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Mad Max: A Critical Review

When the Gangs Take Over the Highways, Pray He's Still Out There

First released April 12 1979

It was filmed in colour and in mono sound. It runs for 93 minutes. The film was made for a A$400, 000 budget. Lead actor Mel Gibson was paid $15, 000 of this. Throughout its stay in the cinemas the film grossed over $5.6 million. In Australia it was given an R 18+ (Restricted to Adults 18 years and Over) rating for low level coarse language and medium level violence. Had the film been released today it would probably have only been given an M15+ (Recommended for Mature Audiences 15 years and over) rating.
If you got a while to spare, right click here and choose "Save As..." to download the original theatrical trailer for Mad Max. A word of warning, it's a 12MB file!!

Since its late 1970's release Mad Max has been seen in many forms. Apart from the original film shown here, in Australia, it was also released as an American and Japanese dubbed version. Later, it has been released and released numerous times world-wide on video (normal and widescreen) and also on DVD. This has been again done in a number of dubs. There are currently rumours of a director's cut release.


Mel Gibson .... Max Rockatansky

Joanne Samuel .... Jessie Rockatansky

Hugh Keays-Byrne .... Toecutter

Steve Bisley .... Jim Goose

Tim Burns .... Johnny the Boy

Roger Ward .... Fifi Macaffee

Lisa Aldenhoven .... Nurse

David Bracks .... Mudguts

Bertrand Cadart .... Clunk

David Cameron .... Underground Mechanic

Robina Chaffey .... Singer

Stephen Clark .... Sarse

Mathew Constantine .... Toddler

Jerry Day .... Ziggy

Reg Evans .... Station Master


Director .... George Miller

Writers .... James McCausland and George Miller

Producers .... Byron Kennedy and Bill Miller

Music .... Brian May

Cinematographer .... David Eggby

Editor .... Cliff Hayes, Tony Paterson

Casting .... Mitch Mathews

Production Designer .... Jon Dowding

Art Directior .... Jon Dowding

Costume Designer .... Clare Griffin

The 1979 George Miller film Mad Max is famous for many reasons. It launched two huge blockbuster sequels (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Mad Max 3: Beyond the Thunderdome) and made a star of Mel Gibson. At its basics though, it is a story of a man, "Mad" Max Rockatansky, who takes on the highway gangs of Australia.

The film starts with a long chase scene as the MFP (Military Federal Police) pursue the Nightrider, a member of a highway gang. When all the other members of the police fail, Max arrives on the scene. In his own special vehicle, the yellow Interceptor, he chases and catches Nightrider, which results in a crash killing Nightrider.

Upon news of Nightrider's death the rest of his road gang, lead by Toecutter, vow revenge against those that were responsible, namely Max and his partner Jim Goose. The motorcycle gang arrive in a small town to collect Nightriders coffin and begin raising trouble. A couple that try to flee from the town are eventually captured and tortured by the gang out on the highways that they rule.

Through this time we learn a little of Max's homelife. Away from the road he is a normal guy with a wife and a kid. He has the same problems at home as everyone else, but his loving wife sticks by him, despite his odd job.

The MFP come across some car wrecks containing one member of the couple from the town, as well as one, somewhat worse for wear, member of Toecutter's gang. The young girl is taken care of and the gang member arrested and held, awaiting trial.

Sadly for Max, Goose and the MFP, no-one fronts at the court hearing and so the gang member is freed, much to Goose's annoyance and vengeance is vowed. "We'll see you on the roads," Goose screams at him as he leaves. And that he does. Goose soon is on the road, where he crashes his bike and is captured and burnt alive by Toecutter and his gang.

Upon viewing of Goose's barely alive, savagely burnt body in a hospital Max quits the force and heads off on a road trip with his family to get away from it all. Again this gives a major insight into Max and the high values he places on his home life and his love for his wife and child. During their holiday, Max's wife runs into Toecutter and his gang, narrowly escaping being captured and returns to Max, who is working on the car at a junkyard.

The Rockatansky family end up staying at a country cottage to recuperate and do some repairs on their car. However things get ugly when the highway gang arrive again to seek revenge once and for all. A scuffle ensues between the cottage owner - an elderly lady - and Max's wife. Another narrow escape sees them roaring up the highway with the gang in pursuit, only to have their getaway car die on them. An attempted run for help on foot, results in both Max's wife and his child being killed, with Max arriving on the scene too late.

Max return's back to the city, alone and saddened. As anger takes the better of him, he heads back to his role as an MFP member to seek "justice" and revenge on Toecutter and his merry crew. With no real vehicle that could counter the power of Toecutter's clan's motorcycles, he goes to pick up the new Interceptor. Introduced earlier, this new, sleek, black Interceptor is the ultimate car. "It's the last of the V8's! Part from here, part from there! You know how it is Maxy!" He roars off in pursuit of vengeance.

A number of chase scenes later, all bar one of Toecutter's gang have met their maker. The final member, whom Max finds salvaging fuel from a nearby crashed car, is the one who was released from custody earlier, and ultimately caused Goose's demise, and indirectly in the long term, the death of his family. As Max chains him to the fuel tank and lights a wick, but kindly offers him the chance to be blown up our saw his leg off to escape, and returns to the Interceptor.

As Max, plain faced, drives off into the distance, a large explosion behind him indicates the final Highway gang member's death. Max's vengeance now complete he roars away.

