Indiana Jones instantly became one of our greatest heroes when he first appeared in iconic 1981 adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark. Further adventures were inevitable – but opinion has always been divided when it comes to his second movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Plenty of us love the 1984 sequel as much as the original, but many more have accused it of being racist, sexist and far too dark for a family audience.
No matter where you stand, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was still a landmark film in the childhoods of most children of the 80s – but did you know the following 20 facts about the film?
20. Kate Capshaw’s beaded dress was eaten by an elephant
One of the most prized items on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was Kate Capshaw’s red and gold beaded dress, which she wears in her opening song-and-dance routine as Willie Scott. It was hand-beaded and used authentic glass beads from the 20s and 30s, which were quite difficult to source and fairly expensive, so only one dress was made, and it was carefully looked after.
Unfortunately, during a scene where Capshaw’s character Willie Scott changes out of her dress in the Indian jungle, the garment was temporarily hung over a tree branch. Then, in a twist that sounds more like it should have been in the movie than in real life, it attracted the attention of an elephant, who promptly chewed it up. The costume department had to file an insurance claim that read, ‘eaten by an elephant.’
19. It was originally entitled Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death
When writer-producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg first started work on the sequel, they were both in a bad mood due to recent relationship breakups. This grim mood informed their plans for their new movie which they initially entitled Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark) took one look at that title and the synopsis and immediately turned the project down.
Kasdan would later explain, “I just thought it was horrible. It’s so mean… There’s nothing pleasant about it. I think Temple of Doom represents a chaotic period in both [Lucas and Spielberg’s] lives, and the movie is very ugly and mean-spirited.” Lucas subsequently hired Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz to write the script, and the ‘Death’ of the title was toned down to ‘Doom.’
18. Harrison Ford was badly injured during shooting
Harrison Ford suffered some nasty injuries during production. First, he aggravated a disc in his back whilst riding on an elephant. He later slipped this same disc when he fell backwards into a stuntman during an ambush scene. Ford had to be rushed to hospital for emergency surgery, then had to spend weeks recovering as the physical demands on him as a leading man and action star were high.
Unsurprisingly, production shut down as soon as Ford went to the hospital, partly because the star of the film was unavailable and partly for insurance reasons. However, Spielberg was eager to get going, and so he restarted production and shot around Ford, using his stunt double Vic Armstrong.
17. The film led to the creation of the PG-13 rating
Temple of Doom features a rather alarming human sacrifice sequence. Parents and critics complained this was far too nasty for a PG, yet overall the film wasn’t so bad as to warrant the more restrictive R. The same was true of another 1984 movie, Gremlins, also produced by Steven Spielberg. It was Spielberg himself who proposed a solution: to introduce a new intermediate rating between PG and R.
The MPAA agreed, and the PG-13 rating was introduced that same year: the first film released with the rating was Red Dawn. Today, the PG-13 is generally considered the optimum rating for box office appeal; as of 2023, nine of the top ten highest-grossing films ever are PG-13 rated.
16. Kate Capshaw was really covered in actual bugs
Raiders of the Lost Ark famously features a scene in which Indy faces off against thousands of snakes, so the sequel had to come up with something similar. To this end, Temple of Doom features a dark tunnel teeming with insects, many of which crawl all over Kate Capshaw. In those pre-CGI days, the only way to do this was live on set with the real thing: they had a whopping 50,000 cockroaches and 30,000 beetles, which absolutely no-one on set wanted to deal with.
It’s not too surprising, then, that Capshaw’s hysterical reaction in the scene isn’t entirely acting. When it came time for the actress to actually be covered in the bugs, she was so afraid that she excused herself to take a valium before it was time to shoot, just so she could calm down enough to actually go through with it.
15. They banned from filming in India as the government found the script offensive
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is set primarily in India, so this was where the filmmakers wanted to shoot. Producer Robert Watts and production designer Elliott Scott scouted locations in person, but soon hit a snag: after seeing the script, Indian government officials decided that it was offensive to Indian culture. Attempts to negotiate around this failed, prompting the filmmakers to instead shoot their exterior scenes in Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the interior scenes were shot on the Paramount studio lot in Los Angeles and Pinewood Studios in London – and in the years since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released, many have agreed that the film is indeed xenophobic towards India and its people.
