The Origin Story Behind the Indiana Jones Ride

One of the creators of several classic Disneyland rides tells the story

This article is part of our Insider’s Guide to Disneyland, from the November 2017 issue of the magazine.

As told by Tony Baxter to Chris Nichols

I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark at a sneak preview in Pasadena in 1981. There wasn’t a ton of anticipation for it, but in the first ten minutes you have the rolling ball and the tarantulas. Art director Skip Lange and I were on the edge of our seats. I remember saying, “Can you imagine if we could do something with this?”

Disney hadn’t had the entire family entranced since The Jungle Book in 1967. The Million Dollar Duck and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes didn’t have iconic characters that stood out. We were out of touch with the audience. So when you see George Lucas coming out with Star Wars and then producing Indiana Jones, you listen.

We did Star Tours first. It opened in 1987. At that point motion simulators were only available to the military and commercial aviation. Once we proved that using them could work with Star Tours, we thought, “What if we drove a simulator through a building?” We mounted one on a truck, blindfolded everyone, and had narration that said, “Don’t go down those steps, Indy!” We knew that if we could convince everyone with language that they were doing these things, we could build everything else.

The ride vehicles are pretty robust. There are 17 running from 8 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. If you want the quietest seat, sit next to the driver; it’s the center of gravity. The right rear corner seat offers the most robust ride.

But we wanted just getting to the loading area to be amazing. Outside we have the vehicle that Harrison Ford was dragged beneath in the movie. There are spiked rooms, letters you could decode, skeletons. I included a “bamboo” post that if you pull, the ceiling comes down a little. In our story, if you obey all the rules, you can get one of three wishes: youth, riches, or knowledge of the future. Anybody on Earth would wait two hours in line for one of these things.