Playing Indiana Jones for the Final Time, Harrison Ford Allows Age to Catch Up to the Action Hero

At age 80, Harrison Ford reprises the role of Indiana Jones for the final time in 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.' Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. TM. All Rights Reserved/Walt Disney Studios

As people live longer, healthier lives, traditional career length becomes a thing of the past across all professions. And the Hollywood action genre is no exception. Bruce Nash, of entertainment data website The Numbers, pointed out in the Wall Street Journal that the average age of an action-movie leading man so far this year is 55 (whereas in 2015 it was 47, and 39 a decade earlier).

Keanu Reeves, for example, was 58 in the latest John Wick instalment, Tom Cruise will be 60 when Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One hits theatres in July and Denzel Washington, 68, returns as vigilante Robert McCall in the upcoming September release, The Equalizer 3.

And then there’s Harrison Ford, reprising perhaps the most iconic role of his career as snake-hating archeology professor turned adventurer Indiana Jones this month, for the fifth, and apparently, final time. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (in theatres June 30) is about an ancient artefact of time travel, the weight of history and learning to leave the past in the past and move forward. 

Remember that Indy’s adventures began in 1936. Over five movies across 40 years, he embarked on various adventures, learned of a son with Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) and is now retiring from his teaching gig at New York’s Hunter College. Separated and bereft, his goddaughter Helena (Fleabag’s Emmy-winning writer and actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 37) arrives and ropes the reluctant retiree into one last world-saving adventure.

Ford turns 81 in July and critics have made much of his age (“Let’s allow Harrison Ford a little rest,”), but so does he. The actor told Esquire last month that the selling point for his reprising the role was that the character could look and feel like an old man. Although there was a body double, Ford still did some of his own stunts and, at times, banished the double from action scenes, telling the crew, “Leave me alone, I’m an old man getting off a horse and I want it to look like that!”


Turning Back the Clock on Indiana Jones


Dial of Destiny’s cold open plunges the audience into past continuity with a 25-minute sequence aboard a speeding Gestapo train, circa 1944, loaded with plunder. As you’ve likely heard since the Cannes world première, it features a digitally de-aged Ford. It’s the ultimate fan service: an uncanny valley of the star in his mid-40s that, if you squint just right, could almost make you believe the swagger is cutting-room floor material from authentic peak-era Ford. (Alternate titles: Raiders of the Lost Footage.)


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The digitally de-aged Harrison Ford in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ is almost convincing enough to make you question whether the film repurposed decades-old footage of the actor. Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.


But time — and gravity — come for us all eventually. The movie soon pulls us out of that reverie by the tick tick ticking of an alarm clock and returns to Indy’s present-day of 1969 New York, during an astronaut ticker tape parade for the Moon landing heroes. Grizzled Indy is slumped in his armchair asleep, awoken by noisy college students next door.

“Waking up in my underwear with the empty glass in my hand was my idea,” Ford said in the Esquire interview. Shirtless and still in just his rumpled boxer shorts, Indy hasn’t exactly gone to seed — though he’s got the stooped body and loose flesh of an 80-year-old man. The trademark lopsided grin is on a face that has jowls.

“I’ve been blessed with this body,” Ford deadpanned when a journalist remarked that the 80-year-old was “still very hot” at the Cannes Film Festival in May. “Thanks for noticing.” Joking aside, Ford told the press conference: “I wanted to see the weight of life on him. I want to see him require reinvention.” 

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Ford elaborated on aiming for a more authentic depiction of aging in the film. “I didn’t want this to deny or play with age, but f***ing dig into it. How does it feel to be an old fart in this world? The film acknowledges his decline. His fire and passion are almost out. This dude’s not in great shape.”


Indiana Jones
Harrison Ford opted to do some of his own stunts at age 80 in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.’ Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.


Call it having one’s cake and eating it too. After the opening computer-generated illusion, throughout the rest of Dial of Destiny Indy dutifully throws punches, cracks the whip and dons the signature fedora with panache, just like old times. But he also boasts of past adventures and laments his body’s accumulated injuries (in real life, Ford has almost as many from decades of doing his own stunt work). 

While a shoulder injury Ford incurred during a fight scene delayed filming, much of what derring-do there is in Dial of Destiny actually comes from a combination of CGI (that opening sequence) and Ford’s energetic younger co-stars. 

Despite it’s sluggish running time and many nostalgic callbacks, there’s no mention of fan favourite Short Round (played as a child by recent Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan) and, in this age of representation, Indy’s Egyptian pal Sallah is still played by white Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies. But as a gen-Xer who grew up with these movies (and with apologies to Karen Allen), Waller-Bridge’s Helena is, as the character herself puts it, a resourceful, daring and self-reliant woman — truly the first in the pulp and boyhood adventure serial-inspired franchise to get big purposeful action sequences. That in itself was admittedly so thrilling to witness that it almost erased the memory of Kate Capshaw’s helpless shrieks throughout Temple of Doom.


Indiana Jones
Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.’ The character of Helena is a resourceful, daring and self-reliant woman, which is rare in the Indiana Jones franchise. Photo: ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.


Meanwhile, the film’s dialogue does double duty as reality check and callback to storylines and catchphrases from the actor’s glory days. (One plot development even nods to another box office smash, his 1993 chase thriller The Fugitive, still a banger as it turns 30.) Callbacks also help strike the right poignant note to portray the emotional as well as physical realities of the passage of time — both for Indy and his original fans.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who currently plays a CIA operative on the brink of retirement in Netflix action-comedy series FUBAR, has a similar attitude. He recently decried the state of his 75-year-old body; “budle,” I learned from that Hollywood Reporter interview, is the Austrian word for one’s slack stomach sticking out. This, while admitting that he’d like to play his career-breakout warrior Conan the Barbarian one last time: “I think you do it like Unforgiven, where you play the age.”  

For his part, Ford is ready to retire the Indiana Jones character and bid him goodbye — though not retire from acting, as he recently told Variety. Instead, he’s actually pivoting to a different action hero franchise, stepping into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as former U.S. army general Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in the next Captain America movie.

“They joke that retirement is boring, but some acknowledge a deeper fear of becoming irrelevant if they quit,” the Wall Street Journal posited in a recent article about why high-powered people — from performer Smokey Robinson, 83, to primatologist Jane Goodall, 89 — are working well into their 80s.

Between Indy and the ongoing space opera Star Wars alone, Ford remains contemporary Hollywood’s original franchise guy. Remember that, when Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark hit theatres in June of 1981, it made more than US$389 million worldwide (on a budget of US$18 million). 

Nostalgia for those classics, and Ford’s many other action thrillers of the ’90s (like Patriot Games, The Fugitive and Air Force One), mean the octogenarian remains a top box office draw, even if the action has moved further away from practical effects.

Which is just fine, since self-deprecation about the limitations of age fit Ford’s brand of insouciant, wisecracking action hero.


Sun Screenings: 10 New Summer Blockbusters That Embrace Aging and Nostalgia, from Barbie to Indiana Jones 

Harrison Ford at 80: 9 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Hollywood Legend