The summer of 1984 produced several enduring movies, among them Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and Purple Rain. But none was more highly anticipated than Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, the prequel to 1981’s box office champ, Raiders of the Lost Ark. “If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones,” read the poster, and audiences were calling his name in droves when the second collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas opened on May 23. Thirty years later, we reenter the temple to uncover a few tidbits about the classic yet controversial blockbuster.
1) Behind-the-Scenes Bad Romance
The film begins with the jolliest scene in any of the four Indiana Jones sagas: a Mandarin rendition of “Anything Goes” segues into a beautifully choreographed pursuit of a diamond and an antidote, but then grows progressively darker, with chanting, child-enslaving cultists removing still-beating hearts. Why so much gloom in Doom? Lucas said it was because both filmmakers were going through rough patches on the domestic front as the movie was being made, and the stress bled into the work. Lucas was in the throes of a divorce from his wife Marcia Lou Griffin, one of the Oscar-winning film editors of Star Wars. Spielberg’s relationship woes eventually had a happier ending—he married actress Amy Irving in 1985. The couple split as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released in 1989, and two years later Spielberg wed Kate Capshaw, Doom’s Willie Scot.
2) It’s Based on a True Story
Well, sort of true. The Thuggees commanded by Mola Ram from the bowels of Pankot Palace were in reality a highly organized gang of assassins that criss-crossed India for hundreds of years, garroting victims with kerchiefs. The Guinness Book of World Records says Thuggees may have killed as many as 2 million people over 500 years, though most estimates are more conservative, a mere 50,000 or so. The “thugs” were the villains in the 1939 classic Gunga Din, which screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz had in mind as they wrote the film. Displeased to see them resurrected, and affronted by other stereotypes, the government of India refused location shooting, so Sri Lanka was used instead.
3) Elephants, Insects & Monkey Brains!
Chilled monkey brains for dinner at the palace were less of a problem for Harrison Ford than the elephants he rode on, an activity that severely herniated his discs and led to a production shutdown while he recovered. An elephant also ate one of Capshaw’s dresses. And the 2,000 insects used for one creepy-crawly sequence often stowed away in the hair, clothes, and shoes of the cast and crew.
4) No to Nazis, Yes to Prequels
Prequels weren’t all that common in 1984. But Lucas didn’t want to repeat Nazi villains again, and both he and Spielberg wanted to explore a younger, more callow Jones, whose main interest is “fortune and glory.” Lucas, who revisited the character’s formative years at the start of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and via the 1992 TV show The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, would find far more fortune, at least, with his three Star Wars prequels, which began with The Phantom Menace in 1999.
5) “Doom” by the Numbers.
Produced for $28 million, the movie grossed a record-breaking $45.7 million in its first week of release. Temple of Doom was the third most successful movie of 1984, behind Beverly Hills Cop, a Christmas release, and Ghostbusters. Though it crept its way up to a respectable 84 “fresh” on the Rotten Tomatoes movie review website, it was an uphill battle, as People magazine and many newspapers initially turned thumbs down, and Spielberg later said it had no “personal feeling” behind it.
6) The Birth of PG-13
Temple of Doom’s enduring legacy regards film ratings. Parents upset by the movie's irreverent humor and anarchic violence and the Spielberg-produced Gremlins had the ear of the Motion Picture Association of America, which in July 1984 instituted PG-13, a rating between PG and R. That August, Red Dawn was the first PG-13 release; Capshaw starred in the second, the sci-fi film Dreamscape. Today the lion’s share of fantasy adventures are rated PG-13.
7) Short Round Is 42 Years Old!
Saigon-born Ke Huy Quan, known today as Jonathan Ke Quan, was 12 when cast in his film debut, playing Indy’s cute sidekick Short Round. Quan, who appeared in the Spielberg-produced The Goonies in 1985 and was on the sitcom Head of the Class, is now the same age as Ford when they co-starred in the movie. As the irrepressible “Shorty” would say, “Holy smoke, Dr. Jones!”