Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a 1989 American action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg, from a story co-written by executive producer George Lucas. It is the third installment in the Indiana Jones franchise. Harrison Ford reprises the title role and Sean Connery plays Indiana’s father, Henry Jones, Sr. Other cast members featured include Alison Doody, Denholm Elliott, Julian Glover, River Phoenix, and John Rhys-Davies. In the film, set largely in 1938, Indiana searches for his father, a Holy Grail scholar, who has been kidnapped by Nazis.
After the mixed reaction to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg chose to tone down the gore in the next installment. During the five years between Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, he and executive producer Lucas reviewed several scripts before accepting Jeffrey Boam’s. Filming locations included Spain, Italy, West Germany, Jordan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The film was released in North America on May 24, 1989 to mostly positive reviews and a financial success, earning $474.2 million at the worldwide box office totals. It won an Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing.
It is the first film in the franchise to receive a PG-13 rating, as the previous installments were rated PG, because the PG-13 rating did not exist at the time those films were released.
In 1912, thirteen-year-old Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr is horseback riding with his Boy Scout troop at Arches National Park in Utah. While scouting caves, Indy discovers a group of grave robbers who have found a golden crucifix belonging to Coronado and steals it from them, hoping to donate it to a museum. The men give chase through a passing circus train, leaving Indy with a bloody cut across his chin from a bullwhip and a new phobia of snakes. Indy escapes, but the local sheriff makes him return the cross to the robbers, who immediately turn it over to a mysterious benefactor wearing a Panama Hat. Impressed with Indy’s bravery, the leader of the robbers gives Indy his fedora, and tells him that he may have lost this battle, but that he does not have to like it.
In 1938, Indy battles “Panama Hat” and his henchmen on a ship off the coast of Portugal. A violent gale ensues, and Indy escapes overboard just before the ship explodes. He recovers the cross and donates it to Marcus Brody’s museum. Later, Indy is introduced to Walter Donovan, who informs him that his father, Henry Jones, Sr., has vanished while searching for the Holy Grail, using an incomplete inscription from a stone tablet as his guide. Indy receives Henry’s Grail diary via mail from Venice. Realizing that he would not have sent the diary unless he was in trouble, Indy and Marcus travel to Venice, where they meet Henry’s Austrian colleague Dr. Elsa Schneider. Beneath the library where Henry was last seen, Indy and Elsa discover a set of half-flooded catacombs that house the tomb of a First Crusade knight, which contains a complete version of the inscription that Henry had used, revealing the location of the Grail. They flee when the petroleum-saturated waters of the catacombs are set aflame by the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, a secret society that protects the Grail from evildoers. Indy and Elsa capture one of the Brotherhood, Kazim, who tells Indy where Henry is being held after Indy explains that his only goal is to find Henry, not the Grail. Marcus reveals a map drawn by Henry of the route to the Grail, which begins in Alexandretta. Indy removes the map from the diary, gives it to Marcus for safekeeping, and sends him to İskenderun, the city built on the ruins of Alexandretta, to rendezvous with their old friend Sallah.
Indy and Elsa head to a Nazi-controlled castle where Henry is being held. Indy finds Henry, but learns that both Elsa and Donovan are actually working with the Nazis and are using the Joneses to find the Grail for them. Meanwhile, Marcus is captured in Hatay, while waiting with Sallah. After escaping from the castle, Henry tells Indy that the Grail is guarded by three booby traps and his diary contains the clues needed to pass them safely. They recover the diary from Elsa at a book burning rally in Berlin, briefly coming face-to-face with Hitler. They board a Zeppelin to leave Germany, but the Nazis discover the Joneses are aboard and they escape in a parasite biplane. They crash while engaging in a dogfight with Luftwaffe fighters.
The two meet up with Sallah in Hatay, where they learn of Marcus’ abduction. The Nazis are already moving toward the Grail’s location, using the map possessed by Marcus. In exchange for a Rolls-Royce, the Sultan of Hatay has given the Nazis full access to his equipment for the expedition, including a large tank. Indy, Henry, and Sallah find the Nazi expedition, which is ambushed by the Brotherhood. During the battle, Henry is captured by SS Colonel Ernst Vogel while attempting to rescue Marcus from the tank; Kazim and his comrades are killed. Indy pursues the tank on horseback and, with the aid of Sallah, saves Henry and Marcus. He is caught up in a fight with Vogel, and barely escapes before the tank goes over a cliff, sending Vogel to his death.
