Why The Original Mad Max Is So Much Darker Than Fury Road

Although it has plenty of the franchise’s classic high-octane action, 1979’s original Mad Max is much darker than its more far-fetched 2015 sequel Fury Road and there is a good reason for this. Decades before Immortan Joe and Furiosa’s debut in 2015’s belated sequel Fury Road, director/writer George Miller made his big-screen debut with 1979’s original Mad Max. However, many viewers who loved Fury Road’s fast-paced storytelling and larger-than-life production design might be shocked to see how sparse and dark Miller’s original Mad Max is upon a rewatch.


Shot for a mere $350,000, Mad Max went on to become a global phenomenon when the low-budget Australian movie secured a worldwide release. The simple story of the title character, a young police officer who is sent on a violent vengeance quest by a ruthless biker gang, Mad Max doesn’t feel much like 2015’s campier Fury Road. Grim, violent, and deeply depressing, the dark revenge thriller was a sleeper hit that made Mad Max’s leading man Mel Gibson into a Hollywood star.

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Even though its body count is far lower, Mad Max is much tonally darker than its sequels and this, along with its deliberate pacing, makes the original movie more grounded and bleaker than the rest of the franchise. The reason for this tonal discrepancy is that Miller never intended for the original Mad Max to be set in the future, with the director’s interest instead lying in depicting the breakdown of society that would be caused by fuel shortages. Miller was fascinated by the idea that Australia’s society would splinter and fragment if fuel became less accessible than water, something that can be seen in Mad Max’s depiction of a city on the verge of succumbing to violent chaos.

Mad Max Is More Realistic Than You Remember

Max and Goose face the biker gang in Mad Max 1979

By its director’s own admission, Mad Max was only set in the future to justify its desolate locations. Almost everything about the original Mad Max is surprisingly realistic in comparison to its over-the-top sequels and, while both The Road Warrior and Fury Road kill off many more characters, these sequels don't have the brutal impact of Mad Max’s straightforward story of a man being driven to madness and vengeful bloodshed by the murder of his wife and child. Even larger-than-life villains can’t make Mad Max’s plot any more palatable, resulting in a bleaker start to the series than many viewers expect.

While Mad Max’s original villain Toecutter returned to the franchise when his actor Hugh Keays-Byrne was hired to play Fury Road villain Immortan Joe, this supporting star is about the only connection between the fantastical world of the 2015 sequel and the grounded realism of the original movie. Mad Max’s harsh, believable story was part of what made the original movie a huge success, with Miller’s tiny budget forcing the director to limit the project’s stunt-heavy sequences and draw out the tense, quiet build-up. Thus, viewers got an original Mad Max that pulled no punches and proved endlessly influential in the decades that followed but felt nothing like its wilder sequels upon a rewatch.