Screenwriters Jeb Stuart, Jeffrey Boam, Frank Darabont, and Jeff Nathanson wrote drafts before David Koepp's script satisfied the producers. The filmmakers intended to pay tribute to the science fiction B-movies of the 1950s era. Shooting began on June 18, 2007, at various locations in New Mexico; New Haven, Connecticut; Hawaii; and Fresno, California, as well as on sound stages in Los Angeles. To maintain aesthetic continuity with the previous films, the crew relied on traditional stunt work instead of computer-generated stunt doubles, and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński studied Douglas Slocombe's style from the previous films.
The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2008, and was released worldwide on May 22, 2008 to generally positive reviews from critics, although audience reception was more mixed. There was significant praise for the performances, action scenes, John Williams' musical score, and the costume design. Criticism, however, focused on the dialogue, storyline, pacing, and overuse of CGI. It was also a financial success like the previous three films in the series, grossing over $786 million worldwide, becoming the franchise's highest-grossing film when not adjusted for inflation, and the second highest-grossing film of 2008. The film will be followed by an untitled fifth film planned for release on July 10, 2020, in which both Spielberg and Ford will return.
In 1957, Indiana Jones and his partner George "Mac" McHale are kidnapped in New Mexico by Soviet agents under Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko. The Soviets infiltrate a warehouse labeled "Warehouse 51" and force Jones to locate a mummified alien corpse, recovered ten years earlier. Upon its discovery, Mac reveals he is a double agent working for the Soviets. Jones escapes and unsuccessfully attempts to retrieve the body. After a fight with Spalko's sadistic henchman, Colonel Antonin Dovchenko, Jones escapes to Doomtown (a model town), at the Nevada Test Site, minutes before an atomic bomb test, and takes shelter in a lead-lined refrigerator. Jones is rescued, decontaminated, and apprehended by FBI agents, who suspect him of working for the Soviets; and though freed on the recommendation of General Ross, who vouches for him, he is put on indefinite leave of absence from Marshall College. His leaving also causes the dean's resignation to keep Indiana's job at the college.
Jones is approached by greaser Mutt Williams, who tells him that Harold Oxley had found a crystal skull in Peru, suffered a mental breakdown and was later kidnapped. Jones tells Mutt about the legend of crystal skulls found in Akator. Mutt gives Jones a letter from his mother, who is also held captive, containing a riddle written by Oxley in an ancient South American language. KGB agents attempt to capture them, but Jones and Mutt evade them and reach Peru. At the local psychiatric hospital, Oxley's scribbles on the walls and floor of his cell lead them to the grave of Francisco de Orellana, a Conquistador who has searched for Akator. They discover the skull at the grave, with Jones reasoning that Oxley had returned it there.
Jones and Mutt are captured by Mac and the Soviets and taken to their camp in the Amazon jungle, where they find Oxley and Mutt's mother, Marion Ravenwood, who reveals that Mutt is Jones' son, Henry Jones III. Spalko believes that the crystal skull belongs to an alien life form and holds great psychic power, and that finding more skulls in Akator will grant the Soviets the advantage of psychic warfare. Spalko uses the skull on Jones to enable him to understand Oxley and identify a route to Akator. Jones and his four allies escape with the skull, but Marion and Jones get caught into a dry sandpit, to be recaptured by the Soviets after Oxley accidentally got them caught. On their way to Akator, Mac tells Jones he is a CIA double-agent to regain Jones' trust, and Jones' team fights its way out of the Soviets' clutches, while Dovchenko is devoured by siafu ants. Jones and his allies survive three waterfalls in an amphibious vehicle, while many of the Soviets fall from a cliff while trying to pursue them. Jones and Oxley identify a head-like rock formation that leads them to Akator, unaware that Mac lied about being a CIA agent, is still loyal to Spalko and has been dropping transceivers to allow the surviving Soviets to track them.
The adventurers escape the city's guardians, gain access to the temple, and find it filled with artifacts from many ancient civilizations, identifying the aliens as extra-dimensional "archaeologists" studying the different cultures of Earth. They find and enter a chamber containing the crystal skeletons of thirteen alien beings, one missing its skull. Spalko arrives and presents the skull to its skeleton, whereupon the aliens reanimate and telepathically offer a reward in ancient Mayan through Oxley. A portal to their dimension becomes activated, and Spalko demands knowledge equal to the aliens'. The thirteen beings fuse into one, and in the process of receiving the overwhelming knowledge, Spalko is disintegrated and sucked into the portal. Jones, Marion, Mutt, and Oxley–who has regained his sanity–escape, while the remaining Soviets are also drawn into the portal. Mac is caught in the vortex while trying to scrounge some of the treasure, and even though Jones offers him his whip to pull him to safety, he willingly lets go and is sucked in. Jones and the others escape and watch as the temple walls crumble, revealing a flying saucer rising from the debris and vanishing, while the hollow in the valley floor left by its departure is flooded by the waters of the Amazon.
