Every Mad Max movie, ranked

With his years of experience, Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic and Film Critics Guild member Akhil Arora assesses and ranks all five Mad Max movies, including Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

Anya-Taylor Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Anya-Taylor Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga // Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.

In the seventies, with a script inspired by the fervent, violent nature of Australians during the 1973 oil crisis and his own experiences as an emergency room doctor, director George Miller delivered the first Mad Max movie. Set in the future a “few years from now”, it gave us a world where energy shortages had led to a collapse in society. There was still some semblance of the domestic life we know, and our protagonist had a full-time job as a cop. It wasn’t until the sequel that Mad Max turned into a truly post-apocalyptic universe. The escalation continued in what came after—the use of nuclear weapons is heavily implied and later confirmed—culminating in an unrecognisable Outback and all kinds of associated problems.

Behind the scenes, Miller has always been present. (Even though it’s been several decades—there was a gap of 30 years between the third and fourth chapters.) In fact, nearly half the movies Miller has made in his career are part of the Mad Max franchise. It’s been a different story in front of the camera. Tom Hardy took over Mel Gibson as Max after the third movie, given how much time had passed (in our world) and how Gibson has regularly courted controversy. (He has made racist, antisemitic, and anti-LGBTQ comments over the years. On top of that, he’s been accused of abuse and domestic violence.) For the spin-off Furiosa, Anya Taylor-Joy replaced Charlize Theron to play a younger version of the character.

With the newest chapter out now in theatres, I rewatched all five of them—for research purposes, naturally. Here’s my ranking of every chapter so far, including the latest one, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. And as you’re about to find out, it features an opinion or two that many will disagree with.

Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome // Photo: Warner Bros.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

The second sequel—the third chapter overall—is a very different Mad Max movie than the first two. It’s kooky and a bit extra. Just look to Tina Turner’s Aunty or the hilarious duo that is Master Blaster. (It feels a little like what Return of the Jedi was to The Empire Strikes Back.) It’s a little humorous, something the first two decidedly weren’t. Especially in a scene where two kids discover what a record player is. It has religious, fanatical vibes. And it’s missing the road action that made the first two films so enjoyable. Well, save for the finale.

Mel Gibson in Mad Max 2 The Road Warrior
Mel Gibson in Mad Max 2 // Photo: Roadshow Film

Mad Max 2 a.k.a. The Road Warrior

While it overcomes its clunky start, the sequel to the original is more staccato and not as fluid. That said, the straightforward plot—albeit a tad inorganic—grants it a simplicity that was missing from Beyond Thunderdome and themes that were out of reach for Mad Max. There’s a lot to love about the action even as it’s not satisfying in places. You can tell Miller is learning as he goes—the first one was simpler, and he handled it better. The worldbuilding is possibly its biggest accomplishment, as you can start to see the elements of the wasteland take shape.

Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley in Mad Max
Mel Gibson and Steve Bisley in Mad Max // Photo: Roadshow Film

Mad Max

At times more horror than action, the Mad Max movie that started it all is quite sinister. The editing style, the sound effects, the background score, and the shot composition are all testament to that. As a police officer and his family are hunted, it develops a Wild West feel except with fast bikes and cars (along with a loony gang of riders). Miller’s love for a fast-paced road chase is evident from the start. Even at a compressed 90-minute runtime—the shortest in the franchise—it finds time for domestic life and a moral crisis. Before giving us a bleak climax with almost no dialogue where the protagonist turns into a marauding anti-hero.

Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road
Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road // Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Max feels like a participant in the fourth instalment which introduced a character so good that she became its heart and drove the plot. (And also, the star of the follow-up.) It helps that Charlize Theron is stellar as Furiosa, a warrior looking for home and redemption. Tom Hardy’s muted performance is a choice—it’s much more than the lack of dialogue offered to his Max. An all-action over-the-top blast from start to finish, be it the acting or action, Mad Max: Fury Road offers the briefest of quiet moments in between. Yet, it knows how to be both tender and epic. The finale is thrilling—there are many elements to it and all lock into place. Everyone has a part to play, which makes the rousing end worthwhile and earned.

Anya-Taylor Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Anya-Taylor Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga // Photo: Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

In what is new territory for Miller—given its prequel spin-off nature, it’s the first movie without Max—the writer-director rightly delivers a film that is unlike anything before it. Not only is it expansive (Mad Max is known for its leanness) but it’s also character-centric. Furiosa offers the full life of a person alongside a towering performance from an unhinged Chris Hemsworth as the villain that you can’t look away from. Its narrative and thematic richness are just half the story. Miller tops his epic action sequences—and he’s had a fair share of them—with a 15-minute dynamic and fascinating scene that’s made up of endless moving parts. It’s the glorious pinnacle of what is an engrossing and meaningful adventure.

Akhil Arora