Raider’s of the Lost Ark – The Hero’s Journey Breakdown

Ordinary world

Indiana Jones is an archaeologist, adventurer and a Professor.

Call to Adventure

He’s contacted by Government Agents to retrieve the Arc of the covenant. Hitler is also after it and he has a head start. (Also note: there is a long introduction with the rolling stone and the chasing natives etc, so when they come back to America, there’s a quick scene to establish he’s a professor and then they meet the Government Agents)

Refusal of the call

The refusal comes in the form of a warning by Brody.

“For nearly three thousand years man has been searching for the lost Ark. That’s not something to be taken lightly. No one knows its secrets. It’s like nothing you’ve ever gone after before”

“Ha ha ha what are you trying to do Marcus? Scare me, you sound like my mother.”

Supernatural Aid

Indy is an experienced hero, he doesn’t need a mentor. His code of honour is his guide.

Belly of the whale

Rescuing Marion and fighting the Nazis for the first time in her bar as it burns to the ground. Although he was nearly killed at the start, this is his first taste of death on this adventure.

Crossing the First Threshold

Going to Egypt

The Road of the trials

Indy teams up with Sallah and  the Nazis come after them. They abduct Marion and Indy thinks she’s killed.

Meeting with the Goddess

It’s easy just to call Marion the Goddess as she’s his love interest but I don’t think she really inspires him to be any more heroic than he would be if she was in the story or not. Indy is more dedicated to the noble aspirations of his profession.

Woman as Temptress

Marion as the Temptress?

When Indy finds Marion alive, his first thought is to rescue her and get out of there. But he doesn’t do this because if he did the Nazis would search for her and destroy any chance he has of recovering the Ark. So he resists this temptation and leaves Marion tied up so he can continue on the journey.

Belloq as the Temptress?.

Belloq “You and I are very much alike. Archeology is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.”

He serves as the Shadow of the hero. The dark version of what Indy could be.

Later when Indy has the chance to destroy the Ark, Belloq calls his bluff and gives him the opportunity to destroy it. But he can’t. Would the true hero be able to destroy the Ark so the Nazis can’t get it but in doing so, rob himself of it?


Indy learns the secret location of the Well of souls and the location of the Ark of the covenant. He’s gained a new level of knowledge. A gift from the Gods

Atonement with the Father

He has a fear of snakes; he must overcome this fear in order to recover the Ark. Atonement often is a section where the hero has to overcome fear.

Ultimate Boon

Indy has recovered the Ark of the Covenant.

The Magic flight

The chase sequence, which starts off on horse back and then trucks, then dragged behind the truck. He recovers the Ark but then the Nazis capture the Ark again and Indy hitches a ride on the periscope on the submarine.

Rescue from without

The Ark is opened and all the bad guys are killed.

Rescue from without can sometimes come dangerously close to Deus Ex Machina. Does it here? Did Indy earn the right to survive or was it a random unearned gift from the Gods? Indy knows to keep his eyes shut (from a deleted scene in the film “If you look at the Ark when it is opened you die”) Give thoughts in the comments below.

The crossing of the return Threshold

Back in America

Master of two worlds

He’s defeated the Nazis, his nemesis and recovered the Ark.

Freedom to live

He lost the Ark to his own government but he’s got the girl.


The Apotheosis, atonement, Ultimate Boon, Magic Flight, and Rescue from without sequence is a perfect example of the Hero’s journey in action.

Jaws – The hero’s journey breakdown

Ordinary world Sheriff Brody lives on an island with his family and he’s afraid of water

Call to Adventure He discovers the dead body of the girl on the beach. It’s not the opening action piece where she is torn apart by the shark. It’s the moment when the hero, Brody is presented with the discovery of her body which will result in him confronting the shark that is the Call to adventure.

Refusal of the call Amity is an island town which survives of summer dollars from tourists. The sheriff reluctantly follows along with the mayor and the coroner and pass the girl’s death off as a boating accident.

