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How Steven Spielberg’s rejected James Bond pitch led to Indiana Jones

The world of James Bond is one rife with what-ifs. David Bowie almost played the villain Max Zorin, Eric Clapton almost provided a theme tune, and Steven Spielberg seemingly almost directed an outing. Instead, his pitch was rejected, and his good pal George Lucas told him not to worry because he had plans for another smooth international adventurer. The rest, as they say, is ancient history.  

“He’s just there with a bullwhip to keep the world at bay,” Harrison Ford once said of Indiana Jones. Bond isn’t all that different, except instead of a whip he has a pistol, a pen that fires poisoned darts, a DB9 equipped with machine guns, a license for any moving vehicle, and a spinning bowtie to lighten the mood at parties. Nevertheless, the notion of international adventure and electrifying escapades remains a tangible tie. 

Spielberg was an ideal fit for such a thrill ride, after all, he’s the master of adventure. However, James Bond producers thought his style might be a bit too glossy and juvenile for their new direction. Thus, with his tail between his legs, he headed off for a holiday in Hawaii where Lucas was fresh from finishing Star Wars in 1977. 

Lucas recalls: “Steven was telling me how he really wanted to do a James Bond film, and that he actually went to the people who owned James Bond and asked them if he could direct one … and they turned him down.” Fortunately, his friend had something outside of the galaxy far, far away that was the perfect fit for Spielberg and things fatefully fell into place. 

As Lucas continues: “So I said, ‘Well, look, Steven, I’ve got a James Bond film. It’s great – it’s just like James Bond but even better.” It was quite a promise, but with Star Wars taking the world by storm, Spielberg was all ears. “I told him the story about this archaeologist and said it was like a Saturday-matinee serial that he just got into one mess after another. And Steven said, ‘Fantastic, let’s do this!’”

Things seemed so seamless that if you didn’t believe in fate before hearing this story, it might change your view. In fact, the only hiccup was that Lucas had named the Indiana Smith after his dog and Spielberg found that title ridiculous. “Name him Indiana Jones or whatever you want – it’s your movie now,” Lucas replied, so even that was resolved in a flash. 

Six months after this auspicious beech discussion Raiders of the Lost Ark was in the works and the rest really is ancient history. The film would go on to be 1981’s highest grossing by some margin and it was nominated for Best Picture to boot. 

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