When Raiders of the Lost Ark burst onto the scene in 1980, it gave new life to a type of film that had long fallen by the wayside. The movie serials of the 40s and 50’s churned out in their masses had disappeared as tastes changed. With Harrison Ford’s portrayal of archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones, an iconic new character reminiscent of heroes past emerged. Not only would Indy inspire a franchise of films, television series, computer games, books and various other types of media, it also triggered a slew of imitators who appeared in the following years.
We’ve cast our eye over some of Indy’s rivals and focused specifically on the 1980s. Although The Mummy, National Treasure and Tomb Raider franchises are spiritual successors to the Indy films, it’s the cult gems in the immediate years surrounding the original trilogy that we’re seeking out. So don your khaki and crack that whip as we discover the world of Indiana Jones inspired movie outings.
The Further Adventures of Tennessee Buck (1988)
But I haven’t seen the earlier adventures of Tennessee Buck I hear you cry. Don’t worry, there aren’t any and you might be thankful to hear that. Starring and directed by David Keith (Firestarter, The Two Jakes), adventurer Tennessee Buck, whose become more accustomed to opening bottles of beer than treasure maps, is hired by a wealthy newlywed couple to take them on a tour through the Borneo jungle. However things take a turn for the worse when they run into a tribe of cannibals. Oops!
With both lead characters sharing the name of an American state as their forename suggesting it might be more wholesome adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones, there’s a good chance you’ll be contacted by Social Services if you watch this with your family. Five minutes in, our grubby hero ogles a woman in a bikini and you get the gist where the rest of film is heading. By the dark climax we’ve seen murder, rape, bloodsport and a lengthy sequence involving a naked Barbara (Playboy Playmate Kathy Shower) receiving an oil-up from a group of native women. Much more adult than the marketing suggests, it seems determined to titillate at any given opportunity.
From legendary producer Nico Mastorakis (Island of Death, Blood Tide, Death Has Blue Eyes), Bloodstone is the all out adventure tale of a newlywed couple (seems to be a theme here) honeymooning in India when they hear of a famous ruby called The Bloodstone. A slimy chap in a sharp white suit called Van Hoeven is after it and decides to steal Stephanie in the hope that Sandy will exchange the ruby for his bride. How Sandy is supposed to get his hands on the Bloodstone is another matter but enter taxi driver Sabu (Tamil film icon Rajinikanth, 2.0) and the thrill ride begins!
Shot entirely on location in India, Bloodstone dishes up plenty of action with sword fights, smashed banquet tables and white water rafting. The rope bridge scene may share some similarity to the climax of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but nothing says peril quite like a rope bridge set on fire. With a tight neat plot and a charismatic performance from Rajinikanth, Bloodstone is a fun adventure that makes the most of it’s interesting backdrops.
Swinging back towards the more adult variety of adventure film now with the 1984 French action comedy Gwendoline or to give it it’s full title The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik-Yak. Directed by Just Jaeckin (Emmanuelle, The Story of O) and based on the bondage-themed comics of John Willie, it should come as no surprise that this features as much eroticism as it does action. Tawny Kitaen (Bachelor Party, Witchboard) plays the title star who makes a trip to China in search of a rare butterfly to honour her father. She teams up with a rugged guide Willard (Brent Huff, Armed Response, The Bad Pack) who agrees to take her to the Land of the Yik-Yak in search of the insect. However a run-in with cannibals sees them trapped in an underground lair run by a half naked all women tribe.
A cult classic, Gwendoline contains all the hallmarks of an Indy movie. Jungles, knife fights, romance and plenty of whip-cracking all feature albeit in revealing outfits and a suitably surreal vibe. With plenty of kitsch value, it’s a unique and wild ride.
Robbers of the Sacred Mountain (1982)
Also known as Falcon’s Gold, 1982’s Robbers of the Sacred Mountain is a peculiar Canadian production originally made as a TV movie. Based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle, although he may be revolving at speed in his final resting place at the association, an archaeologist heads south of the border in search of a set of precious stones. He’s joined by a journalist (Simon MacCorkindale, Death on the Nile, Jaws 3-D) and, as the trailer puts it, “two beautiful women, one for courage…one for passion” (Stevie Vallance, The Ropers and Blanca Guerra, Santa Sangre). Opposition comes in the form of an arms dealer who fancies the stones for himself due to their potential use as a component part of a weapon of mass destruction.
