News

5 Reasons The Mummy Became the Indiana Jones for a New Generation

On its 20th anniversary, we look back at a beloved action-adventure that still endures, thanks to a fantastic cast and a classic Spielbergian template.

by | May 7, 2019 | Comments

Rick O’Connell defeated the Mummy 20 years ago today, but as Imhotep liked to say, death is only the beginning. The Brendan Fraser-led action-adventure remake of The Mummy has proven to be as enduring as its titular bandaged baddie, and ’90s moviegoers of a certain age still remember the film fondly.

Although based on a black-and-white horror movie from nearly 70 years earlier, 1999’s The Mummy – released May 7 of that year – owes more to Harrison Ford than it does to Boris Karloff. With a swashbuckling sense of adventure, some supernatural spooks, and a stellar cast, Stephen Sommers‘ globetrotting spectacle recaptured Indiana Jones’ magic for millennials, swapping the Ark of the Covenant for a sarcophagus that never should have been opened, even if it was a blessing, not a curse, for moviegoers. How was it that The Mummy was able to channel Indy so successfully?


It Put a Fun Spin on Past Inspirations

Both The Mummy and Indiana Jones draw inspiration from the same era — not ancient Egypt, though that’s obviously a factor, but the films of the 1930s. When they created Indiana Jones, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas wanted to revive the spirit of old matinée serials and pulp magazines. Indy was the modern version of Doc Savage, an adventurer who explored strange new lands and braved thrilling challenges. By virtue of premiering almost 20 years after Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Mummy was able to invoke not just the spirit of those old serials in the same way, but also Indiana Jones itself, putting its own spin on the vintage tropes.

But The Mummy also benefits from its own history. 1932’s The Mummy, one of Universal Studios’ classic monster films, provided the 1999 movie its name and general plot, and the remake takes those ideas and runs with them. The original film is great, but it’s slower than the shambling monster itself, and there is actually very little “mummy action,” as modern viewers might define it. Boris Karloff is chilling as the creature, but he’s hardly in bandages, instead opting to blend into society and manipulate victims with his piercing gaze.

The 1999 Mummy effectively plunders the 1932 Mummy’s tomb, which seems fitting. It’s a good bit of grave robbing, though, as the remake does a genre switcheroo, infusing the old plot into another mold, one that Indiana Jones had so successfully revived, and makes it work spectacularly.


Brendan Fraser is Harrison Ford with a Goofier Smile

Universal Pictures courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by Universal Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

Brendan Fraser is still doing great work (he’s a delight as the voice of Robotman on DC Universe’s surprisingly good Doom Patrol series), but it’s hard to overstate just how hot he was in the 1990s, both as an acting commodity and as a hunk. Without Fraser, The Mummy doesn’t work, just as Harrison Ford is integral to Indiana Jones’ success.

As Rick O’Connell, Fraser is able to showcase a lot more of his chops than one might expect, effortlessly conveying our hero’s wide range of emotions across a variety of outsized set pieces and quieter moments. When we first meet him in prison, he’s a quip-happy nihilist who remains somewhat distant once he’s freed. On the voyage to the City of the Dead, O’Connell gradually opens up, finding his purpose, his courage, and a hankering for romance. Fraser has all the looks of a classic pulp hero, only he’s got the charm and the heart to make O’Connell more than just an adventuring straight-man.

In that way, Fraser’s not unlike Ford, who imparts Indiana Jones with just the right mix of world-weariness and wonder. If there’s a difference between the two, though, it’s that Fraser is more game than Ford. Whereas Ford makes characters like Han Solo and Indiana Jones work by keeping them somewhat at arm’s length — a subtle, constant eye-roll that lets viewers know not to take everything too seriously — Fraser is a puppy. There’s something indescribably late-’90s about the way his smile radiates in the role, his enthusiastic force of personality welcoming viewers into spooky tombs. Just as O’Connell couldn’t keep playing the part of the gruff veteran, Fraser can’t help but have a great time, and the audience loves him for that.


The Supporting Cast of Characters Belongs in a Museum

While it’s fun to watch characters like Indiana Jones and Rick O’Connell explore unknown lands, their journeys would be far less entertaining without other memorable characters to play with. Where’s the fun in an action-adventure if there’s nobody to trade witty one-liners with?

While Raiders of the Lost Ark has Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, The Mummy has Rachel Weisz’s Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan. She’s a perfect match for O’Connell, as the two characters trade the high ground throughout the movie. When one makes a mistake, the other has the solution, and together they blur the line between courage and foolhardiness. Evie and O’Connell egg one another on, buoyed by Fraser and Weisz’s excellent chemistry.

John Hannah, on the other hand, offers plenty of comic relief as Jonathan Carnahan, who is in way over his head when it comes to this whole “ancient curse” business — think of Henry Jones Sr., Marcus Brody, or even Temple of Doom’s Willie Scott. The sniveling Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor), along with the group of rival American Egyptologists, serves as a fitting counterpart to the heroes, just like many of Indy’s ersatz foes. Oded Fehr also imbues personality into what could have been a stock role as Ardeth Bay, the leader of the guards who have kept Imhotep at bay for three millennia.

