Hello fellow riders and welcome back to the WDW Ride Guide! It is so great to have you join me again today. I love exploring all the different options and figuring out a way to enjoy as much as possible each time I visit Walt Disney World. Today’s show is one I have added to my list many times, but one I have omitted on my most recent trips. I have a lot to say about the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! so…
Let’s get started with our know before you go essential facts:
- The show is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- There is no height requirement
- Fastpass + is available
- The fright factor is 3 out of 5
- Guests may remain in a wheelchair/ECV
- Assistive Listening, Audio Description, Handheld Captioning and Sign Language are available
- The show is 30 minutes long
- This show opened on August 25, 1989
Rocks tumble through the sky as a lone figure falls down inside a cave, his rope stopping him just feet above the temple floor. He lands safely and lights his torch to cut through the dark mist of the cave. You can’t make out the details of the man’s face but you immediately recognize the silhouette of the wide brimmed hat and the coiled whip at his side. He’s the greatest archaeologist in cinematic history, his name, Indiana Jones. Now through the magic of Disney, this iconic figure is right in front of your very eyes about to make another remarkable discovery. As he walks through the dark surroundings he suddenly stops dead in his tracks, bends down, and waves the flaming torch along the floor before stepping back to consider his next move. Without hesitation, he methodically begins to choose his steps through a booby trapped floor. He makes one misstep, and suddenly 8 foot tall spikes shoot up through the ground, grazing his right side. He moves quickly to avoid the trap, but then another shoots up, and another, and another! Indiana bounces left and right, spinning in circles just to stay alive. Finally, he makes it through. At this point your heart is racing along with his as you feel like you are a part of the action.
The music overhead changes as Indiana comes to the base of his destination. Now, he has to navigate a narrow walkway, avoid collapsing floors, and dodge deadly falling axes. Finally, he arrives at the heart of the temple. There, shining in a ray of light is the golden idol he seeks. Mindful of more traps, he carefully surveys the prized possession, reaches into his trusty pack, and pulls out a bag of sand. He weighs the bag in his hand and decides to let out a little to get the weight just right. The music builds to a climatic tension as Indy prepares to make the swap. Then in a swift swipe, he pulls the idol off the altar with one hand and places the bag of sand in its place with the other. You wait along with him to see what will happen next. Then… nothing! The plan has worked! Clearly pleased with his plunder Dr. Jones turns and begins to exit the altar. Ah, but it is never that simple, is it? At that point, a loud rumble can be heard and the earth begins to shake. Rocks begin to fall from above and flames shoot up from the floor below. Then, from behind the altar, a trap door opens in the wall. Behind it, a 12 foot tall boulder that breaks loose and starts rolling directly towards Indy! He races down the hill as fast as he can trying to avoid becoming an Indy pancake. Finally, just as the boulder is on his heels he dives to safety.
CUT! Lights up, clear the set. Prepare to move to Cairo in 5.
So begins the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! This stunt show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios takes the audience along in an action packed behind the scenes look at many stunts performed in the 1981 blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The first stunt sequence is the iconic one we just covered in which Indiana weaves his way through the Peruvian temple in search of the golden idol. There are two other scenes that follow this, an action packed foot chase in the city of Cairo, and the big climax where Indy and Marion attempt to flee the Nazi camp. All of this unfolds in a giant outdoor amphitheater capable of holding over 2,000 people.
Among those 2,000 in attendance, a lucky few will be selected to actually participate in the show! Before the first stunt sequence falls into action, the casting director for the set comes out to warm up the audience. During this process, he or she, will pull 3 groups of 3 volunteers from the audience. The first group is instructed to give their best blood curdling scream, the second their heartiest laugh, and the third their most Oscar worthy death performance. If you have someone outgoing in your group, this could be their time to shine! There is no surefire secret to being selected as one of 9 participants out of more than a thousand, but arriving early and sitting towards the front of the stage is your best bet. I have never been selected for such an honor, but I would imagine getting this opportunity would make for an unforgettable memory! After the casting director has some fun at the expense of the new recruits, they are sent backstage to get into wardrobe. Shortly after this the stage goes dark and the stunt show is ready to begin.