The archaeologist in this has little Indy-like qualities, played by John Marley perhaps best known for waking up in bed with a horse’s head in The Godfather, and it’s more MacCorkindale’s Hank Richards complete with fedora and five day stubble as the Indy clone with a wandering Transatlantic accent. It has it’s moments with a few thrills (a duel over neon signage, wrestling with a snake) but finds it hard to shake off the tedium.
The Ark of the Sun God (1984)
We’ve been to India, China, Mexico and now Turkey. The Ark of the Sun God, sailing close to the wind with the word “Ark” in it’s title, gives us the brilliantly named Rick Spear (David Warbeck, The Black Cat), a safecracker in search of a legendary spectre once owned by the historical king Gilgamesh. Directed by low-budget genre specialist Antonio Margheriti (And God Said to Cain) credited here as Anthony M. Dawson, Margheriti had a thing for Indy inspired adventures previously helming The Hunters of the Golden Cobra in 1982 which rather unoriginally also features David Warbeck heading to an exotic location in search of an object.
Perhaps the most blatantly derivative of Indiana Jones on our list (at one point our hero is chased by a large, rolling stone) it also takes a lot of inspiration from the Roger Moore Bond films of the same time. Well, if you’re going to pay tribute to one big franchise, you may as well do two.
Jake Speed (1986)
More ripping yarn entertainment with a retro feel comes in the form of Jake Speed. Wayne Crawford (Valley Girl, Barracuda) plays the title hero, a fictional character from a popular 1940s series of adventure novels who turns out to be real when a young girl seeks his help to rescue her kidnapped sister. Into Africa they go to a country in the midst of civil war intending to foil the plot of the downright nasty Sid (John Hurt, The Elephant Man, Alien).
A lively film that knows exactly what it’s doing with it’s knowing nods to the genre and fantastic scenery from location shooting in Zimbabwe, Jake Speed has a daring premise that pushes a surreal aspect seldom seem in adventure flicks. As an interesting side note, one actor to audition for the role of Speed was the then little known Bruce Willis.
Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold (1984)
Yes, it’s another The Blank and the Blank Blank. If you were in the Super Match game you’d win the prize if you said “Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold”. Yellow Hair, played by Laurene Landon (Hundra, Maniac Cop) is a half Apache woman in search of a temple filled with gold in Mexico. Aided with her sidekick The Pecos Kid (also Executive Producer Ken Roberson) they come across horseback mercenaries, flying snakes and Aztec warriors.
A Spanish production, the film’s poster explicitly declared “She is a female Indiana Jones!” and they weren’t far wrong although it feels like it has more in common with Westerns. Like Indiana Jones, it harks back to the matinee serials of the 40s with a hefty lump of stereotypes for good measure. And ultimately we’re shown that the greedy never prosper…
Cannon had a fondness for producing adventure film fodder in the 80s. We could have looked at King Solomon’s Mines or it’s sequel Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold or even the 3D curio Treasure of the Four Crowns but we’ve turned our eye to their Cannon studio stable mate, Firewalker. Or in other words, Chuck Norris does comedy. Norris (Missing in Action, Way of the Dragon) and Louis Gossett Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman, J.D.’s Revenge) are treasure hunters who, following the advice of a psychic woman with a treasure map (Melody Anderson, Flash Gordon), seek out an Aztec fortune. But things don’t go to plan as they run into a Native American tribe who aren’t keen on them taking their gold and hijinks in the jungle with local militia, snakes and alligator-infested waters ensue.
One of the final films of director J. Lee Thompson (Guns of Navarone, Ice Cold in Alex) and featuring Indy stalwart John Rhys-Davies, this is Indy rewritten as a buddy movie with creaky old jokes. Norris and Gossett do drum up some decent chemistry but there is a reason Norris didn’t transition into a series of comedy roles after this. You do get to see him dressed as a priest doing some roundhouse kicks though.
Armour of God (1986)
We’re ending with perhaps the most critically acclaimed of all on this list, the Hong Kong smash hit Armour of God starring the legendary Jackie Chan. He is Asian Hawk, an ex-musician/treasure hunter who is drawn into an adventure where he must seek out three pieces of armour to placate an evil cult who have kidnapped his former bandmate’s girlfriend. He embarks on a quest to Europe to retrieve the treasure and confront the nefarious cult.
Regarded by some as Chan’s finest action movie, the film contains a series of stunning set pieces and ambitious stunts along with customary intricate, well-drilled fight scenes. The sequel, Armor of God II: Operation Condor perhaps has more in common with Indy with a race for hidden gold against a Nazi villain. Bizarrely, Armour of God is also known as Operation Condor 2 in the United States despite being released before Operation Condor aka Armor of God. Yes, I’m confused too.