Lara Croft is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Square Enix (previously Eidos Interactive) video game series Tomb Raider. She is presented as a beautiful, intelligent, and athletic archaeologist-adventurer who ventures into ancient, hazardous tombs and ruins around the world. Created by Toby Gard during his employment at British developer Core Design, the character first appeared in the 1996 video game Tomb Raider. The character has also appeared in video game sequels, printed adaptations, a series of animated short films, feature films (portrayed by Angelina Jolie), and merchandise related to the series. Official promotion of the character includes a brand of apparel and accessories, action figures, and model portrayals. Croft has also been licensed for third-party promotion, including television and print advertisements, music-related appearances, and as a spokesmodel.
Core Design handled initial development of the character and the series. Inspired by pop artist Neneh Cherry and comic book character Tank Girl, Gard designed Lara Croft to counter stereotypical female characters. The company modified the character for subsequent titles, which included graphical improvements and gameplay additions. American developer Crystal Dynamics took over the series after the 2003 sequel Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was received poorly. The new developer rebooted the character along with the video game series. Crystal Dynamics focused on making the character more believable. The company altered her physical proportions, and gave her additional ways of interacting with game environments. Croft has been voiced by four actresses in the video game series: Shelley Blond, Judith Gibbins, Jonell Elliott and Keeley Hawes.
Critics consider Lara Croft a significant game character in popular culture. She holds two Guinness World Records, has a strong fan following, and is among the first video game characters to be successfully adapted to film. The character's debut was well-received by the video game industry, but her popularity slowly declined until the series' reboot in 2006. While the rebooted games were generally well-received, Croft's redesign was met with mixed responses. Lara Croft is also considered a sex symbol, one of the earliest in the industry to achieve widespread attention. The character's influence in the industry has been a point of contention among critics; viewpoints range from a positive agent of change in video games to a negative role model for young girls.
Lara Croft is depicted as an athletic woman; she has brown eyes and hair, frequently kept in a plait or ponytail. The character's classic costume is a turquoise sleeveless tank top, light brown shorts, calf-high boots, and long white socks. Accessories include fingerless gloves, a backpack, a utility belt with holsters on either side, and two pistols. The video game sequels introduced new outfits designed for different environments, such as underwater and cold weather. In the later games, Croft wears a crop top, camouflage pants and black or light brown shirts. When exploring, she often carries two pistols, but has used other weaponry throughout the series. Lara Croft is fluent in several languages.
Game manuals describe the character as the Wimbledon, London-born daughter of the fictional Lord Henshingly Croft. She was raised as an aristocrat and betrothed to the fictitious Earl of Farringdon. Lara Croft attended the Scottish boarding school Gordonstoun and a Swiss finishing school. A plane crash left the character stranded in the Himalayas for two weeks; the experience spurred her to shun her former life and seek other adventures around the world. Croft wrote books and other published works based on her exploits as a mercenary, big-game hunter, and master thief. The story was later changed to include her mother in the plane crash. While searching for shelter against the elements, Lara Croft witnesses her mother vanish after tampering with an ancient sword. Her father disappears in search of his wife.
In video games
Lara Croft primarily appears in the Tomb Raider video game series published by Square Enix Europe (previously Eidos Interactive). The action-adventure games feature the protagonist travelling the world in search of rare objects and mystical artefacts.Croft first appeared in the 1996 video game Tomb Raider, in which she competes against a rival archaeologist in search of an Atlantean artefact. Tomb Raider II (1997) centres on the search for the Dagger of Xian, which is sought by thieves. Tomb Raider III (1998) focuses on meteorite fragments that endow humans with supernatural powers. In Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (1999), the first depiction of a young Croft, she is accompanied by her mentor, Werner Von Croy. Lara searches for artefacts associated with the Egyptian god Horus, and later encounters Von Croy as an antagonist. In Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000), most of the game relates adventures told via flashbacks. The first portable game, Tomb Raider (2000), was released on the Game Boy Color, and follows the character's search for the Nightmare Stone. A second Game Boy Color title, Tomb Raider: Curse of the Sword (2001), sees Lara Croft facing off against a cult. The next portable game, Tomb Raider: The Prophecy (2002), was released on the Game Boy Advance, and focuses on three magical stones. Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) was released on home platforms, centring on the murder of Professor Von Croy.
