G’day, mate. Grab a slab, throw some shrimp on the Barbie, and be prepared to have a ripper of a time with these Ozploitation classics!
Like most Americans currently in their early 30’s I learned most everything I know about Australia from the season-six episode of The Simpsons, “Bart vs. Australia.” This classic from Oak & Stein has the family taking a trip down under after Bart racks up quite the hefty phone bill from a prank phone call. I was a wee 10-year-old lad when the episode first aired, and it was my first real encounter with the country that’s also a continent.
About a year later I would stumble upon a movie on cable with a gentleman that appeared to be Sergeant Martin Riggs, but this wasn’t any Riggs I was familiar with. This version of Riggs didn’t talk much and he really hated motorbike gangs. The movie was Mad Max and it would introduce me to a whole new world of cinema — Ozploitation.
Ozploitation, as described by director Brian Trenchard-Smith, is “genre homage through an Australian lens: boisterous, anti-authoritarian, wide angle.” I would simply describe it as awesome.
As I began my journey deep into the world of Australian genre cinema I stared to pick up on some consistent themes. A number of the films take place in a dystopian future, and I wondered why Australians had such a bleak outlook on life. I now know their movies were a warning. Australians were desperately trying to prepare us for what was to come. Good onya, mates. Good onya.
We may have failed to heed the warning but in an effort to make up for that grave mistake your favorite Film School Rejects trio (with the assistance of the legendary Trenchard-Smith himself) has put together a list of 20 Ozploitation films you should absolutely watch. Grab a nice cold Victoria Bitter, a bag of Cheezels, and trap in because we’re taking a wild ride Down Under!
Wake in Fright (1971) — Dir. Ted Kotcheff
Plot: A helpless school teacher gets stranded in an outback town full of drunken savages.
Described by Nick Cave as “the most terrifying vision of Australia”, Ted Kotcheff’s film paints a grim and harrowing portrait of outback life. The film is essentially a condemnation of toxic masculinity which culminates in a disturbing kangaroo hunt where actual slaughter was captured on film. This isn’t a movie I’ll ever watch again, and I could have chosen a countless others I love just as much which are more “enjoyable,” but there’s no denying that this is brilliant cinema that gets its message across with impact. We need cinema that takes us out of our moral comfort zone, and Wake in Fright presents a society in squalor in a way that’s as real and ugly as the creators involved want us to see it. — Kieran Fisher
Alvin Purple (1973) — Dir. Tim Burstall
Plot: Alvin sees a psychiatrist to help with his addiction to women.
Tim Burstall’s bawdy Alvin Purple, was a sexist’s wet dream, coming after decades of repressive censorship. So politically incorrect now, yet its novelty at the time made it a comedy date movie for couples. — Brian Trenchard-Smith
Stone (1974) — Dir. Sandy Harbutt
Plot: An undercover cop joins an outlaw biker gang to infiltrate a mystery assassin who’s picking off all their members.
Hailed by many as a quintessential biker movie and a precursor to Mad Max in the realm of Aussie action fare, Stone is as dirty, pure, and free as cinema gets. While there’s plenty of mayhem, violence, and goofy moments on display, the scenes which resonate the most are the ones where dirty scoundrels coast the highways and race around the streets on their motorcycles. At the time, the movie struck a chord with the biker community despite being ravaged by critics, but the film’s cult has endured and is now considered a cult classic. Stone is a time capsule flick; a glimpse into a counterculture that rode hard and lived the sweet life. They just don’t make them like this anymore. — Kieran Fisher
Scobie Malone (1975) — Dir. Terry Ohlsson
Plot: Ladies man and Sydney police detective Scobie Malone investigates the murder of a woman found dead in the basement of the Sydney Opera House.
This Australian classic opens with a theme song that lets you know you’re about to have a good time. The film then proceeds to deliver on promised good time with what is essentially a precursor to the American buddy cop films of the 80’s but with way more boobs and plenty of Jack Thompson charm. — Chris Coffel
The Man from Hong Kong (1975) — Dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith
Plot: A Hong Kong detective travels to Australia to capture a drug dealer. Chaos ensues.
