April 5-7, 2019
“The chain in those handcuffs is high-tensile steel. It’d take you ten minutes to hack through it with this. Now, if you’re lucky, you could hack through your ankle in five minutes. Go.”
With that, Max drives off and an explosion closes the film. Thus, the Mad Max franchise was born, and the world was introduced to the toughest character a post-apocalyptic Australia would ever see.
This year, the series celebrates the 40th anniversary of the original movie’s release, known simply as Mad Max.
The franchise had its start in 1977 while director George Miller was working as a doctor in the emergency room of a Sydney hospital, witnessing first-hand the blood and gore that would find its way into his movies. Growing up in rural Queensland, he lost several friends to car accidents too, which may have influenced his work on the films.
He, together with the film’s producer Byron Kennedy and first-time screenwriter James McCausland, wrote the first Mad Max film and took it to Roadshow, who were quite enthusiastic. The trio created a presentation and circulated it widely, eventually raising the much needed funds. Miller himself contributed money to the film by continuing to work as a doctor. It was made on a shoe-string budget of about $400,000.
Once the budget was raised, the filmmakers took the bold step of casting a young nobody in the title role, fresh out of NIDA. Though the actor was unknown at the time, nowadays there isn’t a moviegoer alive who doesn’t know Mel Gibson. Playing his righthand man Goose, was classmate Steve Bisley, and main villain Toecutter, portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, both of whom fans will have the opportunity to meet at Supaova Melbourne (6-7 April) and Gold Coast (13-14 April).
Rounding out the cast as the outlaw gangs were members of actual biker clubs, who rode their own bikes in the film.
Two of the most iconic characters in the film aren’t even played by real people; they’re the famous cars that Max drives. The yellow Interceptor and the black Pursuit Special are two highly recognisable vehicles that all fans of the franchise know instantly. The Interceptor, which was previously used as a Victorian police car, was a 1974 Ford Falcon XB sedan with a 351 c.i.d. Cleveland V8 engine. The car that most people remember though, is the black 1973 Ford XB Falcon GT351, known as the Pursuit Special. The car was especially iconic for the supercharger protruding from the bonnet, although it was purely for show and served no functional purpose. The Pursuit Special was so popular, George Miller brought it back in Mad Max 2.
The movie started filming in and around Melbourne, and the entire shoot lasted just six weeks. Mad Max was released in Australia by Roadshow Film Distributors (now Village Roadshow Pictures) in 1979, and was sold to overseas studios for $1.8 million. When the film was shown in the US in 1980, the original Australian dialogue was redubbed by an American cast, and we’re sure you can imagine how that sounded… Despite this mistake, Mad Max was still the most profitable film for its time, and at one point it held a Guinness World Record for most profitable film ever made.
Due to the ludicrous success of this film, Miller was offered multiple directorial roles from big studios, including director of First Blood, but instead chose to work on the next film in the franchise, Mad Max 2. Filming on the sequel began in 1981 and lasted for twelve weeks, around Broken Hill.
Australian censors took issue with the first cut of the film, which was incredibly violent and bloody, resulting in numerous scenes and sequences being heavily edited or deleted completely in order to receive an ‘M’ rating. The film was a commercial success and is regarded by many critics as one of the best movies of 1981. It regularly appears on ‘greatest films of all time’ lists.
After the success of 2, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was released in 1985 and received a moderate box office yield in comparison to the other two films. Reactions to the film were generally positive, although most reviewers are undecided as to whether the film is the high or low point of the franchise. The series laid dormant for years, however, this was not the end of the post-apocalyptic series, or the roguish Max Rockatansky, as Miller started pondering a fourth film in 1998…
Roughly a year later the idea began to take form and the film, Mad Max: Fury Road, was set to get started in 2001. The movie was delayed due to the attacks on the World Trade Centre in September, and the film went back into pre-production, where it remained in development hell for years. Then, a miracle! In 2009 George Miller announced that principal photography for the film would start in 2011. The following year, Tom Hardy was announced to play the title role of the film, with Charlize Theron playing Imperator Furiosa. Joining the two lead stars as the main villain Immortan Joe was Hugh Keays-Byrne, returning from the original movie!
When filming was due to commence, the original location of Broken Hill was deemed unacceptable for shooting, as, ironically, strong rain had turned the dry, dusty area into a lush green haven, and the production was moved to Namibia. Principal photography finally commenced in 2012, lasting for 120 days.
Mad Max: Fury Road (rightly) received massive praise, with many critics saying it was one of the best action movies ever made. It received ten Academy Award nominations, the second highest nominated film after The Revenant. The film won six Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing, breaking the record for most wins for an Australian film.
The films have become so successful they have spawned numerous novels, comic books, video games, and even collectables, and has made a significant impact on modern pop culture, with references to all the films appearing in countless shows, games, and movies, from Fallout, to Water World, and even Rick and Morty.
What started as a low budget Australian film created by a bunch of friends has become one of the world’s biggest franchises, imprinting itself on cinema history permanently. It is no small wonder that the original film is celebrating its 40th anniversary to such fanfare and exploring more of the rich stories the post-apocalypse has to offer. With George Miller planning more Mad Max goodness, it’s exciting to see what new stories will be told with Max and the rest of the colourful Wasteland characters.