Raiders of the Lost Ark is undoubtedly the best Indiana Jones film, but if I’m going to pop one in to just have a great time, I’ll go with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (where the series should have ended). Where Temple of Doom was a diversion from Indy as a relic-seeking archaeologist, The Last Crusade brought back everything that made Raiders great. In a fantastic opening sequence, a young River Phoenix plays Indy (spawning a short-lived TV series) in an early adventure that explains virtually every tic and hiccup about the character we’ve come to love over the two previous films.. It’s one of the best openings of any Spielberg movie, and a brilliant idea to reintroduce audiences to Jones after the five-year gap between Temple and Crusade.
More than an adventure film, though, The Last Crusade is a wonderful father-son story. He may be most people’s favorite James Bond, but my favorite Sean Connery performance is as Henry Jones Sr. Indiana’s hyper-focused, hectoring, academic father is such a wonderful character. Though Connery is only 12 years older than Harrison Ford, they have such a fantastic father-son dynamic that it steals the picture. More than any one scene are the dozens of touching and hysterical interactions between the two. If I have anything nice I can say about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (and I have to really try), it’s that you do see several ways in which Indy is aging into a slightly less dotty version of Henry.
The first three Indy films, all have fantastic ending scenes in common. This is one of the biggest differences between classic Spielberg and current Spielberg, who doesn’t seem to know how to end a movie to save his life (Lincoln, anyone?). THIS scene should have always finished the series. You cannot improve on the core characters, the revelation of origin of Indiana’s name, and then a beautiful ride off into the sunset set to John Williams’ unforgettable fanfare. It was a perfect ending (and for most of us HOW we’ll choose to leave the Indy series).