The following year, Jones is reinstated at Marshall College and made an associate dean, and he and Marion are married. As the wedding party leaves the chapel, a gust of wind blows Indy's brown fedora off the coat rack and deposits it at Mutt's feet. Mutt picks it up and is about to don it before Jones snatches it from his hands and puts it on with a grin.Harrison Ford reprises the role of Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr. To prepare for the role, the 64-year-old Ford spent three hours a day at a gym, practiced with the bullwhip for two weeks, and relied on a high-protein diet of fish and vegetables. Ford had kept fit during the series' hiatus anyway, as he hoped for another film. He performed many of his own stunts because stunt technology had become safer since 1989, and he also felt it improved his performance. It is also said that he still fit into his pants from Raiders of the Lost Ark. He argued, "The appeal of Indiana Jones isn't his youth but his imagination, his resourcefulness. His physicality is a big part of it, especially the way he gets out of tight situations. But it's not all hitting people and falling from high places. My ambition in action is to have the audience look straight in the face of character and not at the back of a capable stuntman's head. I hope to continue that no matter how old I get." Ford felt his return would reduce U.S. ageism (he refused to dye his hair for the role), because of the film's family appeal: "This is a movie which is geared not to [the young] segment of the demographic, an age-defined segment ... We've got a great shot at breaking the movie demographic constraints." He told Koepp to add more references to his age in the script. Spielberg said Ford was not too old to play Indiana: "When a guy gets to be that age and he still packs the same punch, and he still runs just as fast and climbs just as high, he's gonna be breathing a little heavier at the end of the set piece. And I felt, 'Let's have some fun with that. Let's not hide that.'" Spielberg recalled the line in Raiders that said, "It's not the years, it's the mileage," and felt he could not tell the difference between Ford during the shoots for Last Crusade and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Cate Blanchett plays Soviet agent Irina Spalko. Screenwriter David Koepp created the character. Frank Marshall said Spalko continued the tradition of Indiana having a love-hate relationship "with every woman he ever comes in contact with." Blanchett had wanted to play a villain for a "couple of years", and enjoyed being part of the Indiana Jones legacy. Spielberg praised Blanchett as a "master of disguise", and considers her his favorite Indiana Jones villain for inventing much of Spalko's character. Spalko's bob cut was her idea, with the character's stern looks and behaviour recalling Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love. Blanchett learned to fence for the character; but during filming, Spielberg decided to give Spalko "karate chop" skills. LaBeouf recalled Blanchett was elusive on set, and Ford was surprised when he met her on set out of costume. He noted, "There's no aspect of her behavior that was not consistent with this bizarre person she's playing."
Karen Allen, who previously appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark, reprises the role of Marion Ravenwood (under the married name of Marion Williams). Frank Darabont's script introduced the idea of Marion returning as Indiana's love interest. Allen was not aware her character was in the script until Spielberg called her in January 2007, saying, "It's been announced! We're gonna make Indiana Jones 4! And guess what? You're in it!" Ford found Allen "one of the easiest people to work with [he's] ever known. She's a completely self-sufficient woman, and that's part of the character she plays. A lot of her charm and the charm of the character is there. And again, it's not an age-dependent thing. It has to do with her spirit and her nature." Allen found Ford easier to work with on this film, than in Raiders.
