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15 Fun Facts About the Indiana Jones Movies

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Nearly 35 years ago, in the summer of 1981, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford banded together to introduce moviegoers to a new kind of action hero. In the intervening years, Indiana Jones has made three more big-screen appearances (plus one television series)—with one more film on the way for 2019. In the meantime, we're looking back at the first four films in the series.

1. ONE DOG INSPIRED BOTH INDIANA JONES AND CHEWBACCA.

While developing the film with Spielberg and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, Lucas named the main character “Indiana Smith.” But Spielberg protested that it was too similar to the 1966 Steve McQueen western Nevada Smith and requested a change. The three agreed that the last name should be as universal and nondescript as “Smith,” so Lucas threw out “Jones” as a possibility. Indiana came from Lucas’ dog, an Alaskan malamute named Indiana. The big, hairy pup was also the inspiration for Chewbacca from Star Wars.

2. A RECEPTIONIST AT LUCASFILM HELPED OUT WITH RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK’S SPECIAL EFFECTS.

Advanced CGI was still far off when Spielberg tasked the effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to create the otherworldly elements for his film after the fact. To create the deadly specters that emerge from the Ark, ILM model maker Steve Gawley suspended small puppets with silk robes into a clouded water tank in front of a bluescreen. Puppeteers would shake the model back and forth in the water to achieve the surreal flowing movements Spielberg wanted, which would then be composited onto the actual footage by optical supervisor Bruce Nicholson.

To pull off the effect where an idyllic ghost floats toward the camera, only to reveal a hideous visage, the ILM guys found a receptionist from Lucasfilm and outfitted her in long white robes and painted her face a ghostly shade of blue and white. They then had her sit on a flat trapeze mechanism in front of a bluescreen and swing away from camera—which was run backwards in the final film to achieve a dreamlike quality. The receptionist’s performance was then composited with a grotesque, skeletal model to create the final transformation.

3. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED SHORT ROUND WAS DISCOVERED BY ACCIDENT.

Spielberg and casting director Mike Fenton were having trouble finding the right young actor for Short Round, so they put out an open casting call at an elementary school in Los Angeles and eventually found actor Ke Huy Quan ... but not directly. Quan’s mother brought in his older brother to read for the part of Short Round, but during the screen test the younger Quan began telling his brother what to do, which caught the eye of producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. They asked him to do his own taped audition for Spielberg. It was so good that they invited the youngster to audition with Indy himself, Harrison Ford.

Because the young would-be actor couldn’t read English very well, Spielberg decided to let him improvise during the audition—similar to the way he found young Henry Thomas for E.T.—telling him to play cards with Ford and gradually realize he had been cheated.

Spielberg said, “I just loved [Quan's] personality. I thought he was like a 50-year-old man trapped in a 12-year-old’s body.” Quan later explained why he was undaunted, despite having no experience, saying, “I didn't know who Steven, George, or Harrison were. I hadn't seen Raiders Of The Lost Ark and I didn't even know this was a sequel. After the shoot, Steven screened all his movies for me.”

4. KATE CAPSHAW’S PRICELESS DRESS WAS EATEN BY AN ELEPHANT ON-SET.

Kate Capshaw's costume had a wild time on set—in particular during one jungle scene that featured a hungry elephant. Willie, Indy, and Short Round are riding an elephant to Pankot Palace, and when they stop to make camp, Willie hangs her dress up to dry. In an unscripted moment, the elephant began eating the custom dress right off of a branch, tearing the entire back off the priceless costume. Costume designer Anthony Powell, who later scrambled to restore the dress by hand, filled out the insurance claim on the garment by stating “Eaten by elephant.”

5. TEMPLE OF DOOM FEATURES ONE OF SPIELBERG’S PERSONAL FAVORITE MOMENTS FROM HIS ENTIRE FILMOGRAPHY.

The scene when the three main characters are on their way to the Temple and get stuck in a booby-trapped room with spikes coming from the ceiling and floor was among the first sequences Spielberg and Lucas came up with for Temple of Doom. According to Spielberg, “For me to be able to turn that idea into something with bugs and a little coda where Willie's butt hits the trigger mechanism so the whole thing begins again, and to have the last shot of Indy reaching in and grabbing his hat just before the secret slab of concrete closes ... that was my favorite thing to shoot on that entire production.”

6. TEMPLE OF DOOM CREATED THE PG-13 RATING.

Think about this: a movie that includes a man pulling the still-beating heart out of another very-much-alive man who is then lowered into a searing pool of lava to die is rated a family-friendly PG by the Motion Picture Association of America. Parents and audience members alike were taken aback by the violence in Spielberg’s second Indiana Jones film, but the violence and horrific aspects weren’t enough to warrant an R rating (one that would cripple a film that relied so heavily on being a family-friendly film).