Eidos rebooted the series with Tomb Raider: Legend (2006), which focuses on Lara Croft's search for Excalibur and her mother, altering the character's backstory as part of the reboot. Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007), a remake of the first game in the series, carried over design elements from Legend. Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008) continues the plot introduced in Legend. The story centres on Croft's search for information about her mother's disappearance. In the process she learns of the existence of Thor's hammer, Mjöllnir. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (2010) is a downloadable game that is set in a Central American jungle, and features an ancient warrior who works with Lara Croft.
In film adaptations
Paramount Pictures acquired the film rights for Tomb Raider in 1998. Producer Lloyd Levin stated that the film makers tried to capture the essence of the video game elements rather than duplicate them. Acknowledging the character's "huge fan base" and recognizable appearance, director Simon West sought an actress with acting ability as well as physical attributes similar to Croft. Paramount also received input from developer Core Design on casting. Rumoured actresses included Pamela Anderson, Demi Moore, Jeri Ryan, and Carla Pivonski. Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie was eventually cast to play Lara Croft. She had not been a fan of the character, but considered the role as a "big responsibility", citing anxiety about fans' high expectations. Producer Lawrence Gordon felt she was a perfect fit for the role. Jolie braided her hair and used minimal padding to increase her bust a cup size to 36D for the role. She felt that Croft's video game proportions were unrealistic, and wanted to avoid showing such proportions to young girls. Jolie trained rigorously for the action scenes required for the role, occasionally sustaining injuries. Her training focused on practising the physical skills necessary to perform the film's stunts. The difficulty of the training and injuries discouraged her, but she continued working through production. Jolie also encountered difficulties when working the guns, bungee jumping, and manoeuvring with the braid. West had not anticipated that Jolie would do her own stunts, and was impressed, as was stunt coordinator Simon Crane, by the effort she put into them.
The first, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, was released in 2001, and follows Croft as she encounters the Illuminati, a group searching for a relic able to control time. The film depicted Croft's backstory differently from the version in the early games. In the films, Lara Croft's mother died in a plane crash and her father disappeared in Cambodia; in the games, both parents are alive. A similar backstory was adopted in 2006 in Legend. Angelina Jolie reprised her role for a sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, in which Croft searches for Pandora's box in competition with a Chinese crime syndicate. Directed by Jan de Bont, the 2003 film focused more on the character's development. De Bont praised Jolie's understanding of Lara Croft, as well as the character's strength, saying he "hates women in distress." Producer Levin commented that the film staff tried to handle the character properly, and consulted with the video game developers on what would be appropriate. Despite the second film's poor reception, Paramount remained open to releasing a third. Jolie was still optioned to play the character in a third film as late as 2007, though she had commented in 2004 that she had no intention of reprising the role again. Development for a third movie was announced in 2009, with Dan Lin as the producer. However, a new actress is currently being sought to play the title character. Lin intends to reboot the film series with a young Croft in an origin story. Producer Graham King plans to release the film in 2013.
In other adaptations
Beginning in 1997, the character regularly appeared in comics by Top Cow Productions. Lara Croft first appeared in a crossover in Sara Pezzini's Witchblade, and later starred in her own comic book series in 1999. The series began with Dan Jurgens as the writer, featuring artwork by Andy Park and Jon Sibal. The stories were unrelated to the video games until issue 32 of the Tomb Raider series, which adapted Angel of Darkness's plot. The series ran for 50 issues in addition to special issues. Other printed adaptations are Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Amulet of Power, a 2003 novel written by Mike Resnick; Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Lost Cult, a 2004 novel written by E.E. Knight; and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Man of Bronze, a 2005 novel written by James Alan Gardner. GameTap released Re\Visioned: Tomb Raider Animated Series in 2007 via the GameTap TV section of its website. The web series is a collection of ten short animated films that features re-imagined versions of Croft by well-known animators, comic book artists, and writers, including Jim Lee, Warren Ellis, and Peter Chung. Episodes ranged from five to seven and half minutes in length, featuring Minnie Driver as Croft. The creative staff was given considerable freedom to re-interpret the character; they did not consult the video game designers, but were given a guide listing acceptable and unacceptable practices.
