Skip to Content

40 Years Ago, Fans Brought Indy Home for the First Time

  • Link Copied

Raiders of the Lost Ark made its home video debut on December 1, 1983.

Starting today, fans can start streaming Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny on Disney+ or purchase it on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD starting next week. As it happens, 40 years ago — on Dec 1, 1983, to be exact — Indy fans could bring home the series’ first adventure, Raiders of the Lost Ark, for the very first time on VHS, Beta, and videodisc.

In late 1983, about one in ten households in the U.S. with a television owned a videocassette recorder (VCR). By today’s home entertainment standards, that’s somewhat modest, but the video industry was about to enter a boom year, with VCRs being reduced to $300 (down from $1,000 in 1977) and videotape prices slashed to about half of what they cost just one year earlier. Raiders was one of the first major titles to enjoy the new price reduction in a first-time offering, available for a relatively affordable $39.95 for videocassette or $29.95 for videodisc.

While titles such as Flashdance, Jane Fonda’s Workout, Risky Business, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Dumbo and more had been brisk sellers the month before, Raiders’ debut on video exceeded all expectations, with 500,000 copies (420,000 cassettes and 80,000 videodiscs) pre-sold to retailers for its December 1 launch. By summer 1984, sales would surpass 1,000,000 units.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was initially available on VHS stereo, Beta Hi-Fi stereo, extended play CLV (constant linear velocity) laserdisc, and CED (capacitance electronic disc) videodisc, a format that would be retired by manufacturer RCA Corp. just a few months later in April, 1984. Each contained a preview trailer for the series’ second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was to be released May 25, 1984. Around the time of Temple of Doom’s release, Raiders became available on a fifth format, a two-disc “Special Collectors Edition” standard play CAV (constant angular velocity) laserdisc, which allowed freeze framing as well as slow, fast, and reverse motion – features well-suited to the fast-paced action of Indiana Jones.

Beyond the extraordinary success of Raiders’ first home video release, what makes the event particularly noteworthy – especially among collectors – is the robust marketing campaign built to support it. Billed as “the most elaborate and expensive campaign of all time” for a video release in press notes, the marketing included special kits sent out to retailers and video rental shops which contained posters, window banners, counter standees, tentcards, mobile displays, promotional postcards and buttons, and two contests – one for consumers, and one for retailers.

While the consumers got a rather straight-forward “Indiana Jones Sweepstakes” awarding five grand prize winners a three-day Hollywood vacation to see a special screening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, retailers were offered a more creative challenge – a “Raiders of the Lost Ark Window Display Contest.” An instruction flyer demonstrated how the promotional kit’s contents could be used, with special tips like “How to make a pinwheel display” out of postcards, creating an Indiana Jones mannequin, recreating the Nepal bar scene with overturned shot glasses and “a bottle of exotic-looking whiskey,” and placing sand, rocks, boulders, spiders, snakes, torches, skeletons, and the all-important idol (which, incidentally, was not provided in the kit). The suggested props even include a “stuffed monkey, holding a date.” Whatever this left to the imagination, an illustration (without the monkey, sadly) was included to help guide the way.

Grand prizes for the window display contest included the same three-day Hollywood vacation to see Temple of Doom plus some Paramount in-studio extras. The added sales incentive appears to have been necessary, as one manager of a video shop in Rochester, New York reportedly felt that sales were not as important as rentals. “How many times can you watch the same movie?” he asked. Indy fans would likely have a whip-smart response to that question.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and Timeless Heroes: Indiana Jones & Harrison Ford are now streaming on Disney+. 

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny arrives on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on December 5 and is available for pre-order now.

Related Topics