Mad Max - the post-apocalyptic movies

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Mad Max is a movie series set in a post-apocalyptic version of Australia. The Mad Max movies are regardet to be some of the best action films ever made. All of them were written and directed by the Australian George Miller.

The Mad Max movies influenced a large number of works with post-apocalyptic settings, like for instance other movies, games, music videos and various citations in TV series.


After a war for petrol, Australia's cities are deserted. What is left of the population lives organized in clan-like structures in far apart settlements in the desert. The old cities lie in ruins. There is a constant struggle for survival, which is mostly dependent on water and petrol. The latter is used to power a multitude of inventive vehicles obviously constructed from pre-war scrap.

The movie series focuses on the story of Max Rockatansky and his adventures in the Australian wasteland. Every movie is set at a different location and apart from Max features completely different characters.

The movies

Mad Max

Released: 1979

The first part of Mad Max is truely a strange film which doesn't seem to fit to the others of the series at all. The back-story and setting are not explained at all and even the whole plot stays quite obscure for the whole movie. It is one of the films you expect to be shown late at night and which you watch for 10 minutes before changing the chanel.

Mad Max - played by 23 year old Mel Gibson - is a police officer in a rather run-down world full of tuned cars and motorcycles. The police seems to be mostly occupied with hunting down ruthless mechanised nomadic tribes in any possible way. When his colleague is almost killed by the bikers, Max wants to quit but instead is convinced to go on holidays with his partner and baby. Unfortunately it all goes terribly wrong and the same gang kills Max' family, which leads to Max taking revenge.

The world of the first Mad Max movie is not the barren desert of the other movies but even forests and the ocean are shown. People live in badly maintained pre-war houses. Stylistically the whole movie seems quite strange and some props and costumes make the impression to be very much out of place.

Despite all its flaws the movie was extremely successful when it was first shown at the cinemas. Produced at a very low budget, this sucess brought a very high profit for the makers of the movie. Some people even consider it to be the best part of the Mad Max series.

Mad Max 2 - The Road Warrior

Released: 1981

The second part of Mad Max is only very loosely connected to the first part. In fact the film would make just as much sense with a different name, because the only connecting element is Mel Gibson playing the title role, even if a few seconds at the start show pictures from the first movie in an attempt to create a link. North American publishers seemed to think the same as they released the movie without 'Mad Max' in the title.

On the search for fuel for his car, Max gains knowledge of an oil refinery in the desert. Unfortunately the facility as well as people living in it are under attack by a gang who also want fuel for their vehicles. Max helps the settlers in return for the desired fuel.

The setting of the movie has now changed to a proper desert area, contrasting with the landscape of the first part. There are no conventional houses anymore but all buildings are made from trash. This also seems to be the case for all vehicles, which again feature prominently in the movie. Costumes also changed a lot, conjouring the post-apocalyptic setting far better, although quite a few of the costumes have quite a strong 1980s touch. One of the female characters for instance looks like she just escaped an aerobics class.

Much more than the first Mad Max film, Mad Max 2 obviously influenced a lot of later post-apocalyptic works. Players of the Fallout games series for instance will no doubt recognize both the prologue (war scenes in black and white) and the epilogue ('lone wanderer' disappearing in the desert with his dog) of this movie. The marauding cyber-punk petrolheads of Mad Max 2 no doubt influenced the design of Ork vehicles in Warhammer 40k. A NES1 game based on Mad Max 2 was released in 1990.

Mad Max 2 makes great improvements on the setting and storytelling when compared to its predecessor. This movie set the stage for all later productions depicting future societies salvaging the remains of an earlier and more advanced civilisation which came to an end in a cataclysmic event. Apart from Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence also appears in both of the first two movies taking over similar but not the same roles.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Released: 1985

With the setting properly established in Mad Max 2, the 3rd part of the series improves on the post-apocalyptic scene. While not being completely realistic, the world it plays in is believeable as much as it has to be. Again Mel Gibson takes on the role of Mad Max, while all other characters are new. The story is more complex and more work has been put in costumes and props. Visually Thunderdome is certainly the most timeless part of the series. It gives a larger impression of the wasteland and its people than Mad Max 2.

After being robbed of all his belongings, Max arrives at the tradepost Bartertown. Here he is drawn into a conflict between the town's ruler (played by Tina Turner) and the one controlling its energy supply, methane originating from pig manure.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome reminds slightly of Waterworld (which was filmed almost 10 years later and on a much higher budget) without any water. What is Dryland in Waterworld turns out to be Sydney in Mad Max. A tribe of children which appears in the movie reminds slightly of Peter Pan, or probably Lord of the Flies without all the nasty bits. This movie again has no doubt inspired the Fallout series with the tribe of children being very similar to a group of children in Fallout 3, while Barterton seems to have inspired Megaton in Fallout New Vegas.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Released: 2015

The fourth part of the Mad Max movies was made almost 20 years after the 3rd movie and therefore many things changed. True to the time it was made in it for instance features an abundance of special effects. Costumes and sets stepped away from realism and became monumental and fantastic. It was also the first Mad Max film in which Mel Gibson did not play the title role, which was isntead taken over by Tom Hardy. The role of the main villain on the other hand is played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who had already played the head of the gang in the very first Mad Max movie in 1979.

Max has been captured at a settlement which has a large supply of water. This town is controlled by a warlord and his army. When one of his fighters is sent to trade water for gasoline, she secretly helps the warlord's wives to flee in the water truck. A wild car chase starts when it is detected that the truck does not take the designated route. During its course Max manages to get on the water truck and join the women on their flight.

Where the old Mad Max movies are clearly an inspiration to many other works, Fury Road in many places gives the impression of turning things the other way round. It seems to take back ideas from the works it once inspired. Warhammer Ork vehicles for instance seem to have inspired many of the cars and trucks in the movie.

Fury Road was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won 8, more than any other Australian movie before. It was even nominated for the Best Picture and Best Director awards.

I only came for the gasoline

The Mad Max movies will no doubt continue to inspire other films, games and stories. The series is certainly a must-see for fans of science-fiction and dystopian worlds. There are plans for more Mad Max movies to be made in the future.

All fans of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, car chases and action movies certainly have to watch the Mad Max series.

1Nintendo Entertainment System, a video game console released in the 1980s.

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