Core Design, a subsidiary of Eidos, created Lara Croft as the lead protagonist of its video game Tomb Raider, which began development in 1993. Lead graphic artist Toby Gard went through about five designs before arriving at the character's final appearance. He initially envisioned a male lead character with a whip and a hat. Core Design co-founder Jeremy Smith characterized the design as derivative of Indiana Jones, and asked for more originality. Gard decided that a female character would work better from a design standpoint. He also claimed a desire to counter stereotypical female characters, which he has characterized as "bimbos" or "dominatrix" types. Smith was sceptical of a female lead at first because few contemporary games featured them. He came to regard a female lead as a great hook and put faith in Gard's idea. Inspired by pop artist Neneh Cherry and comic book character Tank Girl, Gard experimented with different designs, including a muscular woman and a Nazi-like militant. He settled on a tough South American woman with a braid named Laura Cruz. Eidos management preferred a more "UK friendly" name, and selected Lara Croft from similar-sounding British names found in an English telephone directory. Along with the name change, the character's backstory was altered to incorporate a British origin.
Gard was keen to animate the character realistically, an aspect he felt the industry at the time had disregarded. He sacrificed quick animations in favour of more fluid movement, believing that players would empathize with the character more easily. In the first Tomb Raider, Croft's three-dimensional (3D) character model is made of around 230 polygons. The graphical limits at the time required the removal of the character's braid from the model; it was added to the model for subsequent iterations. While adjusting the character model, Gard accidentally increased the breasts' dimensions by 150 percent. After seeing the increase, the rest of the creative team argued to keep the change. Core Design hired Shelley Blond to voice Croft after the game entered the beta phase of development. Gard left Core Design after completing Tomb Raider, citing a lack of creative freedom and control over marketing decisions related to the ideas he developed (especially Lara Croft).
Core Design improved and modified the character with each instalment. Developers for Tomb Raider II increased the number of polygons in the character's model and added more realistic curves to its design. Other changes included new outfits and manoeuvres. Core Design planned to implement crawling as a new gameplay option, but did not follow through until Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. Actress Judith Gibbins took over voice acting responsibilities and stayed on through Tomb Raider III. For the third game, the developers increased the number of polygons in Croft's 3D model to about 300, and introduced more abilities to the gameplay. For Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, the developers wanted to reintroduce the character to players and included a flashback scenario with a younger Lara. Core Design expanded the character's set of moves threefold to allow more interaction with the environment, like swinging on ropes and kicking open doors. The character model was altered to feature more realistic proportions, and Jonell Elliott replaced Gibbins as the voice of Lara Croft. By the time development for The Last Revelation began, Core Design had worked on the series constantly for four years and the staff felt they had exhausted their creativeness. Feeling the series lacked innovation, Core Design decided to kill the character and depicted Croft trapped by a cave-in during the final scenes of the game.
The next title, Tomb Raider Chronicles, depicted the late Lara Croft via her friends' flashbacks. The game introduced stealth attacks, which would carry over to the next game, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. While the original development team worked on Chronicles, Core Design assigned a new team to develop Angel of Darkness for the PlayStation 2. Anticipating innovative changes from next generation consoles, Adrian Smith—co-founder of Core Design—wanted to reinvent the character to keep pace with the updated technology. Core Design conducted market research, including fan polls, to aid in Angel of Darkness's development. The development team felt they could not alter the character and instead opted to place her in a situation different from previous games. The PlayStation 2 hardware allowed for more manoeuvres and a more detailed character model; the number of polygons in Croft's model increased to 4,400. The team sought to add more melee manoeuvres to better match Lara Croft's portrayal as an expert fighter in her backstory. Movement control was switched from the directional pad to the analog control stick to provide more precision. After the original team finished Chronicles, they joined the development of Angel of Darkness. Excess content, missed production deadlines, and Eidos's desire to time the game's launch to coincide with the release of the 2003 Tomb Raider film resulted in a poorly designed game; Croft was brought back to life without explanation and the character controls lacked precision.
Developer switch to Crystal Dynamics
Angel of Darkness was received poorly, prompting Eidos—fearing financial troubles from another unsuccessful game—to give development duties for future titles to Crystal Dynamics, another Eidos subsidiary. The Legacy of Kain development team began work on a new title (Tomb Raider: Legend), and Toby Gard returned to work as a consultant. The development team reassessed the brand value of the franchise and its protagonist. Chip Blundell, Eidos's vice-president of brand management, commented that the designers understood that fans saw the character and brand as their own, rather than Eidos's. With that in mind, the team retooled the franchise and character to emphasize aspects of the original game that made them unique. The storyline intended for a trilogy of games that started with Angel of Darkness was abandoned and a new plot was created for Legend.
