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Mad Max 2 (also known as The Road Warrior in the U.S., and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior) is a 1981 Australian apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic action film directed by George Miller. This sequel to Miller's 1979 film Mad Max was a worldwide box office success that launched the career of lead actor Mel Gibson. The film's tale of a community of settlers moved to defend themselves against a roving band of marauders follows an archetypal "Western" frontier movie motif, as does Max's role as a hardened man who rediscovers his humanity when he decides to help the settlers.[1] Reviewer Richard Scheib stated that Gibson's role could "just as easily be Clint Eastwood's tight-lipped Man With No Name" helping "...decent frightened folk" from the marauding Indians."

Noteworthy elements of the film include cinematographer Dean Semler's widescreen photography of Australia's vast desert landscapes (primarily the Mundi Mundi Plain in Silverton, New South Wales); the sparing use of dialogue throughout the film (which is almost non-existent during the opening and closing scenes); costume designer Norma Moriceau's punk mohawked, leather-bondage-gear wearing bikers; and its fast-paced, tightly-edited, and violent battle and chase scenes.

The film's comic-book post-apocalyptic style affectionately dubbed "diesel punk" popularized the post-apocalyptic genre in film and fiction writing. The film eventually became a Cult Classic: fan clubs and "road warrior"-themed activities still occur in the 2000s.

Conception and production[]

The long production of Mad Max left Miller so exhausted that after its release he expressed: "I honestly thought I wasn't cut out to make movies"[2]. The excruciating editing process - half of which Miller took upon himself - made George Miller realize the amount of mistakes he made and things he would have done differently, which became one of the driving forces behind making Mad Max 2. After the release of Mad Max, Miller and a former journalist, Terry Hayes, were using a friend's house at Merricks, Victoria as a retreat while working on a new script for a movie called 'Roxanne'[3]. They would often take long walks where they frequently discussed the faults of 'Mad Max'. By then, Miller hated that movie and he had not watched it since its release. But it was those walks which lead to developing the sequel. Terry Hayes notes a particular walk around Hastings, Victoria that was responsible for the central idea for the Mad Max 2.[4]

There is a very small petro-chemical plant on an isthmus in Westernport Bay. We imagined that isolated plant in a world that had broken down, where oil was the only means of exchange. We had a story and we settled on a set of rules any story must have to be successful. 'Mad Max 2' was written with them in mind, and lthe film is a depiction of them."

– Terry Hayes, co-writer

Another force for making the sequel was the realization that Mad Max tapped into a general idea of a mythical hero as described by Joseph Campbell in "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"[5]. This realization came from the fact that Mad Max was generally well received in Japan where the idea of a lone samurai was very much present in their mythology and it was somewhat crudely represented in Mad Max. The writing process was heavily influenced by free-association while lying on the floor, drawing things from memories. This method would often make Terry Hayes angry because George Miller would often fall asleep.[6][7]

There were times in these sessions where I would stretch out on the floor and actually doze off. What you're doing is inducing a kind of half-dreamy state where your mind is floating, and you allow your associations to free-fall a bit. We were all doing it.

– George Miller

Originally the film was going to be filmed at Hastings but according to Hayes: "(...)it would have become a series of boat battles(...)". Instead they compromised and settled for the centre of a salt-pan, but Byron Kennedy rejected that idea because if it rained, the set - the most expensive ever built in Australia - would have sunk. Eventually it was decided to film in Broken Hill over the course of 12 weeks, starting in May 1981. 120 crew, 40 actors and over 80 vehicles were transported to this remote mining town, 800 miles west of Sydney.


