Mad Max

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Mad Max
Theatrical release poster
Directed by George Miller
Produced by Byron Kennedy
Screenplay by
  • George Miller
  • James McCausland
Story by
  • George Miller
  • Byron Kennedy
Music by Brian May
Cinematography David Eggby
Edited by
  • Tony Paterson
  • Cliff Hayes
Distributed by Village Roadshow Pictures
Release dates
  • 12 April 1979 (1979-04-12)
Running time
93 minutes
Country Australia
Language English
Budget A$400,000
Box office US$100 million

Mad Max is a 1979 Australian dystopian action film directed by George Miller, produced by Byron Kennedy and starring Mel Gibson. James McCausland and Miller wrote the screenplay from a story by Miller and Kennedy.

The film grossed substantially at the box office and held the Guinness record for most profitable film for decades and has been credited for further opening up the global market to Australian New Wave films. The film became the first in a series, spawning the sequels Mad Max 2 (a.k.a. The Road Warrior) in 1981 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. A fourth installment, Mad Max: Fury Road starring Tom Hardy as Max, is scheduled for release in May 2015.


In a dystopian future Australia, law and order has begun to break down following a major energy crisis. Most of the Outback has been reduced to low-populated communities with low fuel and a relatively peaceful life, with major metropolitan cities still continuing to exist. However, motorcycle gangs scavenge the lands and terrorize the population. As such, Main Force Patrol, an out-run police force, has been created to patrol the lands to uphold the remains of law and justice.

A berserk motorcycle gang member named Crawford "Nightrider" Montazano (Vincent Gil), having killed an MFP rookie officer while escaping from police custody, is attempting to outrun the other MFP officers in a stolen Pursuit Special. Though he manages to elude his initial pursuers, the MFP's top pursuit man, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), then engages the less-skilled Nightrider in a high-speed chase that ends in the latter's death in a fiery crash.

The Acolytes,[1] Nightrider's motorcycle gang, led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and Bubba Zanetti (Geoff Parry), are running roughshod over a town, vandalizing property, stealing fuel, and terrorizing the population. Max and fellow officer Jim "Goose" Rains (Steve Bisley) arrest Toecutter's young protégé, Johnny "the Boy" Boyle (Tim Burns), who was too high to leave the scene of the gang's rape of a young couple. When neither the rape victim nor any of the townspeople show for Johnny's trial, the federal courts throw out the case. Goose, furious at Johnny's release, must be restrained as he and Johnny exchange violent threats. After Bubba drags Johnny away, MFP Captain Fred "Fifi" Macaffee (Roger Ward) tells his officers to do whatever it takes to combat the gangs, "so long as the paperwork's clean."

A short time later, Johnny sabotages Goose's motorcycle. The next day, the motorcycle locks up at high speed, throwing Goose into a field. An uninjured Goose borrows a ute to haul his damaged bike back to the MFP HQ. However, Johnny and Toecutter are waiting in ambush, with the former throwing a brake rotor at Goose's windscreen, causing him to crash the ute. With Goose unable to get out of the ute, Johnny - under pressure from Toecutter - throws a match into the petrol leaking from the wreck, triggering an inferno that severely burns the helpless Goose. After seeing Goose's charred body in a hospital intensive care unit, Max becomes disillusioned with the MFP, and the fear of losing his sanity convinces him to resign. His superior, Fifi, talks Max into taking a holiday before making his final decision about the resignation.

While vacationing, Max stops at a roadside garage to have a tire repaired while his wife, Jessie (Joanne Samuel), and their infant son, Sprog (Brendan Heath), go for ice cream. The two encounter Toecutter's gang, who attempt to molest Jessie. Max and his family flee to a remote farm owned by an elderly friend named May (Shelia Florence), but the gang learns of their destination from the garage mechanic and follows them. Jessie is waylaid by the gang after a trip to the beach; May holds them off with a shotgun and she, Jessie, and Sprog manage to escape in the van. After the van breaks down on the road, Jessie attempts to flee with her son on foot, but they are run down by the pursuing gang on their motorcycles; Max arrives too late to intervene.

