The mainstream franchise filmography produced by Lucasfilm has thus far presented a number of iconic, larger-than-life villainous characters, and the Indiana Jones franchise is no exception. Even though the antagonistic characters in the series tend to lack complexity in their portrayal and are generally straight-up evil without a hint of redeeming factor or relatability, their comic-bookish villainy more than makes up for that. So far, we have had zealots, cult leaders, and Soviet scientists as some of Indy’s prime adversaries, and in Indy’s last rodeo, director James Mangold decided to go back to the roots with a Nazi scientist as the antagonist. Viewers are introduced to Jürgen Voller, the Nazi astrophysicist who sought to change the course of history by using Archimedes’ dial. To assess how he fared among the other rivals Indy has faced so far, we will first take a look at the franchise’s best antagonists.
Arnold Ernst Toht And Renée Belloq
In his first major adventure in the quest to find the mythical Ark of the Covenant in 1936, Indy faced the Nazi gestapo Arnold Toht, who was in cahoots with Indy’s rival treasure hunter Renée Belloq.
Renée was Indy’s batchmate when he pursued his academics in archaeology. Belonging to an aristocratic French family, the ambition of becoming a prolific archaeologist was embedded in Renée from a young age, and to make a name for himself, he did everything in his powers, unbothered by ethical considerations. From plagiarizing Indy’s research to taking credit for deeds he played no role in, stealing priceless antiquities to sell them on the black market, no act was too low for Belloq, which eventually led him to shake hands with Nazi gestapo Toht. German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler wanted to use the mythical Ark of the Covenant, which supposedly granted immeasurable powers, to demolish his adversaries in the Second World War. He entrusted his loyal gestapo officer, Toht, to find out about the relic. The taciturn, deranged gestapo dressed in all black, sporting a vile smirk, adopting ruthless mannerisms, and with a relic-engraved burn mark in his palm, gave nightmares to most young movie-going members of the audiences and, to date, remains the best antagonist portrayal in the franchise.
During the course of the movie, the villainous duo managed to seize possession of the Ark from Indy and co. and proceeded to open it. Both Belloq and Toht perished horribly after opening the seal of the Ark, as the curse they triggered by using it with nefarious intent struck them in a horrid catastrophe.
Indian actor Amrish Puri left his mark in his inimitable performance as the sadistic, vicious thuggee cult leader, Mola Ram, in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. The second entry of the franchise takes place in India, and Spielberg made use of all the clichéd tropes to make Mola Ram as frightening as an arch-nemesis of the 70s pulp horror comics, dressed in skull and antlers, worshipping a ghastly unheard of version of the Hindu goddess Kali, enslaving children, conducting occult rituals and blood sacrifices, and the most memorable one, ripping the heart out of a living human being. The entire shtick would not have landed as well if not for the acting chops of the veteran actor, who completely embodied the character with all the maniacal machinations. The power-hungry Mola Ram sought the divine Sankara stones, which were given to the ancient priest Sankara by Lord Shiva, and in the end, Shiva’s curse became the reason for his undoing. Ignoring all the ginormous factual inaccuracies and gross stereotypes the makers resorted to in Temple of Doom, which is still memorable, mostly due to the horror factor Mola Ram introduced.
Ernst Vogel, Walter Donovan, And Elsa Schneider
The third Indiana Jones movie introduces a trio of villains with differing motivations, but none of them were particularly impactful in the course of the narrative itself. Ernst Vogel, once again a Nazi SS Officer doing the bidding of Hitler, wanted to seek the literal Holy Grail for the Fuhrer, who wanted to obtain immortality by drinking from the mythical chalice. Vogel teamed up with the Austrian historian Else Schneider and the greedy industrialist Walter Donovan to find out about the biblical relic. Else turned out to be less of a villainous character than she was an opportunist and a victim of circumstances. Donovan had nothing special going on for him except a memorable rapid-aging death sequence in the climax of the battle when he drank from the wrong chalice. Both Ernst and Elsa fell to their deaths at different points in the narrative of the movie.
The fourth Indiana Jones movie, Crystal Skull, introduced the enigmatic Soviet scientist and Stalin’s favorite KGB officer, Irina Spalko, played brilliantly by Cate Blanchett. A master combatant and a psychic, Irina tried to unravel the mystery of the Crystal Skull of Akator, which she believed could grant powers that would allow the Soviets to manipulate and bring ruin to the Americans during the Cold War. Ostracized since a young age for being different than others, Irina sought answers about her purpose in life, which she later started believing to be somehow connected with the mystery of the Crystal Skull itself. In a sense, there was an unmistakable influence of Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin in her characterization. In the end, Irina’s insatiable thirst for knowledge became the reason for her undoing, as the extra-terrestrials to whom the Crystal Skulls belonged decided to provide her with a parting gift, a fragment of their knowledge, which overwhelmed and disintegrated her.
In the final chapter of Indy’s journey, Dial of Destiny, the Nazi astrophysicist Jürgen Voller, played by Mads Mikkelsen, presents himself as the prime adversary from the very beginning. By now, Nazis have become so much of a recurring villain in the franchise that the makers might as well have made Hitler the ultimate adversary. However, Voller came into possession of one-half of the mysterious Dial of Archimedes, the Antikythera, which he believed could turn the tides of time itself. Voller had had a chance to present the relic to Hitler himself, but at the time, Indy and his friend, Baz, sabotaged the Nazi plunder train he was boarding, which ultimately resulted in Voller losing the dial.
Twenty-five years later, Voller’s past life has been covered up by the States, as the opportunist authorities have decided to use the brains of the ex-Nazi to further their space race against the Russians. Voller’s deep-seated hatred for the victorious Allied forces has only doubled since being used as a puppet of the US government, siding with the enemies for survival and being a part of the reason for their glory-hogging despite remaining in ignominy. In this aspect, Voller’s characterization was inspired by ‘Operation Paperclip’ scenario of US deploying ex-Nazi intelligence for their own causes, and especially from the Nazi German engineer at NASA, Wernher von Braun, as the United States has the reputation of sheltering former war criminals, the Nazis, in exchange for their services and resources. However, using his brutish, ruthless henchmen, Hauke and Klaber, Voller has conceptualized a plan to rectify certain past ‘mistakes.’
In his quest to unify both halves of the dial to execute his plan, Voller inevitably comes into conflict with Indy and his goddaughter Helena, and Voller is right in his assessment when he states the similarity between himself and Indy: both men are out of time and undervalued for their potential. One major aspect that differentiates Voller from the majority of Indy villains is his vaulting ambition. While most of the baddies satisfied themselves by being the lackeys of Hitler and Stalin and obeying their commands, Voller aimed higher and wanted to go back in time, kill Hitler, and become the Fuhrer himself. So prepared was he to lead the Third Reich himself that, using the dial in his journey to the past (which proved to be his last), he even wore the infamous uniform of the Fuhrer, getting Sieg Heils from his underlings and all that. In the end, his ambition and hubris proved fatal, as he instead ended up in Sicily in 212 BC during the siege of Syracuse and died in a plane crash when Roman artillery took down his bomber. As far as Indy villains go, Mads Mikkelsen’s Voller brought originality even in a trope-y character and has definitely earned the top spot among the adventurer’s Nazi rivals.