Raiders of the Lost Ark Beat Sheet
Cory Milles is a teacher who routinely uses Blake’s ideas to challenge and inspire his students. In addition to being published in the book Lost Thought, he writes YA novels and a blog, Attacking Ideas 101. He used the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet to write his most recent YA novel, Paradox, and will continue to use it on all future stories. You can contact him at [email protected]
I remember my first encounter with Indiana Jones. When I was in elementary school, I rode my bike over to a friend’s house. When I got there, he was watching this adventure movie I had never heard of before. Something about an Ark. It had everything: suspense, adventure, action, explosions… snakes….
I can vividly recall watching Indiana Jones being pummeled by a muscular bad guy while wondering how he was going to get out of that situation. My answer came in the form of an airplane propeller. To a kid, it was the coolest movie scene ever. And Indiana Jones was the greatest movie hero to grace the silver screen. It wasn’t long until I was pretending that I was Indiana Jones, using a baseball hat as my Fedora and a jump rope as my whip. I quickly found out that even though it was a pretend whip, I would still get in trouble for hitting my younger brother with it.
Years later, I was ecstatic to see Indy fight the Nazis again, but this time at a movie theater. The Last Crusade still stands as one of my formative movie-going experiences, and I hope that the stories I write will give my audience the same thrills. But Indy’s presence on the screen is not over yet. By the time this blog is published, I will have my ticket in hand to go see Raiders of the Lost Ark in IMAX. It’s hard to believe that this story’s 30 years old, but I know that even after countless viewings, the adventure will still be just as exciting and mesmerizing as it was the first time around.
Raiders of the Lost Ark continues to resonate with viewers so many years later because of its epic scope. In fact, Raiders best fits the Golden Fleece genre, falling into what Blake called an “Epic Fleece.” It has a “road” that Indy and his allies embark upon, full of obstacles to overcome. The “team” is small, made up of simply Indiana Jones, Marion, and Sallah. And it also has the ultimate “prize,” the Ark that is sought by one of history’s greatest monsters. The journey is not without its “road apple,” either, as the Nazis take the Ark from Indy not once, but twice.
And yet, Indiana Jones embodies some elements of the Superhero genre. He’s a People’s Superhero much like Maximus in Gladiator. Even though he’s a normal man, there’s something extraordinary about him. After all, not many archaeologists can outrun giant boulders, stare down cobras, blow up an airplane, drag themselves under a moving vehicle, and fight a small army in a single journey.
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan
Story: George Lucas and Philip Kaufman
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
1. Opening Image: The Paramount Pictures logo fades and is replaced by a mountain in South America. This is where we meet our intrepid archaeologist. As the explorers move through the dense jungle, we only catch a glimpse of his silhouette, framed by a fedora and a whip at his side. But once he steps out of the shadows and uses that whip to knock a gun out of a guide’s hand, we understand that he is no ordinary hero. And by the end of the story, he will face obstacles like no one has faced before.
2. Theme Stated: The theme is hinted at when we see Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) teaching his college students. During the lecture, he mentions that one of the great dangers of archaeology is folklore. Later, as he speaks with friend and mentor Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) about the search for the Ark of the Covenant, Marcus warns Indy not to take the Ark lightly. Although Indy doesn’t believe in “magic, a lot of superstitious hocus-pocus,” the theme is that there are some powers that man was not meant to wield. As Indy will soon discover, there is truth to the religious stories.
3. Set-Up: From the first frame, we come to understand the peril Jones faces. After arriving at the South American temple in search of a fertility idol, he dodges darts, leaps across pits, rolls under stone doors, and outruns a massive boulder. And that’s only in the first few minutes. He stumbles into tribe members of the Hovitos, and unfortunately his archaeological nemesis, Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), has gotten to them first. Belloq declares, “There is nothing you possess that I cannot take.” As Belloq steals the idol from him, we also have our “Save the Cat” moment; we want to root for Indy because despite his tough exterior, he’s an underdog. And surprisingly, he’s afraid of snakes.
As the scene transitions to his college, we get to see a bit of Indy’s alter-ego, Dr. Henry Jones. He’s a popular professor, especially among the female students. He lectures them about archaeology with an enthusiasm that makes the audience wish they were sitting in that classroom, too. But he won’t be staying to teach for much longer, because his friend Marcus comes through the door with news about visitors.
4. Catalyst: Men who will only identify themselves as being “Army Intelligence” have come to Dr. Jones seeking help for something top secret.
5. Debate: Knowing that Dr. Jones is an expert on the occult and an “obtainer of rare antiquities,” they question him about his knowledge regarding Abner Ravenwood. Indy admits that he doesn’t know much anymore about his former mentor, and he is surprised to learn that Ravenwood’s name is found in Nazi documents. Jones learns that Hitler is obsessed with archaeology, and more specifically is obsessed with religious artifacts. Ravenwood is rumored to possess the headpiece of the Staff of Ra, an artifact that will reveal the location of the lost Ark of the Covenant.
Jones gives the intelligence men a history lesson on the Ark, suggesting that it might be in the Well of Souls. If the Nazis obtain the headpiece, they can locate the Well of Souls, and therefore find the Ark. Brody summarizes the severity of the situation: an army that carries the Ark before it will be invincible. The task now falls to Indy to retrieve the Ark before the Nazis do.
At his house, Indy and Marcus discuss the ramifications of the quest. Indy wants to make sure that the museum will be able to get the Ark after the government is done studying it, but Marcus warns him not to take the Ark so lightly. Will Indy be able to find the Ark before the Nazis do? And if so, will it simply be a find of great historical significance… or something much more?
6. Break into Two: At 23 minutes, Indy sets off on his journey to Nepal. The plane flies across a superimposed image of a map while the “Raiders March” plays, and he finally sets foot in Nepal.
