This is the way the ‘Mad Max’ franchise ends: not with a whimper, but with a lawsuit and a bang.
Do you want another Mad Max movie? It’s not an easy question to answer. On the one hand, given the kinetic poetry of George Miller‘s previous film, who wouldn’t want to see what he could do with another $150 million and a considerably longer leash? But when you consider how many things had to go right to make Fury Road one of the defining action movies of its era, you also have to wonder if the film could be anywhere near as good without the subversive elements that made it a hit. For most, then, the answer is pretty simple: as long as Miller feels like he’s got a sequel in him, we should place our trust in his vision as a filmmaker.
Which is why it’s so frustrating that this decision seems to have been taken out of Miller’s hands. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, any hope we had for George Miller-directed Mad Max sequels has likely been snuffed by the ugly lawsuit (and counter-suit) between Warner Bros. and the director’s production company. The latter alleges that Warner Bros. withheld key bonuses for delivering the film under-budget and engaged in some creative accounting with regards to financing; for its part, Warner Bros. alleges that production delays caused expenses to eclipse the film’s budget, and it was only by throwing money at the film’s conclusion that the studio was able to salvage the ending. While the specifics of the court filings are new, we’ve been hearing about these legal troubles for months, which indicates how entrenched both sides are in their respective positions. I wouldn’t hold your breath for a fifth Mad Max movie anytime soon.
Hollywood accounting is nothing new for most film fans. We all know it’s possible for a film to make hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide and fail to deliver a profit; those who take their points on the net instead of the gross find that they may never actually earn any extra money in the process. And that’s when everything is laid out clearly on paper; take into consideration the various partnerships and financing agreements in place during the Fury Road production, and the lawsuit could boil down to whichever side tires of paying court fees first. What makes this case so strange, however, is the unparalleled success of the film. Not only did the film gross $378 million worldwide, it also pulled in a whopping ten Oscar nominations at the 2016 Academy Awards. Creative accounting is nothing new, but high-profile financial battles this late in the game? To the point where a major Hollywood studio would rather take its ball and go home then make sequels to a successful film? Now that you don’t see every day.
Then again, Fury Road was a film defined by controversy almost from the moment it was pushed into production. It’s fun to scroll back through internet archives and see all the times Miller’s film was declared dying or dead by the Hollywood trades. In October 2012, for example, much was made of the fact that Fury Road had fallen behind in its shooting schedule. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Warner Bros. had flown a studio executive to Namibia in order to keep an eye on the production. That same month, Radar Online began to circulate rumors that Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy were engaged in a bitter feud during production, a feud that would eventually become an accepted part of the Fury Road narrative. Miller was vague, the cast hated each other, and somehow, miraculously, the whole thing came together in the end.
Really, then, the ongoing legal troubles between Miller and Warner Bros. are really the only ending we ever should’ve expected from the Mad Max saga. Nothing fits the Hollywood narrative better than endless summer sequels featuring diminishing returns; it takes someone as visionary as Miller – and perhaps as creatively frustrating – to make a major Hollywood studio entrench itself so deeply with easy money on the line. Future Mad Max movies will likely sit alongside Miller’s Justice League film as prime examples of dynamic movies that never got made. To paraphrase James Dean, there’s nothing wrong with living fast and leaving behind a beautiful corpse. Mad Max: Fury Road was too perfect to live beyond itself.
So here’s to George Miller proving everyone wrong and delivering an action movie for the ages. Here’s to behind-the-scenes infighting and public apologies and heated legal battles. Here’s to being a movie so unique that a studio is willing to go to war for ‘just’ seven figures, and here’s to a production and post-production narrative so complicated that the inevitable oral history in just a few years will damn well break the internet in half. We love watching progressive genre films; we love hearing about troubled productions; we especially love it when a film we’d all written off manages to become a bonafide classic. Mad Max: Fury Road is the rare film to accomplish all of these things at once, and there’s something undeniably fitting about watching the franchise crash and burn instead of grinding to a halt.