Mad Max exhibits many themes and can be placed into many genres. At it's simples, it is a action / road-movie in a post-apocalyptic setting. The main themes that flow through it are that of revenge and friendship / family life. When Max swears revenge on those that destroy his friends and family it becomes obvious that he will do whatever it takes to bring "Justice" to those that have murdered his dearest.


Mad Max arrived in 1979 when Australian cinema needed a major breakthrough. Australian audience were beginning to grow tired of the ocker and quality film, and craved more. George Miller's Mad Max gave them what they were looking for. A simple "genre" film that looked a bit different to what the country had previously offered them.

All over the world, and to this day, the Mad Max cult following is running strong. In some recent polls of the most important 100 movies of our century, American movie magazines rated Mad Max as one of them. This movie launched George Miller's, Mel Gibson's and Steve Bisley's career and started a phenomena that is yet to die. Yet more importantly to the film industry in Australia at it's time of release was that it was a privately funded film and that it was making money.

Mad Max was competing with the overseas films and, at times, winning. It was a success at home and also overseas. Some of this was due to it's accessibility. While being an Australian film, you didn't have to be either a lover of fine art or the ocker larrikin to understand what it was all about. Joe Average from overseas could understand it. And love it. And love it they did.

The thing with mad Max was that it didn't necessarily look like an Australian film. Granted the cars were Australian, being Holdens and Fords, and the accents were Australian too, but the roads could very well have been an American road or in the middle of any desert. This distinct universal flavour added to it's mass appeal.


Upon its release mad Max was popular with critics and cinema goers alike. It still is. Numerous re-releases on video and two follow up films, show its popularity with the people and the revered state it is still held in by critics show it has stood the test of time. Some 20 years on, film critics still see Mad Max as one of the most important and influential films in Australian cinema history. Without it, perhaps the Australian National Cinema would not have reached its new heights when it did. We may have seen Alvin Purple VI.

Almost immediately following its first showing critics couldn't get enough. In fact following it's first screening Roadshow, the films distributor placed the following ad in the paper, congratulating and advertising the film.

Click here to view the Newspaper advertisement by Roadshow

What does the future hold for Mad Max? Well it will live on forever, that is for sure, as one of the great movies of all time. And for the true Mad Max lover car shows around the country show us Interceptor replicas, the web has fan clubs and, hold onto your hats, 21 years after the original, George Miller now has Mad Max 4 in pre- production. The question is though, can he afford Mel's $25 million price tag or will we see a new Max?

Bring it on!


All the above said, Mad Max still has it's biggest fanbase here in Australia. With a high percentage of the male population of this big brown land, Mad Max is held in the steed of football, meatpies, VB and Jimmy Barnes.

So why then, if the movie could really be set anywhere and it wouldn't seem to make a difference, is this film not just Australian but so Aussie? The list starts at a country's appreciation of the importance of a family and mates through to Steve Bisley. The bloke's an Aussie to the last. And oh yeah, we do love a good V8.

Throughout the country there are a number of Interceptor replicas. Some running exactly to movie specifications, other slightly different and some that just look a bit like it. Joe Average down the street worshipped not just the movie, but that one car that has cemented its place in Aussie folklore.

Australia has always loved its cars. So when George Miller and his production crew designed the Interceptor, they knew they were on a winner. Take a simple Ford Falcon XB V8 coupe, paint it a bad-arse black, and modify the hell out of it. From supercharger switches to triple exhausts on both sides, the yob in all of us Aussies loved it. I'm a Holden man and it still sends a tingle down my spine. Like it or not, this was one of the major reasons, and still is, for Mad Max's local success. This wasn't a Hollywood designed fictitious Batmobile. No the Interceptor was a real car. It existed. You could build it at home. And in some states they were road legal!

If you want to have a shot at building your own piece of Mad Max history head to

With the cars, the major theme of mateship had the local public revelling. In a way, Mad Max had many elements of the ocker movie hidden within it, but disguised in a way that appealed to a much wider audience. Springboarding from its cult following already at home, Mad Max left to tackle the world. And like Max, it won.


When faced with the task of doing an assignment on an Australian movie, the choice was simple. Do Mad Max or just not do the assignment! This would have to be my favourite Australian film. From the first time I saw it when I was just around 10 years old, following the words, "Sit down and watch this movie with your father son. It's a great Australian movie. You'll like it I reckon," I was in awe. While I didn't appreciate its importance back then, that is only testimony to its brilliance. You didn't need to be able to analysis it, or realise its significance to enjoy it. In its purest form, it was just a good picture. Looking at it now I am able to appreciate it in another light, as part of the major revival of Australian cinema. And oh yeah, I do love a good V8.


* Tom O'Regan, "Film in The 1970's," Typescript Murdoch University, 1996. In OzFilm site.

* Tom O'Regan, "Australian Cinema in the 1990's." in Peter Tapp (ed.) and James Sabine (associate ed.), Australian Feature Films, Melbourne: Informit, Royal melbourne Institute of Technology and the Ausralian Catalogue of new Films and Videos Ltd. CD-ROM and OzFilm site.

*Tom O'Regan (1996) "Australian National Cinema." Routledge, London.

* Mad Max FAQ

* The Internet Movie Database

* Mad Max, dir. George Miller, 1978.

This page / assignment by Trent Burton, 991838F, of Murdoch University