15 Interesting Facts About Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade

After climbing the heights of the action genre with Raiders of the Lost Ark and terrifying viewers with The Temple of Doom, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas drew the initial story of Indiana Jones to a close with their trilogy’s final chapter, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

A rip-roaring adventure closer in spirit to Raiders of the Lost Ark than Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade returned the Indiana Jones franchise to its roots, focusing on Indiana’s (Harrison Ford) quest to claim the Holy Grail alongside his estranged father (Sean Connery). Racing against Nazis, mysterious cults, and Axis spies, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade made for an exciting end to Indiana Jones’ journey – even if Lucas & Spielberg would revive the series 20 years later with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Along with Raiders, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade audiences often look upon as the best installment of Spielberg and Lucas’s adventure saga due in large part to the humorous interplay between Indy and his father. As cherished as it is, there may be a few facts most people don’t know about the movie’s production. 

From interesting casting notes to original ideas tossed around during the movie’s production phase, here are some of the most fascinating pieces of trivia surrounding Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Harrison Ford Suggested River Phoenix To Play a Young Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Casting any actor as Indiana Jones is no easy feat, especially when looking at a younger child actor to take over the role in the movie’s opening flashback sequence. Rather than conducting an extensive audition process, Harrison Ford approached Spielberg with the idea of casting teenage actor River Phoenix as the 13-year-old Indiana, believing that Phoenix most resembled Ford when he was a teenager. Spielberg – who was already impressed with Phoenix’s work in Stand By Me – agreed, casting Phoenix in the role.

Having developed fond memories of working together on The Mosquito Coast, Phoenix chose to model his performance off of Ford himself, rather than on Indiana Jones specifically. “While doing Mosquito Coast, I kept a close eye on Harrison and I noticed some of his traits,” Phoenix said. “When he would turn around, I would sometimes mimic him and get a few laughs. I felt really close to him. I felt I could do [Indiana Jones].”

The Whip Scar Young Indiana Suffers Was Used to Canonically Explain Harrison Ford’s Real-Life Scar

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

During the prologue of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, young Indiana uses a bullwhip to keep a ravenous lion at bay in the carnival car – marking the first linear instance of the character picking up the whip. As he cracks the whip in the air to scare the lion off, he accidentally snaps the tip of it against his chin, leaving a permanent scar etched there for the remainder of Indiana's life.

While this scene provides a feasible explanation for the scar on Indiana’s chin, the scar on Harrison Ford’s chin is the result of a car accident years before his breakthrough in Hollywood. The incident occurred when Ford was in his early 20s, with the future Han Solo actor running his car off the road and into a telephone pole, resulting in the famous mark.

Sean Connery Was Cast as an Homage to James Bond

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

While George Lucas got the idea for Indiana Jones from ‘30s and ‘40s B adventure films, Steven Spielberg always saw the character as a fictional successor to the dashing secret agent, James Bond. (In fact, Spielberg always wanted to direct a 007 film so he became interested in Indiana Jones, seeing many similarities between the two franchises.)

As an homage to the gentleman superspy and his influence on Indiana Jones, Spielberg became interested in casting veteran Bond actor Sean Connery in the role of Indiana’s father, Henry Jones Sr. As Spielberg recalled, “I said to George, there’s only person who can play [Indiana]’s father, and that’s James Bond! The original James Bond, the greatest James Bond, Sean Connery.”

Harrison Ford and Sean Connery Weren’t Wearing Pants During The Zeppelin Scenes

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

More often than not, film sets can get toasty amid all of the shining lights and heavy industrial equipment required for shooting. To combat this sometimes stifling heat, actors occasionally come up with unique solutions to remain cool while filming. In the case of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Sean Connery had the bright idea of removing his pants, filming every scene he was in his underwear as Indiana and his father escape in the zeppelin from Berlin. Harrison Ford – who was skeptical at the idea of filming without any pants at first – changed his mind as they commenced shooting, ditching his trousers for all of his scenes in the Zeppelin.

As Connery explained it, “Harrison said, ‘You’re not going to play the scene without your trousers?’ I said, ‘Well, if I don’t, we’ll be stopping all the time because I sweat enormously, I sweat very easily.” Decades later, Ford corroborated Connery’s explanation. “[Connery] was a heavy sweater, and he wore heavy wool pants,” said Ford. “And he did appear without his pants because of the heat, and I felt it both necessary and appropriate to remove my pants. So we had two pantless men photographed from the waist up.”

