How ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' Traumatized A Whole Generation And Changed Movie Ratings

When Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom hit theaters in May 1984, the opening song and dance number should've braced audiences to expect something a bit different from the blockbuster sequel. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the superstar creative duo behind 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, wanted to take their adventurer on a more harrowing trip this time around.

Of course, concerned parents across the country got a little more than they bargained for, as the film's exceedingly dark, macabre content sparked widespread debate on the effectiveness of the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system. The debate about the film's PG rating, coupled with more controversy from the release of Gremlins a month later, directly led to the creation of the PG-13 rating, which irrevocably changed the film industry. Red Dawn, the high-schoolers-fighting-communists action film released in August 1984, would become the first PG-13 movie ever released. While Gremlins and Red Dawn have their place in film history, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom holds a special place in the hearts of many '80s kids as the first film that truly traumatized them.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

  • Indy Is Given A Feast Of Live Slithering Snakes, Eyeball Soup, And Monkey Brains

    Showings of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom couldn't have been good for concession stands; it's not hard to understand why the appetites of some viewers may have been stunted at the sight of the deliciously disgusting feast near the midpoint of the film.

    During the banquet thrown by the Maharajah of Pankot, Dr. Jones and his compatriots are served a series of courses that grow more and more grotesque as the scene goes along. All manner of disgusting delicacies are served, with beetles, live snakes, eyeball soup, and chilled monkey brains grossing out audiences.

  • A Cult Member Chokes And Hangs From A Ceiling Fan

    When parents take their children to a PG movie, it's safe to say they probably aren't expecting to see the brutal demise of a cult member who was just in a knock-down, drag-out fight with the main character.

    Indiana Jones was no stranger to violence by this point - he spent plenty of time in Raiders of the Lost Ark fighting Hitler's troops, after all - but having Indy's child companion Short Round witness a man slowly get roped up by a whip attached to a ceiling fan may have been a bit much.

  • The Entrance To The Temple Is Swarming With Every Disgusting Bug Imaginable

    Lucas and Spielberg certainly did not care if their viewers were entomophobes or not. For the uninitiated, entomophobia is the fear of bugs; those who have it should skip Temple of Doom unless they want to test their mettle against a horde of creepy crawlies.

    Upon entering the eponymous temple, Dr. Jones and Short Round find themselves stepping on a truly uncountable amount of insects. It's enough to make any child (and plenty of adults, for that matter) squirm their way out of the theater.

  • In A Cult Ritual, A Man's Still-Beating Heart Gets Ripped Out By Hand

    In a scene boasting some truly awesome special effects, the cult that worships Kali holds a ritual sacrifice that involves removing the heart from a living man. Given that Temple of Doom exists in a franchise that plays fast and loose with mystical and magical elements, it should come as no surprise that the man continues living after his still-beating heart is removed. What may be surprising is just how great the practical effect of the heart removal looks, even by contemporary standards. It is a truly gruesome moment in a film laden with images that push the boundaries of the PG rating.

    As if ripping out a man's heart wasn't an affront egregious enough in itself, the poor victim of the Kali-worshipping cult is then lowered into a bubbling vat of lava to be burnt alive. Yes, parents had to explain away not only a man having his heart mystically ripped out of his chest but also the horror of expiration via melted flesh.

  • George Lucas Attributed The Darker Tone To His Recent Divorce

    During a 2012 interview with Empire, Lucas attributed the film's extremely dark tone to his recent divorce. Upon later reflection, Lucas and director Steven Spielberg would lament just how dark the swashbuckling adventure film had gotten. Lucas told Empire:

    Once we got out of our bad moods, which went on for a year or two, we kind of looked at it and went, "Mmmmm, we certainly took it to the extreme." But that's kind of what we wanted to do, for better or worse.

  • 'Temple of Doom' Wasn't The First Spielberg Movie With A Ratings Controversy

    'Temple of Doom' Wasn't The First Spielberg Movie With A Ratings Controversy
    Photo: Poltergeist / Warner Bros.

    By the time Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came out, Steven Spielberg was no stranger to the capricious nature of film ratings. According to The New York Times, the 1982 horror film Poltergeist, which Spielberg executive produced (and possibly ghost-directed), was originally rated R. Spielberg and MGM appealed the rating, which was ultimately overruled.

    Both Poltergeist and Temple of Doom highlighted the massive gap in the rating system between films targeted toward kids and those appropriate for adults.