Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny: What Happened to this Movie?

With Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny solidified as a major box office disappointment, we try to figure out how the franchise ended with such a whimper.

Last Updated on May 3, 2024

The year was 1973; George Lucas had just finished writing the screenplay for what would be his hit coming-of-age story American Graffiti. A poster on a wall caught his eye, an image of a dream of the old serialized films he enjoyed as a child. Films such as Buck Rogers, Zorro’s Fighting Legion and Spy Smasher flashed through his brain as he had the idea of bringing that type of B-level hero to the big screen. He would take this idea and flesh out a story of a college professor who moonlit as an archeologist adventurer. Little did he know that simple idea would yield one of the greatest and most enduring franchises in movie history as his character Indiana Jones has gone on to appear in five feature films over the course of 42 years that have grossed nearly $2 billion at the worldwide box office. For many, any time the character graces the screen, it is cause for celebration, but it would seem that the years have not been kind to the fedora-wearing hero as his last adventure was met with a giant shoulder shrug by audiences. With his final adventure in our rear views, it’s time we take a look at just What Happened to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

Launched on June 12, 1981, Raiders of the Lost Ark would become an instant, generation-defining smash. It would come to be heralded as one of the best films ever made, being recognized by the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry as a film with great historical, cultural and/or aesthetic value. I’m sure Tom Selleck was happy for the film’s success, even if it was supposed to be him starring as the heroic archeologist who was originally named Indiana Smith after George Lucas’ dog. You see, Selleck was committed to the show Magnum, P.I at the time, director Steven Spielberg and Producer George Lucas asked CBS studios to let Selleck out of his contract just ten days early so they could shoot the movie, but CBS decided that the filmmakers asking for Selleck meant he was in demand and quickly moved forward with their series, forcing Selleck to drop out of the film and the filmmakers to turn to a man known for another iconic George Lucas-created role: Harrison Ford.

With the success of Raiders, the studio quickly greenlit the original trilogy that George Lucas had pitched, although he didn’t actually have three fully fleshed-out stories to tell. So he and Spielberg returned to the drawing board to devise a worthy follow-up. Temple of Doom‘s story was a darker one, which both men attribute to the fact that at the time of its development, they were both going through relationship issues that saw them have a bleaker outlook on the world. The film- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom would open on May 23, 1984, and garner a record-breaking opening week of $45.7 million on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film of the year at the worldwide box office with $333.1 million. Yet, more importantly, this is the film that created the PG13 rating. At the time of its release, there was no rating between PG and R, and as this one didn’t quite deserve an R rating, it was given a PG, which many parents took issue with as it featured some pretty extreme violence for the twelve and under crowd. Spielberg himself would lobby the MPAA for an intermediary rating between the PG and R, and two months later, the PG13 was introduced, with Red Dawn becoming the first theatrically released film to garner the rating. 

Despite the accolades and fortune heaped upon Temple of Doom, its detractors still objected to the film’s darker tone. Spielberg heard those criticisms and decided to make the next film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a more lighthearted endeavour. They did this by adding the old father/ son dynamic with Sean Connery cast as Indiana’s father, Henry Jones Sr. The film would be released on May 24, 1989, where again it broke records, raking in over $37 million for the Memorial Day weekend. Ultimately topping out at over $474.1 million worldwide, Last Crusade would follow in its predecessor’s footsteps by becoming the highest-grossing film at the worldwide box office that year (it even beat Batman). 

And so the highly profitable franchise had come to its inevitable conclusion – or so it seemed. Of course, they would try to bring the series to the small screen in 1992 by creating The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles starring Sean Patrick Flannery, but with the show’s high production budget and unimpressive ratings, it was cancelled after just a single season. They would bring it back to TV a few years later by releasing a string of made-for-TV movies (Young Indiana Jones and the Hollywood Follies, Young Indiana Jones and the Treasure of the Peacock’s Eye, Young Indiana Jones and the Attack of the Hawkmen and Young Indiana Jones: Travels with Father) but ultimately people just wanted another big screen adventure.

Indiana Jones

In actuality, there were plans for more big-screen adventures in the works since Lucas and Spielberg made their first deals with Paramount. They had originally signed a five-picture deal in 1979; however, after Last Crusade,Lucas couldn’t think of a good enough plot device to bring the character back. That is why they turned their attention to the Young Indiana Jones TV series, and even though that series was short-lived, it did help fuel the jet for the next big screen adventure. While filming the series, Harrison Ford would return for a single episode where he narrated his 1920’s adventure while in a 1950s Wyoming setting. When filming this scene, Lucas realized that this scene was a great entry point to telling a story of an older Indiana Jones, one set in the 1950s that could feature that old B-movie magic that Lucas thought of when he originally conceived the idea. He felt that the original trilogy was inspired by the 1930s Saturday Matinee serials; the new stories could take their cue from 1950’s B-movies such as It Came From Outer Space and Them! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when George Lucas decided the next Indiana Jones film would feature aliens! 