There Are Around Two Thousand Rats in The Catacombs Scenes

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Each of the original Indiana Jones movies presented some unique challenges for the animal sequences in each respective film. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg and team assembled thousands of snakes from across Europe for the Well of Souls film set. In Temple of Doom, Spielberg recruited thousands of insects for the hidden passageway sequence.

Continuing this trend for the third film, Lucas and Spielberg settled on the idea of including rats as the consequential animal hazard in The Last Crusade. However, the idea proved far more difficult to implement than either had originally believed. Because of basic health concerns, over 2,000 rats were bred for the film in order to ensure they were disease-free and, therefore, safe for people to be around. The production used around a thousand mechanical rats when the fire breaks out in the catacomb tunnels.

Original Versions of The Script Featured a Haunted House and The Monkey King

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Image Courtesy of We Don't Talk About Bruno Passigatti & Shutterstock.

As with every Indiana Jones movie, multiple ideas were circulated around a potential artifact for Indiana Jones to search for in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. George Lucas wanted the film set in a haunted castle in Scotland, although Steven Spielberg – who had just finished working on Poltergeist – expressed reluctance to do another horror project. The next idea they discussed was for the folkloric Monkey King to appear as the film’s central MacGuffin, with Lucas writing an eight-page treatment outlining the basic structure for the movie.

Screenwriter Chris Columbus (who would go on to direct Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter films) penned several different scripts based on Lucas’s idea, many of which centered around the Monkey King as the overarching theme. Each of them was deemed too far-fetched for the universe of Indiana Jones, prompting Lucas to look elsewhere for inspiration.

Spielberg Was Hesitant About The Holy Grail Aspect

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

With Spielberg dissatisfied over his haunted house and Monkey King ideas, Lucas then suggested the Holy Grail as the main artifact Indiana searches for in the third film. Once again, Spielberg hesitated, feeling it “wasn’t strong enough” a MacGuffin to support a film. Not only that, Spielberg also worried about the inevitable comparisons the movie would draw to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which had been released just over a decade prior. “I immediately said, ‘Does that mean that jugular-biting white rabbits are going to come flying out of caves?’” remembered Spielberg. “As far as I'm concerned, the Holy Grail remains defined by the Pythons.” 

Lucas won Spielberg over when they began to discuss the movie’s exploration of Indiana and his father, which Spielberg became fascinated by in the pre-production phase. “I wanted to flesh out Indy’s relationship with his father,” explained Spielberg. The director went on to say, “The search for the father is the search for the Holy Grail.”

Steven Spielberg Made The Film To Correct His Mistakes on Temple of Doom

john williams steven spielberg
Image Credit: Time Warner.

Reeling from the mixed critical reception of Temple of Doom, Steven Spielberg took on Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade for two reasons. The first was to fulfill his obligation to George Lucas, ending what was planned to be a trilogy of Indiana Jones films. The second was to right the wrongs he felt were tied to Temple of Doom, a movie he hasn’t shied away from calling one of his least favorite projects.

To complete what he hoped would be a satisfactory conclusion to the Indiana Jones series, Spielberg returned to a similar tone associated with Raiders of the Lost Ark, rather than the darker atmosphere of Temple of Doom. At the same time, Spielberg also became excited to explore the relationship between Indiana and Henry (father-son dynamics being a recurring theme in many of the director’s films).

The Imperial March Can Be Heard in The Background

Rogue One Darth Vader, Orson Krennic
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Corrupt businessman-turned-Nazi sympathizer Walter Donovan makes for one of the most interesting villains in the Indiana Jones series. Willing to do whatever it takes to reach the Grail, his interactions with Indiana and his father result in some of the best scenes in the movie, thanks in large to Julian Glover’s chilling performance as the character.

It might require a few viewings, but a small reference to Glover’s past film credits occurs in his initial introductory scene. Attending a party thrown by Donovan and his wife, Indiana awaits the mysterious mogul in Donovan’s office. As Donovan throws open the doors and enters the room, you can hear John Williams’ famous “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back being played on the piano. Not only is this a reference to George Lucas and John Williams’ past work in Star Wars, but it also nods to Glover’s past appearance in Lucas’s sci-fi series, the actor having played Imperial General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back.

