When former doctor turned director George Miller released his first full-length feature film, Mad Max, in 1979, he wasn’t to know he had created what would become one of Australia’s greatest celluloid exports. Mad Max spawned a number of imitators and knockoffs internationally and had a profound impact on the Australian film industry. It resulted in two sequels in the 80s and a third, Mad Max: Fury Road, currently receiving rave reviews internationally.
Australia’s sheer size and relatively concentrated population means much of its cinema has either taken the form of road movies or contains aspects of the road film genre. Australian road movies encompass comedy (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, 1994), romance (Japanese Story, 2003) and drama (Last Ride, 2009). Unless the characters have money for a plane ticket, any plot that involves leaving a major urban centre is going to necessitate a large amount of road travel.
But Mad Max has origins in and, in turn, profoundly influenced a particular strand of Australian film, which combines dystopian and noir themes with the destructive power of cars and the country’s harsh, sparsely populated land mass. Some of the factors that influenced these films have a resonance beyond Australia, such as masculine car culture and fears of societal breakdown, particularly during the energy crisis in the 70s and early 80s. Others are Australian-specific, including fear of the outback and its vast, isolated spaces. Many of these films have similar aesthetic elements, as well as character and plot tropes. Many also share cast members, vividly illustrated by the presence of Hugh Keays-Byrne, the central villain known as the Toe Cutter, in the original Mad Max, who also stars as Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Here are 10 important films in the body of local dystopian and noir-influenced Australian road movie.
And if too much Mad Max is not enough for you, I also have a piece on the site of the on-line culture magazine, Spook, examining the incredible influence the Mad Max franchise has had in Australian and internationally. The piece, ‘Leather and Chains: Mad Max’s Lasting Legacy’ can be viewed in full here.