Underrated Post-Apocalyptic Action Thriller Being Left Behind

By Zack Zagranis | Published

mad max beyond thunderdome

Do you know what the biggest problem is with kids these days? If you ask them, “Who run bartertown?” They have no idea what you’re talking about. The answer, of course, is “Master Blaster run Bartertown,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone under 40 who could answer it. That’s because there’s a distinct lack of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in the current pop culture landscape, and that needs to change.

No Streaming Home

mad max beyond thunderdome

Part of the problem is the movie isn’t streaming anywhere. Oh, you can rent or buy it online, according to JustWatch, but with most streaming subscribers hesitant to make a separate digital purchase outside of the content included in their monthly Netflix bill, it might as well be lost media. And that’s a shame because Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is not only a great movie but also the perfect ending to the Mel Gibson era of Mad Max.

Beyond Thunderdome Vs. Return Of The Jedi

mad max beyond thunderdome

The original Mad Max trilogy follows the original Star Wars trilogy in many ways. The first film, Mad Max, was a surprise late ’70s hit that, for many years, was considered the most profitable film ever made. Mad Max 2 —released as The Road Warrior in the US—is universally considered superior to the original and one of the greatest sequels ever made, period. And then we have Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

There are numerous similarities between Return of the Jedi and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome— both films start off in the desert, where our hero ends up in a stronghold of unsavory, violent mercenary types. Both films involve a third act full of little creatures that many viewers find annoying—for Jedi, it’s the Ewoks, while Thunderdome has the children of “Planet Erf.” Both films find the hero in a confined space fighting a much bigger adversary and both films feature climaxes that are just repeating a similar scene from an earlier film with a bigger budget.

Much like Return of the Jedi, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is considered by many to be the weakest film in its trilogy. Of course, like Star Wars, the weakest Mad Max movie is still better than 90 percent of the other movies out there. As such, Thunderdome deserves to have a larger cultural footprint than it does.

Max And The Thunderdome

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome tells the story of Max (Mel Gibson), a former cop and current loner wandering the wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia. Director George Miller immediately separates the film from its siblings by stripping Max of his signature car, the Pursuit Special. Instead, when we first meet Max, he’s driving a broken-down vehicle drawn by camels.

After being attacked by a father-son bandit duo, Max ends up in Bartertown, a wasteland settlement containing the titular Thunderdome. Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) runs Bartertown on the surface, while a dwarf named Master runs the underground portion, where pig feces are collected and processed into the methane used to power the settlement. Master often rides upon the shoulders of a giant named Blaster, who acts as both muscle and the smaller man’s preferred method of transportation.

Max ends up making a deal with Aunty to fight Blaster in the Thunderdome and almost kills the behemoth until he finds out that Blaster is intellectually disabled. After refusing to finish Blaster off, Max is exiled, where he again wanders the desert until he comes upon an oasis populated by children. The kids are descended from the passengers and crew of a crashed Boeing 747 airplane and are waiting for the fabled “Captain Walker” to come back and lead them to paradise.

The Final Battle

The third act of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a rehash of the climax from The Road Warrior, where Max and the children speed across the desert in a large truck pursued by Aunty Entity and several Bartertown heavies driving their own cobbled-together vehicles.

A Means To Mourn

mad max beyond thunderdome

The movie’s production was a way for George Miller to grieve the death of his producer and friend Byron Kennedy, who had been an integral part of the production of the previous two films. Miller described the decision to make Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as something he felt he needed to do to deal with Kennedy’s passing. “I was reluctant to go ahead. And then there was a sort of need to – let’s do something just to get over the shock and grief of all of that,” said Miller.

There is a dedication to Kennedy at the end of the film right before the credits.

A Lot On His Plate

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was the first film in the series to be co-directed by George Ogilvie. Miller later said of the decision that he had “a lot on my plate,” and as a result, he asked Ogilvie, a former associate, to “come and help” him. The two directors filmed most of the exterior shots in a mining town in Australia named Coober Pedy. Bartertown itself was built at an old brickwork located in the Sydney suburb of Homebush Bay.

The Queen Of Rock

mad max beyond thunderdome

The part of Aunty Entity was written specifically with Tina Turner in mind. The singer was so enthusiastic about the film that she was willing to shave her head and wear a metal dress that weighed upwards of 100 lbs to play the part of Aunty. Turner had two songs in the film, “One for the Living,” which plays over the opening credits, and “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome).” Both songs were hits outside of the film, with “One for the Living” reaching #15 on the American charts and “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) hitting the #2 spot.

Critics Liked It, But It Wasn’t A Hit

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was well received by critics but failed to do the same box office as its predecessors despite having a larger budget. Thunderdome’s poor theatrical performance may have been the result of its PG-13 rating coupled with a large group of children being integral to the plot. The previous films had been gritty, rated R affairs, and many fans may have seen the new rating and the kids as signs that Thunderdome would be a softer, gentler Mad Max than the one they’d grown to love.

It Should Be Streaming

To be honest, the movie is slightly softer than the other two, but not to its detriment. Given that it is told from the perspective of one of the children, it only makes sense that it would be a slightly more “kiddified” version of Max. If anything, the movie is a bit more whimsical than the first two, but at the end of the day, it’s still a dirty, post-apocalyptic Dieselpunk nightmare.

Today, the only part of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome present in the cultural lexicon is the word “Thunderdome” itself, and that’s a shame. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome might not be as good as The Road Warrior or its successor, Fury Road, but it’s still a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. The fact that the movie isn’t streaming anywhere is practically a crime.

Watch It Where You Can


If you have some extra money in your entertainment budget and you want to immerse yourself in the world of Mad Max before Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga drops on May 24. After all it’s the only way to truly find out who run Bartertown.