Crystal Dynamics focused on believability rather than realism to re-develop the character, posing decisions around the question, "What could Lara do?", and giving her action more freedom. They updated Lara Croft's move set to make her movements appear more fluid and continuous. The animations were also updated so the character could better interact with environmental objects. The developers introduced a feature that causes the character's skin and clothing to appear wet after swimming and dirty after rolling on the ground. Responding to criticism directed at the character controls in Angel of Darkness, Crystal Dynamics redesigned the character's control scheme to provide what they felt was the best third-person action experience. The developers also introduced close-quarter melee manoeuvres. Crystal Dynamics updated the character model to add more realism, but retained past design elements. The polygon count increased to over 9,800. More attention was paid to the character's lip syncing and facial expressions to allow for dynamic emotional responses to in-game events. In redesigning the character's appearance, Crystal Dynamics updated Croft's hairstyle, wardrobe, and accessories. Her shirt was changed to a V-neck, her body was given more muscle tone, and her hair braid was switched to a pony tail. The voice actor for Lara Croft was initially rumoured to be Rachel Weisz, but the role was eventually given to Keeley Hawes. Crystal Dynamics retained the design changes for the next game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a remake of the first game The designers aimed to aimed to portray Croft with more emotional depth, and focused on the character's desire to achieve the end goal of the game, culminating in killing one of the antagonists. The developers used the death to evoke guilt in Croft afterward and illustrate that shooting a person should be a difficult choice.
Tomb Raider: Underworld continued the plot line established in Legend. Crystal Dynamics used new technology to improve the character for seventh generation consoles, focusing on improving realism. The dirt accumulation and water cleansing mechanic from Legend was altered to be a real-time mechanic that can involve the entire game environment. To achieve a more natural appearance, the developers added spherical harmonics to provide indirect lighting to in-game objects like Lara Croft. Crystal Dynamics made the character model more complex and detailed than previous instalments, featuring more texture layers that determine the appearance of shadows and reflective light on it, and using skeletal animation to portray believable movement. The number of polygons in the model increased to 32,000. The developers enhanced Croft's facial model by increasing the number of polygons, bones used in the animation skeleton, and graphical shaders in the face to add more detail and expressive capabilities. The hair was created as a real-time cloth simulation to further add realism to its shape and movement. The developers kept Croft's hair tied back because they felt a real person would not want it flying around while performing dangerous manoeuvres. The character's body size was increased and breast size reduced to portray more realistic proportions.
The developers tried to redefine Lara Croft's actions by questioning what they felt the character was capable of. While previous games used hand-animated movement for the character, Underworld introduced motion capture-based animation to display more fluid, realistic movement and facial expressions. Stuntwoman and Olympic Gold medalist Heidi Moneymaker was the motion capture actor, and advised the designers on practical movements. Animators adjusted and blended the recorded animation to create seamless transitions between the separate moves and their simultaneous combinations The blends and additional animations give the character more flexible movement. Actions were overlapped to allow for multitasking, such as aiming at two separate targets and shooting with one hand while the other holds an object collected from the environment. Other additions include more melee attacks, as well as contextual offensive and climbing manoeuvres. Crystal Dynamics sought to make the visual appearance of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions identical, although the systems use different techniques to achieve this. In response to Underworld's lackluster sales figures, Eidos reportedly considered altering the character's appearance to appeal more to female fans.
Publisher switch to Square Enix
Japanese game company Square Enix acquired Eidos in April 2009, restructuring Eidos into Square Enix Europe. Crystal Dynamics remained the developer of the Tomb Raider games. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light introduced co-operative gameplay to the series, a move that brand director Karl Stewart said was meant to "show [Lara] as a more humanistic character" by placing her in a situation that differed from previous installments. The game used the same technology featured in the studio's past Tomb Raider games. Despite the changes implemented in the titles, Crystal Dynamics believed that the series required further reinvention to stay relevant.
In late 2010, Square Enix announced a franchise reboot titled Tomb Raider; the new Lara Croft would be a darker, grittier reimagining of the character. In examining the character, Crystal Dynamics concluded that Croft's largest failing was her "Teflon coating", and that it needed a more human version that players would care about. The studio is seeking a new voice actress, trialling dozens of relatively unknown performers. The second reboot focuses on the origin of the character, and as a result, changes the previous back story. Staff opted to first work on the character's biography rather than cosmetic aspects. Crystal Dynamics sought to avoid the embellished physique of past renditions and pushed for realistic proportions. In redesigning the character's appearance, the designers began with simple concepts and added features that it felt made Lara Croft iconic: a ponytail, "M-shaped" lips, and the spatial relationship between her eyes, mouth, and nose. The company also changed the character's wardrobe, focusing on what it believed was more functional and practical. In designing the outfits, staff aimed to create a look that was "relevant" and "youthful", but not too "trendy" or "hip". To gauge the redesign, Crystal Dynamics conducted eye tracking studies on subjects who viewed the new version and previous ones.