Before the production, George Miller asked the actors to create character back-stores in order to inform their performances. Notable back-story examples include Wez being an ex-Vietnam veteran and the Gyro Captain a used car salesman or a PR consultant.[8] The movie was storyboarded at least two days ahead of filming on set.[9] Storyboards were then distributed to the crew, most of which were burned to warm themselves up during filming in the middle of Australian winter. Cinematographer Dean Semler, however kept all the rough storyboards till this day. The movie was shot in continuity, which was a 'big deal' back then, but the remote filming location presented itself with a lot of logistical problems. So called 'rushes' (raw footage) were only available for viewing after a week from filming, which in turn made Miller fully rely on his cinematographer if the shots were done right. The amount of stunts and the distance between the nearest hospital proved a bit of a challenge as well, especially after two failed stunts - one involving Max Aspin (The Moat Jump) and Guy Norris ("Cannonball Jump"). The filming philosophy for Mad Max 2 was different from Mad Max in a way that Miller realized a lot of shots in the first movie were too static, so he added that shake, sometimes artificially, to certain shots. Byron Kennedy also noted that there is not a single action shot where the camera is on the side of the road, the camera is either actually in the car or travelling with another car[10]:

That's our basic underlying philosophy, that the camera must be a participant so that the audience can participate in the action rather than observe them.

– Byron Kennedy

The movie was first presented in a test screening in November 1981 with a world wide release in December 1981. It was the first Australian movie to have Dolby Stereo sound.


Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow. Reader's discretion advised.

In the original Mad Max (no backstory was offered in that movie), uprisings and social disorder due to energy shortages proved to destabilize the country, marauding biker gangs began to terrorize the townspeople in the Outback. The crumbling remnants of the government created a tiny, underfunded group of special highway patrol officers in an attempt to restore some form of order in the outback.

By contrast, Mad Max 2 features a much more pronounced breakdown of civilization. In the prologue, a narrator informs us that the world has "crumbled and...the cities have exploded"; and that "two mighty warrior tribes" had gone to war over "oil" or Juice-the slang term for oil,in the Mad Max Trilogy. Life has become a "whirlwind of looting and a firestorm of fear, in which 'men began to feed on men.'" Max Rockatansky, the former police officer who sought vengeance against the gang that in the first film had killed his family, has now become "a burnt out, desolate" shell of a man. Clad in his torn and dirty leather police uniform, Max roves the desert in a scarred, black, supercharged V-8 Pursuit Special, scavenging for food and especially petrol, which has become a precious commodity. He also has a pet dog (a blue heeler), who has been his only companion, and a rare functioning firearm — a sawed-off shotgun — the ammunition for which is also scarce.

The film begins as Max clashes with a team of marauders, led by biker warrior Wez (Vernon Wells). After driving off the gang, Max collects the gasoline from one of their wrecked vehicles and continues on. As Max continues to comb the desert wastelands, he comes upon a seemingly abandoned autogyro and investigates. The autogyro's pilot (Bruce Spence) has in fact set a trap with a poisonous snake; but Max and his dog outwit and overpower the Gyro Captain. To stay alive, the pilot tells Max about a small working Oil Refinery nearby in the wasteland.

Encamped on a cliff overlooking the Oil Refinery, Max watches as a gang of marauders piloting a motley collection of cars and motorbikes besiege the compound. They are led by the grim, charismatic warrior called "Lord Humungus" (Kjell Nilsson) — a large, muscular man with a hockey mask over his disfigured face, who commands a vicious, rag-tag band of biker-berserkers. Humungus' speeches to the settlers exhorting them to surrender are articulate and convincing; he uses his eloquence as psychological warfare, and a number of the settlers begin to believe his seemingly peaceful offers.

The next morning four settlers' vehicles roar out of the refinery. The marauders chase them down and kill or capture their people. After the Gyro Captain and Max witness this brutal treatment, Max goes down to the wrecked vehicles and slays one biker. A settler is still clinging to life, and Max strikes a bargain with the man: he will return the critically-wounded man to the refinery compound in exchange for petrol. However, the deal falls through when the man dies following Max's entry into the compound. He is accepted without condition, though, by the "Feral Kid" who wields a sharp-edged steel boomerang.

The marauders return and Lord Humungus uses a public address system to offer the settlers and their leader Papagallo (Michael Preston) safe passage out of the wastelands if they leave him the facility and fuel reserves. Max has an alternative bargain for Papagallo: he will retrieve the abandoned semi-truck he came across earlier in return for petrol and his freedom. This vehicle would be sufficient to haul their tanker-load of fuel out of the wastelands. The besieged settlers accept Max's proposal, but retain his car. Max sneaks out of the compound at night, carrying fuel for the battered truck and the autogyro.

