Mad Max: Fury Road marks the fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise, and with it being the first chapter in 30 years, it can be tough to remember all the important details that came before. Or, perhaps you haven’t seen any of the previous films, but want to check out the new one. We’ve got you covered with this guide to the Mad Max series.
Directed by George Miller. Produced by Byron Kennedy. Written by James McCausland and George Miller. Release date: April 12, 1979.
The movie that started it all, 1979’s Mad Max grossed somewhere around $100 million worldwide on a budget of around 1/250th that number. The film served as an introduction to the character of Max Rockatansky, began to establish the post-apocalyptic world that future films would expand upon, and turned Mel Gibson into a leading man.
Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson): Our leading character. A member of the MFP. Married to Jessie. Has a son, Sprog. Partner is Jim “Goose.”
Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne): The leader of the motorcycle gang the Acolytes. The film’s villain.
Jessie Rockatansky (Joanne Samuel): Max’s wife. Mother of Sprog.
Sprog (Brendan Heath): Max and Jessie’s young son.
Bubba Zanetti (Geoff Parry): Second-in-command of the Acolytes.
“Fifi” Macaffee (Roger Ward): Max’s superior at the MFP.
Johnny the Boy (Tim Burns): A member of the Acolytes. The one who lights Goose on fire.
Mad Max is set in the near future after society has begun to crumble. Gangs and the police struggle for control in what is otherwise a relatively peaceful society. Max Rockatansky, a member of the newly formed Main Force Patrol (MFP) – the police – stops and kills an out-of-control member of the Acolytes, Nightrider. The gang, led by Toecutter, have been terrorizing a small town. After Max helps arrest another one of their members, and upon hearing of the death of Nightrider, the gang targets Max in order to get revenge.
They first target Goose, Max’s partner on the force. They make him crash his vehicle and then light it on fire. Upon seeing Goose’s body in the hospital, Max makes the decision to resign from the police force, claiming that he’s close to losing his sanity and humanity. Fifi convinces him to first take a vacation before making that decision definite, which he takes with his wife and son.
It’s during this vacation that the Acolytes further target Max, going after his family. Sprog is killed, and Jessie finds herself put in a near-death position. Max does, indeed, lose his humanity, and goes on a manhunt to put an end to the Acolytes once and for all – doing so with a suped-up police car that will return in the sequel. Bubba gets shot, he chases Toecutter – who gets run over by a semi-trailer truck – and he blows up Johnny, who beforehand calls him “mad,” the nickname for which the film was named. Max, having lost all of his humanity, drives off into the wasteland, setting the stage for The Road Warrior.
Is It Any Good?
Mad Max has very little plot. It has amateur actors in many of its roles. Looking at it in 2015, it often feels rudimentary. Despite all three of these things, it’s a lot of fun. It provides some delectable supporting characters, instantly turns Mel Gibson into an action star, provides an interesting look into the future – we’re not quite yet in a post-apocalyptic setting, but we’re getting there – and it delivers some great action. Even with a limited budget, director George Miller – who would go on to helm or co-direct each future Mad Max film – packed the inaugural installment with a great deal of over-the-top action, showcasing creativity and insanity. Yes, Mad Max is good.
The Road Warrior
Directed by George Miller. Produced by Byron Kennedy. Written by Terry Hayes, George Miller, and Brian Hannant. Release date: December 24, 1981.
After Mad Max made all of the money – it held the record for “most profitable movie” for a long, long time – it was inevitable that a sequel would be made. Just two years later, The Road Warrior was released, with a significantly larger budget. It set the stage for Beyond Thunderdome, it saw Max grow as a character, and it depicted an even clearer vision of the future.
Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson): Our leading character. A former police officer who lost his family in Mad Max and now wanders alone as a drifter.
Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence): A wanderer who flies a gyrocopter and teams up with Max.
Feral Kid (Emil Minty): A child in the group of settlers, he befriends Max.
The Humungus (Kjell Nilsson): The leader of a motorcycle gang. The film’s villain.
Wez (Vernon Wells): Second-in-commend of the Humungus’ gang.
Pappagallo (Michael Preston): The leader of the group of settlers who defend an oil refinery.
A few years after the plot of Mad Max, society has crumbled even further. Supplies, particularly gasoline, are running very low. Max, a former police officer, now roams the Australian wasteland. He, having lost his wife and child and having killed several people, is a shell of the man he once was. While looking for fuel, he’s ambushed by Gyro Captain, whom he soon overpowers and uses as an escort to a refinery.
The refinery is run by some settlers, who are under somewhat constant siege by a motorcycle gang led by The Humungus. The plot becomes clear at this point: Max will help the settlers defeat the gang and acquire a truck that will hold all of their fuel so they can escape from the refinery.
Max winds up joining up with the settlers. He befriends several of them, begins to regain the humanity he lost in Mad Max, and eventually together the settlers and Max take out the gang and escape. Max, however, does not go with them. He becomes a lone drifter, just like he began the film. He is, now, the “Road Warrior.”
Is It Any Good?
The Road Warrior comes across like a classic Western that’s been dressed up in a post-apocalyptic setting with over-the-top action. It’s possibly the most enjoyable Western ever made, at least for action junkies. It’s a lot of fun from start to finish, and it further depicts the world that George Miller and Byron Kennedy began to establish in Mad Max. We’ve gone full post-apocalypse this time around. Mel Gibson is even better in the lead, coming across as more confident and assured, and we continue to get a strong supporting cast filled with memorable characters. The Road Warrior is lots of fun.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
Directed by George Miller and George Ogilvie. Produced by George Miller. Written by Terry Hayes and George Miller. Release date: August 8, 1985.