With Sprog having been killed instantly and Jessie near death, a rage-filled Max dons his police leathers, and takes a supercharged black Pursuit Special from the MFP garage to pursue the gang. After torturing the auto mechanic for information, and forcing several members of the gang off a bridge at high speed, Max methodically hunts down the gang's leaders. He shoots Bubba Zanetti at point blank range with a shotgun (after sustaining a significant gunshot leg-injury of his own), though Johnny escapes when he sees Bubba killed. As Toecutter flees on his motorcycle, tailed closely by Max, he veers into the path of an oncoming semi-trailer truck and is run over.

Max eventually locates Johnny, who is looting a car crash victim he presumably murdered. In a cold, suppressed rage, Max handcuffs Johnny's ankle to the wrecked vehicle, and sets a crude time-delay fuse involving a slow fuel leak and Johnny's lighter. Throwing Johnny a hacksaw, Max leaves him the choice of sawing through either the handcuffs (which will take ten minutes) or his ankle (which will take five minutes). As Max casually drives away, the wrecked vehicle explodes, with Johnny's fate left unknown. Now a shell of his former self, Max drives on to points unknown, pushing deep into the Outback.


Production notes[edit]


George Miller was a medical doctor in Sydney, Australia, working in a hospital emergency room, where he saw many injuries and deaths of the types depicted in the film. He also witnessed many car accidents growing up in rural Queensland and had as a teenager lost at least three friends in accidents.[2]

While in residency at a Sydney hospital, Miller met amateur filmmaker Byron Kennedy at a summer film school in 1971. The duo produced a short film, Violence in the Cinema, Part 1, which was screened at a number of film festivals and won several awards. Eight years later, the duo produced Mad Max, working with first-time screenwriter James McCausland (who appears in the film as the bearded man in an apron in front of the diner).

Miller believed that audiences would find his violent story to be more believable if set in a bleak dystopian future. Screenwriter McCausland drew heavily from his observations of the 1973 oil crisis' effects on Australian motorists:

Yet there were further signs of the desperate measures individuals would take to ensure mobility. A couple of oil strikes that hit many pumps revealed the ferocity with which Australians would defend their right to fill a tank. Long queues formed at the stations with petrol – and anyone who tried to sneak ahead in the queue met raw violence. ... George and I wrote the [Mad Max] script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late.

—James McCausland, writing on peak oil in The Courier-Mail, 2006[3]

George Miller's brother Bill Miller was associate producer.


Kennedy and Miller first took the film to Graham Burke of Roadshow, who was enthusiastic. The producers felt they would not be able to raise money from the government bodies "because Australian producers were making art films, and the corporations and commissions seemed to endorse them whole-heartedly," according to Kennedy.[4]

They designed a 40-page presentation and it was circulated among a number of different people, and eventually raised the money. Kennedy and Miller contributed funds themselves by doing three months of emergency medical calls, with Kennedy driving the car while Miller did the doctoring.[4]

Miller claimed the final budget was between $350,000 and $400,000.[5]


Miller deliberately wanted to cast lesser known actors so they did not carry past associations with them.[2]

Gibson, who had only one film role in Summer City (1977), went to auditions with his close friend and classmate, Steve Bisley, who landed the part of Jim Goose. Gibson went to auditions in poor shape, as the night before he had got into a drunken brawl with three men at a party, resulting in a swollen nose, a broken jaw, and various bruises. Gibson showed up at the audition the next day looking like a "black and blue pumpkin" (his own words). He did not expect to get the role and only went to accompany his friend. However, the casting agent liked the look and told Gibson to come back in two weeks, telling him "we need freaks." When Gibson returned, the filmmakers did not recognise him, because his wounds had healed almost completely; he received the part anyway.[6]

Many of the other cast had previously appeared in Stone (1974).

Most of the biker-gang extras were members of actual Australian outlaw motorcycle clubs, and rode their own motorcycles in the film.


Due to the film's low budget, only Bisley and Gibson were given jackets and trousers made from real leather. All the other actors playing police officers wore vinyl leather outfits.