Shia LaBeouf plays Mutt Williams/Henry Jones III, Indiana's sidekick and son. The concept of Indiana Jones having offspring was introduced in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles; in the episode "Princeton, February 1916", Indy and his high school sweetheart discuss having a child and naming him "Henry Jones III." (This scene was deleted from the VHS and DVD releases.); additionally, in several episodes, an elderly Indy is shown to have a daughter. During the film's development, the latter was incorporated into Frank Darabont's script, with Indiana and Marion having a 13-year-old daughter. Spielberg found this too similar to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, so a son was created instead. Koepp credited the character's creation to Jeff Nathanson and Lucas. Koepp wanted to make Mutt more academic, but Lucas likened Mutt to Marlon Brando's character in The Wild One: "he needs to be what Indiana Jones' father thought of [him] – the curse returns in the form of his own son – he's everything a father can't stand." LaBeouf was Spielberg's first choice for the role, having been impressed by his performance in Holes. Excited at the prospect of being in an Indiana Jones film, LaBeouf agreed without reading the script and did not know what character he would play. He later gained fifteen pounds of muscle for the role, and also repeatedly watched the other films to acquire character. LaBeouf also watched Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause, and The Wild One to develop his character's personality, copying mannerisms and words including the use of a switchblade as a weapon. Lucas also consulted on the greaser look, joking that LaBeouf was "sent to the American Graffiti school of greaserland." LaBeouf pulled his rotator cuff when filming Mutt's duel with Spalko; an injury that worsened throughout filming. He later pulled his groin.
Ray Winstone plays George "Mac" McHale, a British agent whom Jones worked alongside in World War II, but has now allied with the Soviets to resolve financial problems. The character acts as a spin on Sallah and René Belloq – Jones's friend and nemesis, respectively, in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg cast Winstone as he found him "one of the most brilliant actors around", having seen Sexy Beast. Winstone tore his hamstring during filming. "I keep getting these action parts as I’m getting older", he remarked. Like John Hurt, Winstone wished to see the script prior to committing to the film. In interviews on British TV Winstone explained that he was only able to read the script if it was delivered by courier, who waited while he read the script, and returned to the U.S. with the script once Winstone had read it. His reasoning for wanting to read the script was, "If I'm gonna be in it, I want to be in it." He gave suggestions to Spielberg, including the idea of Mac pretending to be a double agent. He also stated that once filming was completed he had to return the script, such was the secrecy about the film. He was later presented with a copy of the script to keep.
John Hurt plays Harold "Ox" Oxley, Mutt's surrogate father and Indiana's old friend. Frank Darabont had suggested Hurt while writing the screenplay. The character is inspired by Ben Gunn of Treasure Island. Hurt read the script before agreeing to his role, unlike other cast members who came on "because Steven — you know, 'God' — was doing it. And I said, 'Well, I need to have a little bit of previous knowledge even if God is doing it.' So they sent a courier over with the script from Los Angeles, gave it to me at three o'clock in the afternoon in London, collected it again at eight o'clock in the evening, and he returned the next day to Los Angeles."
Jim Broadbent plays Charles Stanforth, the dean of Marshall College and friend of Jones. Broadbent's character stands in for Marcus Brody, whose actor, Denholm Elliott, died in 1992. As a tribute to Elliott, the filmmakers put a portrait and a statue on the Marshall College location, and a picture on Jones' desk, saying he died shortly after Indiana's father.
Igor Jijikine plays Soviet Colonel Antonin Dovchenko, Spalko's second-in-command. His character stands in for the heavily built henchmen that Pat Roach played in the three previous films, as Roach died in 2004 from throat cancer.
Joel Stoffer and Neil Flynn have minor roles as FBI agents interrogating Indiana in a scene following the opening sequence. Alan Dale plays General Ross, who protests his innocence. Andrew Divoff and Pasha D. Lychnikoff play Soviet soldiers. Spielberg cast Russian-speaking actors as Soviet soldiers so their accents would be authentic. Dimitri Diatchenko plays Spalko's right-hand man who battles Indiana at Marshall College. Diatchenko bulked up to 250 pounds to look menacing, and his role was originally minor with ten days of filming. When shooting the fight, Ford accidentally hit his chin, and Spielberg liked Diatchenko's humorous looking reaction, so he expanded his role to three months of filming. Ernie Reyes, Jr. plays a cemetery guard.
Sean Connery turned down an offer to cameo as Henry Jones, Sr., as he found retirement too enjoyable. Lucas stated that in hindsight it was good that Connery did not briefly appear, as it would disappoint the audience when his character would not join the film's adventure. Ford joked, "I'm old enough to play my own father in this one." The film addresses Connery's absence by Indiana implying that both Henry, Sr. and Marcus Brody (played by Denholm Elliott in the previous films, who died in 1992) died before the film's events. Connery later stated that he liked the film, describing it as "rather good and rather long." Michael Sheard, who portrayed Adolf Hitler in the third film, expressed interest in appearing in the film, but he died in August 2005.
