Acting for Two: Renowned British wrestler Pat Roach gets killed twice in this film - once as a giant Sherpa left in the burning Nepalese bar and once as the German mechanic chewed up by the plane's propeller.
Common Knowledge: George Lucas has been known to use the phrase "pointer scene" on DVD Commentary when comparing an Infodump in another film to the scene where Jones explains the history of the Ark to the government men. The closest thing to a pointer in the scene is Jones drawing on a blackboard with chalk, but so many parodies of the film include presentation pointers that fans tend to remember seeing one in the original film.
In the uncut conversation between Indy and Marion at the Raven Bar, Marion explains the cause of Abner's death and tells Indy about the difficult last two years of her life. After having arranged the following day's appointment for the delivery of the medallion, Indy turns to leave, only to return under Marion's urge; she grabs his jacket and pulls him close for a kiss. The whole Raven Bar scene was cut because it was considered too long. The kissing part can be seen in The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark documentary. The scene appears in a script draft, the novelization and the Marvel Comics movie adaptation.
A plot element involving the Ark of the Covenant was cut from the film and is only hinted at during the finale when the Ark is opened. Basically, there were 2 rules about the Ark not mentioned in the final cut of the film: 1. If you touch the Ark, you die. 2. If you look at the Ark when it is opened, you die. This is first explained in additional dialogue for the scene when Indy and Sallah visit Imam. Before translating the writings on the headpiece that give the height of the Staff of Ra, Imam warns Indy not to touch the Ark or look at it when it is opened. The next scene involving this Ark subplot is when Sallah and Indy remove the Ark from the Well of the Souls. When Sallah first sees it he reaches out to touch it. Indy stops him before he does and reminds him of Imam's warning. Then they insert long poles through each side of the Ark to lift it out of its crypt. Notice that nobody ever touches the Ark throughout the rest of the film until the finale.
While Indiana Jones is in the Map Room trying to find the exact location of the Well of the Souls, two German soldiers approach Sallah and order him to help them remove their truck that had been stuck in the sand. In the process Sallah looses the rope with which he was supposed to help Indy get out of the Map Room. In a continuing scene we see Sallah entering a German tent looking for something to substitute his missing rope and awhile later he comes up with a "rope" made of bed sheets and a German flag. What we don't see is Sallah in a state of panic wandering in the Nazi camp at breakfast time. A group of German soldiers ask him to serve them water from a marmite. Sallah spills the content of the marmite on the German officers' uniforms and leaves promising to return with fresh water. The scene called for smoke in the background but unfortunately the tires used to produce the smoke were too many, thus making the scene too dark. Steven Spielberg opted to cut this scene instead of spending half a day shooting it again.
With Indy and Marion left to suffocate in the Well of the Souls the Germans decide that Sallah should be executed. A young German soldier was supposed to carry out the dirty job but things changed when the later started having second thoughts. A German youth vacationing in Tunisia had been hired for the part of the young soldier. The funny thing is that this inexperienced young man managed to express brilliantly the moral dilemma of a young soldier forced to decide whether or not to kill a harmless stranger; this is the business of foreign wars, and this unknown German boy was able to convey it as well as any actor. The result was beyond description, with this German student playing an intensely moving and emotional scene, making David Wisnievitz and Karen Allen call it the greatest moment since the film began. Spielberg said the bitter truth was that brilliant and memorable though the scene was, it would probably end up on the cutting-room floor because it was just too long. So it did.
There was a small cut during the scene where Indy and Marion escape from the Well of Souls. When Indy pushes the large stone brick out of the room filled with mummy's, there is an Arab guard standing outside. When the Arab and Indy come face to face, Indy simply knocks him unconscious. Evidence of this scene still remains in the film. As Indy steps out of the chamber, he pauses and looks off to the left side of the screen. In the following shot, when Indy and Marion run from the building to the German plane, that Arab is visible lying on the ground by the building.
Indy surviving the submarine journey by lashing himself to the periscope with his whip. In the final film, the plot hole goes largely unnoticed. Most people seem to assume either that Indy snuck inside the sub or that it stayed on the ocean surface for the duration of the trip. This cut scene did appear in the Marvel Comics adaptation. The few pictures that we have found prove that they indeed film part of this scene.
Prop Recycling: The U-boat sailing prop was the U-96, rented from the production of Das Boot. In fact, the German crew woke up one day to find it was suddenly missing because someone forgot to tell them that Spielberg was borrowing it. The secret U-boat base was filmed at the La Rochelle U-boat Pen, which was also used in the filming of Das Boot.
Klaus Kinski was offered the role of Toht, but he chose to do a killer snake film Venom instead because it offered more money.
Spielberg had originally offered the role of Toht to Roman Polanski, who was intrigued at the opportunity to work with Spielberg but decided to turn down the role because he wouldn't be able to make the trip to Tunisia.
Tom Selleck was one of the choices to play Indiana Jones, but he couldn't make it due to his commitment to Magnum, P.I..
Danny DeVito was originally offered the role of Sallah, but he was busy with Taxi.
Early storyboard sketches show Toht originally having a light in one of his eyes and a cannon for an arm that could transform into a flamethrower! No, this was Spielberg's idea shot down by Lucas for being far-fetched, why do you ask?
An early draft of the script had Indy traveling to Shanghai to recover a piece of the Staff of Ra. During his escape from the museum, where it was housed, he was to be sheltered from machine gun fire, behind a giant rolling gong. Also in the same script, Indy and Marion flee the chaos caused by the opening of the Ark in a wild mine-cart chase sequence. Both of these scenes were cut from the script, but ended up in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
On a more disturbing note, Lucas and Spielberg actually considered making Marion twelve in the backstory when she first had a relationship with an adult Indy. For perspective, that's the same age as Short Round. (Not that the final product was that much of an improvement; in the official backstory, Marion was fifteen and Indy was still in his twenties.)
Word of God: On the Pinball Protagonist arguement , Lucas and Spielberg have countered that Bellaq only opened the Ark because Indy showed up, and he wanted a final "screw you" to his rival, and that Hitler would have been Genre Savvy enough not to open it.
You Look Familiar: An unusual example as Indy's first treacherous guide and the monkey man, as well as the two giant mooks, are played by the same two actors.