With air support provided by the Gyro Captain, Max returns to the abandoned Mack truck and drives it back to the compound, despite the efforts of the Humungus and his men to stop the vehicle. The settlers invite Max to escape with the group, but the psychologically-scarred Max opts to collect his petrol and leave. As Max tries to break through the siege and is chased down by Wez in Humungus's nitros oxide-equipped car, his car is wrecked and he is badly injured, and his loyal dog is killed by a crossbowman. However, by trying to tap into his fuel tanks the marauders trigger an explosive booby-trap, blowing up his car and discouraging them from searching further. The semi-conscious Max is rescued by the Gyro Captain, who flies him back to the refinery, where the settlers are making hasty preparations to leave.

Despite his injuries, Max insists on driving the freshly-repaired truck with the fuel tanker. He roars out of the compound in the now heavily-armored truck, with the feral kid hanging on for dear life on the back of the truck, several settlers in armored positions on the tanker, and Pappagallo driving a powerful escort vehicle for company, he is pursued by the wasteland warriors in their heavily modified cars and motorbikes. Over-head the Gyro Captain follows the prolonged and violent chase in his gyro-copter. One by one the settlers on the tanker are killed, as is Pappagallo. The Gyro Captain also crashes as his engine is hit by arrows from a dart gun.

Back at the refinery but intercut with the tanker pursuit, a handful of marauders seize the empty compound, and discover to their misfortune that the refinery is rigged to explode. Max and the feral kid find themselves alone against the remaining marauders, who continue their savage pursuit. Wez boards the truck and almost slays the two survivors, but a head-on collision with Humungus obliterates both villains. Max loses control of the tanker and it rolls off the side of the road.

After rescuing the feral kid from the tanker, Max discovers that its tank is filled with sand. He was unknowingly set up as a decoy to draw away the marauders while Pappagallo's tribe escaped with concealed petrol barrels. An epilogue shows the Gyro Captain taking Pappagallo's place as leader of the tribe. The narrator (now revealed as the feral kid) explains that he would follow them and in time become leader of the Great Northern Tribe himself, but he never saw Max again.

Spoilers end here.


The film's tale of settlers that have to defend themselves from a roving band of marauders transplants the archetypal "Western" frontier movie concepts to the post-apocalyptic desert wastes. In place of horses and stagecoaches, the film uses large number of cars, motorbikes, trucks, and custom-made vehicles which are often chopped up and hot-rodded with superchargers and engine modifications and geared up for post-apocalypse highway battles with armour plating, mounted pneumatic-dart weapons, and reinforced bumpers.

Pursuit Special
Max's powerful black-painted muscle car is a modified Pursuit Special, a Ford Falcon XB GT coupe with a V8 engine ("the last of the V8 Interceptors") that the fictional MFP customized for use as a police Pursuit Special in the first Mad Max film. The car is depicted with a supercharger protruding through the hood which can be toggled on and off, and its black body is scarred and scratched from Max's journeys in the wasteland. The precious contents of the Pursuit Special's petrol tanks are protected from thieves with an explosive "booby trap" and a sheathed knife is hidden on the underbody of the vehicle.

Mack Truck
The large Mack truck used to pull the oil tanker is a 1970s Mack R-600 with a "coolpower" engine setup (the coolpower setup uses an aftercooler on the cylinder head and a tip turbine fan) and a twin-stick transmission. The Mack has a massive cowcatcher mounted on the front to protect the vehicle from crash impacts, armoured plates welded in front of the radiator (with air slits for cooling ventilation), and armoured cages around the wheels. The trailer is protected with fortified, spike-encrusted turrets and barbed wire strung up along the sides of the tanker.

Humungus' Ford F-100
Humungus' bizarre vehicle is a heavily modified Ford F-100 Ute, which is depicted with a custom-made Nitrous Oxide booster system. The marauders use an early 1970s red F-100 with a cobra painted on the doors, and a cut-down boat-style windshield during the final chase scenes.