John Rhys-Davies was asked to reprise his role as Sallah as a guest in the wedding scene. He turned it down as he felt his character deserved a more substantial role.
During the late 1970s, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg made a deal with Paramount Pictures for five Indiana Jones films. Following the 1989 release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lucas let the series end as he felt he could not think of a good plot device to drive the next installment, and chose instead to produce The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles for TV, which explored the character in his early years. Harrison Ford played Indiana in one episode, narrating his adventures in 1920 Chicago. When Lucas shot Ford's role in December 1992, he realized the scene opened up the possibility of a film with an older Indiana set in the 1950s. The film could reflect a science fiction 1950s B-movie, with aliens as the plot device. Meanwhile, Spielberg believed he was going to "mature" as a filmmaker after making the trilogy, and felt he would just produce any future installments.
Ford disliked the new angle, telling Lucas, "No way am I being in a Steven Spielberg movie like that." Spielberg himself, who depicted aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, resisted it. Lucas came up with a story, which Jeb Stuart turned into a script from October 1993 to May 1994. (Stuart had previously written The Fugitive, which starred Ford.) Lucas wanted Indiana to get married, which would allow Henry Jones, Sr. to return, expressing concern over whether his son is happy with what he has accomplished. After he learned that Joseph Stalin was interested in psychic warfare, he decided to have Soviets as the villains and the aliens to have psychic powers. Following Stuart's next draft, Lucas hired Last Crusade writer Jeffrey Boam to write the next three versions, the last of which was completed in March 1996. Three months later, Independence Day was released, and Spielberg told Lucas he would not make another alien invasion film. Lucas decided to focus on the Star Wars prequels.
In 2000, Spielberg's son asked when the next Indiana Jones film would be released, which made him interested in reviving the project. The same year, Ford, Lucas, Spielberg, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy met during the American Film Institute's tribute to Ford, and decided they wanted to enjoy the experience of making an Indiana Jones film again. Spielberg also found returning to the series a respite from his many dark films during this period, such as A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, and Munich. Lucas convinced Spielberg to use aliens in the plot by saying they were not "extraterrestrials", but "interdimensional", with this concept taking inspiration in the superstring theory. Spielberg and Lucas discussed the central idea of a B-movie involving aliens, and Lucas suggested using the crystal skulls to ground the idea. Lucas found those artifacts as fascinating as the Ark of the Covenant, and had intended to feature them for a Young Indiana Jones episode before the show's cancellation. M. Night Shyamalan was hired to write for an intended 2002 shoot, but he was overwhelmed writing a sequel to a film he loved like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and claimed it was difficult to get Ford, Spielberg and Lucas to focus. Stephen Gaghan and Tom Stoppard were also approached.
Frank Darabont, who wrote various Young Indiana Jones episodes, was hired to write in May 2002. His script, entitled Indiana Jones and the City of Gods, was set in the 1950s, with ex-Nazis pursuing Jones. Spielberg conceived the idea because of real life figures such as Juan Perón in Argentina, who protected Nazi war criminals. Darabont claimed Spielberg loved the script, but Lucas had issues with it, and decided to take over writing himself. Lucas and Spielberg acknowledged the 1950s setting could not ignore the Cold War, and the Soviets were more plausible villains. Spielberg decided he could not satirize the Nazis after directing Schindler's List, while Ford noted, "We plum[b] wore the Nazis out."
Jeff Nathanson met with Spielberg and Lucas in August 2004, and turned in the next drafts in October and November 2005, titled The Atomic Ants. David Koepp continued on from there, giving his script the subtitle Destroyer of Worlds, based on the J. Robert Oppenheimer quote. It was changed to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, as Spielberg found it more inviting a title and actually named the plot device of the crystal skulls. Lucas insisted on the Kingdom part. Koepp's "bright [title] idea" was Indiana Jones and the Son of Indiana Jones, and Spielberg had also considered having the title name the aliens as The Mysterians, but dropped that when he remembered that was another film's title. Koepp collaborated with Raiders of the Lost Ark screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan on the film's "love dialogue."
Unlike the previous Indiana Jones films, Spielberg shot the entire film in the United States, stating he did not want to be away from his family. Shooting began on June 18, 2007, in Deming, New Mexico. An extensive chase scene set at the fictional Marshall College was filmed between June 28 and July 7 at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut (where Spielberg's son Theo was studying). To keep in line with the fact the story takes place in the 1950s, several facades were changed, although signs were put up in between shots to tell the public what the store or restaurant actually was.