Then there’s Imhotep, the Mummy himself. As played by Arnold Vosloo (once he claims enough victims to graduate from emaciated CGI skeleton to flesh-and-blood human), Imhotep is an imposing villain, at times intoxicatingly so. He’s a larger-than-afterlife presence, making him an excellent foe for Fraser’s enthusiastic determination.


It Shares the Same Exaggerated Gung-Ho Sense of Exploration

Universal Pictures courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by Universal Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

Indiana Jones is a bad archeologist, but he’s an amazing hero. Same with O’Connell and Evie, who are destructive grave robbers even by 1920s standards. That’s not the point of these films, though. The point is to go on an adventure, using the past and exaggerated mysteries of foreign lands as inspiration.

Watching O’Connell scream into a decomposing mummy’s face or watching Indy knock a Nazi into some propellers is a hoot, but the battles aren’t necessarily what make the films so memorable. It’s the journey into the unknown, following our friendly heroes into archaic, unfamiliar terrain.

The matinée serials and pulp magazines both franchises draw from harken back to a very specific era for exploration, one that didn’t ever truly exist as it appears in pop culture, yet feels very nostalgic. The characters of Indiana Jones and The Mummy both live at a turning point of world history, right at the cusp of what we’d recognize as the modern world. It doesn’t seem like there’s much new to discover, so instead, archaeologists Indy and Evie turn to history. And in the world of these films, there’s far more buried in the past than the modern world expects.

It’s a romanticism of sorts, one that’s not without its problems, but it makes for an exciting adventure at the crossroads of the past and the present, the intersection of the known world and the unknown.


Both The Mummy and Indiana Jones are Way More Violent Than You Might Remember

Even though The Mummy is more of an action-adventure romp than a horror movie like its classic predecessor, there are still plenty of scares and suspenseful moments. Indiana Jones operates on a similar level, because it wouldn’t be as exhilarating to see Indy whip his way through danger unless viewers, on some level, really feared that danger. Still, even if you’re aware that The Mummy boasts a few scary moments, if you haven’t rewatched it in a while, you might be shocked at just how violent it is.

Raiders of the Lost Ark literally melts a dude’s face off during its climax when the Nazis open up the Ark of the Covenant, and who can forget the horrific sight of Mola Ram extracting a still-beating heart from a poor man’s chest with his bare hands in Temple of Doom? Taking a page from the same playbook, The Mummy blasts a bunch of excavators with acid, and that’s just a warm-up. Imhotep steals eyes and tongues from his victims, flesh-eating beetles gorge themselves as they crawl beneath the skin of their victims, and there’s plenty of torture. That the movie is technically pretty bloodless only makes the extent of the other gore even more shocking to watch.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is infamously rated PG, as the PG-13 rating hadn’t yet been introduced. The Mummy, on the other hand, does sport a PG-13 rating, but in classic Indiana Jones fashion, it pushes the limit. Archaeology is dangerous, violent business, or so these movies would have you think. But for those of us slogging through our decidedly less exciting everyday lives, adventures like The Mummy — and the Indiana Jones franchise before it — provided thrills and ignited our imaginations like few others did. We don’t get a lot of movies like The Mummy any more, and that’s perhaps why lots of folks still remember it with unparalleled affection.


The Mummy opened in theaters on May 7, 1999.

#1

The Mummy (1999)
61%

#1
Adjusted Score: 65.172%
Critics Consensus: It's difficult to make a persuasive argument for The Mummy as any kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but it's undeniably fun to watch.
Synopsis: Loosely adapted from the classic 1932 horror film starring Boris Karloff, The Mummy is set in Egypt, where over 3,000... [More]
Directed By: Stephen Sommers

