How Should Indiana Jones 5 Set Up The Franchise's Future?

Indiana Jones musing over the Golden Idol in Raiders of the Lost Ark

It’s only been about four years since Indiana Jones 5 was officially announced, but the next film in the adventure series was discussed as a possibility for many years before that. Now, after multiple delays, it seems that the boulder is finally beginning to roll on the franchise’s next installment. According to star Harrison Ford, he will actually begin working on Indiana Jones 5 in some capacity in the next few months.

So it would seem that Indiana Jones 5 is actually going to happen and this dormant franchise will return to theater screens. Once it does, I wouldn’t expect it to return to that dormancy for another decade-plus hiatus. Indiana Jones is a Lucasfilm property, which puts it under the Disney corporate umbrella. We all know Disney’s fondness for franchises and nostalgic properties, and while we might be content to see Indiana Jones end after Indy 5, it would be naïve to think that this franchise won’t continue in some fashion.

And not to put too fine point on it, but Harrison Ford is 77 years old and will be on the verge of 80 when Indiana Jones 5 is scheduled to come out. It’s reasonable to assume that the next movie will be his last, but even if he comes back for a sixth go-around, he won’t be able to play this character forever. At some point, this franchise will continue on without him.

Therefore, acknowledging the business reality of the situation, and that Indiana Jones 6 or some other continuation of the Indiana Jones franchise is basically inevitable, it’s worth asking the question of what that future could be and how, if at all, Indiana Jones 5 should begin to set it up. The way I see it, there are a few possibilities, so let's dig into each, assess their pros and cons and figure out what’s the best approach for Indy 5 and beyond.

Mutt and Indy riding a motorcycle through a library

It Won’t Be With Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt

Interestingly, one of the most obvious paths forward for the Indiana Jones franchise is one that has somewhat been explored before, and that’s passing the mantle to a new character. This seemed to be what 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was trying to do with Shia LaBeouf’s stubborn and temperamental greaser Mutt Williams. LaBeouf’s character serves as Indy’s young sidekick in the film, and much to the surprise of Indiana, it was revealed that Mutt is actually his biological son with Marion Ravenwood.

Having Indiana Jones’ son take up the mantle is a natural progression for the franchise that makes total sense. There is even a tease at the end of Crystal Skull where Mutt is about to put on Indy’s iconic fedora before his father snatches it from him. Indiana Jones 5 could continue that thread and finally pass the mantle off to Mutt in earnest at the end of the film.

However, while this may have been the thinking in 2008, things are very different now, and for better or worse, this almost certainly won’t happen. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was widely loathed, and while I would argue Shia LaBeouf’s character is not one of that film’s biggest issues, Mutt does get conflated with the mess that is Crystal Skull.

Furthermore, Shia LaBeouf pretty much torched bridges with director Steven Spielberg, making it unlikely the two will work together again. And to put the final nail in Mutt’s coffin, Indiana Jones 5 screenwriter David Koepp has definitively said that LaBeouf’s character is not in the film.

It’s a pity, because I think Shia LaBeouf is in the midst of a renaissance. He's no longer the wild man he once was, but a very talented actor who could potentially be a worthy Indy successor given the right material. Alas, it seems it is not meant to be. But the idea of passing the fedora and whip off to a new character to take the franchise forward is sound.

Indiana Jones' silhouette

Pass The Mantle To An Entirely New Character

Mutt may not be returning, but passing the mantle to an entirely new character in Indiana Jones 5 would be a smart way to set things up for the franchise’s next steps. Similar to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indy 5 could introduce a new younger character as a sidekick of some sort who could then star in Indiana Jones 6.

There aren’t really any specific limits on who this character could be. Frank Darabont’s rejected script for the fourth Indy film depicted Indiana Jones as having a daughter, not a son. At the time, it was rumored that Indy’s daughter would be played by Natalie Portman. While she probably wouldn’t play her now, giving Indy a daughter could still work for Indiana Jones 5. Indy obviously got around, so it wouldn’t be a narrative stretch at all for him to have other offspring running around out there.

Of course, Indy’s successor doesn’t have to be related to him. He or she just needs to be a gruff, brilliant and daring adventurer. Anyone who fits that mold could theoretically work and carry the Indiana Jones franchise forward. Passing the mantle onto a new character would have several advantages as well. For one, if this handoff takes place in Indiana Jones 5, it would represent a natural progression; a way for the audience to be eased into the idea of seeing someone else crack the whip.

The other good thing about having someone else take up the mantle is that there wouldn’t be the same kind of comparisons to Harrison Ford as there would be if you recast Indiana Jones directly. The new character and actor may not ever live up to Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, but they would represent something different and the burden of proof wouldn’t be as insurmountable as an Indy recast would be.

