George Miller Thought Beyond Thunderdome Was Good Enough To Work Without Mad Max

The timeline of George Miller's "Mad Max" feature films is a curious one, if it even exists at all. The 1979 original, "Mad Max," takes place in a dystopian near future where oil shortages have kicked off a global spate of lawlessness. Cities are still standing, but society is in the midst of collapsing. In 1981's "Mad Max 2" (released as "The Road Warrior" in the United States), society seems to have fully collapsed. Not just collapsed, but some unnamed cataclysm has wiped out most of the world's population and left the surface of the planet a desert wasteland. Only two years had elapsed since the first movie, but decades worth of damage appear to have been done. One does not join a gang of bondage-gear-enthusiast wasteland lords in only two years. 

In 1985, "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome" depicted a world where a rudimentary society had already been rebuilt, and the wasteland warriors had gathered in a bizarre miniature kingdom wherein conflicts were solved by the titular fighting arena. Max (Mel Gibson) is forced to fight in the Thunderdome, which is a large cage, festooned with interior spikes. The fighters are tethered to the ceiling by bungee cords, and they have to bounce and try to murder one another at the same time. It's one of the sillier things in the series, currently standing at four chapters, with a fifth on the way

More tantalizing is a glimpse at tribe of children living on their own out in an oasis. Max finds them, and, in hearing their memories of a plane crash, the audience discovers that only about a decade has passed since "Mad Max." The world sure fell apart in a hurry. It's curious that it took so little time before humanity was reduced to Thunderdomes. 

Lord of the Flies

Miller has admitted that the latter portion of "Beyond Thunderdome" — the one with Max falling in with children — was inspired directly by William Golding's 1954 novel "Lord of the Flies." Miller seemed interested in the way youths would grow up in a world gone mad, absent adult supervision. This was a notion he had already brushed against with the Feral Kid (Emil Minty) seen in "The Road Warrior." It's telling, however, that Miller's view of the future is more optimistic than "Lord of the Flies." 

In a 1985 interview with Time Out, archived on the website multiglom, Miller revealed that he thought "Beyond Thunderdome" was, with its literary origins, a strong enough story to be told without the auspices of the "Mad Max" series. Indeed, this was something Miller had briefly considered in the event that Gibson wouldn't elect to return as the title character. Luckily, Miller knew that his star would happily take part, so long as "Beyond Thunderdome" wasn't a repeat of what came before. When asked if the film would have been halted without Gibson, Miller said: 

"I don't think we would have. We liked the story so much, I think we would have made it, but not [as] a Mad Max film. We would have invented some other world to tell it in. But we got keen on the story. Mel is very straightforward and honest, I mean he doesn't play games. We could have offered him ten times his normal fee, [but] if he didn't like the story, he'd never do it. And it [was] simply a matter of telling him the story, and he said 'Oh yes I can see this is going to be different, more interesting than what we've done before — let's do it.'"

We would need another hero

As Miller said, however, "Beyond Thunderdome" would have been made regardless, just outside of the "Mad Max" imprimatur. He briefly considered the idea, in a pinch, of recasting Max. Gibson and Miller were so closely linked to the series, however, that a new Max would likely have not been as accepted. True, Tom Hardy played the role of Max in the 2015 sequel "Mad Max: Fury Road," but it had been 30 years since "Beyond Thunderdome" at that point, and a "reboot" mentality was more palatable by then. Also, because of the mythic tone of the series, a recast made the Max story seem bardic and faraway. Indeed, even "Fury Road" will see new actors playing familiar characters. Anya Taylor-Joy is playing the title character in "Furiosa," a role previously played by Charlize Theron. 

The point being, Miller has a lot of ideas for post-apocalypse movies beyond "Mad Max," and would have likely gone ahead with one, sans Gibson. 

"And if he [had] said no, which I somehow didn't expect him to say, I don't know what I would have done. I don't think we would have recast. l think we would have probably changed the story to be some other post-apocalypse story."

Miller's last film was "Three Thousand Years of Longing," a historical romance about a scholar and a djinn contemplating the role of storytelling in human development. "Furiosa" is due in theaters on May 24, 2024. The director is also developing a further sequel in the series to be called "Mad Max: The Wasteland." On that one, more details are still forthcoming.