Any day now, director George Miller will finally get rolling in Namibia on “Fury Road,” the long-awaited continuation of the “Mad Max” series. Starring Tom Hardy in the role that launched Mel Gibson‘s career, with a cast that also includes Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult, the film’s been in the works for years, but looks to be getting underway in the next month or two.
Which is fitting, as today, April 12th, marks thirty-three years since the inital 1979 Australian release of “Mad Max,” the film that birthed the franchise (it made it to U.S. shores the following year). A dystopian actioner about a cop who takes on a vicious motorcycle gang with terrible consequences for his family, it became one of the biggest-ever home-grown hits in Australia, and turned heads all over the world. Warner Bros financed a sequel “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” two years later, with a third, the inferior “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” following in 1985. To mark the anniversary of the movie that started it all, below you’ll find five things you might not have known about “Mad Max.”
1. Before making “Mad Max,” director George Miller was an emergency room doctor.
Most filmmakers have had some kind of interesting job before their big break that makes for a good Q&A anecdote, but few walked away from something as prestigious as “Mad Max” helmer George Miller, who’d worked for many years as a medical doctor before moving into the movies. But clearly film had always been a passion: Miller, along with his brother Chris, won a prize in 1971 for a one-minute short they made in his last year of medical school, and the same year, he would take a filmmaking workshop at Melbourne university, where he would befriend Byron Kennedy, who would produce the first two “Mad Max” movies (tragically, Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash in 1983, at the age of 33). The pair would collaborate on the short film “Violence In The Cinema Part 1” before reuniting for their feature debut eight years later.
2. Mel Gibson got the role partly because he got beaten up in a fight the night before his audition.
Mel Gibson’s temper has caused his career to run aground in recent years, but it’s worth remembering that it was also, at least in part, responsible for his big break. The night before his audition, the then-unknown actor had gotten involved in a brawl at a party. When he went to read the next day (with drama school pal Steve Bisley, who would land the part of Max’s best mate Jim Goose), he looked, in his own words, like “a black and blue pumpkin,” with a swollen nose and a broken jaw. Fortunately, the casting director was looking for interesting faces, and asked Gibson back, presumably considering him for a villainous part. When he returned, Miller & co were greeted with the matinee-idol looks of the man who would become their star.
3. Miller had to buy back Max’s car for the sequel.
As much as the film was responsible for Gibson’s stardom, the actors in many ways took second fiddle to the vehicles. Most of the cars (of which fourteen were totalled) were variations on a Ford Falcon, while Kawasaki donated 14 KZ1000 motorcycles to the shoot, many of which were ridden by a real life motorcycle club from Victoria, The Vigilantes. But clearly, no one involved was anticipating a sequel: the producers tried to sell Max’s iconic car, the Pursuit Special (a limited GT351 version of a 1973 Ford XB Falcon Hardtop) after the film wrapped. There were no takers, and it ended up in the hands of the production mechanic Murray Smith. When “The Road Warrior” was greenlit, Miller had to buy the car back. It now resides in a museum in Florida, which is at least a better fate than Miller’s own ride, a blue Mazda Bongo van, which was sacrificed in the name of the opening chase sequence.
4. The U.S. distributors redubbed all the dialogue with an American cast.
After the film became a huge hit in Australia, it was picked up in the States by Samuel Z. Arkoff’s legendary B-movie house American International Pictures (it turned out to be one of their last releases, followed only by “Animal House” knockoff “Gorp” with Dennis Quaid and Fran Drescher). But as is so often the case, the company were concerned that domestic audiences would be turned off by unfamiliar accents, and so enlisted American actors to redub the entire film. Even certain Australian slang terms were translated.
5. For nearly twenty years, “Mad Max” was the most profitable of all time, despite being banned in several territories.
Dubbing didn’t much help “Mad Max” in the U.S., where it grossed a relatively meagre $8 million, but internationally it was a huge hit. The film, which cost a mere $380,000 (particularly impressive given the metal-crunching action), took over $100 million worldwide, enough to get it into the Guinness Book of Records as the most profitable film, in terms of cost vs. gross, of all time, an honor it held for nearly twenty years, until “The Blair Witch Project” came along. Not every country took to it, though: Australia’s neighbor New Zealand banned the film due to Goose’s fiery death being eerily similar to a recent real-life gang incident. Similarly, Sweden also banned the film, although that was just due to its good old-fashioned ultraviolence. The film finally made it to Kiwi screens in 1983, after the success of “The Road Warrior,” but the Swedes had to wait as late as 2005 before seeing the movie legally.