Wez's GSX1000 & XS1100E
Humungus's lieutenant Wez drives an early 1980s model Suzuki GSX1000 motorbike in the film, and later is seen riding on a Yamaha XS1100E motorbike with a sidecar.

Other Vehicles
Most of the dune buggies used in the film were VW-based modified "sandrail" kitcars, with single-axle drive train and suspension. The settler leader Pappagallo's vehicle, which was captured from the marauders in an earlier battle, has two Ford 351 engines, one on the front, and one on the back. Other vehicles used in the movie include a variety of Australian muscle cars, including a 1974 ZG Fairlane, with LTD front guards; a custom-made vehicle with open engine bay and half of its roof chopped out, and a 6/71 supercharger; a Holden Monaro with a custom front and a roof opening; an LC/LJ Holden Torana which has been custom-modified into a Speedway car; a Ford XA Falcon, a Valiant VH coupe; a VW Kombi; a Ford Landau; and various Valiant Chargers.

The main gate of the settlement is a Commer School Bus with jury-rigged plate metal armour. This bus is also the main escape vehicle for the settlers at the end of the film. Several of the besieging warriors' vehicles appear to be of the same type as seen used as police pursuit cars in the first Mad Max film. While the depiction of gang members using similar vehicles and even wearing police biker helmets and jackets has led some fans on chat websites to speculate that some of the gang members are police officers-gone bad, there is no support for this theory from the script.


Main article: Mad Max 2 (soundtrack)

The soundtrack was composed by the Australian composer Brian May, who also composed Mad Max.

Critical reception[]

Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and praised its "skillful filmmaking," and called it "...a film of pure action, of kinetic energy", which is " of the most relentlessly aggressive movies ever made". While Ebert points out that the movie does not develop its " of a violent future world ... with characters and dialogue", and uses only the "...barest possible bones of a plot", he praises its action sequences. Ebert calls the climactic chase sequence "...unbelievably well-sustained" and states that the "...special effects and stunts...are spectacular", creating a "...frightening, sometimes disgusting, and (if the truth be told) exhilarating" effect.[11] In his review for The New York Times Vincent Canby wrote, "Never has a film's vision of the post-nuclear-holocaust world seemed quite as desolate and as brutal, or as action-packed and sometimes as funny as in George Miller's apocalyptic The Road Warrior, an extravagant film fantasy that looks like a sadomasochistic comic book come to life".[12] In his review for Newsweek, Charles Michener praised Mel Gibson's "easy, unswaggering masculinity and hint of Down Under humor may be quintessentially Australian but is also the stuff of an international male star".

Gary Arnold, in his review for The Washington Post, wrote, "While he seems to let triumph slip out of his grasp, Miller is still a prodigious talent, capable of a scenic and emotional amplitude that recalls the most stirring attributes in great action directors like Kurosawa, Peckinpah and Leone". Pauline Kael called Mad Max 2 a "mutant" film that was "...sprung from virtually all action genres", creating " continuous spurt of energy" by using "...jangly, fast editing". However, Kael criticized director George Miller's "...attempt to tap into the universal concept of the hero", stating that this attempt "...makes the film joyless", "sappy", and "sentimental".

The film's depiction of a post-apocalyptic future was widely copied by other filmmakers and in science fiction novels, to the point that its gritty "...junkyard society of the future almost taken for granted in the modern sf action film."[13] The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction says that Mad Max 2, "...with all its comic-strip energy and exploitation cinema at its most inventive."

Richard Scheib calls Mad Max 2, " of the few occasions where a sequel makes a dramatic improvement in quality over its predecessor." He calls it a "kinetic comic-book of a film," an "... exhilarating non-stop rollercoaster ride of a film that contains some of the most exciting stunts and car crashes ever put on screen."

Critics praised the stunt work and mobile camera techniques, particularly during the final chase and showdown. The use of fender-mounted cameras at high speeds was similar to the Frankenheimer race film Grand Prix and the staccato editing style helped give the illusion of very fast speeds, although other critics were concerned about the shocking violence in the film, which included rape, torture and brutal murders at the hands of the marauding biker gang. As of 2008, the movie has 35 reviews and a rare 100% fresh rating at the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes.


