Follow TV Tropes


Film / Mad Max

Go To

"My name is Max. My world is fire and blood."
Max Rockatansky (Opening Monologue), Fury Road

Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic film franchise created by George Miller in 1979. It is one of the biggest works of the Australian New Wave and arguably the continent's most famous commodity since kangaroos and Foster's.

The series follows "Mad" Max Rockatansky, a police officer who lost his family and his mind in the chaos that came Just Before the End. Clad in the tattered remains of his patrol uniform, he roams the post-nuclear deserts of Australia in his customized V8 Interceptor, fighting to survive while reluctantly lending aid to people in need. Along his journeys he is menaced by deranged outlaws, despotic warlords, and other unsavory sorts who seek to terrorize and exploit the wasteland's helpless inhabitants.

The series is also notable for playing somewhat fast-and-loose with continuity: while Max's overall character and backstory remain consistent across the franchise, the details tend to fluctuate between entries, and their stories at times outright contradict one another.invoked Word of God holds that this is intentional, with the franchise being less a single cohesive narrative and more a collection of folkloric legends about Max's exploits.

The films consist of:

Fury Road has a four-issue miniseries from Vertigo Comics written by George Miller, Nico Lathouris and Mark Sexton, serving as a prelude to the events of the movie, spotlighting Immortan Joe, Nux, Furiosa and Max, while officially placing the events of Fury Road after Beyond Thunderdome. The graphic novel collection also includes the story of the War Rig.

A video game called Mad Max developed and published by Mindscape was released in 1990 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Mindscape also developed a sequel based on The Road Warrior but lost the rights so specific references to Mad Max were removed and the title was changed to Outlander.

Another video game called Mad Max by the developers of the Just Cause games was released on September 1, 2015 for Windows, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, with a Linux port made on October 20th, 2016.

Character sheet for the film series can be found here.

The Mad Max series provides examples of:

  • 1-Dimensional Thinking: Jesse just keeps trying to outrun the bikers down the street instead of running off into the fields beside her. Mildly justified since she was clearly panicking and since she was carrying a baby the bikers could’ve easily just gotten off the bikes and would’ve quickly chased her down anyway.
  • Ace Custom: The Interceptor is a custom built Pursuit Special specifically built to keep Max from resigning from the MFP. Between movies, Max has modified it further with two giant fuel tanks in order to increase its range.
  • Aerith and Bob: Though there's probably more Aeriths than Bobs at this point, and the number of people that have normal names seems to decrease each film.
  • After the End: Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome, and Fury Road all take place after the collapse of civilisation due to war and a lack of resources; the original is Just Before the End. The intro to The Road Warrior mentions that "for reasons long forgotten, two mighty warrior tribes went to war" and that said war resulted in a lack of fuel, causing failed peace talks, riots, and civil unrest, leading to the situation in the first film. Between films, civilisation disappeared entirely, leading to roving bands of raiders, lone scavengers such as Max and the Gyrocaptain, and groups of ordinary people trying to survive, like the refinery settlers. We even finally get to see the ruins of Sydney at the end of Beyond Thunderdome.
  • Anti-Hero: Max begins on the more brutal end of the scale, but slides toward the idealistic side in subsequent films.
  • Apocalypse How: Society is barely holding together in the first film, arguably making it a case of Class 0. The nuclear exchange alluded to in the second film brings about a gradually worsening Class 2 between Road Warrior and Fury Road.
  • Apocalyptic Logistics: The whole premise behind the films is the collapse of civilization brought on by Post Peak Oil, yet one character flies a plane, and some other characters are seen driving cars (that are not powered by methane). Fury Road justifies this with Immortan Joe's trade network of three main resources; Water from the Citadel, fuel from Gastown, and ammo from the Bullet Farm.
  • The Apunkalypse: The hair, clothing, and facepaint of many of the gangs codify the trope, especially in Mad Max 2 & Beyond Thunderdome.
  • Artistic License – Cars: The Pursuit Special's supercharger shouldn't be able to be turned on and off. Turning it on like that would usually destroy the engine.
  • The Atoner: Max, for the family he failed to save. Furiosa from Fury Road for reasons that are not mentioned; presumably whatever atrocities she committed in order to rise from captive to the rank of Imperator.
  • Badass Driver: Filled with so many examples that even your run-of-the-mill mook qualifies. But Max, in particular, stands out as one of the biggest not just in the movies but in the entire film medium.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Every movie has Max surviving but not always winning, or even staying with the group he rescues that move on to rebuild.
  • Body Horror: The films showcase a fair bit of horrific injuries and medical conditions, presumably inspired by Miller's medical training and emergency room experience.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Because society has decayed to the point where new ammunition for guns is no longer manufactured, the primary choice of weapons in the wasteland appears to be the humble crossbow. Ammunition is apparently readily available and, probably, more importantly, is reusable. However, the reload time is appalling, as shown by the turbaned warrior in the final chase scene in The Road Warrior.
  • Car Fu: The franchise holds a 10th-degree black belt.
  • Central Theme: The Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome, and Fury Road all center around Max trying to rediscover his humanity.
  • Chaste Hero: Max lost his beloved wife in the 1979 first film. Since then, the closest he's come to showing on-screen romantic interest in anyone has been holding an injured woman's hand while he gives her a blood transfusion from his own vein.
  • Cool Car: Many of them, but of particular note is Max's Pursuit Special, featured in the first, second and fourth films. George Miller likened it to the Trigger to Max's Roy Rogers.
  • Crapsack World: All four films, in increasing severity.
  • Diesel Punk: Most of transportation and its style gradually devolved into this over the spin of four films with Fury Road showing its coolest.
  • Epic Movie: Taken as a whole, the original trilogy could be viewed as this, as it presents the full circle of Max's struggle with the apocalypse and his own personal demons. The fourth is this on the other front - the imagery is epic, even if there's not as much plot (particularly for Max).
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Averted. The movies are full of spectacular crashes where cars flip and tumble over several times at high speed and end up as piles of twisted metal, but very rarely does this cause any of them to explode.
  • Fallen Hero: It all revolves around a former cop turned Anti-Hero.
  • Fan Sequel: The novel Market Forces by Richard K. Morgan is a prequel to the series, according to the author's afterword.
  • Fanservice: The first two movies are blatant fanservice for revheads. Not like that's a bad thing...
  • Folk Hero: The second, and particularly the third and fourth movies are presented as legends told generations after the fact. Just another tale of the man they call Max.
  • Foreshadowing: In the first movie one of the many crimes Toecutter's gang is doing is stealing gas from a Tanker truck. The fight over Gasoline and Oil becomes a major plot point in The Road Warrior.
  • Genre-Busting: It's probably easier to say the movies are their own genre. You can read them as either westerns with post-apocalyptic wastelands and cars replacing deserts and horses, (The Road Warrior) or Low Fantasy with cars (Fury Road).
  • Hobbes Was Right: Nihilistic violence is pretty much the norm and pretty much the only instances of organized society reemerging are gangs who have reached a point where they can start codifying their barbarity. The only people who try to maintain some sort of decent society are powerless victims. The good guys still win, so there's still a sense that Rousseau is still better, but usually they can only win by relying on Max, who's a natural survivalist.
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted. Max's arm and leg in The Road Warrior are still in bad shape from his confrontation with Bubba and Toecutter, and his eye in Beyond Thunderdome is still healed from the climax of The Road Warrior. George Miller, the director, was a practicing emergency room physician before he became a director.
