As we cruise towards a man-made apocalypse of our own, fictional stories set in the post-apoclypse have never been more popular. Snowpiercer was so succesful it inspired a show based on the same graphic novel, and Matt Reeves gritty take on Planet of the Apes earned him the honor of a gritty Batman reboot. But one franchise rises above the rest when it comes to the post apocalypse.
The world wasn’t ready for Mad Max: Fury Road. In 2015, George Miller (best-known at the time for the G-rated Babe movies) returned to the post-apocalypse story he started back in 1979. What could have been a generic cash-grab instead proved to be one of the greatest movies of the 21st century.
Mad Max: Fury Road is streaming now on HBO Max, but it leaves the platform this Friday. Here’s why you need to watch it now more than ever before — while you still can.
The road to Fury Road was as treacherous as Miller’s imagined wasteland. After delivering an uneven trilogy — the first is a barebones action thriller, the second is almost perfect, the third starts strong with its genre-defining Thunderdome before spinning out into nothingness — the Australian director already had plans for a fourth film.
In 1987, two years after Mad Max III, Miller reportedly had the idea for a movie that would be “almost a continuous chase.” It would be decades before he got to make that film. In 2001, production nearly began before the 9/11 attack threw the economy out of whack, forcing Miller to pivot to Happy Feet instead. Fury Road would be delayed many more times, including due to security concerns related to America’s invasion of Iraq, which moved production from Namibia to Australia. (After uncharacteristic rain led to a wildflower bloom in the desert, production ultimately shifted back to Namibia.)
Finally, in 2012, Fury Road began filming in Namibia’s Dorob National Park, along with Cape Town Film Studios in South Africa. It stretched into 2013 due to reshoots before editing could begin. Unsurprisingly, that was an ordeal as well. George Miller had signed a contract agreeing to deliver a PG-13 movie, but managed to convince Warner Bros. to show both PG-13 and R-rated versions to test audiences. Miller’s R-rated cut won, and in May of 2015, Fury Road roared into theaters.
It was worth the wait. Mad Max: Fury Road has a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director and ultimately won six Oscars, including Best Film Editing (but not Best Picture or Director). In 2023, we’re scheduled to get a prequel titled Furiosa, which is why there’s never been a better time to revisit this all-time classic.
But above all else, the best thing about Mad Max: Fury Road is its devotion to practical effects. In an era where every Marvel movie ends with a giant CGI battle, George Miller did something different. A shocking amount of what you see onscreen is real. Even the guitar that shoots fire is actually shooting fire.
In a 2016 interview, Miller told NPR:
“It's a film in which we don't defy the laws of physics. It's real people in a real desert; there's no men in capes flying around or space vehicles and so on, so it wouldn't make a lot of sense to shoot it all digitally, or a large part of it, because it would lose a lot of authenticity. ... Despite the amazing advances in 15 to 20 years of the digital world in filmmaking, it's still very difficult to make something feel really authentic. So we chose to do it old school and that means going out to a remote location with endless deserts and have real vehicles and human beings in that landscape.”
Despite literal decades of struggle, that’s exactly what George Miller did. He created something authentic. And that’s why Mad Max: Fury Road is still just as powerful now as it was when it premiered seven years ago.
Mad Max: Fury Road is streaming on HBO Max through April 8.