Everything You Need to Know About Mad Max (A Fury Road Refresher)

By Joel Meadows on at

In these days of sequels being greenlit before the first movie in a series even comes out, fans of post-apocalyptic hellraiser Mad Max have had to wait an obscene amount of time to see the fourth film in the franchise. It's been thirty years, to be precise, with Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome coming out back in 1985 and the brand new sequel Fury Road out this year.

So why should you care about the return of franchise covered in the dust of three decades of blockbuster cinema fallout? Because, simply, the Mad Max movies are insane, and insanely excellent. Here’s what you need to know about the world of Max to prepare you for this year’s return to the brutal outback.

Spoiler alert! If you've never seen the original Mad Max trilogy, GO DO THAT NOW. You're missing out. This post will discuss events in those films. You have been warned.

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What’s happened to the world that Mad Max lives in?

With a worldwide energy crisis causing the planet to descend into chaos, Australia has become a lawless modern wild west patrolled by crazy motorbike gangs and bloodthirsty raiders, all out on the hunt for vital, dwindling fuel supplies.

The only force for law is the Main Force Patrol, of which Max Rockatansky (played in the first three films by a pre-anti Semitic meltdown Mel Gibson) is a member. Souped up vehicles allow these unorthodox cops to keep on the toes of the outlaws, but it's a battle that the under-staffed Main Force Patrol just can't win.

The vehicular mayhem in Mad Max was influenced by creator George Miller’s time as an ER doctor in Australia, and the gory sites he saw resulting from reckless driving. He was also influenced by the 1975 movie A Boy and His Dog with Don Johnson, based on a novella by Harlan Ellison, set in another dystopian future.

Max lives in a world without hope and without any real order. It's a stark commentary on what could happen if a world so reliant on resources like oil suddenly found itself without them. Things get real ugly, real quick.

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Why is Mad Max...well...mad?

Max Rockatansky has been driven mad by the brutal murder of his wife Jessie and their son Sprog by a motorcycle gang lead by the crazed biker (and magnificently named) Toecutter. His cruel gang terrorise those trying to survive in Australia's crumbling civilisation, and are a gentle nod to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club from Marlon Brando flick The Wild One.

Despite his best efforts to maintain peace (by any means necessary -- Max isn't afraid of being judge, jury and executioner) he has been driven to the edge of sanity. His moral compass cracked, Max must decide how far he will go to avenge his family, and survive in a world without law.

Why is the sequel considered to be even more important than the first film?

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior was selected by Empire back in 2008 as one of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. The New York Times also put it on their Best 1000 movies Ever list too. And for good reason; it is an impeccable action film. Where the first film is a neurotic indie grindhouse flick, The Road Warrior's larger budget allowed for some incredible action scenes. They were incredibly dangerous too -- check out the movie's climactic convoy battle scene, and remember that it was made back in 1981, long before the advent of CGI. Those explosions? Those stunts? All real.

It also led to Mel Gibson being noticed by Hollywood and cast in the huge blockbuster Lethal Weapon movies. The Road Warrior made dark sci fi cool and scores of films and TV would not have been made without its impact. You could even argue that, without Mel Gibson's performance as Max and the success of the first two Mad Max films, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe would not have the huge careers they currently have, with the series effectively kickstarting the Australian film industry. The unique depiction of the apocalypse (far more harrowing than even in the first film) has been imitated endlessly, and whole chunks of The Road Warrior's stunt choreography have been ripped off by other movies.

What the hell is a Thunderdome?

"Two men enter, one man leaves!"

Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome was released in 1985, and its centrepiece was the Thunderdome, the brutal circular gladiatorial battle arena located in Bartertown, a place where everything is for sale. Two people fight for the right to survive within the cage, an honour-bound duelling tradition which sees combatants use hand-to-hand combat, thrust towards each other on bungee cords. It is a bloodthirsty spectacle, one made all the more dramatic by Mel Gibson's flowing Beyond Thunderdome mullet.

Bartertown is overseen by the cruel Aunty Entity, played (bizarrely) by singer Tina Turner. Yep. Tina Turner. We said the films were a bit oddball, right?

The song from the film, We Don’t Need Another Hero, sung by Tina Turner, was a huge worldwide hit. No, seriously! A pop song about the Australian post-apocalpyse reached #2 in the US charts and #3 in the UK single charts. Bet Ed Sheeran couldn't manage that:

The music video for Tupac Shakur's 1996 hit "California Love" was shot at the Thunderdome set, too and features vehicles and clothes inspired by the Mad Max series:

Was Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome very nearly not a Mad Max film?

Yep, that's legit. When it was first planned, Beyond Thunderdome was going to be a post-apocalyptic Lord of The Flies-alike about a tribe of kids who get found by an adult. It was director George Miller who suggested that the adult should be Max. Add some vehicular combat, some DIY weaponry and pig-shit powered city, and voila! You've got yourself a Mad Max film.

Is it true there is a Mad Max museum in Australia?

In the town of Silverton near Broken Hill in New South Wales, where Road Warrior was filmed, there is a permanent museum dedicated to the film. The museum contains two replica Interceptors, the cool car that Max drove in the film, as well as lots of memorabilia and life sized characters from the movie. Years before Harry Potter and his theme park.

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The best bit? It's the life work of just one man, Adrian Bennett, who became so obsessed with the films that he decided to take his personal collection of props from his home in Bradford, and start a new life in Australia, just to establish the museum. That is some serious dedication.

Why’s it taken 30 years for a sequel to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome to come out?

The film has been stuck in development hell for 25 years. Despite raising an impressive $100m budget for the film, sequel Fury Road was initially abandoned after the Iraq War due to its subject matter.

Original star Mel Gibson left the project after it was cancelled and was replaced with British actor Tom Hardy (Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) in 2011. However, it was delayed yet again soon after Hardy was cast, as the original shooting location enjoyed its first heavy rainfall in years, ironically leaving what should have been a desert wasteland looking like a beautiful, green-covered oasis.

What’s Fury Road about?

It’s not a reboot, as is so popular with so many big properties these days but a true sequel. Co-written with cult British comic artist Brendan McCarthy (who redesigned many of the vehicles and created many of the new characters) director George Miller has stated that it’s influenced by anime cult classic Akira. Miller is still being quite secretive about the plot but Tom Hardy plays Max, "a man of action", alongside Charlize Theron's Furiosa, a woman looking to make it back to her childhood homeland, fighting against the tyrannical warlord Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne. It also stars Nicholas Hoult from X-Men as baldy-weirdo Nux. Its budget is a reported $100m -- not bad when you consider that the first film cost only $400,000 Australian dollars to make.

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When’s Fury Road out?

Mad Max: Fury Road hits UK cinemas on May 14th 2015. In a summer packed full of other huge tentpole films like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Jurassic World, Fury Road should hold its own thanks to its more anarchic take on the action film.

Why should you go and see Mad Max: Fury Road?

Mad Max has cast a huge shadow on Hollywood and video games over the years. Everything from The Book of Eli to Judge Dredd and Terminator 2: Judgement Day on the big screen, to The Walking Dead comicbook, Cormac McCarthy's The Road in literature, and the Fallout and Wasteland series in the video game field have been influenced by the movies. Directors Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher and Robert Rodriguez have all stated that Mad Max 2 is one of their favourite films of all time. If you've never seen the original trilogy before, now's the perfect time to catch up.