While The Road Warrior wasn’t as big of a financial success as Mad Max – how could it be, really? – it still made a good chunk of money, allowing the filmmakers to create a third film, Beyond Thunderdome. This one, set several years after the last, was co-directed by George Ogilvie – working with George Miller, who helmed the first two films solo – and was the first one not to be produced by Byron Kennedy, who passed away in 1983.
Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson): Our leading character. A former police officer who lost his family in Mad Max. He became hardened by that event, but started to regain his humanity in The Road Warrior, despite continuing to live as a lonely drifter.
Aunty Entity (Tina Turner): The ruler and founder of Bartertown.
Master (Angelo Rossitto): An engineer who created a factory that generates electricity for Bartertown.
Blaster (Paul Larsson): A mentally impaired bodyguard who protects Master.
Savannah (Helen Buday): The leader of a tribe of survivors who rescues Max.
After being ambushed and having most of his equipment stolen, Max heads to Bartertown, where he is tasked by its ruler, Aunty, to fight a large man named Blaster, who together with a dwarf named Master forms a cohesive unit. MasterBlaster, looking to overthrow Aunty. MasterBlaster runs the factory which generates energy for the town. Max challenges Blaster to a fight in Thunderdome, a gladiator-style cage fight to the death – where both combatants are suspended by ropes. Max beats Blaster, but refuses to kill him. Aunty exiles Max as a result of breaking their agreement.
After being exiled and stranded in the desert, Max is found by a settler named Savannah, who takes him to her home, a small community consisting largely of children. They believe him to be The Chosen One, which Max refutes. Some of the children flee from the community, so Max heads out to chase them down, along with a couple of other group members. The journey burns out their supplies, forcing them to head to Bartertown.
Max and the group free Master and escape from Bartertown. They’re hunted down by Aunty and her crew – particularly because they set off some explosions in the town. Eventually, Max allows the settlers to escape, and Aunty spares his life, having come to respect him over the events of the film. Max remains free to wander the wasteland, just as he has done for years.
Is It Any Good?
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is the weakest of the Mad Max films. Its plot is scattershot – a Spartacus-style story would have functioned better – the characters are shallow, and there are really only two main action scenes. Max is still fun to watch, the action we do get is fun – save for the inexplicable decision to suspend the Thunderdome combatants by ropes. It’s not a great movie like The Road Warrior or a really good movie like Mad Max, but it’s passable entertainment.
Mad Max: Fury Road (Preview)
Directed by George Miller. Produced by Doug Mitchell, George Miller, and P. J. Voeten. Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris. Release date: May 15, 2015.
Nobody asked for a new Mad Max movie. Well, that’s probably not true. I mean, people wanted a new Lost Boys movie, and we wound up getting two of those a couple of decades too late. But very few people wanted a new Mad Max movie. George Miller seemed to have moved on – he directed Happy Feet and the second Babe movie – and Mel Gibson seemed done with the franchise, too. But we’re getting one anyway; this time with Tom Hardy in the lead role.
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy): Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson in the lead role. The leading character of the last three films, he wanders the post-apocalyptic wasteland alone.
Furiosa (Charlize Theron): A woman who joins up with Max while crossing the desert.
King Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne): A tyrannical leader who, along with his gang, the War Boys, attempts to rule over a section of the desert. Hugh Keays-Byrne played the villain in Mad Max over three decades earlier.
Nux (Nocholas Hoult): A slave to Immortan Joe who joins up with Max and Furiosa.
Why Should You Care?
Have you seen the trailer? Wait, scratch that. Have you seen any of the trailers? Mad Max: Fury Road looks like the most insane, over-the-top B-movie that we’ve gotten in at least half a decade, if not more than that. Judging based solely on the trailers – which is not always a good idea, because trailers are often misleading – it looks to move at a frantic pace, have a great deal of imagination, and provide memorable supporting characters. Essentially, it’s everything that we need from a new Mad Max film.
I want to see more of George Miller’s vision of a post-apocalyptic future. He really started to capture that in The Road Warrior, but now with 30 more years under his belt, this vision might have changed. It’ll be interesting to see what this long layoff from the series will prompt in terms of changes. People undergo lots of changes in three decades, and Miller is presumably no different. He’s no longer a fresh-faced filmmaker; he’s in his 70s. He hasn’t even had an R-rated film since 1987. He’s primarily focused on family-friendly outings. Seeing him step back into the world of Mad Max should be interesting, if nothing else.
The cast is also intriguing. Tom Hardy is on a career high right now, having picked his roles carefully recently. He’s one of my favorite actors currently working, and I’m curious as to how he’ll make the role his own. Charlize Theron returns to post-apocalyptica for the second time, here playing a very different character than the one she played in The Road. Nicholas Hoult‘s Nux looks like he’s going to be a scene-stealing character. Hugh Keays-Byrne played the villain in the first Mad Max, and now, over 30 years later, returns to play the villain in the fourth one, although it’s a different character. I’m even a little interested to see how Rosie Huntington-Whiteley fairs, if only because it’s her second film – the first being the third Transformers film.
Mad Max: Fury Road opens on May 15, 2015.