Afterwards, they filmed scenes set in the Amazon jungle in Hilo, Hawaii until August. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was the biggest film shot in Hawaii since Waterworld, and was estimated to generate US$22 million to $45 million in the local economy. Because of an approaching hurricane, Spielberg was unable to shoot a fight at a waterfall, so he sent the second unit to film shots of Brazil's and Argentina's Iguazu Falls. These were digitally combined into the fight, which was shot at the Universal backlot.
Half the film was scheduled to shoot on five sound stages at Los Angeles: Downey, Sony, Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal. Filming moved to Chandler Field in Fresno, California, substituting for Mexico City International Airport, on October 11, 2007. After shooting aerial shots of Chandler Airport and a DC-3 on the morning of October 12, 2007, filming wrapped. Although he originally found no need for re-shoots after viewing his first cut of the film, Spielberg decided to add an establishing shot filmed on February 29, 2008, in Pasadena, California.
Spielberg and Janusz Kamiński, who has shot all of the director's films since 1993's Schindler's List, reviewed the previous films to study Douglas Slocombe's style. "I didn’t want Janusz to modernize and bring us into the 21st century", Spielberg explained. "I still wanted the film to have a lighting style not dissimilar to the work Doug Slocombe had achieved, which meant that both Janusz and I had to swallow our pride. Janusz had to approximate another cinematographer's look, and I had to approximate this younger director's look that I thought I had moved away from after almost two decades." Spielberg also hired production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas after admiring his design work for Superman Returns. Spielberg did not want to fast cut action scenes, relying on his script instead for a fast pace, and had confirmed in 2002 that he would not shoot the film digitally, a format Lucas had adopted. Lucas felt "it looks like it was shot three years after Last Crusade. The people, the look of it, everything. You’d never know there was 20 years between shooting." Kamiński commented upon watching the three films back-to-back, he was amazed how each of them advanced technologically, but were all nevertheless consistent, neither too brightly or darkly lit.
While shooting War of the Worlds in late 2004, Spielberg met with stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong, who doubled for Ford in the previous films, to discuss three action sequences he had envisioned. However, Armstrong was filming The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor during shooting of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so Dan Bradley was hired instead. Bradley and Spielberg used previsualization for all the action scenes, except the motorcycle chase at Marshall College, because that idea was conceived after the animators had left. Bradley drew traditional storyboards instead, and was given free rein to create dramatic moments, just as Raiders of the Lost Ark second unit director Michael D. Moore did when filming the truck chase. Spielberg improvised on set, changing the location of Mutt and Spalko's duel from the ground to on top of vehicles.
The Ark of the Covenant is seen in a broken crate during the Hangar 51 opening sequence. Lucasfilm used the same prop from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Guards were hired to protect the highly sought after piece of film memorabilia during the day of its use. A replica of the staff carried by Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments was also used to populate the set to illustrate the Hangar's history.
Producer Frank Marshall stated in 2003 that the film would use traditional stunt work so as to be consistent with the previous films. CGI was used to remove the visible safety wires on the actors when they did their stunts (such as when Indy swings on a lamp with his whip). Timed explosives were used for a scene where Indiana drives a truck through crates. During the take, an explosive failed to detonate and landed in the seat beside Ford. It did not go off and he was not injured.
Spielberg stated before production began that very few CGI effects would be used to maintain consistency with the other films. During filming significantly more CGI work was done than initially anticipated as in many cases it proved to be more practical. There ended up being a total of about 450 CGI shots in the film, with an estimated 30 percent of the film's shots containing CG matte paintings. Spielberg initially wanted brushstrokes to be visible on the paintings for added consistency with the previous films, but decided against it. The script also required a non-deforested jungle for a chase scene, but this would have been unsafe and much CGI work was done to create the jungle action sequence. Visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman (who worked on Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones as well as Spielberg's War of the Worlds and Munich) traveled to Brazil and Argentina to photograph elements that were composited into the final images. Industrial Light and Magic then effectively created a virtual jungle with a geography like the real Amazon.
The appearance of a live alien and flying saucer was in flux. Spielberg wanted the alien to resemble a Grey alien, and also rejected early versions of the saucer that looked "too Close Encounters". Art director Christian Alzmann said the aesthetic was "looking at a lot of older B-movie designs – but trying to make that look more real and gritty to fit in with the Indy universe." Other reference for the visual effects work included government tapes of nuclear tests, and video reference of real prairie dogs shot in 1080p by Nathan Edward Denning.