Similar to Underworld, the new Tomb Raider will feature motion capture-based animation. In an effort to present realism and emotion in the character, Crystal Dynamics captured face and voice performances to accompany the body performances. The company plans to revamp Croft's in-game combat abilities. Crystal Dynamics aims to make the "combat fresh to the franchise, competitive amongst [similar games], and relevant to the story." Among the changes is the implementation of a free aiming system. The studio reasoned that such a system would cause players to be more invested in the action by fostering a "raw, brutal, and desperate" style. Global brand director Karl Stewart stated that such desperation relates to the updated character's inexperience with violence. He further commented that Lara Croft is thrust into a situation where she is forced to kill, which will be a traumatic and defining moment for her.
Promotion and merchandising
Eidos's German branch and the KMF agency handled marketing for Lara Croft. Eidos marketing manager David Burton oversaw marketing efforts, which attempted to portray the character as attractive and pleasant. However, interaction with the press, especially those in Europe, resulted in less clothing depicted in promotional images. Concerned with diluting Croft's personality, Eidos avoided products it felt did not fit the character. Ian Livingstone, Eidos's product acquisition director, commented that the company declines most merchandising proposals. He stated that Eidos primarily focuses on game development and views such promotion outside video games as exposure for the character. Following Square Enix's acquisition, Eidos' marketing duties were transferred to the Square Enix Europe subsidiary. As part of the second reboot, Crystal Dynamics planned to align all products, promotions, and media ventures with its new version of the character.
Lara Croft has appeared on the cover of multiple video game magazines. The character has also been featured on the cover of non-video game publications such as British style magazine The Face, American news magazines Time and Newsweek, German magazine Focus, and the front page of British newspaper the Financial Times. Eidos licensed the character for third party advertisements, including television ads for Visa, Lucozade drinks, G4 TV, Brigitte magazine, and SEAT cars. Retro Gamer staff attributes Croft's "iconic" status in part to the Lucozade commercials, calling them one of the most memorable advertisements to use video game elements. Picture advertisements appeared on the sides of double-decker buses and walls of subway stations. Irish rock band U2 commissioned custom renders for video footage displayed on stage in their 1997 PopMart tour. German punk band Die Ärzte's 1998 music video for "Men are pigs" (German: "Männer sind Schweine") also features Croft. Music groups have dedicated songs to the character, culminating in the release of the album A Tribute to Lara Croft. Bands and artists including Depeche Mode, Moby, Faith No More, Jimi Tenor, and Apollo 440 donated their songs for the album. In conjunction with the release of the 2001 film adaptation, Eidos licensed Lara Croft free-of-charge to the Gordonstoun boarding school for a commercial. The school approached Eidos about use of the character. Eidos allowed the one-time licence due to Core Design's inclusion of Gordonstoun in Croft's fictional biography without the school's permission. Near the end of 2006, Lara Croft became the spokesmodel for the Skin Cancer Awareness Foundation of Minden, Nevada as part of their Sun Smart Teen Program. The foundation felt that the character personified the benefits of a healthy body, and that young teenagers could relate to Croft.
Lara Croft's likeness has been a model for merchandise. The first action figures were produced by Toy Biz, based on the video game version of the character. Playmates Toys released a series of action figures that depict Croft in different outfits and accessories from the video games, later producing figures modelled after Jolie for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Graphic designer Marc Klinnert of Studio OXMOX released 1⁄6 scale model kits of the character, and later built a full scale version. Arcade: The Videogame Magazine and PlayStation Magazine promoted life-size Croft statues as contest prizes. Spurred by a rumour that Eidos provided Lara Croft autographs, fans wrote to the company to obtain them. The quantity prompted Eidos to quickly produce autographed cards to meet demand. Tomb Raider: Underworld themes and wallpapers featuring the character were released for the PlayStation 3. Xbox Live Marketplace released Xbox 360 avatars in conjunction with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Eidos released a brand of Lara Croft apparel and accessories, marketed under the label "LARA©". The line included wallets, watches, bathrobes, and Zippo lighters. Other third-party apparel are hiking boots, backpacks, leather jackets, and thermoses. Croft's likeness has also appeared on French postage stamps, PlayStation memory cards, and trading cards as part of a collectible card game. In October 1997, Eidos held an art exhibition titled "Lara Goes Art" in Hamburg, Germany to promote Tomb Raider II. The exhibit featured selected artwork of the character submitted by artists and fans. Pieces included oil and airbrushed paintings, photo-stories, and Klinnert's model; SZM Studios provided the computer-generated footage they had created for Die Ärzte's music video and the Brigitte magazine television commercial.
