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Film / Mad Max

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Mad Max, the first film in the Mad Max series, released in 1979, is set "A Few Years From Now" at a time where scarcity of oil is beginning to cause the collapse of civilization — law and order is barely holding on within the towns while the highways are controlled by the outlaw gangs. Max Rockatansky is a Main Force Patrol cop, held in high regard by his boss and peers, with a happy home with his wife and young son — until run-ins with the motorcycle gang led by charismatic villain Toecutter cause his life to fall apart.

Made with practically no money, the film was surprisingly successful in Australia and around the world to the point where it was in The Guinness Book of World Records for decades as the most profitable film ever made.

This film provides examples of:

  • 10-Minute Retirement: Subverted; Fifi says, "Again?" when Max hands in his notice, but on realizing he's serious tells him to take a couple of weeks' holiday instead. Max does return, but only to steal his car for a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Ace Custom: Max's own Pursuit Special was built for him to entice him to stay with the MFP, but he ends up stealing it.
  • Action Prologue: The film opens with the Nightrider's escape from custody and the MFP's inept pursuit, culminating in Max taking up the chase.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Goose arrives at the car chase just in time to crash his motorbike with everyone else, breaking his leg in the process.
    Civilian: What happened?
    Goose: (laughing) I don't know, mate. I just got here myself.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: And ride Kawasakis
  • All Men Are Perverts: Roop is introduced spying on a couple having sex using his scoped rifle.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The theme song for the Japanese version is "Rollin' in the Night" by Akira Kushida.
  • Ambulance Chaser: A variation when the chase goes past the Greasy Spoon where Goose is eating. Not only Goose but a couple of tow trucks go racing after them to take advantage of the inevitable accident.
  • Amoral Attorney: Johnny's attorneys are given a very negative portrayal as weeny, backwards buffoons who don't seem to realize that their client is a monster and work to undermine the heroic cops at every turn. Apparently even with civilization hanging by a thread, you still get these pricks.
  • An Arm and a Leg: One of the gang tries to stop Jessie's van by smashing the windscreen with a chain. The chain gets snagged and rips his hand off, a fact that Jessie only discovers later when she finds the severed hand still hanging from the chain.
    Toecutter: That there, is Cundalini. And Cundalini wants his hand back.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: The apocalypse hasn't even happened yet, but the anarchy is already starting.
  • Arch-Enemy: Max Rockatansky has the Toecutter, a criminal biker who killed his family.
  • The Artifact: Max's line "May, call The Dark One" after Jessie is runs back from the beach. Originally, he was Max's partner (you can still see "M. Rockatansky" and "The Dark One" on the Interceptor's fender) and the subject of Goose's gruesome story at the beginning, but was cut from the film. He was also the man they take Cundalini's severed hand to after they find it hanging from the van, but is renamed Ziggy and is the local sheriff in the finished film.
  • Artistic License Cars: The biker gang runs a Chevrolet Impala off the road and proceed to terrorize the couple riding inside. As they smash up the Impala, brownish water gushes out of the radiator - but no steam shoots out. The driver was gunning it to get away from the bikers so that radiator should have been running hot!
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: Max's son can be seen playing with his service revolver.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Jess, fleeing from Toecutter's gang in the woods, runs into a large, grinning man, from whom she screams and recoils. It turns out he's merely a slow-witted man May knows, possibly a relative, who ultimately helps Max pursue the bikers.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Goose in the beginning is Max's best friend. A Nice Guy who likes to share stories of his adventures on the MFP. When Johnny The Boy, a rapist, gets off on a technicality, he flips out nearly killing the man with his bare hands, prompting Max and Fifi to hold him back.
  • Big Bad: Toecutter, the leader of the biker gang.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Arguably the most bitter one of the series, verging on a Downer Ending. Max gets his revenge, with the Toecutter and his gang being wiped out and no longer a threat to anyone, but Max becomes a drifter, having lost all his friends and family he is now an empty shell of a man who cares about nothing. Which is exactly what he was afraid he was going to end up as in the beginning of the film if he continued working in the MFP.
  • Blaming the Victim: It's implied that one reason Johnny is allowed to go free following the bikers' gangrape of a couple (besides witnesses and victims failing to show) is the woman's alleged reputation as "the town pump".
  • Blatant Lies: A couple of doctors are discussing the condition of Max's wife, not realising he's listening outside the door. After citing a long list of serious injuries, they decide to tell Max that he shouldn't worry as she's going to be all right.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted. Even if it is before the collapse of society, characters never fire more than two rounds in any one go. Although with the MFP officers it's heavily implied that they really have no choice but to use their ammo very sparingly on account of the chronic shortages.