Indy, Henry, Marcus, and Sallah catch up with the surviving Nazis, led by Donovan and Elsa, who have found the temple where the Holy Grail is kept but are unable to pass through the three protective booby traps. Donovan shoots and mortally wounds Henry in order to force Indy to risk his life in the traps to find the Grail and use its healing power to save him. Using the information in the diary and followed by Donovan and Elsa, Indy safely overcomes the traps and reaches the Grail’s chamber, which is guarded by a knight. He has been kept alive for 700 years by the power of the Grail, which is hidden among dozens of false grails; only the true Grail brings life, while a false one claims it. Elsa selects a golden chalice studded with emeralds for Donovan, who ages into dust after drinking from it, proving it to be false. Indy selects a simple pewter cup, and the knight tells him that he has “chosen wisely,” but warns that the Holy Grail cannot be taken beyond the temple’s entrance. Indy fills the Grail with holy water and gives it to Henry, healing him instantly. Disregarding the knight’s warning, Elsa takes the Grail and attempts to leave with it. The temple begins to collapse and after the Grail drops into a chasm, Elsa falls to her death trying to recover it. Indy nearly suffers the same fate before Henry persuades him to leave it. The Joneses, Marcus, and Sallah escape the temple and ride off into the sunset.
- Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones: The archaeologist adventurer who seeks to rescue his father and find the Holy Grail. Ford said he loved the idea of introducing Indiana’s father because it allowed him to explore another side to Indiana’s personality: “These are men who have never made any accommodation to each other. Indy behaves differently in his father’s presence. Who else would dare call Indy ‘junior’?”
- River Phoenix as the teenage Jones. Phoenix had portrayed the son of Ford’s character in The Mosquito Coast (1986). Ford recommended Phoenix for the part; he said that of the young actors working at the time, Phoenix looked the most like him when he was around that age.
- Sean Connery as Professor Henry Jones: Indiana’s father, a professor of Medieval literature who cared more about looking for the Grail than raising his son. Spielberg had Connery in mind when he suggested introducing Indiana’s father, though he did not tell Lucas at first. Consequently, Lucas wrote the role as “a crazy, eccentric” professor resembling Laurence Olivier, whose relationship with Indiana is “strict schoolmaster and student rather than a father and son”. Spielberg had been a fan of Connery’s work as James Bond and felt that no one else could perform the role as well. Spielberg biographer Joseph McBride wrote, “Connery was already the father of Indiana Jones since the series had sprung from the desire of Lucas and Spielberg to rival (and outdo) Connery’s James Bond movies.” Connery initially turned the role down as he is only twelve years older than Ford, but he relented. Connery—a student of history—began to reshape the character, and revisions were made to the script to address his concerns. “I wanted to play Henry Jones as a kind of Sir Richard [Francis] Burton,” Connery commented. “I was bound to have fun with the role of a gruff, Victorian Scottish father.” Connery believed Henry should be a match for his son, telling Spielberg that “whatever Indy’d done my character has done and my character has done it better”. Connery signed to the film on March 25, 1988. He improvised the line, “She talks in her sleep”, which was left in because it made everyone laugh; in Boam’s scripts, Henry telling Indiana that he slept with Elsa occurs later.
- Alex Hyde-White as Young Henry Jones Sr.
- Alison Doody as Dr. Elsa Schneider: An Austrian art professor who is in league with the Nazis. She seduces the Joneses to trick them. Doody was 21 when she auditioned and was one of the first actresses who met for the part.
- Denholm Elliott as Dr. Marcus Brody: Indiana’s bumbling English colleague. Elliott returned after Spielberg sought to recapture the tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), following the actor’s absence in the darker Temple of Doom (1984).
- John Rhys-Davies as Sallah: A friend of Indiana and a professional excavator living in Cairo. Like Elliott’s, Rhys-Davies’ return was an attempt to recapture the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
- Julian Glover as Walter Donovan: An American businessman who sends the Joneses on their quest for the Holy Grail. Donovan works for the Nazis and desires immortality. Glover previously appeared as General Veers in Lucas’ The Empire Strikes Back. He originally auditioned for the role of Vogel. Glover, who is English, adopted an American accent for the film, but was dissatisfied with the result.
- Michael Byrne as Colonel Ernst Vogel: A brutal SS colonel. Byrne and Ford had previously starred in Force 10 from Navarone (1978), in which they also respectively played a German and an American.