The film was released in 1981 worldwide as 'Mad Max 2' but for its American release, the films title was changed to 'The Road Warrior' since the original Mad Max wasn't a popular film when it was released in America, so much of the American public thought it was a stand alone film and not a sequel.

Trivia & Notes[]

  • According to George Miller, the best version of Mad Max 2 was a version made specifically to record the score to. This version was printed in high contrast black and white to save money and combined with the soundtrack only made a big impression on Miller. This became an inspiration for Miller to create a black and white version of Fury Road, which to him is also that movie's best version.[14]
  • Mel Gibson called Vernon Wells "Barometer Bum" during the production. According to Wells: "When my butt cheeks went purple on set, they'd send everyone into the bus so we could warm up"[15] Costume designer Norma Moriceau had been inspired by an S&M leather shop next door to her home in Sydney. Wells: "She originally wanted my butt to be completely bare but I wanted to wear an Indian flap because I had to keep jumping on and off motorbikes".
  • The "Cannonball Stunt" performed by stuntman Guy Norris did not go according to plan whatsoever, but it was left in the movie regardless. The stunt required Norris, then 21, to crash his motorcycle into the side of a dune buggy at 60mph and throw himself forward as if the impact had catapulted him into the air. He was to land on a protective pad. Unfortunately, two things went wrong. An explosive charge, detonated to create a storm of dust, obscured the stuntman's vision, and also lifted the buggy ever so slightly. The vehicle hit Norris across the thigh and spun him into the ground, injuring him at the same place as his previous accident. It bent the steel pin inserted in his leg to a 20 degree angle. An operation replaced the pin and stunt was failed stunt was included in the movie.[16]
  • George Miller credits a year long editing process of Mad Max as the one of the reasons for creating The Road Warrior. During that time he was able to study everything that worked and everything that failed. All the positive things taken from that process were amplified in The Road Warrior.[17]
  • The movie was shot in continuity and edited quickly. The complete opposite of Mad Max.
  • George Miller purposefully added camera shake to amplify the pace of certain shots.
  • The original script (April draft, 1980) of the movie had a completely different ending with Wez in the Humungus' Truck being chased by Max in The Lone Wolf Machine. The final chase sequence also included the Feral Kid hanging upside down from the Mack truck (similar in a way Max was hanging from The War Rig held by Furiosa). Those scenes were too dangerous to film and were ultimately changed in the final script, however the final shot of Max standing next to The Lone Wolf machine at the end of the movie is an idea carried over from the original script.[18]
  • Budget: US $4.5 million
  • Gross Revenue: $23,667,907 (domestic)
  • Despite appearing deserty, the filming location was actually very cold with the actors having to warm up inbetween takes.
  • Max only has 16 lines of dialogue in the film and his first line wasn't spoken until 11 minutes into the film.
  • Bruce Spence (The Gyrocaptain) was once a one time advisor to Shell Oil Company[19]
  • The original idea for the Humungus, was that he was going to be revealed as Goose from the first film since both characters were badly burnt but this idea was scrapped since only the people who saw the original film would recognize Goose and it would've confused new audiences.
  • Mad Max: The Road Warrior on wikipedia


  3. Film Comment, August 1982, p.29
  4. Weekend Review, The Age Not So Mad Max, December 1981.
  5. Preuve 48, August 1982
  6. Prevue 48, August 1982
  7. Film Comment, August 1982, p.31
  8. HotDog Magazine. "Still Crazy After All Those Years" p.121
  10. Fangoria, May, 1982
  11. [1]
  12. title = Post-Nuclear Road Warrior | work = The New York Times | accessdate = 2009-02-12
  13. Richard Scheib. 1990. Available at:
  15. HotDog Magazine "Still Crazy After All Those Years" p.120
  16. "The Return of Mad Max: a chain reaction of hell-driving terror" Preuve Magazine 48, 1982, 07.
  19. Fantastic Films, 1982, 08, page 59