  • Calling Shot Gun: MFP officers Roop and Charlie squabble Like an Old Married Couple over who's driving their Pursuit Special. First Charlie is driving with Roop in the passenger seat armed with a double-barrelled shotgun, but his attempt to shoot the Nightrider only causes them to crash. Once they get their vehicle started again Roop insists on taking the wheel, getting them into two more crashes that end with their Pursuit Special a write-off and Charlie catching windshield glass in his throat.
  • Captain Crash: Roop and Charlie manage to crash their vehicle three times in the space of about five minutes during the opening chase.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Johnny's lighter.
    • Max's Holden Sandman's fan belt (though being stabbed in the radiator with a piece of the fence didn't help).
    • The last of the V8's - the duck's guts/(cleaner version of "the mutt's nuts").
  • Cool Car: Max's Pursuit Special, "last of the V8 Interceptors."
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster above actually depicts Goose rather than Max, since he's wearing Goose's bike helmet and arm, chin and face guards, all biker equipment.
  • Creator Cameo: Co-writer James McCausland appears as a bearded man watching police cyclists drive away from a diner.
  • Death of a Child: Max's newborn child is run over by the bikers alongside his wife Jessie and dies right then and there (Jessie survived long enough to be taken to the hospital).
  • Depraved Bisexual: The bikers have distinctly homoerotic overtones, but still find time to stalk Max's wife, and are strongly implied to have gang-raped both a man and a woman whose car they assaulted.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • The Nightrider breaks down sobbing shortly before he crashes and it's implied his death spree is caused by his inability to deal with societal collapse.
    • Max's boss reaches this after Johnny the Boy walks free:
      As long as the paperwork's clean, you boys can do what you like out there.
    • Max himself after the bikers attack his family, the movie ending on his Thousand-Yard Stare as he drives away. It takes him up until towards the end of Mad Max 2 to regain some of his humanity.
  • The Determinator: Roop, who insists on chasing the Nightrider in an increasingly wrecked vehicle. All he gets is his partner permanently disabled.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • The Nightrider, who opens the film leading the cops on a wild chase, is ultimately shown to be this after all his bluster and bragging when he plays chicken with Max. Once he finds that Max isn't the incompetent pushover that the other cops were, he breaks down in tears as Max chases him down.
    • The Toecutter once he's faced with Max, after Max guns down Bubba. The Toecutter then snarls and flees the scene.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Johnny the Boy's view on being egged to killing Jim Goose by setting him on fire in a wrecked truck.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Our hero's Establishing Character Moment. As the Nightrider taunts him over the radio after the massive pile-up, Max calmly pulls on his gloves and starts up his vehicle, slowly pulling out onto the highway.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: After his colleagues have had a mass pile-up, the Nightrider gleefully taunts Max over the radio as the audience is treated to a montage of Max calmly starting up his Interceptor.
  • Dodge by Braking: The Nightrider avoiding a blast from Roop's double-barreled shotgun.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Toecutter harasses Jessie by licking the ice cream cone she's holding in a very suggestive manner.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": The dog that Max buys during his trip with his family isn't named.
  • The Dragon: Bubba Zanetti to Toecutter. It's somewhat understated, but the only time the bikers ever manage a decent attempt to kill Max is when Zanetti sets a trap, shoots him in the knee, and tries to run him down.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The series as a whole is largely remembered for being the Trope Codifier of the After the End Scavenger World setting, complete with its Desert Punk aesthetic. This film, however, takes place before the apocalypse that follows. Though crime runs rampant and the police force is stretched to the breaking point, society is still very much intact. The cars are not rusted together amalgamations and the countryside is standard Australian terrain rather than inhospitable desert wasteland. This film is also the only one where the sea is shown. Max also spends most of the film as a happily married man with a lot more dialogue.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Bubba Zanetti regards Johnny the Boy with disdain for being a drug-addicted little weasel who is implied to only be kept around as Toecutter's male lover. Meanwhile, Johnny freaks out and tries to refuse when Toecutter attempts to make him burn Goose alive in his crashed car. And the only time Nightrider's girlfriend seems to be concerned about the carnage he is causing is when he nearly runs over a toddler.
  • Everybody Owns a Ford: All the bikes were provided by Kawasaki and all the patrol cars are Ford Falcons bought from the Victoria Police Department (except the March Hare, which was an ex-taxi). The Pursuit Special is a Ford Falcon GT coupé with a massive (fake) supercharger blower and a fascia added to the front.
  • Evil Plan: The Toecutter seeks to destroy Max for killing one of his goons.
