Retro Review: Mad Max (1979)

Remember when Mad Max: Fury Road was set up for failure? Remember when production delays and rumors of on-set arguments dominated the news about the film, spelling nothing but disaster?

Yeah, me neither.

The trailers for Mad Max: Fury Road have worked audiences into a frenzy over the upcoming fourth installment in the franchise, a franchise which has seen a thirty-year hiatus. Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson as the post-apocalyptic crusader, and if these glimpses into George Miller’s new version of his oil-hungry world are any indication, Mad Max: Fury Road is going to be nothing short of a spectacular visual experience.

Mad Max Fury Road

But where did this franchise all begin? There are plenty film fans and cine-geeks out there who are more than familiar with the original Mad Max trilogy. However, with a thirty-year gap, it is understandable that many people out there who cannot wait to see Fury Road are less that up to date on George Miller’s original films. It was a bumpy road for Mad Max, starting from scraps, and eventually evolving into something memorable thanks to a number of factors both internal and external. The next few weeks seem like a good opportunity to look back at Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, to see where this iconic character began, where he’s been, and where he may be going with Tom Hardy taking over the role. 

The original Mad Max, released in 1979, was almost invisible to American audiences. Australian filmmaker George Miller, working on a shoestring budget, and directing an unknown actor named Mel Gibson, had a definite vision in mind when he set out to create the picture. Mad Max was a spare, lean action film, but it took place in a time before society completely crumbled.


Gibson plays Max, a policeman in the Australian countryside who is battling an influx of eccentric and violent gangs who represent the unraveling of an organized society. Oil is growing thin in the country, and people are growing desperate. Max and his partner are fighting against the strengthening gangs, led by the vicious Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a nihilistic killer. The police are losing, and their lives are in danger in no short order.

What creates Mad Max in the traditional sense is tragedy. Max’s partner is killed, then his wife and young son are run down in the street by Toecutter and his gang. This essentially ends Max’s career as a policeman and fuels his unrelenting vengeance. Max dismisses the law, as the law has failed him, and takes matters into his own hands, subsequently taking on Toecutter and his cronies outside the boundaries he held before his life was taken from him.

Mad Max Toecutter

Mad Max looks and feels like a film without a budget, and that is no fault of George Miller or the filmmakers. This is the type of filmmaking where passion is important, and there is no denying the passion and energy in every scene. The early scenes are clumsy and cold, the dialogue forgettable, but once Max’s family is murdered things turn into what we all traditionally recognize as the iconic story. Thanks in part to the small budget and the era in which it was shot, all of the stunts, crashes, and vehicles are real. Cars crash into each other, characters are mowed down by trucks, and the grit and realism is what makes Mad Max so endearing to fans.

This original film was not the most complete of the trilogy, but it was necessary. Here is a glimpse at a society being held together by the thinnest of threads, just before things fell apart, leading to the rest of the franchise entries. Mad Max caught the eye of enough people to demand a sequel be made, budget be increased, and American audiences be let in on what would become legend.

There was a small problem. This upcoming sequel needed a title different than Mad Max 2 because American audiences collectively hadn’t seen the original. Thus, The Road Warrior was born…

Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry Taylor - Managing Editor
Larry is the managing editor for Monkeys Fighting Robots. The Dalai Lama once told him when he dies he will receive total consciousness. So he's got that going for him... Which is nice.