George Miller sues Warner Bros. over unpaid Fury Road earnings.

In 2015, George Miller’s post-apocalyptic odyssey, Mad Max: Fury Road, roared through theaters, leaving images of tire treads, desert storms, and flaming guitars scorched across moviegoer’s eyeballs. By all accounts, Fury Road is a modern masterpiece: A critical darling (97% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), a box office success ($378,858,340 worldwide), and a major pop culture influence — Hello Furiosa! With 2018 just over the horizon, it’s bizarre that Warner Bros. doesn’t already have a sequel ready to drop. To paraphrase a recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald, the root of the delay can be summed up in one Notorious B.I.G. track title: “Mo Money Mo Problems.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that George Miller is suing Warner Bros. over unpaid wages. More specifically, the suit is between Miller and his producing partner Doug Mitchell’s production company, Kennedy Miller Mitchell, and Warner Bros. The article states,

Fury Road included a condition that Kennedy Miller Mitchell would receive a $US 7 million bonus if “the final net cost” of the movie was not more than $US 157 million, after certain costs were excluded from calculations.

On [Warner Bros’] calculations, Mad Max went over budget.

Warner Bros. interpretation of the math implies Kennedy Miller Mitchell doesn’t get their bonus. However, the production company counters,

[Warner Bros] made a series of decisions which caused substantial changes and delays to Mad Max, which led to additional costs and expenses and that [the studio] wrongly took them into account in its over-budget calculation.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the final product, Mad Max: Fury Road was a behind-the-scenes disaster. So, it makes sense that certain financial details are difficult to gauge. Miller poured more than a decade into planning and prepping for Fury Road as well as three years in the production of the movie. We’re talking about a $150 million production with a 120-day shoot that wrapped up in 2012 but didn’t make it into theaters until 2015.

This legal back-and-forth is one heavy-duty game of hardball between Miller and Warner Bros. Movie studios are desperate to tap into any slightly marketable intellectual property they can secure. It’s why we see Sony and Universal trying to squeeze the non-existent brand loyalty out of The Emoji Movie and Battleship. Unlike Universal’s “Dark Universe” non-franchise, the Mad Max series is an established commodity that has earned nearly $400 million at the worldwide box office over the last few decades. Litigating with the series’ iconic director isn’t a good look for Warner Bros and the studio is losing momentum — and moviegoer’s goodwill — with every passing day.

Mad Max: Fury Road’s co-lead, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), is the type of breakout character that only comes along a few times a decade and people are hungry for her return. With her scruffy bald head, bad-ass robotic hand, and scary AF war paint, Theron’s knockout performance seared Furiosa’s image into audience’s hearts and minds. Furiosa is the type of character that could anchor her own spinoff series in the pre-Trump, pre-Weinstein, pre-Wonder Woman era. And given the way pop culture and politics have played out since 2015, Furiosa’s return is not just welcome; it’s needed.

It looks like Warner Bros. needs the Mad Max movies more than George Miller does. Miller’s filmography is as eclectic as they come. His work includes 1987’s The Witches of Eastwick, 1998’s Babe: Pig in the City, and both Happy Feet movies (2006 and 2011 respectively). I don’t know how much shooting another grueling apocalypse movie in the desert appeals to the 72-year old director, especially when he has such varied creative pursuits. Who’s to say that Miller’s inner-completionist isn’t screaming to closeout the Happy Feet trilogy?

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