  • Eye Pop: Nightrider and Toecutter the moment they see what's coming to them. Fittingly, Max contributes to both of these incidents.
  • Failed State: There still appears to be a semblance of government, with a police and court system still operating in an official capacity. However, the government has little remaining law enforcement capabilities, allowing the film's criminal biker gangs to run rampant.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Toecutter, when he helps Jessie load the wagon and opens the door for her.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: The distinct cawing of crows that always follow Toecutter's gang can be heard as Max's wife drives to the beachside ice-cream shop. Surely enough, the gang is revealed to be lounging on the beach nearby as she drives past.
  • Funny Background Event: When Bubba Zanetti first meets the Station Master, two of the other gang members walk into the background. One of them admires a stuffed elephant hanging from the ceiling of a garage, and the other obligingly cuts the string it's hanging from with his knife.
  • Future Slang: "Bronze" for the MFP, because of their bronze ID badges.
  • Game of Chicken: Occurs in the Action Prologue, when Max comes face to face with the Nightrider.
  • Glass Cannon: A psychological application of the trope in the form of the Nightrider. While most of the pursuit has him in total control of both the situation and his faculties, taunting the MFP relentlessly over the radio, one near-miss with Max reduces him to a blubbering, insecure, terrified wreck.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Max rushes to see Goose in the hospital, we see Goose's charred arm slide out from under the sheet. The camera (fortunately) cuts to Max's face as he pulls the sheet back, and his horrified reaction says it all.
  • Hate Sink: The Toecutter is the leader of a murderous biker gang. When one of his men is killed in a car chase with Max, he leads said gang on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. As they hunt Max down, they rape and murder various people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. After they find Max, they hang and gut his dog and run down his wife and young son.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The harsh, discordant cawing of crows, indicating the presence of Toecutter's gang or the scene of one of their crimes.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Max becomes a hard and bitter man by the end of the film due to his battles with criminals, and the trauma of losing his family and best friend. He quits the force because he's scared this will happen. After tragedy strikes and Max steals the Interceptor, the dispatcher lists him as a potential Code 3. The same code that was applied to the Nightrider at the beginning of the movie.
    Max: Any longer out on that road and I'm one of them, a terminal psychotic, except that I've got this bronze badge that says that I'm one of the good guys.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Max is the poster boy for this at the end of the movie.
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: Max and Goose are seen eating and chatting in a restaurant.
  • Hiss Before Fleeing: Toecutter does this, after Max kills Bubba.
  • Hollywood Police Driving Academy: All the members of the Main Force Patrol appear to have graduated from the Australian branch. Roop and Charlie alone manage to crash three times in the space of a single chase.
  • Homoerotic Subtext:
    • Johnny the Boy is obviously the biker gang's boy toy. At one point, Toecutter asserts his authority over him by making him suck the barrel of his shotgun, telling him, "Keep your sweet, sweet, mouth shut!"
    • The antics of the rest of the gang often have homoerotic overtones. The first thing Cundalini and Mudguts do after getting off their bikes is start waltzing in the middle of the street.
    • The police chief, whose nickname is Fifi, dresses like a Hard Gay Leatherman on the job.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Early in the film there is a brief shot of two road signs. They read: "Anarchie" (Anarchy), and "Bedlam".
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit:
    • All MFP officers wear black leather in the scorching hot Australian Outback. This might help those who ride motorcycles, but even the ones in cars do as well.
    • Averted if the film is set where it was filmed, around country Victoria. Whilst it can indeed get very hot during summer, the rest of the year, the temperature ranges from mild to cold - often bouncing between 15°C (59°F) - 20°C (68°F) during spring/autumn, and sometimes going as low as 5°C (41°F) during winter, making their uniforms quite practical for those conditions.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills:
    • Bubba Zanetti kneecaps Max with a single well-aimed pistol shot at long range.
    • When the gang was setting an ambush for Goose, Johnny the Boy (standing on a hill) throws a wheel rim underhand up into the air, and it lands square in the middle of his windshield.
  • Invoked Trope: Fifi is trying to turn Max into The Hero, but unfortunately he's living in a Crapsack World. Ironically Max becomes this trope in the sequels, despite the world having gone From Bad to Worse.
  • It's Personal: Due to what Toecutter and his gang do to Jessie, Sprog, and Goose, they're the only villains Max has a personal grudge with.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: A (literally) mad Max confronts a mechanic for information regarding Toecutter's gang. The Mechanic rebuffs him, prompting Mad Max to shove the man under the car he was working on and lower the jack causing the car to crush the man. He then tells Max what he wants to know.
  • Just Before the End: In contrast to the sequels, as the film takes place as civilization is breaking down.
