When Will the Fifth Indiana Jones Movie Take Place? A Vulture Investigation

Indiana Jones, in years past. Photo: Getty Images

The Star Wars cinematic universe isn’t the only franchise owned by Disney, created by George Lucas, and starring Harrison Ford that’s having trouble. This week the studio announced it had pushed the release date of the forthcoming fifth Indiana Jones film back to July 2021, thanks in part to an inability to get everyone to sign off on a finished script. It’s unclear exactly what the holdup with the screenplay is, but I can think of one major issue — when the heck is this thing going to be set? In case the filmmakers are having trouble deciding, I took the liberty of running a brief experiment to find the proper time period for this troubled five-quel.

First, we can use elementary math. If Indy 5 comes out in 2021 as currently planned, that’ll be 40 years on the dot since Raiders of the Lost Ark premiered. It’s tempting, then, to imagine that it’ll take place four decades after Indy found the Ark of the Covenant — in other words, 1976, the year of Jimmy Carter, the Concorde, and Frampton Comes Alive!

But if that era of earth-toned plaid, feathered hair, and sideburns seems rather far apart from the pulpy world of Indiana Jones, do not fret. If the history of the franchise teaches us anything, it’s that Indiana Jones does not quite age at the same rate as Harrison Ford. Consider the movies that follow Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was set in 1936. The second film, Temple of Doom, was actually a prequel; even though it came out three years later, it took place one year earlier. Last Crusade was a proper sequel, but the timeline was a little wonky: It came out eight years after the first film, but is set only two years later. That six-year gap between our timeline and Indy’s would be matched in Crystal Skull, which came out 27 years after Raiders, but is set in 1957, only 21 years later. Clearly there is some form of relativity at play here – could Indy’s constant jaunts around the world be causing him to experience time more slowly than the average human?

With that in mind, there are a few more math-y ways to predict when the fifth Indiana Jones movie will take place. (Since prequels play by their own rules, these methods will exclude Temple of Doom from the calculations.) The next one still involves simple arithmetic: Let us assume that sequels to Raiders of the Lost Ark that come out x years later, are set x - 6 years after it. According to this method, Indy 5 will actually be set 34 years after Raiders, marking it firmly in 1970. Apollo 13, Kent State, the Beatles breaking up — whichever screenwriter eventually writes the final draft would have a lot to work with.

However, we can go further. Using a linear regression model, I attempted to plot the pace that time passes in the Indiana Jones universe compared to our own. With x being years since Raiders in the real world, and y being years since Raiders in Indy’s world, I found that the line of best fit for Indy-time came out to y = 0.818024x - 1.87695. (That’s right: Indiana Jones only ages 82 percent as fast as we do.) Under this model, Indy 5 will be set in 1966: the height of the British invasion, the escalation of the Vietnam War, the last year of legal LSD. Are you ready to see Indy in Haight-Ashbury?

But who says Indy-time moves in a straight line? Would a more complex equation not be more appropriate? Yes, I thought so too. My quadratic regression model found a new equation for Indy-time: y = .02778x^2 + .02778x. I consider this a superior equation for three reasons:

1. The coefficients happen to be the same, which makes it feel more like I really did stumble upon some mystical equation previously unknown to mankind, instead of just dick around with a calculator.

2. Its R value is 1, which means it fits the data set exactly. (Statisticians know that this is not always a good thing; I kindly ask them all to shut up.)

3. It predicts that, if the fifth Indiana Jones movie does indeed make its way to theaters in 2021, it will take place 45 years after Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since Raiders took place in 1936, that means that the new movie must be set in 1981 — the year that Raiders of the Lost Ark was released in the first place! Consider this joke from Uproxx’s Mike Ryan as prophecy:

If this does not happen, I predict that the ancient forces that control the universe will be quite displeased. And you know what happens when they get unhappy …

When Will the Fifth Indiana Jones Movie Take Place?