7. B Story: In Nepal, the audience is introduced to Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), who is busy winning a drinking contest. As Indy’s silhouette appears on the wall behind Marion, she is surprised and seems happy to see him. That is, until she punches him in the face and berates him for his past mistakes.
8. Fun & Games: After kicking Indiana out of the bar, Marion is greeted by Toht, a Nazi who seems to have a thing for red-hot fire pokers. Marion refuses to tell him where the medallion is. Indy returns and a firefight ensues, ultimately resulting in Marion’s bar burning down.
Marion accompanies Indiana Jones to Cairo, where he meets up with his friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). Unfortunately, he also learns that Belloq is there. Sallah reinforces the theme, telling Indy that the Ark is something man was not meant to disturb, and that death always surrounds it. A man who has been using his pet monkey to spy on Indy and Marion leads the Nazis to them, and sword-wielding assassins chase them through the marketplace. While hiding in a basket, Marion is taken and placed upon a truck, one that Indy watches explode before his very eyes.
While drowning his sorrows, he is brought before Belloq. Indy resents the idea that he and Belloq are the same when Belloq tells him, “I am a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me, to push you out of the light.” And whereas Indiana Jones believes the Ark is just a historical artifact, Belloq asserts that it is a “radio to talk to God.” After having the staff headpiece read and analyzed, Indy learns that the Nazis are digging for the Well of Souls in the wrong place; there is hope, after all! He narrowly averts “death by bad dates” and sets out to use the Map Room to find the correct site.
9. Midpoint: The Nazis tell Belloq that the Fuhrer is not patient while waiting for him to find the Ark and deliver it. This time clock indicates that the stakes have been raised. Meanwhile, Indiana Jones arrives in the Map Room to use the Staff of Ra at a precise time of day, watching with wonder as a beam of light reveals the location of the Well of Souls. Sneaking out past the Nazis, he hides in a tent and finds Marion alive. A and B Stories cross as Indy finds victory, but it is a false victory. He must leave Marion behind in the hands of her captors.
10. Bad Guys Close In: The Nazis reveal their plan to use Toht to “convince” Marion to give them information about Jones and his whereabouts. Meanwhile, Indy and Sallah gather a crew of men to dig for the Well of Souls. When they find it, only more danger awaits at the bottom: poisonous asps. To locate the greatest find in history, Indy must face his greatest fear. While he stares into the eyes of a cobra, Marion faces a different snake, Rene Belloq. Engaging him in a drinking game similar to the one earlier, she tries to escape, only to fail.
Indiana also fails, because after he and Sallah raise the Ark to the surface, the rope is dropped down. Belloq and the Nazis have found him, and once again Belloq proves that he can take anything from Indy. Marion is thrown into the Well of Souls, and the way out is covered with a slab. Torches begin to burn out. Venomous snakes emerge from a hollow wall. Determined, Indy crashes a statue through the wall to escape this ordeal.
Indy and Marion hurry toward a plane in an attempt to escape. They soon find themselves racing from it as it explodes, but not before a muscular henchman meets a similarly explosive fate from the airplane’s propeller. Admittedly making it up as he goes along, Indy sets off on horseback, chasing a truck that is carrying the Ark. After a harrowing display of heroics, Indy returns with the Ark, and he and Marion board a steamer with it.
11. All Is Lost: The Nazis are as determined as Dr. Jones, though, and are not willing to let the Ark slip from their hands. Stopping the steamer, they take the Ark aboard their submarine, along with Marion. Moments earlier, the “whiff of death” was in the air as a rat struggled and died next to the wooden crate carrying the Ark, a blackened burn mark taking the place of the Nazi swastika.
12. Dark Night of the Soul: It doesn’t take Indy long to decide what to do. After hiding from the Nazis, he jumps into the water and swims to the submarine to save Marion.
13. Break into Three: Once again, the familiar map scene shows the path of the submarine as it arrives at a small island. Indy’s journey is almost complete, but he will have to face evil one final time.
-Gathering the Team: Indy is alone, and his only plan is getting Marion back. He beats up an officer and takes his clothes, sneaking in among the enemy’s ranks.
-Storming the Castle: He gains the high ground, and with a bazooka, he holds Marion’s captors at bay, threatening to destroy the Ark unless they give her back.
-High-Tower Surprise: But Belloq knows Jones all too well and calls his bluff. Jones is captured and tied up with Marion to a pole as they stand at the mountain top. Belloq and the Nazis open the Ark. At first, it seems that it is filled with nothing but ancient dust, but the sky soon erupts with flashes of lightning, and spirits emerge from the Ark.
-“Dig, Deep Down”: Indy must now determine whether or not he believes in the stories of the Ark’s power. He tells Marion to keep her eyes shut no matter what happens. They are about to understand that man was not meant to wield this power.
-Executing the New Plan: Fighting any urges to open their eyes, Indy and Marion listen to the screams of the men as the Angel of Death destroys them. Soon, it is over, and the Ark is closed. The Power is contained once again.
15. Final Image: Back home, Indy probes the Army Intelligence officials for information on where they took the Ark. They refuse to tell him, and as he leaves, he tells Marion that they have no idea what they’re dealing with.
The final scene shows a man rolling the crate containing the Ark down an aisle, and as the scene pans out to a wide shot, we see that it is in a massive warehouse full of similar crates. And we are left to wonder: what else could be lurking in there?
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Thank you so much for the beat sheet. I’m going to get the Indiana Jones movie Monday and watch it again. You are a superb writer if you write as good as you gave us the beats. I am on a script that I think is going to be hot. If it doesn’t fly quickly I will switch to writing books simply because books are more excepted here on the East Coast.
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This is a fantastic breakdown. Thank you.
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EXCELLENT work, Cory!