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Rise of the Tomb RaiderTomb Raider is a video game franchise which also includes comic books, novels, theme park rides and movies, centring around the adventures of the British archaeologist Lara Croft or Lady Croft.

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The first six games in the series were developed by Core Design, while Crystal Dynamics developed the latest five. Two movies—Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life—have been produced, starring actress Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, the first of which is still the highest-grossing film adaptation of a video game ever released in the US, and third worldwide.

Since the release of the original Tomb Raider in 1996, notable for its female protagonist, the series developed into a lucrative franchise of related media, and Lara became a major icon of the virtual gaming industry. In 2006, Lara Croft was inducted into the Walk of Game and Guinness World Records has recognised her as the "Most Successful Human Virtual Game Heroine."

The central character in Tomb Raider is the British archaeologist Lara Croft, a female adventurer in search of ancient relics. Lara was created by one-time Core designer Toby Gard, with her character and backstory fleshed out by writer Vicky Arnold. She appears almost invariably with brown shorts, boots and small backpack, a dark green or blue sleeveless top, holsters on both hips for dual-wielded pistols. Over the course of the series, her 3D model has undergone gradual graphical improvements, as well as enlarged (and later reduced) breast size.

Over the course of time, the Tomb Raider series' canon has undergone various changes or retcons. These changes correspond to the series entering a new medium, such as comic books or film, or being taken over by another game developer. For example, in the first Tomb Raider game manual, Lara Croft is said to have survived a plane crash in the Himalayas at the age of twenty one, and was later disowned by her parents, who are still living. However, in the comics, Lara lost both her parents and her fiancé in the crash. The films make no mention of a plane crash, Lara's mother died when she was too young to remember, and her father died under different circumstances. When development of Tomb Raider was transferred from Core Design to Crystal Dynamics, Lara's biography was that she and her mother survived a plane crash, and later her mother disappears in the site where they crashed. She was then left to her father, who was not involved in the crash, and he was later killed by Jacqueline Natla, a recurring character in the series, leaving Lara an orphan. However, in the Lara Croft movie, Lara's father is killed by the Illuminati (see Tomb Raider).

In addition to the voice actresses who have been responsible for Lara Croft's spoken dialogue during the games, a number of women have taken on the role of Lara for applications outside of the games themselves. Six different women have served as the official Lara Croft model for publicity purposes, including model Nell McAndrew, actress Rhona Mitra, and, most recently, gymnast Alison Carroll, who held the job until 2010. American film star Angelina Jolie portrayed Lara Croft in two feature-length Tomb Raider films, which together grossed nearly US$500 million worldwide, making her role as Lara the most well known and widely seen.

Sixteen years after the release of the original game, Lara is still one of the most famous and recognizable video game characters in the history of the medium. The debate over whether she is an icon of female empowerment or a vessel for male titillation has existed for as long as she has, but the huge effect she has had on both gaming and popular culture in general cannot be denied.

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