Indiana Jones Imitators, Ranked From Worst to Best

Dora the Explorer, The Mummy, National Treasure, Jungle Cruise

Image: Paramount, Universal, Walt Disney Pictures

With Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opening this week, here’s a look back on movies and television that aimed to capture that same artifact-heist genre gold that started with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Often imitated but never replicated, the Harrison Ford-starring Lucasfilm Indiana Jones franchise set the blueprint for action adventures surrounding often mystical MacGuffins. There have been countless Indy imitators over the years, usually featuring a brains-and-brawn team-up facing perilous obstacles as they venture out to find the goods. To keep things io9, we’re going to focus on the ones with overt genre flair—so here’s our ranking of Indiana Jones dupes, from worst to best.

What a heap of a mess that’s going to be lost to the sands of time. The Jake Gyllenhaal-starring Prince of Persia video game adaptation was doomed from the moment the leads slathered on brown face and tried to make this derivative and woefully light-on-substance movie work.

Tom Cruise could never be Harrison Ford or Brendan Fraser. He needs to keep running in the other direction away from this bleak and bland attempt at trying to pull a Marvel on the Universal Monsters. Ah, the failed Dark Universe.

Another video game adaptation, the 2018 Tomb Raider was a stilted and mid movie that failed to capture the Indiana Jones-style camp its predecessor did. So bland!

Video game movies—yep, here’s another one for this list—don’t often work, and this is recent proof of that. Not even the popular Uncharted franchise, which many hoped would be the rare success, could pull it off, with fans feeling that Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg were miscast as Nathan and Sully.

The National Treasure franchise is an interesting one. The movies have a solid fan following, but few showed up for the Disney+ spin-off series, which had an interesting premise following a young woman’s journey into unraveling colonized narratives to find the truth about her family’s past as well as the foundation of America. The young cast was endearing enough on their quirky quests—including one that had them infiltrating Elvis’ Graceland—but without Nicolas Cage as Ben Gates, the support wasn’t there, and the series ended after one season.

Indiana Jones, but make it “stealing the Declaration of Independence.” The premise was good enough for a pair of Nicolas Cage-starring films, which found an audience even if some were bored whenever they leaned too hard into history lessons. Still, Cage as a founding father’s descendant with a penchant for snatching artifacts spawned enough quotables and memes to solidify the series as a distant pop-culture cousin to Dr. Jones.

Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft is unmatched. Sure, the script for this movie is a whole disaster, but Jolie nailed the role and action so much we’re willing to overlook it. It’s (yet another) video game adaptation, but this one worked solely off the lead’s ability to make the franchise character leap from pixels to the big screen. She embodies the character the same way Ford embodies Jones, so for that alone, Tomb Raider gets props.

Okay, hear me out: the story in The Jungle Cruise follows the right formula for what makes an action-adventure film work. It’s got a fabled fortune, romantic comedy chops (who doesn’t Emily Blunt have chemistry with?), the Rock’s brawn and charisma, and some solid danger. Yeah, it goes off the deep end at times (like that weird Metallica orchestral moment), but overall this is a fun one.

The Goonies gives us every kid’s dream: living an Indiana Jones adventure with their best friends. (Bonus points because one of its stars also appears in an actual Indiana Jones adventure.)

As someone who used to find the Dora the Explorer cartoon very cringe, I was not expecting how awesome Dora and The Lost City of Gold turned out to be. It’s an underrated gem starring Madame Web’s Isabella Merced, who makes Dora all her own while also taking definite inspiration from Indiana Jones. The whole movie feels like a Young Indiana Jones adventure but just centering a different family—filled with necessary themes about cultural theft and how anyone can be a hero. This should have spun off more movies!

That time Marvel made its own Indiana Jones-in-a-very-meta-way superhero, with Oscar Isaac playing Moon Knight and all his personalities in Disney+’s riveting, action-packed mystery box of a show. Co-star May Calamawy broke out as not just a romantic lead opposite Isaac (with Rick and Evie from The Mummy vibes), but really carved out a heroine all her own to root for.

The Rock may have a few entries among the action-adventure films mentioned on this list, and he’s part of a great cast here, but what makes Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle work so well is the clever way filmmaker Jake Kasdan (son of Raiders scribe Lawrence Kasdan) takes a game from a movie based on a book, and turns it into a video game that sucks in kids from the real world to live out an in-game adventure. Even better, the kids’ avatars take the form of archeological action-story archetypes that somehow both subvert and perfectly match the stars cast to play them. Jack Black as a teenage girl is perfection.

No one since Indy and Marion have done it like Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz as Rick and Evie in The Mummy movies. The action, the horror, the quests, those alarming CGI sandstorm faces, the gross-out beetles, the bickering, and the romance was all there. Losing Fraser and Weisz (sorry, the Rock in The Scorpion King) really fumbled what could have been Universal’s Indiana Jones competitor—though we’re still hoping the duo will return for a new Mummy adventure one of these days.


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