  • Kick the Dog: Toecutter's gang spend their days constantly kicking dogs, raping and murdering random people For the Evulz.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Not content to simply kill Johnny the Boy outright once he corners him, Max ankle-cuffs the sniveling little bastard to a wrecked truck (similar to what what he and the Toecutter did to Goose) where Johnny was stealing the boots of the dead driver (whom he may or may not have killed), sets the car to explode once enough gas builds up to the lighter and leaves Johnny with a hacksaw and two options before the car explodes - hack through the cuffs (which would take ten minutes) or hack through his ankle (which would take five minutes).
  • Leatherman:
    • Fifi Macaffee, Max's police chief.
    • The exact phrase is used by the nightclub singer during her torch song to Goose.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: The probable Trope Codifier: Max handcuffs Johnny to the car whose gas tank he set up to explode before giving him the saw and telling him that it will be quicker to saw his foot off than to saw through the handcuffs. It's particularly cruel because if you watch the movie closely you'll notice that it doesn't matter which choice the cuffed bad guy makes, there isn't time for him to do either: From speech to explosion is about 3 minutes tops. That said, it could be just movie time not that it even matters; being in the middle of nowhere, he'd bleed to death before he could possibly find anyone to treat the wound.
  • Mama Bear: Jessie pulls this twice. First, she walks straight past Toecutter, who is mockingly opening doors for her, and calmly puts Sprog in the backseat before kicking Toecutter and getting her son out of there. The second time, she is unarmed, in shock, and hopelessly outnumbered by the biker gang that's chased her, killed her puppy, and now kidnapped her son. She stands her ground until reinforcements arrive.
    Jessie: I want my baby.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Nightrider is reduced from psychotic glee to blubbering fear after losing his Game of Chicken with Max. Might have something to do with being high on drugs.
  • Mook Horror Show: The last half an hour of the film is dedicated to Max's Roaring Rampage of Revenge. And, for the most part, Max absolutely annihilates the gang by running most of them over almost in one fell swoop. In fact, the only chance the bikers have against him is when the three remaining members of the gang, Toecutter, Bubba, and Johnny lure Max out of the Interceptor and blow his knee out and even this results in Bubba's death.
  • Never Mess with Granny: May Swayze, the shotgun-wielding old woman from the first film, manages to hold up the entire biker gang and unsuccessfully makes a stand against them when Jessie is run down by them.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: The Goose is happily telling a fellow diner a story about a recent chase that ended in a crash:
    Goose: "...and by the time we got to him, he was just sitting there trying to scream with his face ripped off."
    The other diner puts down his fork.
    Goose: What's the matter?
    Diner: Not hungry, am I?
  • No Healthcare in the Apocalypse: Implied for Max's wife Jessie. She is run over by bikers and initially survives, albeit in critical condition. She is confirmed to be dead by the sequel, most likely due to the hospital's lack of resources from society breaking down.
  • No Name Given: Max and Jessie's son is never called by any name. He's just called "sprog," an Australian term for baby.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Max is worried that he's starting to enjoy his job too much and will eventually become no different from the Nightrider and his ilk.
    Max: Any longer out on that road, and I'm one of them, you know? A terminal crazy. Only, I've got a bronze badge to say I'm one of the good guys.
  • Oddly Small Organization:
    • The MFP seems to only have about half a dozen officers patrolling the highways over a vast area. They're implied to be a hugely underfunded police force, where officers are forced to use whatever weapons come to hand and restrain prisoners with shackles.
    • This is even more apparent in MFP headquarters, the "Halls of Justice," which we only see staffed by Fifi, the mechanic, and an off-screen female dispatch officer. The building itself is a looted ruin.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • In the opening car chase when the police realise the Nightrider is heading into a populated area. It's followed by a Mass "Oh, Crap!" when a baby leaves his carriage and wanders out into the path of the three onrushing Interceptors. A Disaster Dominoes pile-up ensues.
    • A split-second shot of Nightrider's bugged-out eyes as his car careens into an obstruction is an unusually disturbing example.
    • The Toecutter has time to rip off his goggles to reveal a similar look before being hit by a truck.
    • Jessie escaped the gang in the woods, and is recovering on the couch. Then she realizes the baby is outside. The gang already has him.
  • Police Are Useless: The MFP, more or less, on account of being understaffed, underfunded and underequipped, in addition to most of them being poorly trained, as well. Max and his friend Goose are more or less the only competent MFP officers shown in addition to their chief Fifi Macaffee. This is driven home in the action prologue, where one drugged up "terminal psychotic" is able to take out much of the MFP (in addition to the two MFP officers he murdered before the beginning of the film) before he's finally stopped by Max. It's no wonder that Fifi does all he can to keep Max in the force, as they're only able to be a half-decent outfit with him around. Lampshaded by the defaced Highway 9 Sector 26 sign at the very beginning of the film, where the "o" in the "Main Force Patrol" has been defaced and replaced with an "a," thereby turning it into "Main Farce Patrol," showing that the task force enjoys little to no respect from the public at large.
  • Post-Climax Confrontation: Inverted. After dealing with Toecutter and Bubba, Max takes out Johnny, the remaining member of the biker gang.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: FiFi, Max's police captain. He is friendly with his officers, gives Max some time off when he tries to quit to think it over and tries his hardest to keep his men around despite dwindling resources and increasingly dangerous working conditions.
  • Red Right Hand: For some reason, everyone in Toecutter's gang has a prominent facial mole. Given the Homoerotic Subtext, it might be their version of a beauty mark.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: At the end of the film, with Max taking out Toecutter's biker gang.
  • Sadistic Choice: Forcing Johnny to pick between sawing the handcuffs, which would take ten minutes, or sawing off his foot, which would take five, while cuffed to a car that's about to explode.
  • Safe Driving Aesop: The movie was intended to be a warning about consequences of dangerous driving. The hoons and rev-heads who saw it left feeling that their lifestyle had been validated.
  • Same Language Dub: The movie was dubbed with American voice actors for the initial U.S. release, as the original actors' Australian accents and colloquialisms were deemed too opaque. Gibson provided his own dubbing, since he was born in America and could recall his old accent when needed.
  • Sedgwick Speech:
    Toecutter: Quit toying, Bubba!
    Bubba Zanetti: Easy! I know what I'm doing.
    (Bubba Zanetti then gets a shotgun round to the chest when he finally circles around to finish Max off)
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!:
    Fifi: They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes!
    Max: Ah, Fif. Do you really expect me to go for that crap?
    Fifi: You gotta admit I sounded good there for a minute, huh?
  • Slut-Shaming: A woman's (alleged) reputation as "the town pump" is used as evidence that she wasn't actually raped by the biker gang.
  • Small, Secluded World: The Australian outback is big, and the fuel shortage means that long-range transportation isn't nearly as reliable as it once was, making the film even more like a western movie. Even the news broadcasts are limited to local news (not exactly uncommon for the 70's when it was made).
  • Trailers Always Spoil: In video releases, the packaging revealed that Max's family are killed.
  • Tranquil Fury: Max is ice cold during his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The movie starts with the words "A Few Years From Now..." A close look at the Anarchie Road sign shows graffiti dated from 1984.
  • Used Future: Most of the vehicles and props are pretty obviously second-hand or donations, and in-universe, it takes place during Peak Oil, and in the middle of the Australian outback at that, so despite technically being in the future (presumably somewhere around the late 80's), people are going to have to stretch their resources as much as possible. This is especially notable with some of the civilian cars, which are very obviously from the 1960's.
  • The Voice: The female police dispatcher. Those with a keen ear can hear that she is broadcasting insights into the movie's verse, such as the slang "Bronze" for MFP officers is discouraged by the MFP itself and it's stated that Max's use of the Pursuit Special is unauthorized and that he may be a threat.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Once Max quits the force around halfway through the first movie, Fifi, Roop and Charlie are never seen again. Several fans claim to have seen an alternative broadcast cut of the film at some time, which included an extra scene in which Toecutter's gang attack the MFP headquarters and kill all the survivors. However, this footage has yet to be found and may be an urban legend. In contrast, the first Fury Road comic book shows that Roop and Charlie became soldiers in Immortan Joe's army in a one-panel cameo.
    • Contrary to popular belief, Max's wife doesn't die in the film. After listing her catastrophic injuries, her doctor nonetheless states that she's "salvageable." Because we never see her after the attack and the film ends immediately after Max goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, her fate is left uncertain. She's certainly dead by the sequel, however.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Toecutter's accent changes in every scene. Invoked by his actor Hugh Keays-Byrne to make Toecutter sound more insane.
  • Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: Max is told that his Pursuit Special was salvaged from various cars. Fifi is then seen listening in on Max enthusing over his new car, and it's revealed that Fifi had the car built to keep Max from retiring. The bureaucrat with him is not happy over the cost.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Johnny the Boy lies on the side of the road in order to draw Max out of his car so Bubba and the Toecutter can kill him. The only reason it doesn't succeed is because Bubba gets overconfident after he shoots Max's leg out and gets on the business end of Max's shotgun.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Subverted. May tries to hold off the Toecutter's bikers with her shotgun before Jessie and Sprog are run down. She misses.


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