Supernatural Aid Brody calls in Dr Matt Hooper, an expert in sharks. And to a lesser extent Quint, who is also an expert in hunting sharks

Belly of the whale The shark kills the Alex Kintner, this is his first real baptism of fire. Watch it here

Crossing the First Threshold Now the whole town knows there is a shark out there, the sheriff must take action.

The Road of the trials Dealing with the idiots attracted by the bounty on the shark and antagonism from the Mayor who refuses to acknowledge there is a danger from the shark and the beach needs to be closed.

Meeting with the Goddess This is a broader interpretation of the Meeting with the Goddess stage. The person who inspires and motivates the Sheriff to do the right thing is Mrs Kintner, Her son was killed by the shark and she publically slaps Brody. Brody has been shamed and guilted into taking heroic action.

Woman as Temptress Mayor Larry Vaughn is only concerned about the financial effect of the shark if it became known that a shark was hunting in the waters. He is able to talk the Sherrif into turning a blind eye and agreeing to allowing the beach to stay open even though he knows the right thing to so was to shut it down.

Atonement with the Father Brody fears the water. Quint tells him the story of the USS Indianapolis which went down and the sharks ripped apart the survivors. Brody fears the water and Quint tells him he’s right to fear it.

Ultimate Boon The Ultimate Boon occurs very early, just after the Mid point when the sheriff is throwing bait into the water and the Shark appears. The Call to Adventure is the discovery of the dead girl and the Ultimate Boon is the face to face confrontation with the shark that did it.

Apotheosis The Apotheosis is entwined with the barrels sequence. The shark has been harpooned and they now have the ability to track it’s movements. Apotheosis is a raising of consciousness or ability in order to complete the goal.

Rescue from without There’s no rescue from without. Quint has been killed and Hooper is out of action at the bottom of the ocean. Do the air tanks count as rescue from without? Not really, Rescue from without is a product of Karma, do good things for other people and you will get good things in return when you need it.

The Magic flight They try and escape the shark and head back to shallow waters

The crossing of the return Threshold Coming up with the idea to blow the shark up with the air tanks. He’s bringing together everything he’s learnt i.e. the tanks are explosive and this is no ordinary animal that he could just shoot with a gun. He’s got to blow the beast up.

Death of the mentor Quint is killed by the shark and Hooper

Master of two worlds Kills the shark, overcomes his fear, saves the town.

Freedom to live He swims back to shore with Hooper and celebrate being on dry land once again.



I highly recommend watching this documentary on the making of Jaws.

If anyone has any thoughts on Jaws or alternative views on the stages please use the comments below.

Avatar – The Hero’s journey breakdown

Ordinary world

Jake is paraplegic marine on a deadly alien world set in the future.

Call to Adventure

Jake replaces his twin brother in the Avatar program and travels to another planet

Refusal of the call

There’s no true refusal from Jake, he simply begrudgingly accepts his lot in life. The refusal is flipped onto his Mentor Grace, who thinks it’s a terrible idea using a marine instead of scientist but is forced into accepting the situation because the military and the corporation are funding her operation

Supernatural Aid

Grace becomes his mentor and gives him his Avatar, opening  whole new world for him.

Crossing the First Threshold

Whilst on a scientific expedition into the forest, Jake becomes separated from the group when he has to escape from the Thanator

Belly of the whale

Jake is being hunted by animals, cornered and near death before he is rescued by Neytiri

The Road of the trials

Jake must learn the ways of the Na’vi. How to hunt, how to ride, how to capture his own Banshee

Meeting with the Goddess

Even though the actual Goddess on this planet is the Ewya, Neytiri is the Goddess who motivates Jake to become a hero “If you are one of us, help us.”

Woman as Temptress

Quaritch offers Jake a chance to get his real legs back, however in order to get he must betray his new people.

Death of the mentor

Grace is wounded during the escape and she cannot be saved

Atonement with the Father

Jake understands the Na’vi people and their connection to the world around them. He prays to Eywa to help them in their upcoming battle.


Jake captures the Toruk Makto. This elevates him to a God like status.

Ultimate Boon

Jake becomes the leader of the Na’vi and rallies them to fight against the human invasion. Here he has completely integrated into his new people

The Magic flight

Jake leads the Na’vi in a battle against the humans.