There are some drawbacks to passing on the mantle though. For one thing, what do you even call this franchise if Indiana Jones isn’t the main character anymore? I suppose you could take a page out of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s book and have the successor call themselves Indiana. After all, Indy’s real name isn’t Indy, but that may not be ideal.

Also, while this approach would maintain timeline of the existing films, it would bring the story much closer to the present. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was set in 1957. Do we want Indiana Jones 6 set in the '70s, '80s or later? That would open up new storytelling possibilities, but the best three entries in this franchise were set in the 1930s, so that time period or earlier may be the sweet spot, and a continuation with a new character wouldn’t be able to do that.

River Phoenix as Young Indiana Jones

Introduce A (New) Young Indy For Future Films

Here’s where things get really interesting and especially tricky. If the future of the Indiana Jones franchise will see the titular role recast with a younger actor, which seems like a realistic possibility, Indiana Jones 5 could begin that process by introducing that younger actor.

How would that work? Well, we’ve already sort of seen this approach in what I consider to be the franchise’s best film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the beginning of that film, the late River Phoenix portrayed young Indiana Jones. Indiana Jones 5 could do the same thing.

Have a flashback scene or scenes featuring a younger actor as Indiana Jones who can then take the reins moving forward. As opposed to waiting until after Harrison Ford hangs up the fedora for good to reboot with an entirely new actor, perhaps introducing the new Indy in Indiana Jones 5 alongside Harrison Ford might make for a smoother transition that goes down easier for the audience.

However, although having someone else play Indiana Jones worked in a small flashback in The Last Crusade, that isn’t the same thing as having someone do so for an entire film. I think there is an appetite for these kinds of adventure stories, but a series of Young Indy movies could alter what this franchise is and has been and potentially what people love about it. The same could be said for the horribly miscast Uncharted movie, but that’s another conversation.

There’s also the elephant in the room that such a scenario wouldn’t be the first time that Disney has recast an iconic Harrison Ford character with a new actor. While we can’t say definitively that having a different actor play Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story was the sole contributor of that film’s commercially disappointing performance, Solo does stand as a clear and ominous warning sign of the potential pitfalls when recasting an iconic character previously played by Harrison Ford.

Whoever plays Indy next would have their work cut out for them, and personally, none of the proposed names like Chris Pratt or Chris Pine work for me. As we’ve seen with Solo, one underperforming film can kill a would-be franchise, and while Indiana Jones doesn’t have the poured-over mythology of something like Star Wars, going back in time and introducing a new Indy and following his adventures for several movies could potentially raise some continuity issues as well.

In the past, producer Frank Marshall has indicated that Indiana Jones is too iconic to be recast, and for his part, Harrison Ford thinks that the franchise should be done when he is. As desirable as that might be, money is a powerful motivator, and a recast is something I could imagine happening.

Indiana Jones about to cut a rope bridge

It Shouldn’t

Perhaps the best thing for Indiana Jones 5 to do to set up the franchise’s future is, well... nothing at all. In this franchise-driven age, we’ve seen more than one film run into problems when they put too much focus on franchise-building and setting up the next thing, and not enough on telling a good story within their own runtimes. We don’t know much at all about David Koepp’s script, but if it doesn’t naturally work in a successor for Indy or replacement via flashbacks, those elements shouldn’t be forced in.

Assuming that Indiana Jones 5 will be Harrison Ford’s last hurrah as the character, the entire focus of the film should be on giving him a proper sendoff, just as he had riding off into the sunset at the end of The Last Crusade before Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came along. On the surface, this approach would add to the burden of Indiana Jones 6 to introduce a new character/actor and really kickstart whatever this franchise will be going forward, but there’s another way to look at it.

If Indiana Jones 5 spends too much time focusing on setting up the future and not enough on Harrison Ford’s iconic portrayal, and thus ultimately gives us another disappointing movie like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, will audiences still have any interest in this franchise by the time Indiana Jones 6 comes around?

It may not be the best thing for setting up and laying the groundwork for the franchise’s future, but perhaps the best thing for Indiana Jones is to ensure it has a future by delivering the best Indiana Jones 5 possible. Those things are not mutually exclusive, but this is to say that there is no need to rush things after Indiana Jones 5. It’s fine to put the franchise on hiatus, like Star Wars, in order to really determine the best path forward.

We’ll have to see what happens, but if Harrison Ford is right and Indiana Jones 5 will finally go into production this year, hopefully we’ll find out some more details about it soon.

Indiana Jones 5 is currently scheduled for release on July 9, 2021. Check out our 2020 Release Schedule to see what movies are coming out this year, and let us know what you think the Indiana Jones franchise should do after Harrison Ford hangs it up in the poll below.

This poll is no longer available.

Nick Evans

Nick grew up in Maryland has degrees in Film Studies and Communications. His life goal is to walk the earth, meet people and get into adventures. He’s also still looking for The Adventures of Pete and Pete season 3 on DVD if anyone has a lead.