Eidos hired several models to portray Lara Croft at publicity events, promotions, trade shows, and photo shoots. Nathalie Cook was the first model, portraying the character from 1996 to 1997. Cook was followed by British actress Rhona Mitra from 1997 to 1998. Eidos then updated the Croft costume to match its video game depiction. Core Design reportedly restricted Mitra's dialogue as the character at trade shows and out of costume. French model Vanessa Demouy succeeded Mitra for a brief time until fashion model Nell McAndrew took over the role at the 1998 Electronic Entertainment Expo. McAndrew portrayed Croft from 1998 until 1999, when Eidos fired her for posing in Playboy, which used the character and Tomb Raider franchise to promote the McAndrew's issue without Eidos's approval. Core Design was granted an injunction against the magazine to protect the character's image; Playboy was ordered to place stickers on the cover of the issue to conceal the reference to Tomb Raider. Eidos later donated McAndrew's Tomb Raider costume to a UNICEF charity auction.
Lara Weller followed McAndrew from 1999 to 2000. Subsequent models were Lucy Clarkson from 2000 to 2002 and Jill de Jong, who wore a new costume based on Lara Croft's new appearance in Angel of Darkness from 2002 to 2004. Karima Adebibe became the model from 2006 to 2008, and wore a costume based on the updated version of Croft in Legend. She was the first model Eidos allowed to portray Lara Croft outside posing for photography. To prepare for the role, Adebibe trained in areas the character was expected to excel in like combat, motorcycling, elocution, and conduct. Gymnast Alison Carroll, succeeded Adebibe in 2008 and featured apparel based on the character's appearance in Underworld.Similar to Adebibe, Carroll received special training—Special Air Service (SAS) survival, weapons, and archaeology—to fill the role. Crystal Dynamics discontinued the use of models as part of the franchise's second reboot. The number of models prompted Guinness World Records to award the character an official record for the "most official real life stand-ins" in 2008.
Lara Croft's 1996 debut is often cited as a catalyst for more female leads in video games. Kaiser Hwang of PlayStation Magazine commented that she "brought girl power" to video games. IGN argued that Croft helped redefined gender in video games by providing a different interpretation of what women could do. Several publications have used her as the standard to which later female video game characters have been compared. Video game publications like PlayStation Magazine, IGN, Edge, and PlayStation: The Official Magazine have labelled the character a video game and cultural icon. Jeremy Smith credits Croft with exposing the Tomb Raider games and video games in general to a wider audience. Computer and Video Games commented that Croft's appearance on the cover of The Face signalled a change in the perception of video games from "geeky" to mainstream. The character is honoured in the British city Derby, previous home to Core Design. In 2007, Radleigh Homes placed a blue plaque for Croft at the site of Core Design's former offices, now a block of flats. The Derby City Council opened a public vote in 2009 to name its new ring road. The winning choice, with 89% of over 27,000 votes, was "Lara Croft Way", and opened in July 2010.
Yahoo! Movies and IGN credit Jolie's role in the first Tomb Raider film with significantly raising her profile and propelling her to international super-stardom respectively. Jolie commented that young children would ask her to sign objects as Lara Croft. After filming for the first movie at the Cambodian temple Ta Prohm, the local inhabitants called it the "Angelina Jolie Temple" and local restaurants served Jolie's favorite alcoholic beverage advertised as "Tomb Raider cocktails". IGN's Jesse Schedeen described Croft as one of few characters to receive a decent videogame-to-movie adaptation. By 2008, the first Tomb Raider movie was the highest-grossing video game movie and the largest opening ever for a movie headlined by a woman.