John Williams began composing the score in October 2007; ten days of recording sessions wrapped on March 6, 2008, at Sony Pictures Studios. Williams described composing for the Indiana Jones universe again as "like sitting down and finishing a letter that you started 25 years ago". He reused Indiana's theme (Raiders March) and also Marion's from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and also composed five new motifs for Mutt, Spalko and the skull. Williams gave Mutt's a swashbuckling feel, and homaged film noir and 1950s B-movies for Spalko and the crystal skull respectively. As an in-joke, Williams incorporated a measure and a half of Johannes Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture" when Indiana and Mutt crash into the library. The soundtrack features a Continuum, an instrument often used for sound effects instead of music. The Concord Music Group released the soundtrack on May 20, 2008.
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2008, a couple of days ahead of its worldwide May 21–23 release. It was the first Spielberg film since 1982's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to premiere at Cannes. The film was released in approximately 4,000 theaters in the United States, and dubbed into 25 languages for its worldwide release. More than 12,000 release prints were distributed, which is the largest in Paramount Pictures' history. Although Spielberg insisted his films only be watched traditionally at theaters, Paramount chose to release the film in digital cinemas as part of a scheme to convert 10,000 U.S. cinemas to the format. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is also notable for being the last film in the series to be distributed by Paramount, as Walt Disney Studios will distribute future films, since its parent company's acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012.
Frank Marshall remarked, "In today's information age, secrecy has been a real challenge. ... People actually said, 'No, we're going to respect Steven's vision.'" Prior to release, moviegoers on the Internet scrutinized numerous photos and the film's promotional LEGO sets in hope of understanding plot details; Spielberg biographer Ian Freer wrote, "What Indy IV is actually about has been the great cultural guessing game of 2007/08. Yet, it has to be said, there is something refreshing about being ten weeks away from a giant blockbuster and knowing next to nothing about it." To distract investigative fans from the film's title during filming, five fake titles were registered with the Motion Picture Association of America; The City of Gods, The Destroyer of Worlds, The Fourth Corner of the Earth, The Lost City of Gold and The Quest for the Covenant. Lucas and Spielberg had also wanted to keep Karen Allen's return a secret until the film's release, but decided to confirm it at the 2007 Comic-Con.
An extra in the film, Tyler Nelson, violated his nondisclosure agreement in an interview with The Edmond Sun on September 17, 2007, which was then picked up by the mainstream media. It is unknown if he remained in the final cut. At Nelson's request, The Edmond Sun subsequently pulled the story from its website. On October 2, 2007, a Superior Court order was filed finding that Nelson knowingly violated the agreement. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. A number of production photos and sensitive documents pertaining to the film's production budget were also stolen from Spielberg's production office. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department set up a sting operation after being alerted by a webmaster that the thief might try to sell the photos. On October 4, 2007, the seller, 37-year-old Roderick Eric Davis, was arrested. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts and was sentenced to two years and four months in prison.
Howard Roffman, President of Lucas Licensing, attributed the film's large marketing campaign to it having been "nineteen years since the last film, and we are sensing a huge pent-up demand for everything Indy". Marketing relied heavily on the public's nostalgia for the series, with products taking inspiration from all four films. Paramount spent at least $150 million to promote the film, whereas most film promotions range from $70 to 100 million. As well as fans, the film also needed to appeal to younger viewers. Licensing deals include Expedia, Dr Pepper, Burger King, M&M's and Lunchables. Paramount sponsored an Indiana Jones open wheel car for Marco Andretti in the 2008 Indianapolis 500, and his racing suit was designed to resemble Indiana Jones's outfit. The distributor also paired with M&M's to sponsor the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, with NASCAR driver Kyle Busch behind the wheel, in the 2008 Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington Raceway. Kyle Busch and the #18 team won the race and visited victory lane with Indiana Jones on the car. With the film's release, producer Frank Marshall and UNESCO worked together to promote conservation of World Heritage Sites around the world. Disneyland hosted "Indiana Jones Summer of Hidden Mysteries" to promote the film's release.
