After global war and the collapse of civilization, the world is run by barbarian chieftains. Haunted by his family’s death, former Australian cop Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) roams the Australian desert in a black, supercharged V-8, scavenging for food and fuel, his only companion an Australian cattle-dog named Dog. He steals fuel from a gang led by a half-crazy biker named Wez (Vernon Wells). He finds an abandoned gyrocopter, full of fuel, but is ambushed by the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence). Max turns the tables on him but spares him because he knows where an oil refinery can be found. He finds the compound surrounded by Marauders, including Wez. Their leader is the Great Humungus (Kjell Nilsson).
Max observes and decides to act when some of the settlers break out of the encampment and are chased by the Marauders. Max rescues the lone survivor and brings him back in exchange for fuel. He dies and the next leader, Papagallo (Mike Preston), reneges on the deal. Just as they are about to kill Max, the Marauders return. Wez’s companion, The Golden Youth (Jerry O’Sullivan), is killed by a boomerang-wielding Feral Kid (Emil Minty) and Wez wants to kill them all but offers them safe passage in exchange for the fuel.
Max says he will get them a vehicle to haul their tanker if they return his car and give him as much fuel as he can carry. With the Feral Kid’s help, Max sneaks out on foot, runs into the Gyro Captain again and forces him to carry fuel to the Mack semi Max knows about. With the Gyro above, Max drives the semi right through the Marauders camp into the compound. The settlers, warming to Max, want to take him to the Sunshine Coast in the Far North, but Max just wants to take his fuel and leave. While breaking through the siege, Max is injured when his car is wrecked. They kill his dog and are about to kill him, when Max’s booby-trapped vehicle explodes. The Marauders are killed, and the Gyro Captain brings Max back to the compound.
The truck is armored now and Max, despite his injuries, wants to drive the tanker, with the fuel load and some of the others accompanying in armored vehicles. Lord Humungus and his men chase after the tanker while the rest of the settlers leave in an old bus. The compound explodes behind them. Eventually Max and the Feral Kid are alone against the Marauders. Humungus and Wez are both killed in the crash of the tanker and Max escapes with the Feral Kid, noticing that the tanker is full of sand. The settlers escape in the bus, filled with fuel in tanks. The Gyro Captain becomes head of the settlers and leads them to freedom. The Feral Kid succeeds him and is revealed as the narrator, speaking of Max as a mythic hero.
The film was directed by George Miller as a sequel to Mel Gibson’s Mad Max film, which is basically a cop-show as the world ends. Mad Max was not a hit in the States, so the sequel was called The Road Warrior and not Mad Max 2. It was a tremendous hit with fans and critics alike and created a sub-genre of mohawk-wearing bikers in bleak landscapes. Brian May’s musical score backed up the spare dialogue and tightly-filmed battles and chases. This was the birth of a new SF sub-genre—the post-apocalyptic spaghetti western. George Miller was inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the theories of Carl Jung. Terry Hayes was hired as scriptwriter along with Brian Hannant. They were influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s films. Some of the violence was excised by Australian censors. It won the Saturn Award for best international film and received another five nominations.
There is a museum dedicated to the film in Silverton, New South Wales, and in the sincerest form of flattery, African rebel armies took to decorating their jeeps with human skulls. Mel Gibson has 16 lines in the movie, two of which are: “I only came for the gasoline.” The location was chosen because it never rained there, and of course it rained for the first time in four years. All the cars used in Mad Max were supposed to be scrapped, but someone had saved Max’s Interceptor. The set was actually quite cold, and one of the Marauders, wearing assless leather pants, was called Barometer Butt because the cast would seek shelter when his butt-cheeks turned purple. Max’s friendship with the Feral Kid was inspired by Shane. Emil Minty was only eight years old and had only been in one commercial. The Feral Kid’s back-flip was performed by a female gymnast, but that was the only trick Minty did not do. Of the 80 cars in the film, half were destroyed.
The gangs included the Gayboy Berserkers, the Smegma Crazies, the Skinheads, the Mohawkers, the Dogs of War, and the Lone Wolf Crew. They all had distinctive outfits and vehicles. Kjell Nilsson (The Humungus) was a former Mister Sweden and six-foot-three. George Miller said the film was partly inspired by A Boy and His Dog. The dog in the film was bought from a pound. Just before it was to be euthanized because nobody wanted it, dog talent-scouts noticed it playing with a rock as a toy and thought it showed great presence. Unfortunately, it was afraid of loud noises, and it would relieve itself every time a car or motorcycle started up. Eventually, it was taken home by a cameraman. The tanker roll at the end was so dangerous that the stunt-driver was not allowed to eat all day in case he had to be rushed into surgery. Director George Miller was a doctor and treated several stuntmen for minor injuries.