- Kevork Malikyan as Kazim: The leader of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, an organization that protects the Holy Grail. Malikyan had impressed Spielberg with his performance in Midnight Express (1978) and would have auditioned for the role of Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark had a traffic jam not delayed his meeting with the director.
- Robert Eddison as The Grail Knight: The guardian of the Grail who drank from the cup of Christ during the Crusades and is immortal as long as he stays within the temple. Eddison was a stage and television veteran only appearing once before in film (a supporting role in Peter Ustinov’s 1948 comedy Vice Versa). Glover recalled Eddison was excited and nervous for his return to film, often asking if he had performed correctly. Laurence Olivier was originally considered to play the Grail Knight, but he was too ill and died the same year in which the film was released.
Michael Sheard appears as Adolf Hitler, whom Jones briefly encounters at the book-burning rally in Berlin. Although a non-speaking role, Sheard could speak German and had already portrayed Hitler three times during his career. He had also appeared as Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back and as Oskar Schomburg in Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the same scene, Ronald Lacey, who played Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, cameos as Heinrich Himmler. Alexei Sayle played the sultan of Hatay. Paul Maxwell portrayed “the man with the Panama Hat” who took possession of the Cross of Coronado. Wrestler and stuntman Pat Roach, who played three roles in the previous two films, made a short cameo as the Nazi who accompanies Vogel to the Zeppelin.
Roach was set to film a fight with Ford, but it was cut. In a deleted scene, Roach’s agent boards the second biplane on the Zeppelin with a World War I flying ace (played by Frederick Jaeger), only for the pair to fall to their deaths after the flying ace makes an error.
Lucas and Spielberg had intended to make a trilogy of Indiana Jones films since Lucas had first pitched Raiders of the Lost Ark to Spielberg in 1977. After the mixed critical and public reaction to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg decided to complete the trilogy to fulfill his promise to Lucas and “to apologize for the second one”. The pair had the intention of revitalizing the series by evoking the spirit and tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Throughout the film’s development and pre-production, Spielberg admitted he was “consciously regressing” in making the film. Due to his commitment to the film, the director had to drop out of directing Big and Rain Man.
Chris Columbus’ script featured the Monkey King in Africa Lucas initially suggested making the film “a haunted mansion movie”, for which Romancing the Stone writer Diane Thomas wrote a script. Spielberg rejected the idea because of the similarity to Poltergeist, which he had co-written and produced. Lucas first introduced the Holy Grail in an idea for the film’s prologue, which was to be set in Scotland. He intended the Grail to have a pagan basis, with the rest of the film revolving around a separate Christian artifact in Africa. Spielberg did not care for the Grail idea, which he found too esoteric, even after Lucas suggested giving it healing powers and the ability to grant immortality. In September 1984, Lucas completed an eight-page treatment titled Indiana Jones and the Monkey King, which he soon followed with an 11-page outline. The story saw Indiana battling a ghost in Scotland before finding the Fountain of Youth in Africa.
Chris Columbus—who had written the Spielberg-produced Gremlins, The Goonies, and Young Sherlock Holmes—was hired to write the script. His first draft, dated May 3, 1985, changed the main plot device to a Garden of Immortal Peaches. It begins in 1937, with Indiana battling the murderous ghost of Baron Seamus Seagrove III in Scotland. Indiana travels to Mozambique to aid Dr. Clare Clarke (a Katharine Hepburn-type according to Lucas), who has found a 200-year-old pygmy. The pygmy is kidnapped by the Nazis during a boat chase, and Indiana, Clare and Scraggy Brier—an old friend of Indiana—travel up the Zambezi river to rescue him. Indiana is killed in the climactic battle but is resurrected by the Monkey King. Other characters include a cannibalistic African tribe; Nazi Sergeant Gutterbuhg, who has a mechanical arm; Betsy, a stowaway student who is suicidally in love with Indiana; and a pirate leader named Kezure (described as a Toshiro Mifune-type), who dies eating a peach because he is not pure of heart.
Columbus’ second draft, dated August 6, 1985, removed Betsy and featured Dash—an expatriate bar owner for whom the Nazis work—and the Monkey King as villains. The Monkey King forces Indiana and Dash to play chess with real people and disintegrates each person who is captured. Indiana subsequently battles the undead, destroys the Monkey King’s rod, and marries Clare. Location scouting commenced in Africa but Spielberg and Lucas abandoned Monkey King because of its negative depiction of African natives, and because the script was too unrealistic. Spielberg acknowledged that it made him “… feel very old, too old to direct it.” Columbus’ script was leaked onto the Internet in 1997, and many believed it was an early draft for the fourth film because it was mistakenly dated to 1995.