Lara Croft's introduction in the first Tomb Raider elicited a wide variety of praise. Rob Smith of PlayStation: The Official Magazine felt she was becoming a video game icon for that generation. Author Leo Hartas attributed the success of the character in part to her "fresh and unexpected" arrival in a "jaded market", a sentiment shared by Adrian Smith. Computer and Video Games said that Croft's debut "wowed the world with her ballsy attitude and tough girl image." Game artist Sandy Spangler listed Lara Croft as an extremely successful character that "broke the mold". IGN credited a rise in PlayStation sales in part to Croft's debut on the system, and PlayStation Magazine attributed the first title's success to the character. Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine stated alternatively that Tomb Raider's PlayStation success propelled the character to prominence, making her a mascot for the system. PlayStation Magazine credits coverage in the Financial Times as the starting point of the character's mainstream attention.
As years progressed, Lara Croft's popularity declined, which Game Informer attributed to a string of bad video game sequels and the poorly received film sequel. The magazine cited The Angel of Darkness as the character's low point, commenting that Croft lost her "mystique" as the franchise expanded outside video games. IGN editor Colin Moriarty stated that while she began as an intelligent and strong female character, her games grew bland and Lara Croft became more like a "virtual blow-up doll". Computer and Video Games felt the character started to look "old and tired" in The Last Revelation. In describing Angel of Darkness's reception, the magazine declared, "The queen is dead." PlayStation Magazine reviewer Ryan Rayhill commented that the string of poor sequels relegated the character to a "gaming also-ran".
Crystal Dynamics' rendition of Croft in Legend garnered praise; many publications described the portrayal as a successful reboot. Game Informer named Lara Croft the number six top video game hero of 2006, citing the character's successful reprise in popularity, and named Legend one of the top 50 games of 2006. The magazine cited the character's alterations in Legend as the reason for her resurgent success. Chris Slate of PlayStation Magazine lauded the character changes in Legend, commenting that "Lara is finally back". He praised Eidos' decision to switch developers and Crystal Dynamics' contributions, especially the character's new gameplay manoeuvres and updated appearance. Dana Jongewaard of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine disagreed, stating that Croft's outfit lacked sophistication and made her look like a 1990s "15-year old floozy". Fans expressed anger on internet forums at the switch from the braid. GamePro's Patrick Shaw ranked the changes as the sixth worst game character makeover. Schedeen felt the reboot did little to rekindle the character's popularity, and listed her as the second most overrated video game character.
Dr. Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University described Lara Croft as a psychological tabula rasa. Richard Rouse of Midway Games attributed the character's appeal to a loosely defined personality, which permits players to imprint their own onto her. Jeremy Smith stated that the minimal personality allows players to form a relationship with the character. Burton added that Croft is perceived differently around the world. French demographics focus on her sex appeal, while German and British audiences are drawn to her aggressiveness and aloofness, respectively. Fansites dedicated to Lara Croft appeared on the internet in several languages after the release of Tomb Raider, and contained official and fan-created images of Croft, model photographs, and fan fiction starring the character. More than 100 such sites were present by the end of 1998. By 2000, search engine HotBot yielded around 4,700 pages for a search of the character's name. Admirers discussed rumours related to Lara Croft via usenet newsgroups and ICQ chats. Enthusiasts also collected merchandise and paraphernalia, submitted fan art to video game magazines, participated in Croft cosplay, and obtained tattoos depicting the character. One admirer rode a bike over 500 miles (800 km) from Amsterdam to Derby wearing Lara Croft brand clothing to meet the developers, who welcomed him after learning of the trip.
Lara Croft holds a Guinness World Record as the "most recognized female video game character",[and received a star on the Walk of Game in San Francisco, California. Game Informer commented that the character is well liked around the world, particularly in England. Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine described Croft as "one of today's premier videogame and movie heroes", and Play magazine described her as "3D gaming's first female superstar". Hartas called Croft one of the most famous game women, praising her independence. Karen Jones of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine described the character as "one of the biggest stars on the PlayStation". In 1998, PlayStation Magazine commented that Lara Croft was one of the most memorable characters on the PlayStation console, and echoed a similar statement in 2004. Time magazine writer Chris Taylor called her "the foundation of one of the most successful franchises in video-game history."
