guide to take them to the city, where they discover the remains of Imhotep, an ancient mummy. Then things just go very wrong from that point on.
Whereas the original 1932 The Mummy was very much scary/horror focused, this remake leans more toward the action-adventure style and is very evocative of the Indiana Jones flicks. It’s a pretty damn good flick in its own right too. It is funny when it needs to be, well-acted and Brendan Fraser is very believable as an Indy-type too. The Mummy went on to become a pretty successful franchise with sequels and spin-offs, even roller coasters.
Now, there were a few more films I could mention. Obviously, the likes of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and National Treasure (2004) series’ should be given a shout out. Then there’s the far lesser-known Librarian trilogy, The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines and The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (2004 – 2008), which are all very, very reminiscent of the Indy flicks. They’re utter crap, but still very obvious Raiders rip-offs.
Anyway, I need to move on as I have more articles to write for my Raiders at 40 celebrations. Next up, I take a look at several Indiana Jones sequels that we never got.