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A Look Back at Some Original Posters for Raiders of the Lost Ark

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Unique posters from around the world were created for the first theatrical Indiana Jones adventure

While fans continue to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the larger Indiana Jones film and television series this year, it feels appropriate to recall those first posters that announced the film to audiences in 1981, which ushered in a rich legacy of campaign artwork to follow.

Like today’s global movie releases, which often include different versions of posters for regions around the world, Raiders of the Lost Ark had several posters produced tailored to local aesthetic and cultural sensibilities. The handful featured below are just some of the unique artworks created to introduce the world to the adventures of Indiana Jones.

U.S. one-sheet by Richard Amsel, 1981

The poster that most fans are instantly familiar with is likely Richard Amsel’s artwork for the 1981 first release poster, which was used in the U.S. and in several other regions, primarily Europe (initially). An elegant composition that successfully captures the dusty, old-world era in which the story takes place, it is unusual for an Indiana Jones poster in the larger sense, due to its quiet, restrained depiction of the action hero. Of course, with Harrison Ford’s star quickly rising after his appearances in both Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps it’s not so surprising that a clear, uncluttered portrait of the actor was chosen for this first release poster.

Italian two-fogli poster by Drew Struzan, 1981

While Drew Struzan would become a prolific illustrator for Lucasfilm movies in the years to come, his poster artwork for Raiders was ironically not used in the U.S. film marketing campaign. Created for international release in regions such as Italy, Japan, and elsewhere, Struzan recalled being given a four-sentence synopsis of what the film was about as well as a handful of reference imagery. The depiction of Marion was originally not as pronounced as she ended up being in the final artwork, the result of the studio requesting that she be represented as an equal in the final composition. The artwork did ultimately see some exposure in the U.S. when it was used to great effect on the cover of the Raiders of the Lost Ark story album available in record stores.

U.K. one-sheet by Brian Bysouth, 1981

While the first release posters for Raiders in the U.K. utilized Richard Amsel’s portrait artwork of Indy, the campaign quickly moved to replace it with an illustration that marketers there felt would better convey the action and high adventure of the film. According to reports at the time, there was also concern that there might be confusion looking at the portrait image of Indy against a dusty backdrop and wearing a hat, which might suggest the movie is a desert Western. As a result, Bysouth was asked to capture more of the film’s action sequences with his artwork, which notably omitted Indy’s customary leather jacket and fedora in the central figure image. According to the artist, these were not yet icons associated with Indiana Jones, and so were not considered critical to include. This artwork did see some use outside the U.K., in Spain, Germany, and Taiwan, among other regions.

Japanese B2 poster, 1982

While Japan utilized a number of different designs for their Raiders of the Lost Ark campaign, the one prominently featuring director Steven Spielberg and executive producer George Lucas is exclusive to that country. Likely trying to capitalize on the star-power of Spielberg, who had recently directed Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as Lucas, whose two Star Wars movies were still in re-release during the early ‘80s in Japan, this poster asked potential viewers to see the film based on the strength of their filmmaking alone, a decidedly unique marketing strategy.

Polish one-sheet by Jakub Erol, 1983

Another poster unique to a singular region is this stunningly macabre design created by renowned Polish illustrator Jakub Erol, who had previously composed the posters for both Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in Poland. Little is known about this poster from the artist’s perspective, but its deliberate detour from traditional poster styles seen in the U.S. and Europe makes it a stand-out among Indiana Jones-related posters. While Poland actually produced a few different posters for Raiders of the Lost Ark, this one – with a snake-like whip slithering through the eyes and nose of a ghoulish skull — has certainly garnered the most attention among poster enthusiasts.

U.S re-release one-sheet by Richard Amsel, 1982

Richard Amsel returned to do the 1982 re-release poster for Raiders, but this time captured more of the action elements that the film had become famous for during its first year of release. With a beautifully balanced composition, it captures most of the main players coupled with the tagline “The Return of the Great Adventure” – a nod to its re-release and to the film’s harkening back to the adventure films of the 1930s and ‘40s. Because this artwork was released after the film had made its world tour the year before, it is generally not seen on posters outside the U.S.

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