Before series like HBO‘s The Last of Us and films like Doomsday had us traveling through the wasteland with an increasing regularity, there was one franchise that was synonymous with the genre for a very long time, and we’re talking, of course, about the Mad Max Franchise.
Kicking off in 1979, the original Mad Max trilogy presented to us a bleak and hopeless Australian landscape, and the situation was so dire that there wasn’t a single Hungry Jack’s on the horizon. In fact, the marauders and Mel Gibson’s Mad Max alike struggled to fuel their war machines.
It then took 30 years for 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road to see the light of day, and we’re still waiting for more details on Mad Max: The Wasteland and its development. But while we wait, we figured now is as good a time as ever to rank the entire George Miller created franchise from worst to best.
4. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Starting with the end of the original trilogy, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is definitely the weakest link of the three. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad movie, but compared to its predecessors, it left a lot to be desired. Simply put, Mad Max 2 (stylized as The Road Warrior in the US) was such a powerhouse film, following it with anything would prove to be a daunting task no matter how well-executed.
We still get Mel Gibson doing his thing as the titular character, but when we think of Mad Max as a whole, we think constant forward motion, and there’s a lot of back and forth in this film between Bartertown and the vast Australian wasteland that we had at that point familiarized ourselves with. Sure, Beyond Thunderdome has one of the best fight scenes out of the entire franchise, and Tina Turner was a welcome addition with her portrayal of Aunty Entity, but overall, there was too much territory to cover.
Once again, and we think this is worth repeating: there is not a bad Mad Max movie, Beyond Thunderdome is just not as good as the others.
3. Mad Max (1979)
Mad Max was the movie that started it all in 1979, and was so ahead of its time with its storytelling that it was not well-received at first. But audiences knew they were watching something special, and Mad Max ended up being a massive commercial success, setting a Guinness record for most profitable film at the time of its release.
We’re introduced to the titular character, portrayed by Mel Gibson, and the film wastes no time establishing his backstory, and getting to the action.
Mad Max establishes the story that we work our way through in the sequels, and for this reason it’s more of a slow-burn than the rest of the franchise. In other words, Mad Max was the proof of concept we needed to build out the wasteland, and its pacing should not be perceived as a demerit by any means.
After witnessing the murder of his family, Max’s personality fundamentally changes, and becomes filled with rage, which will prove to be a useful personality trait in the sequels.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The year 2015 brought us an update to the Mad Max franchise, but since so much time had passed between Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road, Tom Hardy took on the role of “Mad” Max Rockatansky alongside Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. Boasting updated special effects and an $185 million budget compared to Mad Max’s $400,000, we are met with a world on fire as Max and Furiosa desperately search for salvation in their quest to locate the “Green Place.”
Clocking in at 120 minutes, the entire film is an expertly choreographed chase sequence that boasts the superior use of practical effects, and an intimidating amount of stunt coordination that will leave your jaw on the floor.
Fury Road took several pages out of the Road Warrior playbook, and even with its aggressively linear storytelling, we’re still haunted by Max’s visions of his troubled past as he tries to navigate through the wasteland through brute force. Max and Furiosa stop at nothing to eliminate anybody, and anything that’s in the way of their common goal of escaping Immortan Joe’s Citadel.
Normally a franchise overhaul 30 years after the original trilogy means “too little, too late,” but in the case of Fury Road, it did an excellent job updating the franchise for a new generation without insulting the storytelling of the originals.
1. Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior) (1981)
The only fault that we can find with The Road Warrior is that it indirectly and inadvertently inspired 1995’s Waterworld, which… yeah. Just like Fury Road, this second Mad Max film is very much a prolonged chase sequence as Max kills countless marauders as Australia’s resources dwindle.
The world that was established in 1979’s Mad Max is further explored as society continues to crumble, and a violent race for food and petrol dominate the storytelling.
Many of us were introduced to the Mad Max franchise through The Road Warrior, which is why it reigns supreme on this list. Not only are the marauders highly quotable (“No more talk! We go in! We kill!),” The Road Warrior boasts nitro trucks, gyrocopters, petrol/sand switcheroos that would make Indiana Jones blush, and an excessive amount of violence that is not only fun to watch, but doesn’t take away from the storytelling.
But most importantly, at this point in the narrative, Max has nothing to lose, and Mel Gibson brings the pain as he pursues resources, a safe-haven, and revenge.