Mad Max was a vision so viable it lead to a string of sloppy imitators. Here are 10 films that followed George Miller's post-apocalyptic designs to a fault.
It's a concept as old as the films themselves. A lone man, fighting against insurmountable odds, lets his guard down for the moment and becomes vulnerable to those out to destroy him. Before long, there's a group of rogues out to ruin our last honorable hero. In between, there's a damsel in distress, or a widow with a outdated mortgage, or a kid in trouble, and our lead lends a hand, which only increases his other risks.
It's a narrative formula that's been used in everything from sword and sorcery to Westerns, crime stories to sci-fi and fantasy. But in 1981, Australian auteur George Miller found a way to make this otherwise arcane plot come to life -- motorized life. His Road Warrior remains an action epic staple, an post-apocalyptic nightmare fueled by gallons of "guzzoline" and thousands of RPMs.
Now, nearly 34 years after that gargantuan game-changer comes Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth film in the Mad Max series and a fresh start for a filmmaker lost in normal mainstream fare (Lorenzo's Oil, The Witches of Eastwick) and Oscar winning children's films (Happy Feet). Of course, the last time he brought his story of a violence-torn Outback overloaded with angry vehicular mayhem to moviegoers around the world, the planet responded with a series of ridiculous rip-offs.
Indeed, it seemed like everyone wanted to go "beyond Thunderdome" and do their own version of Miller's magnificent road rage. With that in mind, here are ten often-hilarious examples of such car carnage copycats. While a few don't even feature automobiles, they almost all have the society gone goofy that makes this reconfigured narrative so special/specious. Let's begin with a real bad one:
10. Wheels of Fire
Trace (Gary Watkins) and his sister Arlie (Playboy model Lynda Wiesmeier) live in a settlement somewhere in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (you'll be reading that a lot in the coming sections). He pisses off one of the main desert warlords and he responds by raping his relative. Naturally, payback is a bit... like Miller's groundbreaking action film, except without a budget or the imagination to really recreate it. There is a lot of misogyny here -- Wiesmeier was obviously hired for her ability to be topless most of the time -- and the ending tries to salvage the shoddy production values before. It doesn't work.
This one will sound awfully familiar, especially for fans of the first Mad Max movie. When a young girl escapes her father's evil rule, she is saved by a mysterious man named Hunter (Michael Beck) and is sent to the sanctuary of some sort called Clearwater Farm. Naturally, her nasty daddy shows up and starts to raise hell. When the title vehicle comes out, it looks like all hope is lost. Hunter instantly asks the people of Clearwater to build him something similar and, before you know it, there's lots of mild motorized mayhem. While made in New Zealand, the film has a decidedly low-budget, Hollywood feel.
8. Warriors of the Wasteland
The novelty of this take on the post-apocalyptic action film is... religion. Indeed, the whole car chase cat-and-mouse game is built around a bunch of tribes trying to survive this barren wasteland and one group bullying them with fundamentalist beliefs. These zealots hope to purge the planet of any remaining evil, and apparently, picking of a bunch of nuclear war survivors is the way to do it. The bad guys are known as "The Templars", by the way, and it is one of their ex-members, a guy named Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete) who decides to rebel against these ridiculous religious nuts and save the day -- sort of.
7. Metal Storm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn
Like The Road Warrior, this is a weird mixture of western, action epic, and sci-fi spectacle. B-movie maestro Charles Band takes it all to extremes, amplifying the sorcery in hopes it will misdirect viewers from the shoddy production values and less than impressive production design. Of course, this notoriously stingy filmmaker also wants to wow you with such underdeveloped ideas, and then present it all in two-color 3D just so you get how movie-magical it's all supposed to be. In reality, Band lacks Miller's way with an action scene. The so-called stunt sequences here are so staid and subpar that they induce naps, not excitement.
6. Steel Dawn
The same year he became every teen girl's (and their mother's) sure-footed dream in Dirty Dancing (earning a Golden Globe nomination in the process), Patrick Swayze worked his quasi-mullet into a frenzy for his own take on the Mad Max conceit. He plays a swordsman named Nomad who wanders the post-apocalyptic wasteland looking for his sensei, an assassin named Sho (Christopher Neame). The big commodities here are not oil or women, but edged weapons and water. Naturally, Nomad discovers a city desperate for a hero and "reluctantly" steps in to help fight off a bunch of desert lowlifes trying to prove their power.
5. Exterminators in the Year 3000
Oddly enough, this one sounds an awful lot like Steel Dawn. Take out Patrick Swayze and the sword while keeping the water and bullying motorcycle gang angle and you've more or less got the same movie. Our hero is named Alien (Italian actor Robert Iannucci), and he drives a Mad Max-like muscle car through this poorly conceived Mediterranean wasteland with his son in tow. They come across your typical post-apocalyptic wasteland woman who just so happens to know where some H2O is stored. Naturally, they have to fight off a bunch of baddies who want the life-saving liquid as well. The bad dubbing adds to the laugh-out-loud nature of this ridiculous rip-off.
4. 2019: After the Fall of New York
Most post-apocalyptic films usually fail to deal with the fact that nuclear radiation affects the population's ability to procreate. Leave it to the Italians to try and spice things up, sex-wise, by making fertility their main Mad Max MacGuffin. The narrative sets up two competing groups: the evil Euraks and the Federation. The latter hires a mercenary named Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw) to break into an NYC controlled by the former and rescue the last fertile woman on Earth. Think of a crappy Children of Men and you get the idea.
3. Hell Comes to Frogtown
Fertility comes up as a theme here as well, with some mutant amphibians added in because... well, why not? Wrestling icon "Rowdy" Roddy Piper is Sam Hell, targeted by a group of post-apocalyptic wasteland nurses who know of his epic potency, and they force him to find the last bit of breeding stock in this world. Said women just so happen to be under the control of those aforementioned humanoid frogs. Aided by a female bodyguard and one of the nurses, he heads to the title territory, an electric codpiece added to his wardrobe to "keep him in line". One false move and it's a series of shocks to the genitals. This is as hilarious as it is hokey.
2. Dead-End Drive In
Did you ever wonder what happened to the rest of the population once the heroes and villains took off down the road to participate in a little road rage? Ever think about the other ways a post-apocalyptic society would or could deal with delinquents and troublemakers? Well, this surreal sci-fi thriller finds troubled teens sent to concentration camps across the Outback, one in particular housed inside a decaying drive-in. There, they are fed a steady diet of junk food, new wave music, and bad movies. Why? Well, that's the rub. Apparently, warehousing these buggers it better than letting them run wild in the streets.
There is perhaps no more obvious Mad Max rip-off than this much maligned Kevin Costner stinker from 1995. Taking Miller's dystopian viewpoint and flooding it, literally, we wind up with the story of a human gill-man (the aforementioned Oscar winner) who lives on a boat and occasionally stops off at floating barter towns to buy supplies and look suspicious. Our hero suddenly finds himself in charge of a woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and a young girl (Tina Majorino) with a map tattooed on her back. The ink is supposed to lead to something called "Dryland" which our villain, the Deacon (Dennis Hopper) is desperate to find. A lot of liquid-based chases ensue.
- 'Dirty Mary Crazy Larry' & 'Race with the Devil' Have Enough Peter ... ›
- The 'Mad Max Blu-ray Trilogy' Makes Us Remember the Best of Mad ... ›
- Furiosa Returns in 'Mad Max - Furiosa #1' - PopMatters ›
- Chaos Reigns in 'Mad Max - Fury Road' - PopMatters ›
- Power and Disability in 'Mad Max: Fury Road' - PopMatters ›