The Mad Max movies are so influential that you sometimes tend to compare them to other films. For example, when I wrote my article on why Waterworld is awesome, my first reason was because it's pretty much just Mad Max with boats. And, when I think of some of my favorite anime from the '80s and '90s, one of the first ones that comes to mind is Fist of the North Star, which is, you guessed it, modeled after the world of Mad Max.
In a lot of ways, the Mad Max movies represent the quintessential post-apocalyptic hellscape. It's bleak, it's populated by nutzoids, and it's scary. But, at the same time, it's also explosive and metal as hell. Dune buggies with screaming lunatics hanging off the sides, no-nonsense leather daddies, a dude with a flame guitar. I mean, jeez! Mad Max may be the end of the world, but that doesn't mean it has to be dour like The Road.
In fact, if we're talking about the best action movies, then the Mad Max series definitely has at least a couple that I would consider the greatest of all time. But, out of the four movies, which ones stand tall, and which ones are…mediocre? Well, you're about to find out.
4. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Starring Mel Gibson and Tina Turner, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is not a bad movie in the slightest. In fact, I have a soft spot for it like I do with the Sylvester Stallone Judge Dredd movie. But, that's just it. I like Beyond Thunderdome in a, "it's not as good as the others, but it's still fun" kind of way. When I ranked the Rambo movies, I kind of felt the same about Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Rambo III because they're dumb fun, and I enjoy them, sure. But, the original First Blood and the 2008 Rambo are just much better on a fundamental, storytelling level. And, that's how I also feel about the other Mad Max films compared to Beyond Thunderdome.
In this third installment from George Miller, Max finds himself battling in a gladiatorial arena (A Thunderdome, if you will) for Tina Turner's corrupt ruler character, Aunty Entity. But, when he realizes that he's been tricked into fighting, he refuses to battle any longer, getting himself exiled by her. He eventually encounters some kids who view him as a savior of sorts, and, well, more awesome action ensues, such as a really cool train sequence.
As I already mentioned, it's not a bad film by any means, but it just feels…lesser for some reason. And sillier. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when ranking all of the Mad Max films, Beyond Thunderdome always just ends up at the bottom for me.
3. Mad Max (1979)
Starring Mel Gibson, Hugh Keays-Byrne, and Joanne Samuel, this first film in the Mad Max series is definitely the darkest and least fun in the franchise. Still, all of the madness that the series is known for is still somewhat present, solidifying Max as an antihero for the ages.
In this origin story, Max is a police officer who deals with a vicious biker gang that rules the roads. Max tries to uphold the law the best he can, but all bets are off when something terrible happens to his family. That's when Max goes mad and becomes just as brutal as his enemies.
This first movie in the series is great, and its Australian setting is thoroughly gritty and harrowing. Plus, Toecutter (who is the same actor who would eventually play Immortan Joe) is a fantastic sadist of a villain. Still, as much as I like the first movie, there are two much better films in the Mad Max series that truly improved upon this concept by, like, a million.
2. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
In this superior in every way sequel directed by George Miller (they're all directed by him), and starring Mel Gibson, and Kjell Nilsson as Lord Humungus, Max is a broken man who fights to survive and steals this world's most valuable commodity - gasoline - whenever he can. But, he eventually fights to defend a community against a ravenous gang of lunatics, led by the super imposing, Humungus. It really doesn't get much better than this.
I'm serious. You already know what number one is going to be now, but I seriously considered putting this at the top spot since it never gets old. So many other films and stories have pulled from The Road Warrior, that you would think it would feel old, but no. This sequel is so action-packed and balls to the wall that it still feels like the freshest version of itself beyond all the imitators.
Mel Gibson has never been better in the role as a reluctant hero, and it doesn't feel ridiculous like it does in Beyond Thunderdome. Plus, it moves at such a brisk pace that you're given little time to breathe, and I mean that in the very best sort of way. On a different day, I might have put this as the best Mad Max movie, but today, I'm putting it at number two. So, you know what that means…
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Was Mad Max: Fury Road worth its decades long sequel wait after Beyond Thunderdome? Oh, hell yeah. Starring Tom Hardy as the titular Max, as well as Charlize Theron as the warrior woman, Imperator Furiosa, and Hugh Keays-Byrne as the series' best villain, Immortan Joe, Fury Road is really Furiosa's story, as she tries to bring Immortan Joe's five wives to safety, banding with Max in the process. What follows is quite possibly the greatest chase movie ever put to film.
Nominated for freaking Best Picture, Mad Max: Fury Road is more of a remake than a sequel, and I think that works for the best, as this feels similar to the older films, but also wholly original. Tom Hardy makes for a fantastic Max, but what makes Fury Road shine the most is the world itself, as it's never been livelier. Whereas the other three films had more of a gritty look to them, Fury Road is blasting with color and energy (the black and white version, Black and Chrome, even feels like a completely different movie without all that color).
But, the movie is just plain exhilarating. It's hard for me to choose one over the other, but I just narrowly give Fury Road a leg up over The Road Warrior. Ask me tomorrow, and I might change my mind. Oh, and I absolutely can't wait for the Mad Max spinoff, Furiosa. That can't get here soon enough!
What's your favorite Mad Max movie? For more news on the Mad Max universe, make sure to swing by here often.
Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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