Max's yellow Interceptor was a 1974 Ford Falcon XB sedan (previously, a Victorian police car) with a 351 c.i.d. Cleveland V8 engine.[7]

Mad Max Interceptor replica outside the Boston, Mass. area

The Big Bopper, driven by Roop and Charlie, was also a 1974 Ford Falcon XB sedan and also a former Victorian Police car, but was powered by a 302 c.i.d. V8.[8] The March Hare, driven by Sarse and Scuttle, was an in-line-six-powered 1972 Ford Falcon XA sedan (this car was formerly a Melbourne taxi cab).[9]

Replica Mad Max Pursuit Special vehicle outside the Silverton Hotel

The most memorable car, Max's black Pursuit Special was a 1973 Ford XB Falcon GT351, a limited edition hardtop, (sold in Australia from December 1973 to August 1976) which was primarily modified by Murray Smith, Peter Arcadipane and Ray Beckerley. The main modification is obviously the Concorde front end, and the supercharger protruding through the bonnet (which is for looks only and didn't work). The Concorde front was a fairly new accessory at the time, designed by Peter Arcadipane at Ford Australia as a showpiece, and later becoming available to the general public due to its popularity.[10] After filming of the first movie was completed, the car went up for sale but no buyers were found; eventually it was handed over to Murray Smith (film mechanic).

When production of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior began, the car was bought back by George Miller for use in the sequel. Once filming was over the car was left at a wrecking yard in Adelaide since it again found no buyers, and was bought and restored by Bob Forsenko. Eventually it was sold again and was put on display in the Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Cumbria, England. The museum recently closed and the Black on Black car went to a collection in the Dezer museum in Miami, Florida.[11]

The Nightrider's vehicle, another Pursuit Special (one of two in the film), was a 1972 Holden Monaro Coupe HQ LS, also tuned but deliberately damaged to look like it has been involved in crashes.[12]

The car driven by the young couple that is vandalized and then finally destroyed by the bikers is a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan, also pretuned to look like a hot-rod car with fake fuel injection stacks, fatter tires and a flame red paint job.

Of the motorcycles that appear in the film, 14 were Kawasaki Kz1000 donated by a local Kawasaki dealer. All were modified in appearance by Melbourne business La Parisienne – one as the MFP bike ridden by 'The Goose' and the balance for members of the Toecutter's gang, played in the film by members of a local Victorian motorcycle club, the Vigilanties.[13]

By the end of filming, fourteen vehicles had been destroyed in the chase and crash scenes, including the director's personal Mazda Bongo (the small, blue van that spins uncontrollably after being struck by the Big Bopper in the film's opening chase). All the crashes had to be taken in one shot.


Originally the filming was scheduled to take ten weeks – six weeks of first unit, and four weeks on stunt and chase sequences. However four days into shooting, Rosie Bailey, who was originally cast as Max's wife, was injured in a bike accident. Production was halted and Bailey was replaced by Joanne Samuel, causing a delay of two weeks.

In the end, the shoot took six weeks over November and December 1977 with a further six weeks second unit. The unit reconvened two months later and spent another two weeks doing second unit shots and re-staging some stunts in May.[4]

Shooting took place in and around Melbourne. Many of the car chase scenes for Mad Max were filmed near the town of Little River, just north of Geelong. The early town scenes with the Toe Cutter Gang were filmed in the main street of Clunes, just north of Ballarat. Much of the streetscape remains unchanged. Some scenes were filmed at Tin City at Stockton Beach.[14][15]

Mad Max was one of the first Australian films to be shot with a widescreen anamorphic lens,[5][16] although Peter Weir's The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) was shot in anamorphic four years earlier.[17]


The film's post-production was done at a friend's apartment in North Melbourne, with Wilson and Kennedy editing the film in the small lounge room on a home-built editing machine that Kennedy's father, an engineer, had designed for them. Wilson and Kennedy also edited the sound there.

