The film, made on a $18 million budget, grossed $384 million worldwide throughout its theatrical releases. In North America it was by some distance the highest-grossing film of 1981, and remains one of the top twenty highest-grossing films ever made when adjusted for inflation. The film was subsequently nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1982 and won four (Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Norman Reynolds, Leslie Dilley, and Michael D. Ford). It also received a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing. It won numerous other awards, including a Grammy Award and Best Picture at the People’s Choice Awards. Spielberg was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
The film received universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike. In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby praised the film, calling it, “one of the most deliriously funny, ingenious and stylish American adventure movies ever made.” Roger Ebert in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “Two things, however, make Raiders of the Lost Ark more than just a technological triumph: its sense of humor and the droll style of its characters We find ourselves laughing in surprise, in relief, in incredulity at the movie’s ability to pile one incident upon another in an inexhaustible series of inventions.” He later added it to his list of “Great Movies”. Rolling Stone said the film was “the ultimate Saturday action matinee–a film so funny and exciting it can be enjoyed any day of the week.” Bruce Williamson of Playboy claimed: “There’s more excitement in the first ten minutes of Raiders than any movie I have seen all year. By the time the explosive misadventures end, any movie-goer worth his salt ought to be exhausted.” Stephen Klain of Variety also praised the film. Yet, making an observation that would revisit the franchise with its next film, he felt that the film was surprisingly violent and bloody for a PG-rated film.
There were some dissenting voices; Sight & Sound described it as an “…expensively gift-wrapped Saturday afternoon pot-boiler,” and New Hollywood champion Pauline Kael, who once contended that she only got “really rough” on large films that were destined to be hits but were nonetheless “atrocious,” found the film to be a “machine-tooled adventure” from a pair of creators who “think just like the marketing division.” (Lucas later named a villain, played by Raiders Nazi strongman Pat Roach, in his 1988 fantasy film Willow after Kael.) The film is considered to be a classic of the action and adventure genres by many contemporary critics, and carries a 95% “Certified Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.