14. Steven Spielberg was terrified of the rope bridge
The rope bridge scene is one of the most iconic moments in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and for the most part it’s real, despite technically being shot on three continents. The scene where the broken bridge is hanging down with everyone clinging to it was shot at Elstree Studios in London, while the alligators seen waiting in the water were shot by Frank Marshall in Florida – but the bridge itself was filmed on location in Sri Lanka.
Despite the fact that the bridge was brand new and had been designed and built by engineering experts, some members of the crew were not comfortable using it. Specifically, Steven Spielberg himself would drive around the cliff to work every day, rather than simply walk across the bridge, as he was simply too afraid of heights to try it. By contrast, Harrison Ford loved running across the bridge at full speed, and showed absolutely no fear filming on top of it.
13. The monkey brains did not taste as bad as they looked
One of the scenes most frequently cited as racist in Temple of Doom is the banquet scene at the Maharajah’s palace, during which a slew of decadent, mostly overweight Indian aristocrats eat a slew of nauseating dishes including fried beetles and ‘snake surprise,’ whilst Willie is given eyeball soup. Things reach a head when they bring out the dessert – chilled monkey brains.
The gross-looking brain soup is actually just custard, which had been mixed with raspberry sauce in order to give it an unappetising pink colour. It might not look seriously unpleasant, but in reality it probably tasted pretty good.
12. Barbara Streisand and Carrie Fisher pranked Harrison Ford on set
During the scene in which Indiana Jones is bound to a rock and whipped by the Thuggees, the cast and crew played a prank on Harrison Ford. Barbra Streisand happened to be on the Paramount lot shooting another movie, and without Ford’s knowledge she came to the Temple of Doom set dressed in a leather S&M-style outfit and took over whipping the actor.
As if that whole situation wasn’t already scandalous enough, Ford’s Star Wars co-star Carrie Fisher and The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner were also in attendance, making it a proper Star Wars reunion. Video footage of this incident exists, but unfortunately the picture quality is so poor it’s hard to tell who’s who.
11. The whole cast came to work one day with a black eye in support of Kate Capshaw
However, Ford was not the only one to get into some trouble while shooting an action sequence on the film. During the final act’s frenetic mine cart sequence, efforts were taken to ensure the safety of the actors – but Kate Capshaw still managed to get hurt, as she slammed into the front of the mine cart as it stopped. The actress was left with a black eye for her trouble.
Capshaw was known for being lovely to the cast and crew, and so the next day the crew decided to cheer her up. As a show of solidarity, they all showed up with a smudge of black make-up under their eye, in order to echo her unfortunate injury.
10. Numerous character names were taken from the crew’s dogs
Famously, Indiana Jones is named after George Lucas’ dog, and this tradition was continued on the new characters introduced in Temple of Doom. Indy’s young sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) was named after screenwriter Willard Huyck’s dog, who was in turn named after the orphan in the 1951 war drama The Steel Helmet.
Maybe the strangest example is Kate Capshaw’s character in the film being called Willie Scott, a name that almost seems entirely not fitting for a glamourous American singer and actress. This name came from Steven Spielberg’s dog Willie, a cocker spaniel that he owned at the time.
9. J.D. Nanayakkara couldn’t speak a word of English
J.D Nanayakkara makes a brief but memorable appearance in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as the shaman Marhan, who declares that the god Shiva brought Indy to their village to help them. Nanayakkara’s performance is made all the more impressive by the fact that he was not actually an actor by trade at all, and didn’t even speak English.
- As Nanayakkara spoke only Sinhalese, and so he had no way to learn his lines from an English script. Instead, Steven Spielberg would say the lines first then Nanayakkara would repeat them back to the camera. As it turned out, Nanayakkara was an excellent mimic, and so all the lines were said perfectly.
8. The Lao Che Air Freight plane was famously terrible
The plane that Indy, Short Round and Willie use to escape Shanghai is said to belong to Chinese crime lord Lao Che. It’s actually a Ford Trimotor 5-AT-B, which is the one and only attempt the famous car-maker ever made at manufacturing aircraft back in 1929. As might be apparent from the fact that Ford never made another plane, the Trimotor wasn’t very good,
Produced in 1929, the ramshackle vehicle was nicknamed The Tin Goose by the pilots that were assigned to fly in it. This was in reference to the fact that the first cars made by Ford, the famous Model Ts, were nicknamed Tin Lizzies.