Unsatisfied, Spielberg suggested introducing Indiana’s father, Henry Jones, Sr. Lucas was dubious, believing the Grail should be the story’s focus, but Spielberg convinced him that the father–son relationship would serve as a great metaphor in Indiana’s search for the artifact. Spielberg hired Menno Meyjes, who had worked on Spielberg’s The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun, to begin a new script on January 1, 1986. Meyjes completed his script ten months later. It depicted Indiana searching for his father in Montségur, where he meets a nun named Chantal. Indiana travels to Venice, takes the Orient Express to Istanbul, and continues by train to Petra, where he meets Sallah and reunites with his father. Together they find the grail. At the climax, a Nazi villain touches the Grail and explodes; when Henry touches it, he ascends a stairway to Heaven. Chantal chooses to stay on Earth because of her love for Indiana. In a revised draft dated two months later, Indiana finds his father in Krak des Chevaliers, the Nazi leader is a woman named Greta von Grimm, and Indiana battles a demon at the Grail site, which he defeats with a dagger inscribed with “God is King”. The prologue in both drafts has Indiana in Mexico battling for possession of Montezuma’s death mask with a man who owns gorillas as pets.
Spielberg suggested Innerspace writer Jeffrey Boam perform the next rewrite. Boam spent two weeks reworking the story with Lucas, which yielded a treatment that is largely similar to the final film. Boam told Lucas that Indiana should find his father in the middle of the story. “Given the fact that it’s the third film in the series, you couldn’t just end with them obtaining the object. That’s how the first two films ended,” he said, “So I thought, let them lose the Grail, and let the father–son relationship be the main point. It’s an archaeological search for Indy’s own identity and coming to accept his father is more what it’s about [than the quest for the Grail].” Boam said he felt there was not enough character development in the previous films. In Boam’s first draft, dated September 1987, the film is set in 1939. The prologue has adult Indiana retrieving an Aztec relic for a museum curator in Mexico and features the circus train. Henry and Elsa (who is described as having dark hair) were searching for the Grail on behalf of the Chandler Foundation, before Henry went missing. The character of Kazim is here named Kemal, and is an agent of the Republic of Hatay, which seeks the grail for its own. Kemal shoots Henry and dies drinking from the wrong chalice. The Grail Knight battles Indiana on horseback, while Vogel is crushed by a boulder when stealing the Grail.
Boam’s February 23, 1988 rewrite utilized many of Connery’s comic suggestions. It included the prologue that was eventually filmed; Lucas had to convince Spielberg to show Indiana as a boy because of the mixed response to Empire of the Sun, which was about a young boy. Spielberg—who was later awarded the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award—had the idea of making Indiana a Boy Scout. Indiana’s mother, named Margaret in this version, dismisses Indiana when he returns home with the Cross of Coronado, while his father is on a long distance call. Walter Chandler of the Chandler Foundation features, but is not the main villain; he plunges to his death in the tank. Elsa introduces Indiana and Brody to a large Venetian family that knows Henry. Leni Riefenstahl appears at the Nazi rally in Berlin. Vogel is beheaded by the traps guarding the Grail. Kemal tries to blow up the Grail Temple during a comic fight in which gunpowder is repeatedly lit and extinguished. Elsa shoots Henry, then dies drinking from the wrong Grail, and Indiana rescues his father from falling into the chasm while grasping for the Grail. Boam’s revision of March 1 showed Henry causing the seagulls to strike the plane, and has Henry saving Indiana at the end.
Between an undated “Amblin” revision and a rewrite by Tom Stoppard (under the pen name Barry Watson) dated May 8, 1988, further changes were made. Stoppard polished most of the dialogue, and created the “Panama Hat” character to link the prologue’s segments featuring the young and adult Indianas. The Venetian family is cut. Kemal is renamed Kazim and now wants to protect the grail rather than find it. Chandler is renamed Donovan. The scene of Brody being captured is added. Vogel now dies in the tank, while Donovan shoots Henry and then drinks from the false grail, and Elsa falls into the chasm. The Grail trials are expanded to include the stone-stepping and leap of faith.
Principal photography began on May 16, 1988, in the Tabernas Desert in Spain’s Almería province. Spielberg originally had planned the chase to be a short sequence shot over two days, but he drew up storyboards to make the scene an action-packed centerpiece.
