"The patient academic study of ancient culture" is both the traditional definition of Archaeology, and a sentence that most movie executives can't hear, much less comprehend. Seriously, words like "academic," "patient" and "culture" are like a dog whistle to them. Someone must have communicated that ancient artifacts are helpful plot motivators using flow charts and wild gesticulations because they invented a fictional version of archeology which replaces pick hammers and book learning with handguns and competitive burglary. For instance ...
#8. Indiana Jones
Dr. Indiana Jones is worse at recovering precious items than a magpie stuffed with explosives. He gets some points for being the original, and he's not as bad as many of the characters he inspired. Of course, if being better than your own photocopies excused bad behavior, your ass wouldn't have gotten fired after last year's holiday party.
Raiders of the Lost Ark's opening sequence is a cinematic classic and a documentary on how to suck at archaeology. Indy dashes into priceless ruins with no data-recording equipment, and proceeds to destroy archaeological records of an entire civilization. Most archeologists are after information about ancient cultures and Indy's daring raid destroys an entire temple full of thousand year old machines that are still-functioning. He destroys them so that he can grab a bit of gold that weighs as much as a small rhinoceros's ball sack. That's like a scientist happening upon a working model of the Starship Enterprise, and smashing it up to get a good calculator.
"Oh man, I can play Doom on this!"
We have lots of gold, Indy! We have people and machines whose entire job is to make holes in mountains until gold comes out, and you're collapsing a priceless trove of ancient machinery to recover something we could dig up in 10 minutes. Most archaeologists consider themselves lucky to find all the shards of the same destroyed vase, because they'll be able to put it back together in only a few months. That pressure-plate-triggered arrow-launcher? That was worth more than the gold. That shouldn't be that difficult for Indy, an archeologist, to comprehend. Yet he destroys ruins so intact they're actively trying to protect themselves from him. In other words, they weren't ruins until he arrived.
These wise people had so much to teach us! Their systems still worked after thousands years, even though they were made of nothing but string and rope. Modern man can't make an iPhone last six months before it has to be replaced with a newer model.
A relic of the unimaginably ancient 2007 era.
#7. Benjamin Gates (National Treasure)
At one point, as Gates is attempting to steal the Declaration of Independence to read the secret code written on the back, he's asked if he is a treasure hunter, to which he answers, "More like treasure protector." Or, exactly like an archaeologist. Of course, Gates couldn't refer to himself using that word, both because the Indiana Jones rip-off would be too obvious, and because his target market couldn't spell "archaeologist" if they were staring at this sentence.
Benjamin Gates (Nicholas Cage) was born because The Da Vinci Code sold millions of copies. He lives in a world where everyone who was ever famous achieved all of history as a hobby in between hiding things. And by "hiding" we mean "putting them in the most visible places to exist prior to the invention of Ken Jong's career."
Still, you'd think an avowed "treasure protector" would be more careful than Indy when it comes to priceless archeological finds. And maybe Gates would be if he was better at finding them.
While real archeologists are lucky to glean a single detail about an ancient society from a lifetime of work, Gates fumbles his way from one treasure to the next using clues so clearly spelled out for him you'd swear he was being lead around by the writers of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? instead of the writers of the Declaration of Independence. The second movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets gets its name, not from a difficult to translate Biblical scroll, but from an actual book of secrets in which a bunch of conspiracies are written out for him in plain English. The big mystery is solved when they discover that a federal book, which the President owns, is kept in the Library of Congress. If it had been a trilogy, they might have had time for Gates to try and decipher the meaning of an Automatic Door sign.
#6. Nathan Drake (Drake's Fortune)
Drake belongs here because he's a Frankenstein's monster Indy and Gates, and just like any patchwork horror, he stumbles around clumsily killing people until coincidence does the thinking for him.
"If there are still people to shoot, I'm going in the right direction."
This "fortune hunter" is such a blatant Indy ripoff, the only reason he doesn't have a whip is console players would wonder where its trigger was. Relic recovery is so utterly secondary to his skill-set that his story would work exactly the same if he was a trash collector pushed to the edge by a gang of exceptionally well-armed litterers. He sees something, he picks it up and kills everyone in between. And yet he wouldn't know late classical bronze unless they cast their precious metals into 5.56mm jackets.
But where Indy tried to defeat the Nazis, Nathan Drake tries to outdo them. He's killed more people with dark skin than the first Englishman to figure out how to steer a boat.
Of course, this is appropriate since he is the descendant of Sir Francis Drake, English explorer and one of America's earliest importers of African slaves. The game ignores that part of Uncle Frank's legacy, preferring to focus on a dangerous treasure he encountered while circumnavigating the globe that mutates Nazis into ... less white looking Nazis.
If at first this seems like the weirdest, most hamfisted plot device ever, you are unfortunately not one of the millionaires who created it. They created the only device that could allow Drake to accomplish all the major tenants of Hollywood archaeology -- fighting Nazis, ignoring the shit out of history -- while still doing what Drake does best: killing non-whites.
#5. Tia Carrere (Relic Hunter)
Relic Hunter was written by watching Tomb Raider, borrowing a thesaurus and choosing the shortest word for each noun. It features Tia Carrere, trying to be more than "that girl in Wayne's World," without becoming "that girl from softcore porn" and somehow landing in something far worse.
The show starts out by giving a head fake towards softcore porn. For instance, this is Carrere's secretary's uniform:
This is our first view of the strong academic female character:
And then things go disastrously wrong.
Yep, this is pretty much exactly the opposite of what we were promised.
Whichever idiot decided that ripping off Tomb Raider was a good idea was obviously allowed to hang around, because he'd be the only person stupid enough to forget he was doing that. Tia spends the rest of the game acting like a softcore porn actress after filming ends: putting on more and more clothes while still being utterly unqualified to stand in front of a camera. The show rations violence like a colony of brittle-boned Buddhist monks throwing a party for Gandhi, and Tia fights with camera-fu: waiting for the cameraman to leap to an angle from which it looks like her flails might have connected with something.