Scripts for the next Indiana Jones adventure were written as early as 1993, and both Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg resisted the urge to make an alien movie. Lucas tried to explain to them that Indiana Jones was more than just a man looking for some artifact; it could be a franchise that explored different genres with each adventure as the fantastical nature of the stories lent themselves to opening up the world beyond what we had already seen. By March 1996, several versions of the new script had been written. Still, then something happened that put the ultimate kibosh on making an Indiana Jones movie that hinged on aliens: Independence Day was released just a few months later, with Spielberg flat-out telling Lucas he would not make an alien invasion movie after seeing the Roland Emmerich directed blockbuster. 

Ultimately, the visionaries would reunite at a 2000 tribute to Harrison Ford, where they all agreed they missed working together. This would lead Lucas and Spielberg to sit down and really hammer out the details for the new film, with Lucas convincing Spielberg that using aliens could still be grounded in reality as Crystal Skulls were actual ancient Aztec relics that many believed to have been alien in nature. For someone like George Lucas, that’s all you need to craft a story of the world’s most famous archeologist going after an ancient artifact that was alien in nature. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull would be released on May 22, 2008, 27 years after the original film hit theaters. Although the film would garner strong box office revenue: $790.6 million worldwide, it was met with audiences questioning the choice to use aliens as a plot device. For many, it felt like it just didn’t ring true to who and what Indiana Jones was. Despite some of the fantastical elements of the original trilogy, they all seemed to be grounded in reality and throwing in aliens seemed a little too fantastical for an Indiana Jones adventure. 

So with that level of disappointment in what could have been the final adventure of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones on the big screen, the creative team of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Harrison Ford began working on a concept for a new film. Ford said that he felt the ending of Crystal Skull was good but didn’t actually feel like an ending for the character. Sure, he got married to the love of his life, Marion Ravenwood, but he didn’t feel like it closed out the character the way he wanted it to. So Lucas again would go away to conceive of a new story; he still liked the idea of using some MacGuffin that was supernatural as a way to drive the story but needed to find a way to keep it grounded in reality, saying that you can not just have Indy go out into the woods and stumble across a time machine! 

Of course, while Lucas was pondering where to take Indiana Jones on his next adventure, he was on a grand adventure himself, deciding to sell his vast empire, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Company for over $4 billion. With his sale, Lucas would take a step back from the creative process for all of his creations, including Star Wars and Indiana Jones. While many speculated that Lucas was not involved in the new Indiana Jones film process, Spielberg set the record straight by saying that there would never be an Indiana Jones movie without George Lucas involvement and that he would remain attached to the project as an Executive Producer. 

With a new script in the works from writer David Koepp, a release date of 2019 was set, however, by early 2018, no final script had been approved, and Lucasfilm hired writer Jonathan Kasdan to come on board to try and figure out the story, and the film would be pushed back to 2021. Of course, by mid 2019, Kasdan had left the project with Koepp rejoining the team. By February 2020, Spielberg, who had helmed all the previous entries in the franchise, decided he wanted to pass the film off to a new filmmaker to infuse it with a fresh perspective. By May 2020, Logan and Ford v Ferrari director James Mangold was confirmed to have taken over directing duties, with the director and star Harrison Ford having previously worked together on the 2020 film The Call of the Wild,which Mangold produced. Mangold was originally reluctant to sign on for the film as Kathleen Kennedy wanted to keep the 2021 release date, and that meant that Mangold would have to be ready to shoot within six months of signing on, without an approved script yet finished. What helped assuage Mangold’s fears of a rushed production? The Covid 19 pandemic! The pandemic shut down all production for a period of time, giving Mangold the necessary time to help write the script and have a proper pre-production.

Mangold would bring on his Ford v Ferrari screenwriters, brothers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. Throughout the entire time the film had been in the works it would seem George Lucas’ original idea of introducing time travel to the franchise never wavered. But it was Mangold who really honed in on how they could have that concept used properly in an Indiana Jones adventure by keeping it steeped in reality. 

Enter the Antikythera Mechanism. An ancient piece of machinery used during the Hellenistic time period of 323 B.C to 30 B.C which was discovered in 1901 off the coast of Antikythera, Greece in a shipwreck of a Roman Cargo Ship believed to have sunk between 70 and 60 B.C. The heavily damaged and degraded piece of machinery was believed to have been used to predict solar eclipses decades in advance as well as track the orbit of the sun and the moon. So now that there was an actual relic in existence that had the faintest hint of time travel associated with it, Mangold and his writers did what all great creative do: they filled in the rest by adding that this machine, which had not yet been given its theatrical name, could detect fissures in time. Mangold said this wasn’t more of a wild swing than the previous films that featured ghouls flying out of boxes and people’s faces melting off. He said that the Indiana Jones films are built on the fusion of fantasy and reality. From what may have been to what is impossible. But Mangold knew who he had to impress first and foremost with his story, so he would send George Lucas and Steven Spielberg pages every few months to get their input.