Thinking he would not surpass the truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark (because the truck was much faster than the tank), he felt this sequence should be more story-based and needed to show Indiana and Henry helping each other. He later said he had more fun storyboarding the sequence than filming it. The second unit had begun filming two weeks before. After approximately ten days, the production moved to Bellas Artes to film the scenes set in the Sultan of Hatay’s palace. Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park was used for the road, tunnel and beach sequence in which birds strike the plane. The shoot’s Spanish portion wrapped on June 2, 1988, in Guadix, Granada, with filming of Brody’s capture at İskenderun train station. The filmmakers built a mosque near the station for atmosphere, rather than adding it as a visual effect.
A son’s relationship with his estranged father is a common theme in Spielberg’s films, including E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Hook.
The film’s exploration of fathers and sons coupled with its use of religious imagery is comparable to two other 1989 films, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Field of Dreams. Writing for The New York Times, Caryn James felt the combination in these films reflected New Age concerns, where the worship of God was equated to searching for fathers. James felt that neither Indiana or his father is preoccupied with finding the Grail or defeating the evil Nazis, but that, rather, both seek professional respect for one another in their boys’ own adventure. James contrasted the temple’s biblically epic destruction with the more effective and quiet conversation between the Joneses at the film’s end. James noted that Indiana’s mother does not appear in the prologue, being portrayed as already having died before the film’s events began.
The 1912 prologue refers to events in the lives of Indiana’s creators. When Indiana cracks the bullwhip to defend himself against a lion, he accidentally lashes and scars his chin. Ford gained this scar in a car accident as a young man. Indiana taking his nickname from his pet Alaskan Malamute is a reference to the character being named after Lucas’ dog. The train carriage Indiana enters is named “Doctor Fantasy’s Magic Caboose”, which was the name producer Frank Marshall used when performing magic tricks. Spielberg suggested the idea, Marshall came up with the false-bottomed box through which Indiana escapes, and production designer Elliott Scott suggested the trick be done in a single, uninterrupted shot. Spielberg intended the shot of Henry with his umbrella—after he causes the bird strike on the German plane—to evoke Ryan’s Daughter.
The film’s teaser trailer debuted in November 1988 with Scrooged and The Naked Gun. Rob MacGregor wrote the tie-in novelization that was released in June 1989; it sold enough copies to be included on the New York Times Best Seller list. MacGregor went on to write the first six Indiana Jones prequel novels during the 1990s. Following the film’s release, Ford donated Indiana’s fedora and jacket to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
No toys were made to promote the film; Indiana Jones “never happened on the toy level”, said Larry Carlat, senior editor of the journal Children’s Business. Rather, Lucasfilm promoted Indiana as a lifestyle symbol, selling tie-in fedoras, shirts, jackets and watches. Two video games based on the film were released by LucasArts in 1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Action Game. A third game was produced by Taito and released in 1991 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Ryder Windham wrote another novelization, released in April 2008 by Scholastic, to coincide with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Hasbro released toys based on The Last Crusade in July 2008.
The film was released in North America on Wednesday, May 24, 1989, in 2,327 theaters, earning a record $37,031,573 over the 4-day Memorial Day weekend. Its 3-day opening weekend figure of $29,355,021 was surpassed later that year by Ghostbusters II and Batman, which grossed more in its opening 3 days than The Last Crusade in 4. Its Saturday gross of $11,181,429 was the first time a film had made over $10 million. It broke the record for the best seven-day performance, with $50.2 million, added another record with $77 million after twelve days, and earned a $100 million in a record nineteen days. In France, the film broke a record by selling a million admissions within two and a half weeks.
The film eventually grossed $197,171,806 in North America and $277 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $474,171,806. At the time of its release, the film was the 11th highest-grossing film of all time. Despite competition from Batman, The Last Crusade became the highest-grossing film worldwide in 1989. In North America, Batman took top position. Behind Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Raiders, The Last Crusade is the third-highest grossing Indiana Jones film in North America, though it is also behind Temple of Doom when adjusting for inflation. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 49 million tickets in North America.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing; it also received nominations for Best Original Score and Best Sound (Ben Burtt, Gary Summers, Shawn Murphy and Tony Dawe), but lost to The Little Mermaid and Glory respectively. Sean Connery received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Connery and the visual and sound effects teams were also nominated at the 43rd British Academy Film Awards. The film won the 1990 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and was nominated for Best Motion Picture Drama at the Young Artist Awards. John Williams’ score won a BMI Award, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.