Tony Patterson edited the film for four months, then had to leave because he was contracted to make Dimboola. George Miller took over editing with Cliff Hayes and they worked on it for three months. Kennedy and Miller did the final cut.[4]


The musical score of Mad Max was composed and conducted by Australian composer Brian May (not to be confused with the guitarist of the English rock band Queen). George Miller wanted a gothic, Bernard Herrmann-type score and hired May after hearing his work for Patrick (1978).[2]

Mad Max
Soundtrack album by Brian May
Released 1980
26 October 1993 (CD release)
Genre Film music
Label Varèse Sarabande
Brian May chronology
Mad Max
Mad Max chronology
Mad Max
Mad Max 2

A soundtrack album was released in 1980 by Varèse Sarabande. This was followed by a CD release in 1993, featuring an additional track.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Main Title"   2:03
2. "Max the Hunter"   2:10
3. "Max Decides On Vengeance"   2:40
4. "The Final Chase"   1:47
5. "The Terrible Death of Jim Goose"   1:02
6. "We'll Give 'Em Back Their Heroes"   1:13
7. "Pain and Triumph"   2:15
8. "Dazed Goose"   0:35
9. "Foreboding in the Vast Landscape"   2:08
Side two
No. Title Length
10. "Declaration of War"   1:30
11. "Flight from the Evil Toecutter"   2:25
12. "Pursuit and Tragedy"   1:55
13. "Jesse Alone, Uneasy and Exhausted"   1:40
14. "The Beach House"   1:55
15. "The Nightrider Rave"   1:20
16. "Jesse Searches for Her Child"   0:55
17. "Rampage of the Toecutter"   1:47
18. "The Crazing of Johnny the Boy"   2:05
Bonus tracks (1993 CD release)
No. Title Length
19. "Outtakes Suite" (in 5 parts; indexed) 6:00


Mad Max was first released in Australia through Roadshow Entertainment (now Village Roadshow Pictures) in 1979.[18]

The movie was sold overseas for $1.8 million, with American International Pictures to release in the United States and Warner Bros. to handle the rest of the world.[5]

When shown in the United States during 1980, the original Australian dialogue was redubbed by an American crew.[19] American International Pictures distributed this dub after it underwent a management re-organisation.[20] Much of the Australian slang and terminology was also replaced with American usages (examples: "Oi!" became "Hey!", "See looks!" became "See what I see?", "windscreen" became "windshield", "very toey" became "super hot", and "proby" — probationary officer — became "rookie"). AIP also altered the operator's duty call on Jim Goose's bike in the beginning of the film (it ended with "Come on, Goose, where are you?"). The only dubbing exceptions were the voice of the singer in the Sugartown Cabaret (played by Robina Chaffey), the voice of Charlie (played by John Ley) through the mechanical voice box, and Officer Jim Goose (Steve Bisley), singing as he drives a truck before being ambushed. Since Mel Gibson was not well known to American audiences at the time, trailers and television spots in the United States emphasised the film's action content.

The original Australian dialogue track was finally released in North America in 2000 in a limited theatrical reissue by MGM, the film's current rights holders. It has since been released in the U.S. on DVD with the U.S. and Australian soundtracks on separate tracks.[21][22]

New Zealand and Sweden banned the film, the former due to the scene where Goose is burned alive inside his vehicle. It mirrored an incident with a real gang shortly before the film's release. It was later shown in New Zealand in 1983 after the success of the sequel, with an 18 certificate.[23] The ban in Sweden was removed in 2005 and it has been shown on TV and is also in video stores.


Upon the release, the film polarised critics. In a 1979 review, the Australian social commentator and film producer Phillip Adams condemned Mad Max, saying that it had "all the emotional uplift of Mein Kampf" and would be "a special favourite of rapists, sadists, child murderers and incipient [Charles] Mansons."[24] After the United States release, Tom Buckley of The New York Times called it "ugly and incoherent".[25] However, Variety magazine praised the directorial debut by Miller.[26] In 2004, The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[27]

Mad Max grossed A$5,355,490 at the box office in Australia and almost US$100 million worldwide.[28][29] Since it was independently financed with a reported budget of just A$400,000 it was a major financial success; for 20 years, the movie held a record as the highest profit-to-cost ratio of a motion picture, conceding the record only in 1999 to The Blair Witch Project.[30] The film was awarded three Australian Film Institute Awards in 1979 (for editing, sound, and musical score). It was also nominated for Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Keays-Byrne) by the American Film Institute. The film also won the Special Jury Award at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival.[31]

