Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Director on the Film’s Boldest Swerve

Eric Goldman

FULL SPOILERS follow for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Just what is the line for how far is too far when it comes to the supernatural and fantastical elements in an Indiana Jones film is likely always going to be debated by fans.

Ever since the first film in the series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, concluded with the Ark of the Covenant causing people’s faces to literally melt off (and for some to outright explode), the series has included aspects that are far from grounded, but still, there were many who argued Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones encountering actual aliens in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was going too far – even accounting for the fact that Indy had, by that point, seen a man live after his heart has been physically ripped out in Temple of Doom and had even met an immortal, centuries-old knight in The Last Crusade.

Given that healthy debate, some may have some initial hesitation about time travel ultimately being part of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, even though the film hints from the beginning that the Dial of the title has abilities that allow for just such a thing to occur. However, as the film’s director and co-writer, James Mangold, explained to Fandom, behind the scenes, once they considered this for the ending “I don’t think we had any debates.”


Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford)

Indiana Jones doesn’t just go back in time in the film’s final act, he goes way back. Thanks to the actions of the Nazi Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), who intends to use the Dial to return to the year 1939 – but has made some huge miscalculations – Indy, along with a group that includes his goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), travels nearly 2000 years back in time, where he is astounded to find himself face to face with Archimedes (Nasser Memarzia), the inventor of the Dial, which is known as the Antikythera.

When it came to the process of coming up with this huge finale, Mangold recalled, “I was thinking, when we first started writing, that somehow, if this dial worked, that it would end up sending the third act — if we did go through time — into [1939] Germany, as Mads was planning.” However, Mangold explained, “As we carved our way closer to the third act, it just occurred to me that that was just going to be a retread of the opening of the picture.”

The film’s extended flashback prologue follows a classic Indiana Jones adventure in 1944, and Mangold noted that on top of that, even without the prologue, he knew many watching might expect that if time travel did become involved, it would send Indy back to his own heyday from the earlier films, “And that is not a surprise and one staple of these movies is that the way things turn in the third act is always a bit of a wonderful surprise.”


(L-R): Mads Mikkelsen and James Mangold on the set of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Looking for something else that would make sense within the story they’d conceived, Mangold observed, “There were three time periods as we were writing the script that we were talking about all the time. One was the war in the 40s, one was New York in 1969, and the other was 200 BC.”

He realized that when it came to 200 BC, “For all the talking about it, we hadn’t seen it. And I thought, what would happen if we suddenly have this archaeologist, in the middle of his own kind of life crisis about ‘What’s it all mean?’ dropped in the middle of something he’s only looked at through the keyhole of history all his life and suddenly [he’s] surrounded by it.”

Mangold said this appealed to him because it wasn’t “just spectacle for the audience, but what an incredible personal effect that would have on Indiana Jones. He’s not looking through some portal into the past. He’s there.”

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is now playing.

Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.