Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

By Michael Schilf · August 2, 2010

Screenplay Genre: Action / Adventure

Movie Time: 115 minutes

Synopsis: The year is 1936, and Indiana Jones, a professor of archeological studies and adventuring tomb raider, is commissioned by the United States Military to obtain The Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do. Aided by ex-lover Marion and long time friend Sallah, Indy races around the world – from Nepal, to Egypt, to the Greek isles – while fighting his archenemy Dr. Belloq and other nefarious Nazi characters to single-handedly prevent Hitler and the Nazis from turning the biblical artifact into a weapon of world conquest and domination.

Sequence Note: Screenplays in the Action & Adventure genres usually contain an additional Intro Sequence (preceding the traditional Sequence One) which begins the movie at the end of the last adventure.



Introduce Protagonist: South American: 1936. Jungle. Hearing the click of a gun, exploration party leader, Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, expertly disarms the traitor with a bullwhip. Indy is fearless and intelligent, with overconfident impatience.

Action Block #1: Indy survives the booby-trapped cave rigged to collapse when the idol statue is removed, is chased through the jungle by a tribe of Hovitos warriors, narrowly escaping on a seaplane.

Introduce Antagonist #1 (Nemesis): Dr. Rene Belloq – an arrogant French archaeologist and Indy’s rival and nemesis. Belloq corners and tries to kill Indy using Hovitos warriors and steals the idol statue Indy rescued life and limb for in the booby-trapped cave.


World of the Story: Exotic/International – South America, Nepal, Egypt, Greece. High-octane adventure – lots of action – the good (Indy) against the bad (Nazis).

Status Quo: Single. Obsessed by his work. Professor of archeological studies by day, moonlighting as an adventuring tomb raider, but not for personal glory or fortune.

Status Quo Obstacle: Indy can’t be in the moment in the classroom. He wants nothing more than to be in the field – risking life and limb – all the time.

Dramatic Premise: The US Army has intercepted a German cable concerning a mammoth archaeological Nazi dig in the Egyptian desert.

* Inciting Incident (Plot Point #1): Indy and colleague Marcus Brody decipher the cable for two Army officers: the Nazi’s have discovered Tanis, an ancient city and possible burial site of the Ark of the Covenant, which holds epic mystical power.


Protagonist’s Objective: Indy must recover the Ark before the Nazis do, but first he needs the headpiece to the Staff of Ra. He flies to Nepal to confront Abner Ravenwood, the last known possessor.

Introduce Supporting Char. #1 (Lover): Marion Ravenwood. Abner’s daughter and Indy’s ex-girlfriend. Independent. Feisty. Stubborn. Can out drink anybody.

Predicament Obstacle: Abner is dead. Marion, she’s still bitter about the breakup with Indy, is not initially willing to help him locate the medallion.

Predicament Solution: Marion takes Indy’s $3,000 with the promise of more, and tells him to come back tomorrow. Secretly, she wears the piece around her neck.

Introduce Antagonist #2 (Bully): Nazi agent, Toht. Sinister, in all black, with a sadistic sense of humor. He’s about to torture Marion for the headpiece when Indy returns.

Action Block #2: Firefight with Toht and Sherpa heavies in Marion’s bar.

* The Lock-In (Plot Point #2): Indy and Marion escape with the headpiece, but Marion’s restaurant/bar is destroyed, and she declares she is Indy’s new partner.



Establish Second Act Main Tension: Indy will do whatever it takes to get the Ark.

Introduce Supporting Char. #2 (Best Friend): Sallah. Insider working on the Nazi dig. Boisterous, and occasionally bursts out in song. A family man and trusted friend.

Action Block #3: Shopping at a Cario bazaar, Indy and Marion attacked by sword-wielding Arabs working for Nazi agents.

First 2nd Act Obstacle: Trying to rescue Marion, who gets trapped in a basket and taken by two Arabs, eventually loaded onto a truck of explosives.

Failure/Ramifications: Indy shoots the driver, the truck crashes, and it explodes.

Raise the Stakes: With Marion dead, Indy drowns his sorrows in whiskey, only to be escorted by Nazi agents to a table where Belloq, who is aiding the Nazis, brags about the prospect of finding the Ark. Again, Indy’s Nemesis.


New 2nd Act Obstacle: Indy learns that the Nazis have obtained a copy of the Ra headpiece (a one-sided only duplicate from Toht’s burned hand). The race is on.

Obstacle Solution: As a shaman translates the markings on BOTH SIDES of the Ra headpiece, Indy and Sallah discover the Nazis are digging in the wrong place.

Introduce Antagonist #3 (Tyrant): Colonel Dietrich. Ruthless Nazi in charge of the Cairo dig.

* First Culmination (Plot Point #3): With the correct staff height, Indy is lowered into the underground map room. Using the Ra staff and headpiece, Indy discovers the exact location of the Ark’s burial site, known as the Well of the Souls.


Subplot Revival: Marion is alive. Indy finds Marion bound and gagged in a tent.

Subplot Obstacle: But Indy won’t cut her loose. If he sets her free, he will most likely reveal his presence to the Nazis, which will endanger the Ark mission.

Failure/Ramifications: Indy fails to do the right thing – save Marion, lay low for a while, and return after a week to start his Ark dig. His impatience hurts them both.

Higher 2nd Act Obstacle: Indy and Sallah commence a night dig at the Well of the Souls. They open the chamber. Find Ark. But wait… snakes. Lots and lots of snakes.

Failure/Ramifications: Indy secures the Ark, only to have it immediately taken by Belloq and the Nazis. Deitrich seals Indy and Marion to die inside the Well of Souls.

Action Block #5: Escaping from the Well of the Souls.

Rising Action: No time to rest, going from one action block right into the next!


Action Block #6: Airfield battle. Marion machine guns Nazis soldiers as Indy dukes it out with a bare knuckle burly Nazi boxer.

Highest 2nd Act Obstacle: Single handedly retrieving the Ark from the Nazis.

Action Block #7: Indy hijacking the Nazi truck caravan transporting the Ark.

* Main Culmination (Plot Point #4): Indy has done everything in his power to obtain the Ark. He has been shot, beaten, dragged by a truck, yet he still obtains his goal. He has the Ark.



Third Act Tension: Escaping Cairo with the Ark, retaining it, and if so, retaking it.

Act Three Obstacle: Indy and Marion getting the Ark safely back to the US by boat.

Failure/Ramifications: Nazi submarine captures ship. Ark is put aboard. Marion is taken prisoner by Belloq. Indy escapes, riding the submarine topside to a Greek isle.

* Third Act Twist (Plot Point #5): Indy, with rocket launcher aimed at the Ark, intercepts Belloq and the Nazis, vowing to blow it to heaven unless Marion is freed. Belloq calls the bluff.

Character Arc: Even though Indy can’t carry out his threat, he has changed. Now Marion is his prize, no longer the Ark.


The Last Obstacle: Indy, seized and captured, on a deserted Greek isle against Belloq and a squadron of Nazis soldiers must find a way to save Marion and the Ark.

Obligatory Scene: Indy and Marion are tied to a pole while Belloq proceeds through an Ark opening Jewish ceremony. Spirits appear. Indy demands that Marion close her eyes as the no-freed spirits surges forth and attacks the Nazis.

Resolution: All Nazis are killed, including Belloq, Toht, and Dietrich in gruesome fashion. The energy mass returns to the Ark and reseals it. Indy and Marion survive.

New Status Quo: Indy goes back to old life, but this time with Marion by his side. The Ark is stored in a huge government warehouse, once again lost and forgotten.

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