Directed by George Miller, Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic tale, which tells the story of a cop, played by Mel Gibson, who is hell-bent on avenging his family who was killed by a murderous gang of bikers.
Though it only initially did modest business in North America, this Australian film would go on to be a major cult classic, spawning two successful sequels: The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
Mel Gibson and Mad Max
Though released in 1979, the roots of Mad Max date back to 1971 during director George Miller’s days as a medical doctor. As morbid as it may sound, Miller was actually inspired by the injuries and deaths he witnessed while working in an emergency room. In that same year, Miller directed a movie titled Violence in the Cinema, Part 1, which he worked on with amateur filmmaker Byron Kennedy.
Miller believed that his violent vision would appeal to audiences as a full-length film, which gave way to the idea of Mad Max. In order to make the ultra-violence a little more plausible, Miller set the film in a bleak distant future. The film was shot in 12 weeks, primarily in and around Melbourne.
Gibson, then a complete unknown was cast in the lead, despite not even intending on auditioning. In fact, Gibson was just accompanying a friend to the audition, but the producers liked his look (he was bruised and battered due to a bar fight the previous night). Due to his unique look, producers were mainly interested in casting Gibson as rough looking bad guy. Upon returning for his actual audition, Gibson’s face had healed and the film crew did not even recognize him. Nevertheless, Gibson read for the part and was cast as Mad Max.
Set in a bleak dystopian future in which law and order is more less an abstract notion, Mad Max centers around a cop (Max Rockatansky), who becomes enraged after his family is brutally killed by a rabid motorcycle gang, led by Toecutter and Bubba Zanetti. Although Max was initially disillusioned with the police force after his friend and partner Goose is burned alive, he decides to don his police outfit and attempt to pick off the members of Toecutter’s gang one by one.
Motorcycles in Mad Max
Although Max’s Pursuit Special limited edition 1973 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop is perhaps the most famous vehicle in the film, his partner’s Kawasaki KZ1000 is also a standout. Goose’s bike was a 1977 Kawasaki Z1000, but the metal “Kawasaki” badge was removed from the gas tank before filming. Viewers will notice that it was replaced with a decal that reads “Kwaka.”
Aside from Goose, each member of the biker gang also rode 3 and 4-cylinder Kawasaki motorcycles. Toecutter, the gang’s leader, rode a model identical to Goose’s, without the police regalia of course. All of the film’s bikes were late model demonstration units, which were donated by Kawasaki. Many of the stunt riders in the film kept their Kawasaki motorcycles after filming concluded.
To say that Mad Max is a cult classic is a dramatic understatement. Not only did the movie establish new filmmaking trends, but it also helped adavance a new genre. It quickly became the top-grossing Australian film of all-time and helped introduce audiences, home and abroad, to “Ozploitation” (Australian exploitation). It was Mad Max’s exploitative themes that connected with audiences, making this little Australian film resonate worldwide.
Aside from appealing to audiences, Mad Max has inspired numerous filmmakers and artists alike. Though most horror fans may be unaware, Mad Max was the direct inspiration for the popular Saw series. Saw filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannel credit Mad Max’s final scene, where Johnny is given the choice of cutting off his foot to escape, as the inspiration behind the entire Saw series.
Mad Max Trivia
- Director George Miller financed Mad Max’s budget by working as an emergency room doctor.
- It was the first Australian film shot with a widescreen anamorphic lens.
- Due to budget restrictions, only Mel Gibson was given a real leather jacket and pants. All other actors playing police officers had to wear vinyl outfits.
- Hugh Keays-Byrne, who portrayed Toecutter, modeled his performance after written records of warlord Genghis Khan.
- A total of 14 vehicles (motorcycles and cars) were destroyed during the filming of Mad Max.
- Several cars in the film were repainted and passed off as different vehicles due to budget limitations.
- Miller destroyed his own van (a Mazda Bongo), because the production was running out of money.
- One-fifth of all the chase scenes called for in the script were cut due to financing problems.