7. Ke Huy Quan was discovered by accident
For the role of Indy’s young sidekick Short Round, an open casting call was set up at an elementary school in Los Angeles, and dozens of actors showed up to try out for the part. Among them was Ke Huy Quan – but he wasn’t there to audition. The then-12-year-old Vietnamese-American was just tagging along with his mother older brother, who was auditioning. However, while the audition was going on, the casting team noticed that the younger Quan had more natural charisma, and asked him to screen test too.
The young unknown landed the role, and went on to play Data in 1985 Spielberg production The Goonies. Quan’s career stalled in the 90s, leading him to quit acting for many years – but he came back in a big way with 2022’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, which (among many other plaudits) won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
6. There’s a fun Star Wars Easter Egg
Both Indiana Jones and Star Wars were created by legendary filmmaker George Lucas, and director Steven Spielberg enjoys including nods to Lucas’ other franchise in the Indy films. Raiders of the Lost Ark has many of these, including hieroglyphs resembling R2-D2 carved into an ancient wall, and the serial number OB-CPO (a nod to both Obi-Wan Kenobi and C-3PO) on Indy’s plane.
Temple of Doom has less Star Wars Easter Eggs, but there’s a big one early one. Watch closely as Indy, Short Round and Willie escape the gangsters at the Shanghai nightclub, and you’ll notice it’s called Club Obi-Wan, in another nod to Star Wars’ iconic Jedi master played by Alec Guinness.
5. The filmmakers had to shoot around Amrish Puri’s extremely busy schedule
To Western audiences, Indian actor Amrish Puri will always be best remembered as Temple of Doom’s formidable antagonist Mola Ram – but this is just one among a staggering number of roles on the actor’s CV. Whilst the Indiana Jones movie was in production, Puri was simultaneously working on an eye-popping 18 more movies in his native India, so his shooting days had to be carefully scheduled.
- Happily, Puri (who sadly died in 2005 aged 72) was such a consummate professional that they had no problem getting his scenes done quickly. Spielberg later said of the actor, “Amrish is my favourite villain—the best the world has ever produced and ever will!”
4. Kate Capshaw hated her character in the film
- Landing the part of Willie Scott in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was a good news/bad news scenario for Kate Capshaw. On the positive side, it was her highest profile movie yet; however, she had to her to have her naturally dark hair bleached blonde, she got covered in insects, she got injured on the mine cart, and she was lumbered with a character often listed as one of the most annoying in film history.
Particularly by comparison with Karen Allen’s gutsier Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, fans and critics have always derided Willie Scott as an unlikeable, overbearing stereotype. Capshaw is largely in agreement, once describing the character as “not much more than a dumb screaming blonde.”
3. It’s Lucas and Spielberg’s least favourite Indiana Jones film
As we’ve established, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom has taken a lot of flak over the years for being too dark and mean-spirited, and creators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg ultimately came to agree with this assessment. Lucas admits, “I was going through a divorce, Steven had just broken up and we were not in a good mood, so we decided on something a little more edgy… we certainly took it to the extreme.”
While Lucas feels Temple of Doom’s grim tone was “what we wanted to do, for better or worse,” Spielberg is more remorseful. “It was too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific… There’s not an ounce of my own personal feeling in Temple of Doom.”
2. The life raft sequence was shot in one take
Action and adventure movies have always played fast and loose with the laws of physics, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom features one of the most egregious examples of this: when Indy, Marion and Short Round jump from their crashing plane in a rubber life raft, which inflates as they fall, lands safely on the snowy mountain below and takes all three unharmed passengers on a rollercoaster ride.
Even if the scenario is not realistic, the stunt itself was pulled off practically – and in one take, no less. The prop raft was thrown out of a plane carrying three dummies, and it automatically unfolded and inflated perfectly, then fell down exactly as it was supposed to the very first time. It was so unexpected, and so perfect, that the entire crew was stunned, and they didn’t bother shooting a second take.
1. Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw struck up a romance after production
During production on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, director Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw grew close. While they did not begin dating during the film, their friendship proved enough of a foundation for them to begin seeing one another two years later. Eventually they tied the knot in 1991.
They remain married to this day. While Spielberg has directed a further 26 films since (as well as clocking up dozens more film and TV credits as producer), Capshaw has largely retired as an actress; her last screen credit was in 2002 TV movie Due East.