Rescue from without

The battle appears lost but Eywa sends in her own army of the planet’s creatures and they tear through the soldiers.

The Magic flight

Jake and Neytiri fight the final battle against Quaritch

Rescue from without

Jake is about to be killed by Quaritch when Neytiri shoots him with her arrows

The crossing of the return Threshold

Neytiri sees Jake for the first time in his human form and breaking the barrier between the Na’vi and the human world for them.

Master of two worlds

They send the Humans back to their own world.

Freedom to live

Jake’s eyes open from inside his Avatar.

There are two final battles in this story, the first is humans versus Na’vi on a massive scale but then a second battle more personal battle between Protagonist and the Antagonist. This gives a more satisfying ending rather than Quaritch just dying randomly in some explosion in the sky.

The Hero’s journey – Rescue from without

Rescue from without

Hero’s don’t live in a vacuum, they are heroes because of us. They sacrifice their lives for us but they are not alone. Others should not stand idly by and watch the hero do everything. The Hero must do all the heavy lifting but his friends and allies should be what give him the slight edge over the enemy.

It’s function in a story is to take the hero as close to the moment of death as possible.

Keep in mind it’s not a random event, it’s an action from another character that’s been earned by the earlier actions of the Hero, it’s Karma, you do something good and something good happens back to help you when you need it.

Also, it seems to work best when it appears as a surprise rather than letting the audience know what’s coming. In Transformers 4 this stage was flagged early, dragged out and lost impact. Alfred Hitchcock often spoke about confusing the use of surprise and suspense in films, this is a beat where it is better served by surprise.

Star Wars –Just before Luke fires the shot to destroy the Death Star and Darth Vader is about to kill him, Han Solo appears and takes out the fighters attacking Luke. Han “You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home.”

The Avengers – Iron Man has made the heroic sacrifice and is falling to his death after taking out the enemy with the nuclear missile. Hulk saves him and cushions his fall.

Jurassic Park – Just before the Raptors kill them, a T Rex appears and kills the Raptors letting the heroes escape. This particular example is not true Rescue from withoug as there was no karma and takes it over the line in Deus ex machina which generally should be avoided but there are numerous incidences in film where it has occurred in film and has been successful

Raiders of the Lost Arc – The Nazis open the Arc and the Angels unleash the power of God on them. Indy is saved because he keeps his eyes shut.

Avatar – Avatar uses two, the first is for the overall battle between the soldiers and the Na’vi when Eywa sends the Pandorian wildlife in to turn the tide of the battle and again when Sully fights Quaritch in the final battle, Neytiri kills him with arrow.


Rescue – To save someone from a dangerous or distressing situation

Deliver, save, relive, pull through


Without – the outside of a place or area

Outside, external, extrinsic


How to use in your writing.

I think it’s important not to allow this stage to become deus ex machina. Focus on the hero being very active at this stage. The friend or ally who gives assistance is usually only just enough to give the hero the edge over his opponent so the hero can triumph. Don’t allow this outside help to replace the action of the hero.


The Hero’s journey – Magic Flight

Magic flight

Once the Ultimate Boon has been achieved, the antagonist chases after the Hero or a big final fight. In film this is the big, exciting climatic piece.

It’s either a fight or a flight. The Hero goes head to head with the villain.  A chase with the enemies in hot pursuit or reversed and the Hero is chasing the villain. How many romantic comedies end with the guy chasing the girl before she gets on a plane to Paris or running in the rain to her house.

Like all the stages in the Hero’s Journey it’s not a literal magical flight.

Star Wars – The assault on the Death Star

The Avengers – The fight over New York

Toy Story – Buzz flies into Andy’s car after defeating Sid.

Avatar – Huge fight in the air and on the ground between the Na’vi and the soldiers.

Magic – Impressive, wondrous, explosions, boom

Flight – Chase, pursuit, run, fight,


How to use it in your writing

A ticking time bomb of some sort adds to the urgency.

Make it as big as possible as the world will allow.

It can be a fight, a chase or both.