Mad Max currently holds 95% of positive critic reviews on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, marked "Fresh", with consensus being "Staging the improbable car stunts and crashes to perfection, director George Miller succeeds completely in bringing the violent, post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max to visceral life."[32]


Award Category Subject Result
(1979 AFI Awards)
Best Film Byron Kennedy Nominated
Best Direction George Miller Nominated
Best Original Screenplay George Miller Nominated
James McCausland Nominated
Best Editing Cliff Hayes Won
Tony Paterson Won
Best Original Music Score Brian May Won
Best Sound Ned Dawson Won
Byron Kennedy Won
Roger Savage Won
Gary Wilkins Won

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ "Gasoline" series 5, episode 18
  2. ^ a b c Scott Murray & Peter Beilby, "George Miller: Director", Cinema Papers, May–June 1979 p369-371
  3. ^ James McCausland (4 December 2006). "Scientists' warnings unheeded". The Courier-Mail ( Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  4. ^ a b c d Peter Beilby & Scott Murray, "Byron Kennedy", Cinema Papers, May–June 1979 p366
  5. ^ a b c David Stratton, The Last New Wave: The Australian Film Revival, Angus & Robertson, 1980 p241-243
  6. ^ Mary Packard and the editors of Ripley Entertainment, ed. (2001). Ripley's Believe It or Not! Special Edition. Leanne Franson (illustrations) (1st ed. ed.). Scholastic Inc. ISBN 0-439-26040-X. 
  7. ^ "Mad Max Cars – Max's Yellow Interceptor (4 Door XB Sedan)". Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  8. ^ "''Mad Max'' Cars – Big Boppa/Big Bopper". Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  9. ^ "''Mad Max'' Cars – March Hare". Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  10. ^ "''Mad Max'' Movies – The History of the ''Interceptor'', Part 1". Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  11. ^ "Cars of the Stars Motor Museum". Retrieved 2009-03-07. 
  12. ^ "''Mad Max'' Cars – The Nightrider's Monaro". Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  13. ^ "''Mad Max'' Cars – Toecutter's Gang (Bikers)". Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Technical Specifications for Mad Max". Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  17. ^ "Technical Specifications for The Cars That Ate Paris". Retrieved 2014-09-28. 
  18. ^ Moran, Albert; Vieth, Errol (2005). "Kennedy Miller Productions". Historical Dictionary of Australian and New Zealand Cinema. Scarecrow Press (Rowman & Littlefield). p. 174. ISBN 0-8108-5459-7. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  19. ^ Herx, Henry (1988). "Mad Max". The Family Guide to Movies on Video. The Crossroad Publishing Company. p. 163 (pre-release version). ISBN 0-8245-0816-5. 
  20. ^ McFarlane, Brian (1988). Australian Cinema. Columbia University Press. p. 30. ISBN 0-231-06728-3. Retrieved 3 August 2011. 
  21. ^ "Gibson's Voice Returns on New 'Mad Max' DVD". Los Angeles Times. 29 December 2001. Retrieved 2011-07-17. [dead link]
  22. ^ "Mad Max (1979)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  23. ^ Carroll, Larry (3 February 2009). "Greatest Movie Badasses Of All Time: Mad Max – Movie News Story | MTV Movie News". Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  24. ^ Phillip Adams, The Bulletin, 1 May 1979; cited by urban cinefile, 2010, "Mad Max". Adams has since remained a prominent opponent of screen violence. He has also been consistent in his criticism of Mel Gibson's political and social opinions.
  25. ^ Buckley, Tom (14 June 1980). "Mad Max". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-26. [dead link]
  26. ^ "Mad Max Review – Read Variety's Analysis Of The Movie Mad Max". 1979-01-01. Retrieved 2009-03-07. 
  27. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. 29 April 2003. Retrieved 21 May 2010. 
  28. ^ "Film Victoria - Australian Films at the Australian Box Office" (PDF). Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  29. ^ "Mad Max". The Numbers. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  30. ^ "Mad Max : SE". DVD Times. 19 January 2002. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  31. ^ Awards for Mad Max at the Internet Movie Database
  32. ^

External links[edit]