Most of The Uniforms in The Berlin March Are Authentic

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

In an impressive nod to historical accuracy, most of the uniforms worn by background extras during the infamous Berlin march scene halfway through the film are genuine articles of clothing worn by members of the Nazi regime. 

Prior to filming, costume designer Anthony Powell sent his assistant to Eastern Europe in order to gather potential costumes for the film. The assistant came across a large cache of preserved World War II-era uniforms, most of which were used in the film. During the subsequent rally sequence, Spielberg instructed all of his costumed extras delivering the “Sieg Heil” salute to hide their free hand behind their backs, crossing their fingers as they were filming.

The Last Crusade Uses The First-Ever Digital Composite Shot in Film History

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

One of the most complex scenes in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade comes near the very end of the film. After finally discovering what he believes is the Holy Grail, the conniving Donovan takes a drink from the false cup, leading him to crumble away into dust. A terrifying moment, the finished scene proved both arduous and marvelous to behold, the filmmakers pioneering the then-experimental tool known as CGI in said scene.

In what would become the first-ever all-digital composite shot, the special effects team working on Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade layered the different shots of Donovan as he continued to age, giving the appearance of his physical decomposition as he grew older.

The Movie’s Production Worked Closely With Jordan’s Monarchy

King Hussein II of Jordan
Image Credit: mark reinstein / Shutterstock.com.

Like every entry in the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and Last Crusade required Spielberg, his cast, and his crew to travel to exotic new locations for filming. With locations spanning the U.S. and a decent amount of Europe (Spain, Italy, West Germany, and the United Kingdom), Spielberg also sought to film a majority of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade’s last act in the ancient Jordan city of Petra. To do so, Spielberg had to ask the permission of Jordan’s government to film there. To their surprise, the country’s monarchical rulers, King Hussein and Queen Noor, significantly happily aided in the movie’s production. 

After inviting the movie’s cast and crew to visit their Royal Palace, the king and queen became friends with Spielberg. The couple grew so close to Spielberg that Noor herself volunteered to drive the director to Al-Khazneh every day (the Jordan building used to simulate the Crusader temple that houses the Holy Grail), observing the movie’s production with her young children.

An Award-Winning Playwright Rewrote Most of The Movie’s Dialogue

Jeffrey Boam Playwright
Image Credit: By Paula Boam – Original publication: Outten, Richard (Apr 2000). “Jeffrey Boam: A Mentor Remembered”. Written by 4 (4): 20–23Immediate source: Paula Boam, via family friend Richard Outten, Fair use/ Wiki Commons.

As already mentioned, the script for Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade went through several significant changes in its pre-production phase, including treatments and drafts provided by George Lucas, Chris Columbus, and Menno Meyjes. Before long, Spielberg and Lucas settled on a screenplay from Innerspace writer Jeffrey Boam, who would go on to be the credited screenwriter behind the film.

Just prior to filming, however, Spielberg contacted the influential playwright Tom Stoppard to provide extensive rewrites on the script, hoping to add a more humorous dynamic between Indiana and his father. Working under the pseudonym of Barry Watson, Stoppard proofread the script, polishing the dialogue and injecting it with the wittier tone Spielberg was looking for. As Spielberg clarified, “Tom is pretty much responsible for every line of dialogue.”

Harrison Ford Performed Nearly All of His Own Stunts

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Given its basis in the action genre, it should surprise no one that filming Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was intensive, thanks in large part to the movie’s intricate stunts. Despite the abundant dangers associated with these scenes, Harrison Ford chose to perform as many of his own stunts as possible. In fact, Ford was so dedicated to performing these demanding scenes, his stunt double Vic Armstrong once said, “The biggest stunt I always say on the Indiana Jones films was stopping Harrison doing the stunts because I had to fight nearly every time to stop him.”

Henry Jones, SR. Is Shot by a Very Interesting Gun

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Facing off against Donovan and his forces at the temple that houses the Holy Grail, Indiana and Henry face their former financier at gunpoint. With Indiana refusing to search for the Grail, Donovan shoots Henry, wounding him. To save Henry, Indiana must find the Grail, bringing it back to revive his injured father.

In a fascinating bit of trivia, Henry is wounded by a Walther PPK pistol – the signature weapon of choice for James Bond, played by Sean Connery in a total of seven films. In an added twist, Julian Glover – the man wielding 007’s go-to pistol – was the main antagonist of the 1981 James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, opposite Roger Moore’s iteration of the character.

Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).