Brian Trenchard-Smith is the undisputed king of Australian genre cinema. As you’ll see from this list, we’re all fans of his work and a few of his movies appear on it. The Man from Hong Kong marked a brief foray into kung-fu territory for the director in collaboration with Hong Kong’s very own Yu Wang, who also stars opposite former Bond actor, George Lazenby, who plays the baddie. It’s an action-packed blast that delivers all the cheap thrills we want from a film helmed by Australia’s greatest exploitation director, the star of The One-Armed Boxer and starring a former James Bond. — Kieran Fisher
Deathcheaters (1976) — Dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith
Plot: A pair of stuntmen are sent to the Philippines as spies for the Australian government.
Director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s fourth feature doesn’t get the same kind of love as the likes of Turkey Shoot, BMX Bandits, and Dead End Drive-In, but as those classics already have their well-deserved cheerleaders I’m instead going to toss some appreciation towards Deathcheaters. The plot is an obvious (if uncredited) inspiration for 1986’s F/X and sees a pair of stuntmen hired by the government for a dangerous mission — a mission the film doesn’t even get to until seventy minutes in — and the whole is a joyous, playful romp of an action movie. It’s just so damn charming throughout as our heroes banter, joke, and perform death-defying stunts as often as the rest of us blink. Gorehounds may be disappointed, but viewers looking for a fun time will be more than satisfied. — Rob Hunter
Mad Dog Morgan (1976) — Dir. Philippe Mora
Plot: A coked-up Dennis Hopper plays a bushwhacker with a bounty on his head.
Released during the heyday of Hopper’s partying antics, this “true story” based on the Irish outlaw Daniel Morgan is perhaps more famous for its behind-the-scenes troubles than anything else. Within the first night of production, Hopper was arrested for brawling and he spent the rest of the shoot drunk and high. His aboriginal co-star, David Gulpilil, was so concerned that he disappeared for days because he had to ask the kookaburra birds in the trees if Hopper was okay. According to the birds, Hopper was crazy. Yet despite the craziness of the entire situation, the film still manages to be a rather brilliant and brutal western. Hopper’s performance is batshit crazy, for sure, but he also brought a level of intensity that only he could. This deserves to be as highly regarded as his turns in Easy Rider and Blue Velvet. — Kieran Fisher
Patrick (1978) — Dir. Richard Franklin
Plot: A comatose patient using telekinesis to harass his nurse.
Richard Franklin’s Patrick is a clever suspense horror flick that played better outside of Australia than within. It evoked Hammer Films in its measured treatment, building to its climactic jump-scare. — Brian Trenchard-Smith
Long Weekend (1978) — Dir. Colin Eggleston
Plot: A weekend camping trip on a remote beach leaving a suburban couple fighting for their lives.
Films with unlikable main characters are typically films worth avoiding, but Colin Eggleston’s “nature strikes back” tale is a blast as its human protagonists reveal themselves to actually be the film’s antagonists. The pair are disrespectful to each other and the earth — they litter, they hurt animals, they’re assholes — and that’s the only explanation given for what comes next. It’s a slow-motion comeuppance guaranteed to leave viewers cheering on the wildlife even as it leaves us wary the next time we go outside. It’s worth noting that writer Everett De Roche also gifted us with Road Games, Patrick, Razorback, Fortress, Link, Storm Warning, and more. — Rob Hunter
Mad Max (1979) — Dir. George Miller
Plot: In a dystopian future Australian policeman Max Rockatansky becomes mixed up in a violent feud with a motorcycle gang.
Mad Max isn’t the best Ozploitation film, and it’s arguably not the best film within the Mad Max franchise, however, you can make a strong case for it being the most important film to come out of Australia. This movie launched a star and proved that even with a low budget you could provide heart pounding action. Genre cinema in Australia wasn’t birthed with George Miller, but he certainly put it on the map. — Chris Coffel
Road Games (1981) — Dir. Richard Franklin
Plot: A truck driver and hitchhiker attempt to track down a serial killer.
Road Games allowed Franklin to explore serial killer suspense on a bigger budget, once again benefitting from an excellent script by the late Everett DeRoche, Ozploitation’s most prolific and inventive writer. — Brian Trenchard-Smith
Lady Stay Dead (1981) — Dir. Terry Bourke
Plot: A woman housesitting for her sister discovers that her sister’s handyman is a serial killer.
I’m not always in the mood for a super sleazy movie, but when I am the sleazier the better. To that end, this serial killer thriller delivers all the blood, sweat, and sperm you could want as a creepy handyman gets a bit too handy with pretty ladies and anyone else who crosses his path. The first half lays on the pervy goodness (badness?) while the back half shifts gears with an extended and suspenseful game of cat and mouse. It’s undeniably skeevy, but it brings the goods where it counts. — Rob Hunter
The Road Warrior (1981) — Dir. George Miller
Plot: Max returns and helps a community fight off a band of bandits hoping to steal their gasoline.
George Miller’s command of screen dynamics in the stunt packed Mad Max & The Road Warrior really got the Australian film industry’s professionalism recognized world-wide. The success of Fury Road shows there’s still a taste for Ozploitation. — Brian Trenchard-Smith
Next of Kin (1982) — Dir. Tony Williams
Plot: A woman reads her mother’s diary and the events described within begin to happen.
The only one of my picks to take a supernatural route, this underappreciated gem builds a pretty terrific atmosphere and story around what at first appears to be a very familiar setup. Young woman returns home after her mother’s death to discover odd shenanigans afoot, but the film moves in unexpected directions and does so with creative camerawork, a memorable score that teases Goblin at times, and some genuine creepiness. It’s unclear why this one isn’t more beloved and well-known, but it’s never too late to rectify that. — Rob Hunter
BMX Bandits (1983) — Dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith
Plot: Three friends out to make a quick buck discover a box of walkie-talkies that belong to some bad people.
Not only is BMX Bandits one of the most effortlessly fun and sweet movies you’re ever likely to see, but it also helped launch the career of Nicole Kidman and she’s, like, a big deal in Hollywood now. But here she gets to ride bikes and hide out in cemeteries as a fresh-faced youngster and she doesn’t disappoint either. This is arguably the most family-friendly Ozploitation movie ever made and it’s quite reminiscent of The Goonies and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — albeit much more enjoyable because of the cycling, cheeky sense of humor and more daring elements — so if you’re looking to introduce your kids to good movies this would be a great starting point. — Kieran Fisher
Razorback (1984) — Dir. Russell Mulcahy
Plot: A wild board terrorizes the Australian Outback.
Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback displays incredible visual style and skill in sequence-building that would fully flower in his subsequent Highlander. — Brian Trenchard-Smith
Fortress (1985) — Dir. Arch Nicholson
Plot: A teacher and her students fight for their lives after being kidnapped.
I’m old enough to remember when HBO Original movies were a big deal, and in the mid-80s few got more play than this thriller starring Rachel Ward as a schoolteacher who finds herself abducted, along with her students, by some mask-wearing maniacs. It’s a survival thriller as teacher and children are forced to face fears and dig deep for the will to live, and in addition to some solid set-pieces and suspenseful beats set against the Australian outback the film builds to a terrifically dark conclusion. — Rob Hunter
Dead End Drive-In (1986) — Dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith
Plot: In a dystopian future drive-in movie theaters are turned into concentration camps for social outcasts.
On one hand living within the world of Dead End Drive-In sounds great. Living at the drive-in and receive a diet consisting entirely of drugs, junk food, exploitation cinema, and new wave music? Where do I sign up?! But if you look at that other hand you soon realize this is the government’s way of rounding up the so-called trash and letting them dispose of one another. Good thing I live in America where a movie like this has zero relevancy today. — Chris Coffel
Dark Age (1987) — Dir. Arch Nicholson
Plot: A park ranger attempts to capture a giant crocodile that has begun to eat the locals in the Outback.
On the surface this is nothing more than a movie about a giant murderous beast akin to Jaws. Once you peek below the bloody carnage you discover a story about how the white settlers of Australia have complete and total disregard for the Aboriginal people. Good thing I live in America where a movie like this has zero relevancy today. — Chris Coffel
Body Melt (1993) — Dir. Philip Brophy
Plot: Residents of a peaceful suburban community unwittingly become test subjects on a new experimental drug that has disastrous side effects.
This is one of the most aptly name films you’ll find as numerous bodies literally melt throughout. This satirical look at suburban life and the desire for a get fit quick pill is a gory good time that is as funny as it is grotesque. — Chris Coffel