Indiana Jones is bad for Archaeology like Braveheart is bad for history. It generates additional interest in a subject that many of our youth have little or no interest in. This interest then sparks research into the subject which these youths would not normally undertake. The only bad thing is that the fiction of the movies has given them preconceived notions of what to expect. However, once someone with these ideas is confronted with the cold hard facts of the science, the fiction quickly slips away and is replaced with the genuine facts that spur the fascination on to greater things.
The Indiana Jones movies are without a doubt an entertaining bunch of fantasy with a little bit of historical fact mixed in for legitimacy. It was never the intent of the writers, actors, directors or producers to portray the characters and events in the movies as anything but fantasy. While the stories do draw on actual historical places and objects, they do so with a totally fictitious cast and storyline. At no point in the movie series has there been any allusion that the events are attempting to depict actual archaeology or any cold hard scientific principles.
One of the advantages of having a major motion picture centered around a particular field of science is the good press that field of science receives which it would not have otherwise seen. For instance, the television series CSI does far more to depict itself as scientifically legitimate than the Indian Jones movies do for archaeology. Yet the "science" depicted in CSI for the most part is exaggerated at best. Much like any other fictional entertainment ventures they take a script and use the perception of scientific data to further that script, all the while using only a sprinkling of scientific facts and procedures in order to lend the appearance of credibility to the show. However, the number of college students who took up the sciences associated with Crime Scene Investigation has skyrocketed since the shows inception.
While the number of Archaeology students hasn't hit an all time high in the wake of the Indiana Jones movies, the interest in history in general has. Since Raiders of the Lost Ark has been released we've seen scores of television shows based on archaeology and history created, several actual television networks created that are centered around history, and numerous other academic projects take off that would never have held the same appeal to the American public had the Indiana Jones movies never been made. In short, the Indiana Jones movies have been a major marketing machine for archaeology and history in general.
As with anything that comes out of Hollywood we must take the stories of the Indiana Jones series with a grain of salt. They are meant for one purpose only, entertainment. If they can educate, inspire and motivate people beyond the movie theater then that can only be a positive thing. Think of the mystery and allure that surrounded the discovery of the lost tomb of King Tut. While this was indeed a factual scientific endeavor, it was shrouded in mysticism and legend, inspired by the fiction of ancient Egypt and supported by the media and fictional writers of the day. Despite the inaccuracies of many of the writings and suppositions of the time, the science of Egyptology became more popular than ever. Those that became involved with the science as a result of the hype surrounding the discovery were quickly educated as to the true facts and proceeded further under the proper guidance of science.
Indiana Jones and his fictional cohorts are a refreshing look at aspects of history that some have never heard of, and others never found very interesting. If a movie, however historically inaccurate it may be, can inspire excitement in a science that many have difficulty finding interest in, how could that possibly be a bad thing? The old adage that "there is no such thing as bad press" is never more true than with Hollywood's ability to draw much needed attention to topics and sciences that would otherwise never see the light of day. I applaud the creators of the Indiana Jones series and hope that there are other creative minds out there that can do as much good for other sciences and topics that deserve more attention than today's society is currently interesting in paying homage to.