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 British archaeologist-adventurer who ventures into ancient, hazardous tombs and ruins around the world. Created by Toby Gard during his employment at UK 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' redesign in 2006. While the rebooted games were generally well-received, Croft's redesign was met with mixed responses. A second reboot is planned for 2012. 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.