Indiana Jones and the Need to Be a Leader Among Never-Die Franchises

By  · Published on March 16th, 2016

With yet another confirmation this week that Indiana Jones 5 is happening, albeit now with an official release date (July 19, 2019) from Disney, it’s worth looking at the future of this franchise in the context of current movie franchise trends. It’s now certain that Harrison Ford will be back as Indy, reuniting once again with series-constant helmer Steven Spielberg, and that presumably means it’ll be about an old man adventuring his way through the 1970s – if we take Ford’s age to be the same as his character’s, though he was 66 playing 58 the last time. One thing it won’t be, or shouldn’t be, is another torch-passing legacy sequel.

The reason for this is simple: it was already done. Well, attempted. The last installment, 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull pretty much kicked off the current thread of torch passing – or attempts – in movie series, continued with Star Trek, Tron: Legacy, X-Men: First Class, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Dark Knight Rises, A Good Day to Die Hard and up through last fall’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Creed. It wasn’t the first of its kind (here’s looking at you, Smokey and the Bandit 3 – even if you only went a year younger for your legacy), but it was the leader of a nearly decade-long wave.

By the time Indiana Jones 5 does arrive, it will have been more than 10 years, and hopefully the legacy sequel thing will be dying out anyway. Same goes for the remakequel concept, which Kingdom of the Crystal Skull also kind of did long before The Force Awakens with its return to the same relic featured in the original installment, Raiders of the Lost Ark, through to the villain burning up into nothing while gazing upon a supernatural force. There are fewer parallels than the Star Wars and Rocky remakequels have to their originals, but it’s enough of a throwback/callback nostalgia feeder that it might as well open with Indy running from an even bigger boulder.

Another way that Indiana Jones 5 might go is akin to what’s going on separately in the Star Wars franchise with its young Han Solo anthology standalone origin prequel thing. Ford could appear for just a bookending role in the next movie. He actually did that already in the 1990s TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (specifically the episode titled “The Mystery of the Blues,” see below), which normally pulled this gimmick with 76-year-old George Hall playing 93-year-old Indy. And like that series, a younger actor – it would be weird if not the same guy playing young Solo – would play Indy for the main plot, preferably taking place in the 1930s or 1940s so he can fight the Nazis again.

But even then, never mind that the TV show already went there, the movie series will just seem to be copying Die Hard, the next installment of which will have Bruce Willis reprising his role as John McClane only to flash back to his days as a young cop in 1970s New York. And by the time summer 2019 rolls around, we’ll probably also see such never-die franchises as Taken, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean, Resident Evil and Transformers (Optimus Prime reminiscing of being a little Tonka truck back on Cybertron) have flashback sequel/prequel hybrid installments either released or in development. So, no thank you to that direction.

What should Indiana Jones 5 do, then? What should it be? That’s not really for me to pitch, at least not if the point is to be a fresh innovator. But here is a kind of novel idea: just let it be a regular ol’ Indiana Jones movie. Sure, there were only really two of those before it turned into a son and father buddy cop routine followed by a father and son torch-passing situation. It doesn’t have to be temporally relevant to anything in history. He doesn’t have to meet Nixon or go to Vietnam. Instead, have it be as isolated as Temple of Doom. Except for the obligatory acknowledgment of his wife and son at some point. Actually, just for the nostalgia-addicts, bring back Short Round as a character. Why not?

Will it be weird seeing a 76-year-old actor in the sort of action we expect in an Indiana Jones movie? Or a 68-year-old character, if that’s where they go with it? Well, Jones did drink from the Holy Grail, which may have extended his life and energy a bit. Don’t tell me his exact mortality ended the moment he went beyond the great seal, because doing so didn’t suddenly make his father start dying again. The one cup full of water wouldn’t make Jones forever immortal but we can presume it gave him a few extra decades of life than had he not drank from the Grail (and we’ve seen that he at least lives into his 90s). Maybe Ford can’t do his own stunts, but there’s no reason to believe the character too frail for some running, jumping and swinging.

NEXT: Independence Day: Resurgence Leads Another Year of Remake Sequels

Still, what if Indiana Jones 5 wanted to slow things down a bit? What if the best way for the franchise to lead or just do its own thing is to not even bother being such an action-oriented blockbuster? Jones could just as easily be on the hunt for some mysterious artifact in a manner more akin to a pulpy detective story than a pulpy adventure tale. It can still be a global trek. It can still have villains. Maybe less swinging. Definitely no fridge riding.

And if they want to show us how Jones gets his eye patch, in case this is Ford’s last go with the character, that’s cool, too. Fans had been hoping to see the patch’s origins in part four, so now they deserve to know. Unless Disney has deemed the TV series non-canon, in which case never mind.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.