Once a controversy about the violence in Temple of Doom and Gremlins (a film Spielberg executive produced) arose, Spielberg wrote to Jack Valenti, then-President of the MPAA, suggesting an in-between rating for movies of similar ilk. The director suggested four new potential examples, including “PG-13,” “PG-14,” “PG-2” or “R-13,” which would limit or allow certain audience members admittance between PG and R-rated films. Valenti soon enacted the new system, labeling director John Milius’ film Red Dawn with the first ever PG-13 rating.

7. SPIELBERG MADE INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE TO APOLOGIZE FOR TEMPLE OF DOOM.

After the masterpiece of spirited adventure that was Raiders of the Lost Ark, some critics and audience members felt betrayed by the grim and gruesome sequel. Spielberg was hardly a defender of the movie; in 1989 he admitted, “I wasn't happy with the second film at all. It was too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific. I thought it out-poltered Poltergeist. There's not an ounce of my own personal feeling in Temple of Doom.

Spielberg’s involvement in a third Indiana Jones film sprang from his desire to apologize to viewers for the series’ disappointing second outing, and to revive the earnest spirit of the original. He re-hired supporting stars Denholm Elliott and John Rhys-Davies to double down on the Raiders ambiance.

8. A RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT SECRETLY PENNED THE INDY/HENRY MATERIAL. 

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Since the relationship between Indy and his estranged father, played by Sean Connery, provided the emotional meat of the story in The Last Crusade, Spielberg and Lucas hired a ghostwriter to bolster the gravity of the characters’ interactions. Celebrated playwright Tom Stoppard contributed the bulk of the Jones boys’ material, but didn’t receive a writing credit. 

9. FORD AND CONNERY TOOK OFF THEIR PANTS WHILE SHOOTING ONE SCENE. 

A little more than halfway through the film, Indy and Henry converse over a private table while hiding out on a German zeppelin. Unbeknownst to viewers, beneath the table neither Harrison Ford nor Sean Connery is wearing pants. Excessive heat on the set prompted Connery to remove his slacks while shooting the scene, and Ford followed suit. 

10. THE MOVIE HELPED TO PIONEER THE RAT INSURANCE GAME.

The rat-filled subterranean sequence early in the film proved to be a complex problem: the presence of the rodents cost the film its first choice of female lead, Amanda Redman, as she was too afraid to perform alongside the critters. Then, the production team had to breed its own grey rats for the scene—thousands of them—in order to have enough rodent firepower that was definitely disease-free. 

Finally, there was the unprecedented matter of taking out an insurance policy on the unpredictable creatures. After some negotiation, the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company did indeed grant Paramount Pictures the very first (and more than likely last) “thousand-rat insurance policy.” The policy would have paid off if the production had lost more than 1000 of its rodents. 

11. THE DEATH OF WALTER DONOVAN WAS A BENCHMARK IN DIGITAL EFFECTS. 

The rapid degradation of Julian Glover’s villainous character, Walter Donovan, following a sip from a particularly unholy grail (“He chose poorly”) is considered the first complete digital composite shot in Hollywood history. Glover was filmed in several separate stages of the sped-up aging process, which were digitally melded together (along with shots of puppet heads for some of the later stages) and translated back to film as one cohesive take. 

12. THE LAST CRUSADE DID WONDERS FOR PETRA’S TOURIST DRAW. 

After the release of the movie, international interest in Petra—where some of the film's scenes were filmed—skyrocketed. Prior to the film, the city saw only a few thousand visitors every year. That number reached into the millions following Last Crusade’s release. 

13. SHIA LABEOUF WASN'T A FAN OF INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

Never one to refrain from sticking his foot in his mouth, Shia LaBeouf had some choice words for the fourth entry in the Indiana Jones franchise while at the Cannes Film Festival, telling reporters, “I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished … You get to monkey-swinging and things like that and you can blame it on the writer and you can blame it on Steven [Spielberg, who directed]. But the actor's job is to make it come alive and make it work, and I couldn't do it. So that's my fault. Simple.”

Responding to LaBeouf’s badmouthing of The Crystal Skull, Ford told DETAILS that his young co-star “was a f*cking idiot. As an actor, I think it's my obligation to support the film without making a complete ass of myself.”

14. SEAN CONNERY SAID NO TO A CAMEO IN THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

As tempting as it may have been for Sean Connery to re-team with Ford on The Crystal Skull, the happily retired former James Bond turned down the part.

15. THE CRYSTAL SKULL INSPIRED AN ALTERNATIVE PHRASE TO “JUMP THE SHARK.”

Ever since Henry Winkler attempted to sail over a shark in a late-season episode of Happy Days, the phrase “jump the shark” has been used to describe the point where a television series goes off the rails in its ridiculousness. The Crystal Skull spawned an alternative phrase for that, known as “nuking the fridge.” And Spielberg seemed surprisingly pleased about it.

"What people really jumped at was Indy climbing into a refrigerator and getting blown into the sky by an atom-bomb blast,” Spielberg told CNN. “Blame me. Don't blame George. That was my silly idea. People stopped saying 'jump the shark.' They now say, 'nuked the fridge.' I'm proud of that. I'm glad I was able to bring that into popular culture.”

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
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This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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