Indiana Jones

Prior to the films production several rumors were floating around that the studio was looking to pass off the character to a new actor to portray for future adventures. Whether that meant a new actor playing the actual role of Indiana Jones or Ford passing the torch to a new character was never made clear. Names like Shia LaBeouf and Chris Pratt were floated, with LaBeouf being a natural successor as he played Indiana and Marion’s son, Mutt Williams/ Henry Jones III in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. However, LaBeouf’s offscreen antics seem to have negated him from the role. For a time, it did seem that Hollywood “it boy” Chris Pratt would be the one to take up the fedora and whip, but all of that seemed to be internet speculation with no actual fire beneath it. Franchise producers Frank Marshall and Steven Spielberg both said they never even considered replacing Ford in the titular role, with Ford even saying, “I am Indiana Jones. When I’m gone, he’s gone.”

Perhaps the idea wasn’t to replace Indiana Jones but to create a new character that could carry the franchise with further adventures. Enter Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who came on board to play Indiana’s never mentioned before god-daughter Helena while also helping punch up the script, something she was more than suited for as she is a multiple Emmy Award winner for her writing on the shows Killing Eve and Fleabag as well as helping bring to a close another iconic character, with the James Bond film No Time To Die

By April 2021, things were starting to fall in line with casting in full bloom as names such as Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Kretschmann, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Shaunette Renee Wilson and Antonio Banderas being cast in undisclosed roles. Soon after it was announced that John Rhys-Davies would also reprise his role of Sallah. At the same time, two names remained suspiciously absent from any casting notices: Karen Allen who played Indiana Jones’s now wife Marion Ravenwood and Shia LaBeouf who played the couple’s son. For Allen, her absence would remain a mystery until the first screenings when it was revealed she was indeed in the film, albeit in a glorified cameo. For Karen Allen, this was a bittersweet ending to her time in the series. She loved the fact that she was able to take part in the concluding chapter but would reveal in interviews that originally her role was much larger in earlier scripts and that when James Mangold took over the project and rewrote the script, her role took a dramatic decline. She attributes her lack of screen time to the writers trying to figure out how to handle the character played by Shia LaBeouf. 

After the release of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, LaBeouf decided to go full LaBeouf and criticize both the film and Steven Spielberg by saying that the Oscar-winning filmmaker was “less a director than he is a f*cking company.” Essentially saying he was disappointed working with the legendary director, saying that Spielberg had lost his artistic integrity and that Spielberg ran his sets more mechanically and contrived, even going a step further and saying that he hated every film he made with Spielberg except the first Transformers, which Spielberg executive produced.

For his part, Mangold says that LaBeouf’s comments had no factor in him not writing the character into his film but that he felt the Mutt Williams character did not work in the previous film. He thought about just having the son off at war but didn’t like the idea of having a character in the film that is never seen, saying that it felt almost like a sad purgatory for the character. So he decided to kill him off and use that as a plot point for some added drama with the lead characters. For Karen Allen, that plot point meant that the filmmakers needed to reduce her role in the film to add that drama to the characters as the death of their son drove a wedge between them, making their reconciliation at the end of the film much more impactful. But still, we have spent 40 years falling in love with these two characters together, and splitting them up for the final adventure was just one example of how Dial of Destiny seemed to miss the creative mark.

After nearly 15 years of false starts, on June 4, 2021, a new Indiana Jones film had finally begun production at the sound stages at Pinewood Studios near London, England. It would be a different shoot than any of the previous ones, not just because they were filming in the middle of a global pandemic that saw new protocols instilled, but also because they were dealing with a star that was in his late 70s who could lead to any number of issues. Which it did when Ford reportedly injured his shoulder rehearsing a fight scene and the production was forced to shoot around the injury to give Ford time to heal. The film would shoot for a gruelling eight and a half months and would be a globe-trotting affair with locations in Glasgow, Italy and even the Mediterranean Sea, with the final day of shooting on February 26, 2022, back at Pinewood Studios.

The film would cost a reported $295 million. To put that into perspective, the budget of the original trilogy, which all three films added together, was just $97 million (not adjusted for inflation). This one film cost nearly $200 million more than the entirety of the original trilogy! 

