Mad Max is a series of films that constitute the most famous things to come out of Australia since kangaroos and the most incomprehensible accents east of Scotland. Created by George Miller, the original series stars Mel Gibson in his Australian accent as the title character "Mad" Max Rockatansky. It is one of the most famous film franchises to come out of the Australian New Wave.
The first film, Mad Max, 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 the villainous charismatic Toecutter cause his life to fall apart. Max famously goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge at the film's climax, but by the end he has lost everything. Made with practically no money and released in 1979, 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. However, it was barely noticed in America, where it was only given limited release and all the characters' voices had been dubbed with American accents because distributors thought the audience wouldn't understand what they were saying.
The second film, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (originally released as Mad Max 2, retitled The Road Warrior in America), follows Max into the anarchic Wasteland that used to be Australia, where a few years later he is now Walking the Earth with his Post-Apocalyptic Dog in his Cool Car. He runs into a small ragtag group of survivors occupying an isolated oil refinery, who are surrounded and terrorized by a vicious gang of biker bandits led by the mysterious masked Lord Humungus. After at first resisting their pleas for him to help them, Max ends up assisting them in their plan for escape to the north, exorcising some of his own personal demons. Released in 1981, the film is almost unanimously regarded as better than the first — in America, where it was renamed so that people wouldn't realize it was a sequel, it was a surprise hit. Mad Max 2, a.k.a. The Road Warrior, is the film that made Mad Max (and Mel Gibson) famous worldwide.
The third film, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, is the first one to be set unambiguously After the End in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Max gets stuck in the midst of a power struggle in a Merchant City, and ends up as a messiah to a tribe of children. Released in 1985, this film was an American co-production and a Dolled-Up Installment: the original idea centered around a man encountering a post-apocalyptic society of wild children, before George Miller decided to have Mad Max be that man.
The fourth film, Mad Max: Fury Road, was released in 2015 after thirty years in Development Hell, and is set an ambiguous amount of time after Beyond Thunderdome. Now something closer to "society" has crawled from the ruins of the old world: there are landed tribes, and alliances, and tyrants at the helm once more. Tom Hardy takes over the role of Max, who teams up with the elite Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. She's on a mission to help a group of women fleeing across the Wasteland from the Immortan Joe, the tyrannical warlord leader of the massive human colony known as "the Citadel." Production was delayed by higher-than-normal amounts of rainfall around Broken Hill that made the area too green, so filming moved to Namibia. George Miller and Fury Road co-writer Brendan McCarthy already have sequels written, the first of which is titled Mad Max: The Wasteland.
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. Minscape also developed a sequel based on Beyond Thunderdome but the lost 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. It was originally announced as a tie-in game to Fury Road, then was said to be an alt-universe standalone game, but was ultimately revealed to be something of a hybrid between the two. The plot is that Max was attacked by Scabrous Scrotus, one of Immortan Joe's sons, and has his beloved V8 Interceptor stolen for parts and he ends up working with Chumbucket, a deformed mechanic/blackfinger. Chumbucket sees Max as an Angel sent by the god Combustion to help him complete his car, the Magnum Opus. Max simply sees Chumbucket as a means of getting a replacement vehicle so that he can finally reach an area of the Wasteland called the Plains of Silence and find peace in a world gone mad.
Character sheet for the film series can be found here.
The Mad Max series provides examples of:
- 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: Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road; The original is Just Before the End while Mad Max 2 is set during the end after society has generally collapsed but before an all-out nuclear war.
- 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).
- 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.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Max Rockatansky, who was named such as a reference to physician and pathologist Carl von Rokitansky. This is a nod to George Miller's history as an ER surgeon.
- 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 Weapon of Choice 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 it's style gradually devolved into this over spin of four films with Fury Road showing it's 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).
- Fallen Hero: It all revolves around a former cop turned Anti-Hero.
- Fanservice: The first two movies are blatant fanservice for revheads. Not like that's a bad thing...
- Folk Hero: 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.
- Infant Immortality: 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: Downplayed, as there are a few consistent elements across all the films (Max is/was a cop, oil wars led to nuclear wars led to the apocalypse, some props like Max's jacket and the Pursuit Special), but in general the series doesn't concern itself greatly with continuity. Very much an intentional trope, as George Miller has said he doesn't think of the Mad Max movies as a single story, but rather as a series of legends about a mythological figure named Max; and much like real myths and legends, there's often contradiction and inconsistency.
- A key example is Max's iconic Pursuit Special, which is constantly associated with him in the popular imagination but which is 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.
- George Miller was actually inspired to start the series by the 1973 oil crisis:
- 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 knows how to screw up and maintain enough focus to survive the screw-up.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 You Look Familiar of cast members returning in different roles.)
- 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.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: While others can see this as more cynical or nihilistic, the overall spirit of the series actually can be 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.
- 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.
- 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 for the real hero (a la Han Solo in Star Wars: A New Hope).
- 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 Mad Max 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: Max's fate.
- World Building: 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.