The Boston-based design studio Creative Pilot created the packaging style for the film's merchandise, which merged Drew Struzan's original illustrations "with a fresh new look, which showcases the whip, a map and exotic hieroglyphic patterns". Hasbro, Lego, Sideshow Collectibles, Topps, Diamond Select, Hallmark Cards, and Cartamundi all sold products. A THQ mobile game based on the film was released, as was a Lego video game based on the past films. Lego also released a series of computer-animated spoofs, Lego Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Brick, directed by Peder Pedersen. Stern Pinball released a new Indiana Jones pinball machine, designed by John Borg, based on all four films. From October 2007 to April 2008, the reedited episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles were released in three DVD box sets.
Random House, Dark Horse Comics, Diamond Comic Distributors, Scholastic and DK published books, including James Rollins' novelization of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a two-issue comic book adaptation written by John Jackson Miller and drawn by Luke Ross (Samurai: Heaven and Earth), children's novelizations of all four films, the Indiana Jones Adventures comic book series aimed at children, and the official Indiana Jones Magazine. Scholastic featured Indiana and Mutt on the covers of Scholastic News and Scholastic Maths, to the concern of parents, though Jack Silbert, editor of the latter, felt the film would interest children in archaeology.
The film was released on Blu-ray Disc and DVD in North America on October 14, 2008 and in the U.K. on November 10. This release includes a two-disc edition Blu-ray, a two-disc Special Edition DVD, and a one-disc edition DVD. The film made its worldwide television premiere on USA on December 9, 2010. On September 18, 2012, it was re-released on Blu-ray as part of Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures.
Several collectible editions have also been released. For example: Best Buy's gift set includes a replica crystal skull from Sideshow Collectibles and a $25 gift card to Sideshowcollectibles.com; Kmart's giveaway of four mini-posters comprises LEGO replicas of the original Indiana Jones theatrical posters; and Target Corporation's DVD package includes an 80-page hardcover book of behind the scenes photographs.
As of October 16, 2013, the film has made $117,239,631 in revenue.
The director of the Institute of Archaeology of Belize, Dr. Jaime Awe, sued Lucasfilm, Disney and Paramount Pictures on behalf of the country Belize for using the Mitchell-Hedges skull's "likeness" in the film.
Indiana Jones is distributed by one entity, Paramount, but owned by another, Lucasfilm. The pre-production arrangement between the two organizations granted Paramount 12.5% of the film's revenue. As the $185 million budget was larger than the original $125 million estimate, Lucas, Spielberg and Ford turned down large upfront salaries so Paramount could cover the film's costs. In order for Paramount to see a profit beyond its distribution fee, the film had to make over $400 million. At that point, Lucas, Spielberg, Ford and those with smaller profit-sharing deals would also begin to collect their cut.
The film was released on Thursday, May 22, 2008 in North America and grossed $25 million its opening day. In its opening weekend, the film grossed an estimated $101 million in 4,260 theaters in the United States and Canada, ranking #1 at the box office, and making it the third widest opening of all time. Within its first five days of release, it grossed $311 million worldwide. The film's total $151 million gross in the U.S. ranked it as the second biggest Memorial Day weekend release, behind Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. It was the third most successful film of 2008 domestically, behind The Dark Knight and Iron Man respectively, and the year's second highest-grossing film internationally, behind The Dark Knight. In February 2010, it was the 25th highest-grossing film of all time domestically, and 44th highest-grossing worldwide, as well as the most financially successful Indiana Jones film when not adjusted for inflation of ticket prices.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull received strongly polarized reviews, yet mostly positive; as a result, it has been nominated both for numerous "best of" and "worst of" awards. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 77% based on 257 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9 out 10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though the plot elements are certainly familiar, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull still delivers the thrills and Harrison Ford's return in the title role is more than welcome." Another aggregator, Metacritic, gives the film a weighted average rating of 65 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Surveys conducted by CinemaScore indicated a general "B" rating from audiences, on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, the same rating he gave The Last Crusade, finding it "same old, same old", but what "I want it to be." Leonard Maltin also gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of 4, more than he gave Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, and wrote that "Indy returns with the same brand of high adventure that marked the original Raiders of the Lost Ark." Empire's Damon Wise criticised the use of CG but praised Ford's performance and wrote that "It won't change your life but, if you're in the right frame of mind, it will change your mood: you might wince, you might groan, you might beg to differ on the big, silly climax, but you'll never stop smiling."
