Rumor has it that Disney is looking to recast Indiana Jones with a younger actor, possibly Bradley Cooper, in order to reboot the recently purchased franchise. With the possibility of future Indys on our mind (and in the tradition of our other fan-casting “through the decades” pieces on Lex Luthor and the Invisible Woman), we decided to have some fun and contemplate who the Indys of the past would have been. If everyone’s favorite movie archaeologist had actually been introduced in the 1930s, when his adventures were set, who would have played him, then and throughout the 20th century? Here are our picks, decade by decade:
1930s: Errol Flynn
If one man defines the era of swashbuckling Hollywood action that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg designed Indiana Jones to emulate, it’s Errol Flynn. 1935’s seafaring and sword-fighting Captain Blood made Flynn a star, and set him off on a career of exciting pictures including The Charge Of The Light Brigade and the immortal The Adventures Of Robin Hood. Flynn was known for his nimble, energetic performances on screen and his reputation as a ladies’ man, both qualities that would serve him well as Indy (at least in the 1930s; by the 1940s, his lifestyle started getting him into trouble with the law). It might be a coincidence, but Flynn even bears a bit of a resemblance to Lucas and Spielberg’s first choice for Indy, Tom Selleck.
1940s: Cary Grant
Buried in Indiana Jones’ DNA are the adventure movies and serials of the 1930s, including Gunga Din, the story of three British soldiers sent to investigate a lost British outpost in India. (Temple Of Doom would borrow liberally from the film, including its Thuggee cult villains.) Of Gunga Din’s trio of heroes, Cary Grant seems the most natural fit for Henry Jones Jr. He has everything you would want in an Indy: Like Ford, he had the rare ability to play both intellectual confidence and athletic intensity, and he would have handled the movies’ comic-relief sequences—and the period clothes and hats—with absolute ease. Frankly, and this might be heretical to say, but he might have actually been a better Indiana Jones than the real deal. A Howard Hawks-Cary Grant Indiana Jones sounds kind of amazing.
1950s: William Holden
Holden was the epitome of the post-WWII American movie star: gravelly, cynical, smart-assed, but grudgingly willing to do what needed to be done (and effectively so). Both a shadow and a reflection of 1950s Eisenhower optimism, Holden was a different kind of action hero in movies like Escape From Fort Bravo and The Bridge On The River Kwai. He’d be great in an Indiana Jones adventure scaled more like one of the Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart Westerns: character-driven and a little dark, with a hero who’s hard-bitten but ruthlessly capable.
1960s: Warren Beatty
For a man who was once the hottest star in Hollywood, Beatty hasn’t really made that many movies, and very few that could qualify as “action-adventure.” But then, a 1960s Indiana Jones movie likely wouldn’t be a straightforward swashbuckler anyway. If made early in the decade, there’s a high likelihood it’d be more of a spoof. Made later, it would probably come from one of the “New Hollywood” brats, who’d position the character in the context of a pessimistic romanticism. Beatty’s soft handsomeness—and the way he always seemed to convey that he was lost in thought, slightly removed from what was going on around him—would play well in either take on Indiana Jones.
1970s: Fred “The Hammer” Williamson
Who says Indiana Jones has to be white? Williamson has two things going for him: First off, he was born in Indiana; second, he kicks ass. (That second thing may be more important.) And “Indiana Jones” actually sounds like the name of a 1970s blaxploitation hero. Heck, Williamson could probably play the character today, as a septuagenarian. (He’s currently trying to raise money for a new action film called Old School Gangstas, to co-star Jim Brown, Pam Grier, and Richard Roundtree.) If nothing else, a 1970s Williamson-starring Indiana Jones would have a stellar soundtrack.