  • Iconic Outfit: Max's leathers, particularly as they appear in the second film, is considered the definitive post-apocalyptic ensemble to the point that it's appeared in some form or another in every Fallout game.
  • Implacable Man: Max, Humungus, Rictus Erectus, and Blaster. The last is a subversion.
  • In a World…: The original trailers played this trope straight.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight only in The Road Warrior - every other film, including the Lighter and Softer Beyond Thunderdome, has a child or infant die.
  • Ineffectual Loner: Despite his best efforts to keep to himself, Max always winds up allying with/helping out/getting saved by the victimized good guys.
  • Land Down Under: All of the films are at least partially filmed filmed in Australia, and the setting is in the outback.
  • Large Ham: Everyone in the first two movies save Mad Max himself (outstanding are villains such as Toecutter and Humungus). The fourth follows the Evil Is Hammy trend with all the War Boys.
  • Lighter and Softer: Before you say Beyond Thunderdome, Mad Max 2 is this to the terminally grim Mad Max.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Over the course of the second and third films, Max's sideburns become increasingly faded, presumably from the horrors he has witnessed or the great stress he is always under to survive. What with the apocalypse and all...
  • Malevolent Masked Men: Lord Humongous and Immortan Joe.
  • Negative Continuity: There are a few consistent elements across all the films (and the comic, and the game) — Max is/was a cop, and oil wars led to nuclear wars led to the apocalypse. There's also some recurring iconography like Max's jacket, the Pursuit Special, and Max's injuries, most notably his leg brace. But no installment after the second quite lines up with its predecessors. George Miller even said he doesn't think of the Mad Max movies as a single story, but rather as a series of legends about a mythical Road Warrior named Max; and much like real myths and legends, there's often contradiction and inconsistency. The most notable example is Max's iconic Pursuit Special, which is constantly associated with him in the popular imagination but which is completely destroyed in both The Road Warrior and Fury Road.
  • New Old West: All of the films have structures similar to Westerns, with motorcycle gangs and post-apocalyptic marauders taking the place of Western banditos.
  • No Bikes in the Apocalypse: Played as straight as a laser beam. Vehicles are always powered by internal combustion engines, and if not, draft animals are used instead.
  • No Blood for Phlebotinum: The Central Theme of the entire series; before the Apocalypse, wars were waged mainly for control of petroleum supplies. Afterwards, "Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice."
    • George Miller was actually inspired to start the series by the 1973 oil crisis:
      I remember it really stuck in my mind, in a very peaceful city like Melbourne, our southern capital, or some city, it took ten days after a severe oil shortage for the first shot to be fired. And I thought, what if it went on? That was one of the things when we did the first Mad Max.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: From The Road Warrior on, Max doesn't care about the plights of the people he comes across, and only helps them because it's advantageous (at least, at first).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: In the second and third films, the vast majority of characters go only by some pseudonym. Lord Humungus, Papagallo, Toadie, MasterBlaster, Auntie Entity, Ironbar, Pig-Killer, Toecutter, etc. By Fury Road, most people's real names are so weird that they don't need nicknames.
  • Plethora of Mistakes: A key element of Miller's direction. Central to every action scene throughout the series, and unlike pretty much everything like it in action movies, is that action is chaos. In a normal action movie, the hero and/or villain will repeatedly pull off some death-defying stunt simply to move the plot along, and when one finally fails, the sequence ends. Throughout the Mad Max films, both Max's opponents and even Max himself will flub a dangerous situation — and get hurt, hurt their allies, or just plain die — only for the sequence to continue onwards. Max wins repeatedly not because he is a better fighter or driver, but simply because he has a virtually animalistic drive to survive.
  • Points of Light Setting: The movies present such vision of a postapocalyptic society, with each movie having Max stumble upon another isolated community in the wasteland, usually getting tangled in its problems.
  • Post-Apunkalyptic Armor: The second and third film relied a lot on this trope. It seems that after the world collapsed, the gangs had the lion's share of leftover leather, spikes, spiked leather, scary masks and helmets, bits of metal, and strips of animal hide. The good people are usually stuck wearing cloth and rags. Even Max has patched his leather jacket up with a shoulder pad from some kind of sports armour. The fourth film continues this trend, though with a bit more in the way of combat gear.
  • Post-Peak Oil: It is the cause of the collapse of society following the first film.
  • Protagonist Title: All four films have the phrase "Mad Max" in the title.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: At the end of each movie, Max has won the fight but lost everything he had. After the first film, the people that Max has helped always go on to better lives, leaving him behind. By Fury Road, it seems that Max will always depart after the job is done even if he doesn't need to, much like a wandering gunslinger departing into the sunset.
  • Rated M for Manly: To the point even when the manly women of Fury Road appear, it's still testosterone heavy.
  • Retcon: The apocalypse in Road Warrior was said to have taken place due to the collapse of society and a lack of resources, rather than a nuclear war. However, the later movies Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road, as well as the Vertigo Mad Max comics, establish that there was indeed a nuclear war and it happened right after the first Mad Max movie.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: George Miller has stated that the physical injuries he observed during his stint as a medical doctor would look more plausible if set in a post-apocalyptic setting. And co-writer James McCausland was inspired by his observations of the 1973 oil crisis on Australian motorists, who would resort to violence towards anyone who tried to jump the petrol queues.
  • Running Gag: Every time Max manages to get his hands on shotgun shells, they always turn out to be duds.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: Max's signature weapon. The original script for the first movie reveals he made it by modifying one of the MFP's VG Bentley shotguns.