James Berardinelli gave the film 2 stars out of 4, calling it "the most lifeless of the series" and "simply [not] a very good motion picture." Margaret Pomeranz of At the Movies gave the film 2 1/2 stars out of 5, saying that the filmmakers "had 19 years since the last Indiana Jones movie to come up with something truly exciting and fresh, but I feel there's a certain laziness and cynicism in this latest adventure." Associated Press reported that J. Sperling Reich, who writes for FilmStew.com, said: "It really looked like they were going through the motions. It really looked like no one had their heart in it." USA Today stated reviews were "mixed" and reviewers felt the "movie suffers from predictable plot points and cheesy special effects."
The film was nominated for Best Action Movie at the 2009 Critics' Choice Awards. The Visual Effects Society nominated it for Best Single Visual Effect of the Year (the valley destruction), Best Outstanding Matte Paintings, Best Models and Miniatures, and Best Created Environment in a Feature Motion Picture (the inside of the temple). The film ranks 453rd on Empire's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. It was nominated at the Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Costumes and Best Special Effects. It won Best Costumes. At the 51st Grammy Awards, John Williams won an award for the Mutt Williams theme.
In 2009, the film won the Razzie Award for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel. Comcast voted it the 11th worst film sequel of all time. Paste magazine ranked the movie 10th on its list "The 20 Worst Sequels to Good Movies". Listverse.com ranked the film 8th on its list of the "Top 10 Worst Movie Sequels".
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation called for a ban on the film, accusing the production team of "demonizing" the Soviet Union. A party official said: "In 1957 the USSR was not sending terrorists to America but sending the Sputnik satellite into space!" Spielberg responded: "When we decided the fourth installment would take place in 1957, we had no choice but to make the Russians the enemies. World War II had just ended and the Cold War had begun. The U.S. didn't have any other enemies at the time." The film's depiction of Peru also received criticism from the Peruvian and Spanish-speaking public.
According to the Associated Press, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull received a "respectful" but "far from glowing" reception from Indiana Jones fans, and that "some viewers at its first press screening loved it, some called it slick and enjoyable though formulaic, some said it was not worth the 19-year wait." South Park parodied the film in the episode "The China Probrem", broadcast five months after the film's release. The episode parodied the negative fan reaction, with the characters filing a police report against Lucas and Spielberg for "raping Indiana Jones".
Some disappointed Indiana Jones fans used the term "nuking the fridge", based on a scene where Jones survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator, to denote the point when a franchise passes its peak and crossed into the absurd, similar to "jumping the shark". This phrase has appeared across the internet, and was chosen as #5 on Time magazine's list of "top ten buzzwords" of 2008. Asked about the scene and phrase, Spielberg said: "Blame me. Don't blame George. That was my silly idea ... I'm proud of that. I'm glad I was able to bring that into popular culture." Lucas denied this, saying Spielberg was "protecting him". According to Lucas, he had assembled a dossier of research data to convince Spielberg; Lucas stated that his research claimed the odds of surviving in the refrigerator are about "50-50."
The mixed fanbase reaction did not surprise Lucas, who was familiar with mixed response to the Star Wars prequels, and predicted that "we're all going to get people throwing tomatoes at us." David Koepp said: "I knew I was going to get hammered from a number of quarters [but] what I liked about the way the movie ended up playing was it was popular with families. I like that families really embraced it." Although Spielberg said "I'm very happy with the movie. I always have been", he also said "I sympathise with people who didn't like the MacGuffin [the interdimensional beings] because I never liked the MacGuffin."
At the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, LaBeouf told the Los Angeles Times he had "dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished" and felt that "the movie could have been updated ... we just misinterpreted what we were trying to satiate." In 2011, in response to LaBeouf's comments, Harrison Ford said: "I think I told [LaBeouf] he was a fucking idiot ... As an actor, I think it's my obligation to support the film without making a complete ass of myself. Shia is ambitious, attentive and talented — and he's learning how to deal with a situation which is very unique and difficult." LaBeouf later regretted his comments and their effect on his relationship with Spielberg: "He told me there's a time to be a human being and have an opinion, and there's a time to sell cars. It brought me freedom, but it also killed my spirits because this was a dude I looked up to like a sensei."
On March 15, 2016, Walt Disney Studios announced that Spielberg and Ford are both set to return for a fifth Indiana Jones film, scheduled for release in 2019. Lucas will return as executive producer, while Kennedy and Marshall will serve as producers and Koepp as screenwriter. Williams will also return to compose the score.
On April 24, 2017, Disney shifted the release date of the untitled Indiana Jones sequel from July 19, 2019 to July 10, 2020.