With the film in the can and fans eagerly awaiting the final adventure of one of their favorite characters, one thing that hadn’t yet been released was the film’s actual title. The subtitles of a film can generally give you a slight indication of the plot, and there is no franchise that uses those subtitles to greater effect than Indiana Jones. So on November 23, 2022, the day before Thanksgiving in the United States, Disney dropped the official title for the new film: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Intriguing! It would be just a week later that fans got their first look at this new adventure when the studio released the first teaser trailer for the film which did exactly what a teaser trailer should do: got fans excited that a new Indiana Jones adventure was coming soon!

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Around this time, reports of disastrous test screenings started making their way online. A random YouTuber started posting tips from his own personal Hollywood spy that said Disney was so disappointed with the film that they demanded reshoots and that after the reshoots, the film was still a genuine “shit show” that would forever tarnish the legacy of Indiana Jones. The person said that the studio had held test screenings where they tested six different endings and that the best score they ever received was 35%. James Mangold saw these claims and quickly took to Twitter to set the record straight, stating that there had been zero test screenings of the film. But the internet wouldn’t let it go and told Mangold he was wrong. And whereas a director can certainly lie to protect their product, the one thing that was repeatedly said in these Internet rumors was that at the end of the film, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character puts on the fedora in all six endings, something Mangold flat out denied and for those of us who have seen the movie: No one but Harrison Ford wears that fedora! So what did we learn? Don’t trust the internet! Except for us here at Joblo, we do the research to get to the actual truth and don’t peddle in internet rumors!

The film would make its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in late May 2023, where reports quickly came out that the film received a lukewarm reception. Many noted that the film only received a 5-minute standing ovation, which sounds good, but those same reports noted that the reception was more of a polite formality than actual praise for the film. Reactions to the film began making their way online, with many saying that the humour in the film didn’t work and that despite the film being perfectly fine, it wasn’t worthy of being an Indiana Jones film. Of course, it wasn’t all bad; some first reactions hailed the film as an instant classic and a fitting send-off for one of the screen’s most enduring heroes.

And then, the review embargo was lifted. Reviews began flooding in, and while many found the film to be entertaining enough, the general consensus was that this was the final Indiana Jones movie, and it simply needed to be better. Our own Chris Bumbray, a longtime fan of the franchise, called this the most disappointing movie to come out in recent years and that he had wished the franchise had just ended with The Last Crusade. Other reviews took issue with the film again using a fantastical plot device for its story as well as the new characters, including Teddy Kumar, played by Ethan Isidore, who felt like the filmmakers were trying to force a Short Round 2.0 in the movie, and as Everything Everywhere All At Once has taught us, you can not replace Short Round!

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was given a prime release date of June 30, 2023, a date that would set it up for success over the domestic holiday of Independence Day. Its only competition being a run-of-the-mill animated film called Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken and some independent film called Sound of Freedom about child sex trafficking. The Indiana Jones films had always been massive box office successes, but this one faced an uphill battle. The previous film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, secured an opening weekend of over $100 million. Still, people were generally let down with that film and that usually leads to softer openings for any sequels. It also faced a theatrical marketplace that saw older moviegoers, the type that this film was geared towards, still a bit hesitant to get back into theatres. 

On its opening weekend, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny only managed $60.3 million, about $5 million less than even the most modest of predictions had it at heading into the weekend. Luckily it still had the July 4th holiday to help pad out its numbers. But then something unexpected happened: that little independent movie about child sex trafficking actually beat Indiana Jones at the domestic box office on Tuesday, July 4th, pulling in $14.2 million against Indy’s $11.6 million. Granted, there is a bit of an asterisk next to those numbers as the studio behind Sound of Freedom used some new-fangled “pay it forward” price model to run up those numbers. Even with that asterisk, the fact of the matter was that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny were turning into an unforeseen bomb, especially considering its massive, nearly $300 million price tag. 

Sadly, the film would not recover. In its second weekend, it lost over 54% of its audience, and those numbers continued to fall until the film, as of this writing, over two months after its release, was only able to secure $382.6 million worldwide, nowhere near what a film of this magnitude needed even to scratch the surface of profitability. 

After 40 years, one of the screen’s most iconic heroes would go out with a whimper.

So what do we make of the film’s legacy? Can The Dial of Destiny one day be seen as a truly worthy send-off for the iconic whip-carrying hero? Or was he a hero that should have remained with the iconic action films of the 80s? Only time will tell. But the real question is: because you know no studio will ever allow a franchise to lay dormant for too long, how long will it be before we return to the world of Indiana Jones, and who will it be that dons that iconic fedora? 

And that is WTF Happened to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

About the Author

318 Articles Published

Brad grew up loving movies and wanting to work in the industry. Graduated from Full Sail University in 2007 before moving to Los Angeles where I was fortunate enough to join SAG-Aftra in 2012. I love every second I get to write about movies for Joblo!