  • Scavenger World: Trope Codifier. An important plot point in all films is that items like fuel are coveted by the gangs to the point of theft and murder and all gear is priced above human life because of its rarity (even in the first film: one of the various evil acts we see Toecutter's gang do is steal gas from a tanker while the driver is distracted and the ever-famous V8 Interceptor is explicitly mentioned as the Last of Its Kind and Fifi only ordered it fixed so it could be used to tempt Max into staying on the Main Force Patrol. One of the director's own quotes regarding Joe's armies in Fury Road is that they are a show of how "rich" he is).
  • Scenery Porn:
    • The movies have desert landscapes that can be pretty to look at before the explosions and flying car debris kick in.
    • Fury Road amplifies this due with modern HD cameras and special effects and a new filming location in Namibia. (along with CG backdrops to ensure it still looked like Australia) Massive, sprawling deserts, huge cliff faces and canyons, and a dust storm so enormous it has its own internal weather.
  • Serial Escalation: Each film has been bigger, more violent, and just all around more than the last. The first one is a story about a cop Just Before the End, with impressive car stunts. The second is a western action movie and also the Trope Codifier of The Apunkalypse, even more car stunts, and an excellent car chase. The fourth is about 65% car chases, distilled into almost pure action, with everything about the previous movies taken up to eleven.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Max. George Miller stated all of the films were stories being told about Max, hence the inconsistent canon. (It also could explain the cast members returning in different rolesinvoked.)
  • Significant Double Casting: Hugh Keays-Byrne, the actor who portrayed the cruel and tyrannical Toecutter in the original film, came back to the series 30 years later to play the similarly characterized Immortan Joe in Fury Road. Bruce Spence appears in both Road Warrior and Thunderdome as a wily scavenger who screws Max over and gets drawn into being a hero.
  • The Silent Bob: Max, to varying degrees. In The Road Warrior, he only has sixteen lines. In Fury Road, it's more plot-relevant, as he's been isolated for so long that he's almost literally forgotten how to speak. Averted in Beyond Thunderdome, where he talks much more frequently.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: While the setting can seem more cynical or even nihilistic, the overall spirit of the series actually leans more on the idealistic end of the scale.
  • Spoiler Cover: In video releases, the packaging revealed that Max's family are killed in the first film, and the fuel was in the bus, not the tanker in the second film. Both events happen late in the films.
  • Spooky Animal Sounds: The cawing of crows is used in the films to show the World Half Empty as our hero travels the gang-plagued highways and deserts of Australia.
  • Standard Post-Apocalyptic Setting: After a peak oil-induced collapse of society that culminated in a nuclear war, Australia is a land of vast, lifeless deserts dotted with scattered communities built around the few surviving factories, refineries, and clean aquifers that remain. Most survivors are either amoral, cynical survivors, opportunistic despots and warlords tyrannizing communities held under their thumbs, bands of raiders who lurk in the wastes and prey on both surviving holdouts and anyone passing through their lands, and desperate refugees trying to survive the madness while maybe building a better future. Mutation from the fallout is a serious problem, and many characters are afflicted with physical deformities and handicaps of various sorts. Through it all moves Mad Max himself, wandering joylessly around the world when he's not getting roped into helping to defeat the warlord of the day.
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Max starts off wearing his MFP uniform for most of the first film, donning it for his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, possibly in order to keep innocents out of his way and gain access to the MFP's equipment. In the second film, he continues to wear the uniform, though it's in tatters and his badge is gone. In the third film, it's damaged further and he loses the jacket in the final battle.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Max, from The Road Warrior on. He's the titular character and the focus of the films, but he's never the hero of the story, instead showing up as a hired hand who helps the real heroes - the Gastowners, the kids and Furiosa.
  • Trope Codifier: Of the post-apocalyptic genre, particularly The Apunkalypse. Pretty much every post-apocalyptic work to come since The Road Warrior has had some influence from Mad Max.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome are almost completely different from the first Mad Max film, to the point where the sequels are rarely ever labelled Mad Max 2 or 3, and if collectors editions of the trilogy are made, only the last two movies are included. Although the recent Blu-ray collection does indeed include all three movies. On the other hand, much of the fandom considers only the first two movies to be this trope.
  • Urban Hellscape: The original film took place in a collapsing civilization, where motorized gangs terrorized the highways. After the loss of his family, Max Rockatansky becomes a ruthless Vigilante Man bent on revenge. The later films in the franchise moved the setting to After the End, and became the Trope Maker of The Apunkalypse. If nothing else, this film can be credited with melding the two genres.
  • Walk the Earth: What Max does at the end of every movie. He always abandons the people he's saved to move on, as he has no place among civilized humans.
  • Wasteland Warlord: The villains of the latter three movies are all people who've taken to craving out a piece of territory for themselves in the post-apocalyptic world. How much do they symbolize this trope? Lord Humungus and Immortan Joe currently respectively supply the trope picture and quote.
  • Worldbuilding: One could argue that the world that George Miller created is the real star of the movies. Each movie contributes to this creation in their own way and through different eyes and methods. Fury Road became especially notable for building its part of the world with an almost complete lack of exposition.
  • World of Badass: Justified in that being a post-apocalyptic world, anyone who survives needs to be badass!
  • World of Ham: Most of the villains enjoy Chewing the Scenery, as many of them are either Ax-Crazy or are posturing for their followers.

"The future belongs to the mad."


Video Example(s):


Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves!

Max may have won the Gastown race, but he must overcome one final opponent to claim his prize.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheThunderdome

Media sources: