Although the first Mad Max movie started off as being caused by a fuel shortage, that resulted in a breakdown in law and order, the fiction later became a post-nuclear story, and the trilogy became the poster child of the 80's post-apocalyptic genre, now called The Apunkalypse.
The first movie centered around an Australian highway patrol unit, trying to maintain order. Max Rockatansky is a quiet and humble lawman, who is the best driver in the force. He is an emotionally complex character, with a deep-seeded fear of becoming cold and ruthless like the criminals he pursues. He was a happily married man, and a father to an infant son. This was shattered, when a bike gang murdered his family. After he carried out the brutal revenge killings of those who killed his family, he drove out into the wasteland, leaving the fading remnants of civilization behind him.
While more a dystopian future then a post-apocalyptic fiction, it has a number of elements that can be useful for a near post-apocalyptic/economic crises setting. For the most part, the setting is still fairly civilized, with just a few bad apples taking advantages of a desperate time. This story was more about the exploration of a kindhearted man losing his humanity - with a good number of high-speed action - then the exploration of a collapsed civilization.
His legendary Interceptor - called the "Pursuit Special" - is a modified 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT coupe, with fiberglass a nosecone panel, eight individual exhaust side pipes, and a noticeable supercharger protruding through the hood.
Mad Max 2: The Road WarriorEdit
This movie starts off, where the first movie left off - with a cold and unemotional Max wandering around the Australian outback. This time, Max is caught between a conflict between a ruthless motor gang, and a group of settlers that operates an oil refinery. At first, he only helps out the settlers so he can get his Interceptor, then later he helps them out because of the loss of his car and dog. After discovering that the settlers sent him out on a doomed decoy run, he left the settlers to wander the wasteland alone.
The movie was the most influential in the 80's post-apocalyptic genre: with roaming bands of mohawk and leather bondage gear-wearing, punker-styled bikers, heavily modified vehicles build for road combat, vast expanses of deserts and wastelands, daily survival with much MacGyvering with anything at-hand, and gratuitous acts of violence and brutality. This movie has a strong western motif, with a silent stranger helping out desperate settlers from lawless bandits, with the stoic hero riding off in the sunset.
Mad Max Beyond ThunderdomeEdit
After years of wandering the Australian wastelands, he come across the seedy community of Bartertown, founded and run by the ruthless Aunty Entity. This settlement provides electricity and fuel by a crude methane refinery, fueled by pig feces. The methane refinery is run by a smart, but diminutive man called Master - who is carried by a strong, but dim-witted bodyguard called Blaster (together they are called Master-Blaster). When Max got caught up in a power struggle between Entity and Master, Max had to fight Blaster in the Thunderdome - a large caged gladiatorial arena. Failing to kill Blaster resulted in him getting banished (after the spin of the wheel). He was saved by a band of children, only to discover that they are the children of the survivors of a plane crash, and they formed a religion around the pilot Captain Walker - who they see was a messiah - and the modern world - called "Tomorrow-morrow Land." After returning to Bartertown to rescue some of the children, he escaped on a train, and a road battle ensued. He saved the kids by putting them on a light aircraft, but Max was too heavy and he jumped out to face Aunty Entity - for that, she spares his life. The children made it to "Tomorrow-morrow Land," but is was a bombed out Sydney. Max ended up becoming a heroic and legendary figure.
This was a major shift in the fiction, as it became a post-nuclear fiction, but it followed closely to the style of the Road Warriors movie. It also focused on how a functional community can can become completely lawless and barbaric, as well as highlighting an isolated, pocket community and an underground hideout.
As noted above, these movies had a major influence on post-apocalyptic fiction in the 80's, and beyond. The influence can be seen in movies like Steel Dawn, World Gone Wild, Cherry 2000, Raiders of Atlantis, and many B-movies - not to mention games like Aftermath!, The Marrow Project and Car Wars.
Beyond the leather-clad motor gangs, the souped-up combat cars, and endless wastelands, the fiction developed a number of other clichés. Industrial mazes, savage cannibals, bubbling toxic swamps, junk forts, and wild '80s perms are common in this genre (at least in the post-atomic future, hairstylists can still find work).