Today is the 38th anniversary of the release of George Miller’s apocalyptic Ozploitation epic Mad Max. Back then, Miller was just a medical doctor with a dream. A dream of society on the brink of collapse, a dream with colorful marauders and spectacular car chases and bulging eyeballs and one man standing in the middle of it all. It was a beautiful dream.
An icon was born, a star was born, and a franchise was born. In 1982 Miller took the story of Max (Mel Gibson) past the apocalypse, into the Wasteland, and presented Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior), a masterpiece of action and world-building that would be hard to top.
And top it he didn’t, in 1985’s co-directed, Amblin-influenced Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, a film of great moments, but undercut by a weak second half and an overall softening (caused in part, some say, by Miller’s grief over the death of his producing partner Byron Kennedy).
Miller endeavored for years to realize Mad Max: Fury Road, enduring financing issues, weather-related logistical nightmares, and his leading man aging out of the role (I’ve been told that despite what you’ve read on Wikipedia, Gibson was attached as late as 2003). Filmmakers revisiting their classic properties is almost always a terrible idea, so imagine our shock when Fury Road turned out to be a modern masterwork, reinventing Max (Tom Hardy) and his world, creating new icons in Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Immortan Joe (returning OG Mad Max baddie Hugh Keays-Byrne), and presenting a thematically rich text that only seems to grow more relevant every day.
38 years after it all started, where do you stand? Most arguments break down into Road Warrior vs Fury Road, but do you have an affinity for the purity of the original? Do you want to make a case for the kid-friendly Thunderdome? Go full Master Blaster in the comments below. Four films enter; one film leaves?
Bonus: last weekend I met a Mad Max superfan who had recreated a bevvy of props and costumes from the films, with a (correct, IMO) focus on The Road Warrior. Look at this!