Lara Croft has become a sex symbol for video games, despite Toby Gard's intentions for her to be sexy "only because of her power". Time magazine's Kristina Dell considered her the first sex symbol of video games. Schedeen stated that Croft is among the first video game icons to be accepted as a mainstream sex symbol. Robert Ashley of Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine described Lara Croft as the first video game character openly thought of as sexy, and attributed the appearance of similar 3D characters to her. Publications like Play, GameTrailers, and PlayStation Magazine listed big breasts as one of the character's most famous attributes. After interviewing players in 1998, Griffiths commented that players regularly mention Croft's breasts when discussing her. In 2008, the character was first and second on two UGO Networks lists of hottest video game characters. GameDaily placed Lara Croft number one on a similar list that same year, and PlayStation: The Official Magazine awarded her honorable mention for Game Babe of the Year. Croft has appeared in several issues of Play's Girls of Gaming special and PlayStation Magazine's Swimsuit special. Layouts portray the character partially nude, in bikinis, and in revealing cocktail dresses, though Tomb Raider: Underworld's creative director Eric Lindstrom criticized such poses as out of character. He further stated that they conflict with Croft's popular strengths, and felt that fans respond more strongly to images of the character dressed more conservatively than to ones with provocative poses. PlayStation Magazine's staff agreed, commenting that better use of the character's sex appeal would please fans more.
Male players have performed in-game actions to make Lara Croft repeatedly say phrases and view closer camera angles of her bust, while pornography featuring the character has been distributed via the internet. After the first game's release, rumours appeared on the internet about a cheat code to remove the character's clothes. Despite Core Design's denial of such a code, the rumour persisted, fueled by manipulated nude images. The rumour lingered by the time Legend was released. PlayStation Magazine featured an April Fool's parody of Croft and the rumoured code referred to as "Nude Raider". Fans developed software patches to remove Lara Croft's clothing in the personal computer game releases.
Reaction from groups have been mixed. The journal Leonardo noted some feminists' negative reaction to her design; though males were identifying with their feminine side through Croft, she reinforced unrealistic ideals about the female body. Australian feminist scholar Germaine Greer criticized her as an embodiment of male fantasies. PlayStation Magazine staff commented that Croft could be seen as either a role model for young independent girls or the embodiment of a male adolescent fantasy, though later stated that the character does little to attract female demographics and was obviously designed with a male audience in mind. The editors also criticized Core Design's hypocritical attempts to downplay the character's sex appeal in public statements while releasing advertisements that prominently featured Lara Croft's sexuality. Graphic artist Heather Gibson attributed the "sexism" to participation from Eidos's marketing department.
Author Mark Cohen attributed Lara Croft's eroticism among male fans to the character's appearance and a male protective instinct. German psychologist Oscar Holzberg described the protective behaviour as the result of the opportunity to act as a hero in virtual worlds and a fear of powerful, emancipated women. Jonathan Smith of Arcade: The Videogame Magazine similarly noted that male players often see themselves as "chivalrous protectors" while playing the game. Holzberg further stated that the lower psychological investment inherent to virtual characters is more comfortable for males. Cohen affirmed that despite blatant male appeal, Croft garnered a serious female audience. Eidos estimated by 2000, female consumers comprised 20–25 percent of Tomb Raider game purchases. Jeremy Smith argued that the series attracted more female players to video gaming, especially in Japan. Smith believed that Croft does not alienate prospective female players, representing an emancipated heroine and not simply an attractive character. According to Adrian Smith, the character was also popular with younger demographics that did not view her sexually. Cohen reasoned that Croft differs from other erotic characters and attractive leads, as the Tomb Raider games also feature rich action, impressive graphics, and intelligent puzzles; other such characters were unsuccessful because the game content was lacking. Amy Hennig of developer Naughty Dog and Griffiths echoed similar statements. GamesRadar editor Justin Toweel nonetheless commented that he couldn't imagine a Tomb Raider game without a sexualized female lead.
Griffith described Lara Croft as a flawed female influence. He stated that though the character is a step in the right direction, too many women view her as a "crudely realised male fantasy figure". Women in the video game industry describe the character as both a positive and negative influence. Ismini Roby of WomenGamers.com commented that Croft was not a sexist influence in 1996, attributed to the lack of prominent female characters in video games at the time. She stated that the over-sexualized appearance was overlooked because the character was a "breath of fresh air". However, Roby felt that though Lara Croft's proportions have become more realistic, the character's personality was diluted by the developer's actions to appeal to a male audience. LesbianGamers.com's Tracy Whitelaw called the character a dichotomy, stating that though Croft is viewed as "idealized" with an "unattainable body", the character was a great stride for the propagation of female characters as video game protagonists.