Harrison Ford was not the first choice to play Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark but who else was considered for the iconic adventurer?
Harrison Ford became a household name in the 1980s for playing Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg’s classic Raiders of The Lost Ark, but he wasn’t the only actor considered for the role. Raiders of The Lost Ark became a global sensation after its release, becoming 1981’s highest-grossing film with a whopping $330 million worldwide haul. Not only was it a blockbuster hit, but the film also received critical acclaim for its directing, cast, revival of serial films, and enthralling action. Its success launched three direct sequels, video games, comic books, and a TV series.
Raiders of The Lost Ark, based on a story by director George Lucas, premiered in 1981 as Spielberg’s sixth movie. The story follows Indiana Jones, a 1936 world-traveling archaeologist who finds himself battling the Nazis for the recovery of the mystical Ark of the Covenant. Jones’ ex-girlfriend Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) assists him in stopping another archaeologist, Dr. René Belloq (Paul Freeman), from leading Hitler and the Nazis to the Ark rumored to make armies invincible.
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At the time, Harrison Ford was already in the global consciousness for starring as Han Solo in the first two Star Wars installments, but it was unknown if he could carry a big-budget film as its lead. Spielberg initially wanted Ford for the role, but Lucas was hesitant as he had already collaborated with Ford on Star Wars and American Graffiti. Before eventually giving in, the production team had to look at other possibilities, including many big action and comedy names of the 1970s like Tom Selleck and Peter Coyote.
It seems that early casting decisions may have leaned towards the comedic side of Indy, with persistent rumors linking ’70s comedy legends Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Steve Martin all considered for the role. The latter apparently turned the film down to make Pennies From Heaven. At the time, all had been either frequent guests or cast members of Saturday Night Live, with no previous action/adventure roles. Nick Mancuso (Ticket to Heaven), John Shea (Missing, Windy City), and Tim Matheson (Animal House, 1941) also went through the audition process before being beaten out by Ford, as confirmed by Empire.
One big-name actor who turned down the role was Jack Nicholson, according to Moviefone. Had the casting come off, his Indy may have been so terrifying that it was comedic. It’s hard to picture Nicholson as the charming, muscular archaeologist when his previous roles included playing the horrifying Jack Torrence in The Shining a year prior. Another candidate who turned down the role was Nick Nolte (per Digital Spy) who had previously starred in action and adventure films such as The Deep and Who’ll Stop the Rain. Peter Coyote, who would go on to play the scientist “Keys” in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the next year, was also considered by Spielberg.
Tom Selleck is the biggest casting what-if for Indiana Jones, as Ford admitted himself to Parade, apparently favored by George Lucas’ wife and frequent film editor, Marcia Lucas, to play the main role. Lucas and Spielberg reportedly agreed on going ahead with Selleck as the lead after his successful screen test, but when Magnum, P.I. was greenlit by CBS in 1980, Selleck’s contract wouldn’t release him to film Raiders of The Lost Ark. The news of his near-miss casting even inspired a Deepfake video showing how brilliant he may have been in the role.
With Raiders of the Lost Ark celebrating its 40th anniversary and another sequel on the way, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford portraying Indiana Jones throughout the franchise. The only other actor to portray the character in the films is River Phoenix, as a teenage Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Thankfully, Harrison Ford is now set to reprise the role in Indiana Jones 5, which is slated to be released by Disney in July 2022.
- Indiana Jones 5 (2022)Release date: Jul 29, 2022
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