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

Paramount 2021 YouTube reboot casting CBS Spike BBC DC Comics Drama ABC Lifetime 4/20 telelvision Oscars scorecard richard e. Grant Election Holidays 71st Emmy Awards disaster anime First Look best Nominations Tomatazos Turner laika Pirates Britbox Alien serial killer Martial Arts stand-up comedy Funimation Writers Guild of America TBS Classic Film 2020 Elton John Adult Swim Fantasy cancelled television FX on Hulu rotten movies we love crime thriller USA talk show video on demand miniseries festivals MSNBC period drama Polls and Games new zealand Ghostbusters Amazon Prime Video The CW Photos Exclusive Video blockbuster mutant crossover TCA 2017 American Society of Cinematographers Spring TV 21st Century Fox Turner Classic Movies strong female leads Chernobyl television IFC Films Ovation cooking Warner Bros. Women's History Month aliens theme song news popular Winners Christmas Reality Competition black Image Comics social media sequels worst BAFTA BBC America witnail jamie lee curtis Sundance TV 93rd Oscars cops Film Festival 72 Emmy Awards Toys Paramount Network Star Trek directors spanish Disney+ Disney Plus finale sitcom GLAAD ghosts boxoffice comic AMC rom-coms Trivia Mary Tyler Moore Comics on TV james bond BET Arrowverse OWN hist Action DC streaming service CW Seed Awards Tour Marathons toy story See It Skip It Sundance Now Masterpiece The Purge X-Men 45 Mary poppins spain Avengers monster movies series Endgame vampires 24 frames DirecTV dogs Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Cosplay TIFF Fall TV Peacock Animation The Arrangement rt archives venice Superheroes psycho golden globe awards NBC obituary HBO Max international Acorn TV medical drama comics french cars docuseries facebook Podcast football Kids & Family godzilla Best and Worst Logo LGBTQ Winter TV award winner fast and furious Extras tv talk green book jurassic park Thanksgiving nbcuniversal Crackle indiana jones Rocketman Opinion Infographic First Reviews The Academy Amazon Studios History Pet Sematary stoner supernatural TLC kong Hulu dc reviews adventure thriller halloween mission: impossible Apple golden globes Rock zombie boxing Chilling Adventures of Sabrina latino kids christmas movies political drama sag awards twilight new york dceu book adaptation psychological thriller concert japanese romance all-time Nickelodeon lord of the rings doctor who marvel cinematic universe dark Netflix scary movies parents criterion TCA transformers FX hidden camera Amazon Prime Pride Month Brie Larson RT History hollywood technology new star wars movies saw discovery werewolf Summer cancelled TV shows historical drama Anna Paquin DGA Pop TV emmy awards TNT dragons science fiction Western movies DC Universe Amazon CNN crime politics Television Academy superhero archives Super Bowl ID natural history police drama Academy Awards Lionsgate Musicals Family anthology SDCC sequel Comic Book Cannes war ViacomCBS based on movie Comedy Trophy Talk stop motion screenings Superheroe Apple TV Plus Comedy Central E! worst movies Pixar Music YA Marvel Television space animated hispanic Countdown halloween tv cancelled TV series Shudder Premiere Dates Heroines zombies USA Network Biopics zero dark thirty VICE Reality true crime slashers Paramount Plus Epix Black Mirror Quiz children's TV indie Film spanish language VOD Spectrum Originals universal monsters documentaries HBO Go cartoon 2016 BET Awards revenge robots 99% A24 versus Esquire heist movie travel joker Musical TruTV festival quibi romantic comedy nature independent Columbia Pictures OneApp Interview chucky toronto CMT kaiju Captain marvel harry potter ABC Family Disney Channel franchise sports foreign trailers adaptation Showtime Sony Pictures Pacific Islander Calendar Set visit Mystery 2017 The Witch WarnerMedia ratings teaser Certified Fresh Black History Month documentary Marvel Studios films Country A&E spy thriller Emmys pirates of the caribbean a nightmare on elm street New York Comic Con blockbusters Year in Review canceled Freeform Hallmark San Diego Comic-Con know your critic Broadway Mary Poppins Returns comedies TCA Winter 2020 Rom-Com Schedule video Dark Horse Comics cults NYCC GIFs comic books spinoff Creative Arts Emmys australia streaming blaxploitation Holiday RT21 Syfy elevated horror high school TV razzies 2015 biography National Geographic VH1 cancelled docudrama Watching Series cats crime drama Stephen King south america target 007 aapi MTV 20th Century Fox HBO game of thrones name the review Fox News game show Food Network Box Office asian-american GoT Cartoon Network Trailer classics Disney streaming service SundanceTV YouTube Premium Walt Disney Pictures dramedy Tarantino mockumentary scene in color ITV TV renewals TCM APB IFC Sneak Peek Sundance Bravo ABC Signature Apple TV+ live action PlayStation Binge Guide Fox Searchlight Shondaland WGN prank 2019 king kong canceled TV shows TV One Rocky Video Games PBS 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards satire Marvel Teen nfl batman book Red Carpet ESPN Television Critics Association singing competition unscripted remakes movie Lifetime Christmas movies Grammys Ellie Kemper child's play PaleyFest Disney Plus Universal Mindy Kaling Vudu renewed TV shows justice league E3 Emmy Nominations Song of Ice and Fire Pop El Rey CBS All Access binge comiccon BBC One Lucasfilm 2018 women President screen actors guild Legendary Tubi LGBT FOX Tumblr Valentine's Day breaking bad superman free movies Hallmark Christmas movies fresh spider-man rotten Mudbound italian cinemax Horror Netflix Christmas movies what to watch composers MCU Disney deadpool The Walking Dead Travel Channel Awards Crunchyroll die hard TCA Awards Sci-Fi Discovery Channel Hear Us Out SXSW Starz Nat Geo The Walt Disney Company TV Land Star Wars FXX YouTube Red Baby Yoda diversity critics Character Guide