The audience extras won’t make an appearance in the first scene but they do get to actually stand on the set during the Cairo scene as background extras. Before we get to that though, let’s go back to the end of our first scene. After the drama of the stunt sequence is complete, the house lights come up, the music stops, and a crew of assistants rush in to make sure the stunt actors are o.k. What started as a very immersive movie-like experience quickly changes into a pull-the-curtain-back, how-did-they-do-that kind of atmosphere. The first director introduces themselves and then begins to explain the balance of real danger and precise coordination that goes into each of the stunts in the show. Also, at this time you are introduced to Harrison Ford’s stunt double. Oddly enough this actor’s name changes every time I see the show, more on that in a bit. As this dialogue is going on, there is a team working quickly in the background to first move out the temple set, which weighs over a 100 tons by the way, and next set up the Cairo set. The size of this stunt show and the sets that occupy the stage are truly impressive upon first viewing. As the next set takes shape, our cast of audience volunteers is brought back out, only this time they are dressed in long robes and headdresses. The first assistant fills them in on their role, while simultaneously introducing the next scene for the audience. From there the extras are walked into their spots on the set and our stunt actors get ready for the director to yell action!
I don’t want to spoil everything in the next two scenes, so we won’t walk through them in detail. However, if you are a big Indiana Jones fan, you will be pleased to hear some of the movie’s most famous scenes come to life in these sequences. I especially love the nod to the gun vs. sword dual, and the epic fist fight with the giant Nazi mechanic in front of the running plane. If you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know how both of these battles turn out. In addition to the tight hand-to-hand combat, there are large scale stunts and explosions taking place all across the set. The flames from the explosions are so intense you can feel the heat all the way up in the audience. This is probably a good time to point out how loud parts of the show can be as well. If you have anyone in your group sensitive to loud noises they may want to sit higher up in the stadium or wear earplugs. You can still get a good view of the action from almost anywhere in the amphitheater, so don’t worry about missing out if you aren’t in the front row.
Throughout the 30 minute stunt spectacular, the cast and crew work really hard to convince you the viewer that you are on the set of a movie. The premise here is that Harrison Ford’s stunt double and Karen Allen’s stunt double are taking you on a behind the scenes look at how the movie is made. Remember I said earlier that they introduce the stunt actor as Harrison Ford’s stunt double. Well, therein lies the strength and weakness of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! Allow me to explain.
The first time I ever saw this show, I was blown away! Back then, over 20 years ago, I was a kid with a love for Indiana Jones, probably only second to Star Wars. I had seen the movies, I had imagined lassoing my whip around a tree and swinging from one ledge to the next. I even had a phase when I really wanted to be an archaeologist. Then I learned 70% of all archaeology is done in the library. No thank you. Even though that career didn’t take off, when I sat down in the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! theater and watched Indy fall from the ceiling above, I was hooked! Next, they introduce this incredible stunt man as the double for Harrison Ford. I couldn’t believe my ears. This was the guy I had watched over and over in the movies, but never been able to see his face. Here he was in the flesh right in front of me, performing these awesome stunts I had come to love in Raiders of the Lost Ark! I mean it doesn’t get any better than that. I should probably point out here that I was pretty naive as a kid.
Well, on our next Disney vacation a few years later I was a little older and a little wiser. It didn’t take long to realize the guy in the stunt show on that trip didn’t look exactly like the guy from the stunt show on the first trip. Fast forward to today and I’m pretty sure the guys and girls performing in this show aren’t the same actors that worked as stunt doubles in the movie 35 years ago. Call it a hunch. So, once that imaginary bubble was popped, my love for the show took a significant hit. It was almost as devastating as learning about the real identity of Kris Kringle. Of course, I realize kids seeing the show today probably aren’t under the same illusion that I was back then. How could they be? Most of today’s younger audience has probably never even seen an Indiana Jones movie. However, adults are keenly aware of the situation, which makes the premise of filming action sequences for a movie that aired 35 years ago slightly problematic. That begs the question, what do you do with the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! now?
On the one hand, you have a beloved franchise, a show that entertains 10,000 – 15,000 people a day, and a lot of money invested in a state of the art facility. On the other hand, this show will soon be the last remnant of what Disney’s MGM Studios once was: a place to explore the movies and go behind the scenes. That concept is rapidly being replaced and soon will feel woefully outdated when the new Star Wars Land and Pixar Place expansion open up in a few years. For all these reasons, it has been rumored for several years that the show’s days are numbered. Of course, that was before it was clear where Star Wars land would go, and also before Disney announced a fifth film in the franchise. Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg are joining forces again to bring us a new film in 2019 that will hopefully wash away the bad taste left in our mouths from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If that movie is half as successful as the seventh Star Wars film has been, then chances are Indiana Jones will still have a place at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
That may be in its current form, or maybe in something new or borrowed. Disneyland fans already know there is a great ride in California called Indiana Jones Adventure. That ride is similar to Dinosaur over at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, meaning it would give high thrills and seem to be a good fit for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Could that ride be duplicated in Florida? Would it replace the stunt show or be added alongside to increase the Indiana Jones presence? What does the future hold? We will just have to wait and see.
