The first appearance of British archaeologist Lara Croft was in the 1996 action-adventure game Tomb Raider for the PC, Sega Saturn and PlayStation, developed by Core Design and published by Eidos Interactive.

Tomb Raider was an exploratory game where you searched for ancient and often mystical artifacts across international locations, which you navigated regularly by solving puzzles, often in jungle and temple environments.

Like many 3D games (although not like anything at the time), you could walk, run, jump, roll, push, pull, side-step, swim, grab onto ledges, fire weapons and fight enemies throughout this polygonal world.

The plot of the first game: In Calcutta, Lara Croft is asked by a wealthy businesswoman named Jacqueline Natla to recover an artifact from a lost tomb in Peru, but Natla is not what she seems, and Lara ends up getting used for a complex evil plan involving mutants, a medieval monk’s journal, the lost city of Atlantis, and a lot of tombs to be raided.

The game was widely acclaimed by critics and gamers. People often credit Super Mario 64 as a groundbreaking 3D game, but the team behing Tomb Raider was also creating something new, and both games were released in the same year, so neither one copied the other.

The team at Core originally intended for the game to star a male character. They later decided to include a female character to give players the option of choosing between sexes, but after realizing the work overload that would come from programming cutscenes, game designer Toby Gard chose to make the main character exclusively female.

Fun fact: Toby Gard knew there would be a market for a game with a female character when he saw how popular the only two female characters in the Sega game Virtua Fighter were.

Lara Croft was originally named Laura Cruz before they decided to make the character more English, down to her personality, which was that of a “proper English lady.” She was originally voiced by English actress, TV personality and announcer Shelly Blond. The New York Times said her voice rivalled Kathleen Turner’s voice for Jessica Rabbit in terms of sexyness.

Which brings us here: debates have been made about whether or not Tomb Raider celebrates women or objectifies them, but it’s worth noting that in the game the character is never played as sexy, and Lara Croft’s creator Toby Gard has expressed disappointment when seeing her sexuality being used to sell the series. In recent games she has received less criticism due to her more realistic body type.

Other games in the series include:

  • Tomb Raider II
  • Tomb Raider III
  • Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation
  • Tomb Raider Chronicles
  • Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (franchise low point)
  • Tomb Raider: Legend (first Tomb Raider game by Crystal Dynamics, which took over development from Core after The Angel of Darkness failed)
  • Tomb Raider: Underworld
  • Tomb Raider (2013 series reboot)
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider (scheduled for release in September 2018)

The company that publishes the game, Eidos, was bought by Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts) in 2009 and renamed Square Enix Europe.

The character of Lara Croft was one of the most popular fictional characters of the nineties, helping video games enter the mainstream by making them seem more sexy and less geeky. As a result, Lara has appeared in other mediums besides video games.

She made her comic debut with comic publisher Top Cow in a crossover with their series Witchblade, and later starred in her own comic book series in 1999. She also appeared in Tomb Raider novels! These included The Amulet of Power (2003), The Lost Cult (2004) and The Man of Bronze (2005).

Revisioned: Tomb Raider was an animated web series featuring five-to-seven-minute short films created by cartoonists, writers and animators who each had creative freedom to make a standalone Tomb Raider short. People who worked on the show include Peter Chung, Jim Lee, Gail Simone and Warren Ellis.

Hollywood finally came knocking when Paramount released Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), directed by Simon West (Con Air) and starring Angelina Jolie, in which Lara faced the Illuminati. The 2003 sequel Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life, directed by Jan de Bont (Speed, Twister), depicts Lara in competition with a Chinese crime syndicate in search of Pandora’s Box. 15 years later, Tomb Raider (2018) starring Alicia Vikander and directed by Roar Uthaug was released, and signs of the popularity of this franchise waning are currently non-existent.