Whatever happens down the road, I personally feel the current version of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! has to be winding down. The show has only undergone one refurbishment, back in 2000. That year it was down for 6 months to update and upgrade the technology operating the show. One thing that is pretty cool about the tech in the show is that a lot of the special effects are controlled by the actors themselves. Rather than everything being operated from a computer board up above, many effects are triggered by the individuals in the middle of the action. This of course means each show will be subtly different and some may cut it a little closer than others. Hopefully if you go, you will see the stunt actors that like to push it to the edge! Whoever has their finger on the trigger though, it is the same 35 year old script being played out.
So, let’s talk about whether or not you need to add this to your touring plan. If you are a big Indiana Jones fan, then you can’t miss this show. If you have never been before and never seen the show, I say it is worth your time. As I said earlier, I was blown away by this experience the first time I saw it as a kid. That reminds me, I was talking with a fellow vacation planner a few weeks ago and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! came up. I said I wouldn’t mind seeing it get replaced, or at the very least updated with a new script and new stunts. To my surprise she told me her 8-year old son would be very upset if this show went away. Evidently, it was one of his favorite things in the parks. He got as defensive about the show as Short Round does when someone calls Dr. Jones mister or Indiana. Even though he hasn’t grown up with the movies like I did as a kid, he has grown up with the show and loves it. That was a good reminder for me of how enjoyable the show can be for youngsters and new visitors. I don’t think this is a show you will want to see on every trip you take to Walt Disney World, but given it’s uncertain future, I definitely recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.
With that said, there are a couple of final tips I want to give on the show. The most important is to pay attention to the weather. The seating in the amphitheater is covered, but most of the sets are not. That means those pesky afternoon showers are pretty much guaranteed to bring the show to a screeching halt. It is just not safe for the actors to carry out the stunts with the added variable of slick concrete or possible lightning. My poor wife waited for a decade to see this show because of the rain. Every trip she took to Disney’s Hollywood Studios seemed to coincide perfectly with the rainiest day of her vacation and the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! was either cut short or shut down when we tried to attend. One trip even included getting through the first scene I described earlier, right up until the climax when the boulder was about to crush Indy. The rock stopped before rolling downhill and the tension of the scene was destroyed as it stood there while Indy bounced up like he hadn’t a care in the world and the audience was dismissed. It wasn’t until our big family trip in 2014 that she finally got to experience the show. For the record, she agrees with me that the show is great but very outdated. She much prefers the Indiana Jones Adventure ride in Disneyland, but I digress. The point is, don’t plan on a mid afternoon viewing of the show if there is a chance for bad weather, as this is the most likely time for a Florida rain shower. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! normally runs 5-8 times per day, starting at 11:00 am, with a final showing around 8:00 pm. If you arrive at the park for rope drop you should be able to hit a few big rides before 11:00 and then catch the show before any rain gets in the way. After that you can use those afternoon Fastpass+ selections for rides like Toy Story Midway Mania!, Star Tours- The Adventures Continue, or The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Notice I did not include Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! as a Fastpass+ recommendation. With the capability of seating over 2,000 guests it is very unusual that you will need a Fastpass+ to take in the show. Save that for some of the more popular rides I just mentioned.
With that I think it is time to roll up our maps, grab our hats from under the closing trap door, and hop in our tandem motorcycles! I want to say a big thanks to our friends at the WDW Magazine for featuring today’s episode in their April publication. Be sure to check out this great magazine over at www.wdw-magazine.com.
Also, be sure and follow us on our website, Pinterest, and our Facebook page! Most importantly, we hope you will share our work at the WDW Ride Guide with a friend. Chances are you know someone thinking about a Disney vacation or already well down the path to planning their upcoming trip. Most visitors arrive at the theme park gates tragically underprepared and miss out on having the best time possible. We do what we do to help you and your friends going to Walt Disney World avoid those mistakes. We want you to create the most magical family memories that will last for years to come. So, do us a favor and tell 3 people you know about our podcast. We would love to help those you know enjoy Disney as much as we do.
Thank you so much for joining me today. I have really enjoyed sharing my lifelong experience with the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! with you. I hope this helps make the most of your upcoming adventure. Next week we will return with even more to explore. Until then, make each day a ride worth taking!