Several years before the Lethal Weapon series began, Mel Gibson shot to stardom in the title role of Mad Max. After the original 1979 film and its 1981 sequel Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior proved massively successful worldwide, third instalment Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was the biggest film in the series up to that point.
Unfortunately, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome had a troubled production and wound up slamming the brakes on the series for 30 years. Here are some facts you might not have known about the third film in the post-apocalyptic saga…
10. Producer Byron Kennedy was tragically killed during pre-production
Work on Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was marred by tragedy from the beginning. Producer Byron Kennedy, who had worked on the first two Mad Max films, was sadly killed in a helicopter crash when scouting for locations for Thunderdome. Kennedy had been a close friend of writer-director George Miller, and the loss hit him hard.
In the aftermath of Kennedy’s untimely passing, Miller struggled to muster any great enthusiasm for making the film. For this reason, a second director had to be found, and George Ogilvie was brought on board to co-direct. It’s been claimed that Miller only called the shots on Beyond Thunderdome’s action scenes, but both directors have denied this.
9. The film was heavily inspired by Lord of the Flies
In a 1985 interview with journalist Anne Billson, George Miller explains that the premise for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was born out of conversations with co-writer Terry Hayes about “a tribe of kids after the apocalypse who had only a few fragments of knowledge” of the world that came before.
Hayes and Miller’s vision was partially inspired by Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s classic 1954 novel about a group of boys who turn tribal after being marooned on a deserted island. The central idea was that the children had built their own mythology and believed Max to be some kind of deity sent to save them.
8. A real sandstorm was captured on film
While the Mad Max films are set in a post-apocalyptic future, they differ from a lot of sci-fi films in that they make minimal use of special effects and capture almost all the action live on camera. This is true of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, notably with the mighty sandstorm seen towards the end of the film.
Far from being a special effect, this sandstorm was entirely real. The filmmakers decided to capture it on film and make it part of the action. One bold pilot flew a camera plane directly into the oncoming storm to get footage, whilst the bulk of the cast and crew took shelter far below.
7. Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity is never referred to by name
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome differs from its two predecessors, as it was the first entry in the Australian-produced series to feature a big name American star: legendary singer Tina Turner. The casting of Turner was in part due to the fact that, unlike the first two Mad Max films, this one was made with American money, from studio Warner Bros.
Turner takes the role of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’s lead antagonist, the ruler of Bartertown officially credited as Aunty Entity. However, the character is only ever referred to as ‘Aunty’ in the film itself, with nary a mention of ‘Entity’ at any point.
6. Tina Turner couldn’t drive the vehicles
Like all the Mad Max movies, a key aspect of Beyond Thunderdome is the abundance of large-scale motor vehicle chase sequences in the desert. As the main villain of the piece, it’s small wonder that Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity is called upon to drive one of the vehicles, but this posed a problem for Turner.
All of the vehicles that the filmmakers initially prepared for the film were manual, stick-shift cars, but Turner only knew how to drive an automatic. To get around this, a new vehicle had to be constructed specifically for Turner, with automatic transmission.
5. Tina Turner won a Grammy for theme song We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)
It made sense that if the iconic vocalist Tina Turner was going to appear in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, she should also sing the film’s theme song. So it was that Turner recorded power ballad We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome), an original track composed especially for the film by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle.
Turner was at the height of her 80s superstardom at the time, and this served the song well. It won her the Best Rock Vocal award at the Grammys, and proved one of Turner’s biggest hits worldwide, topping the charts in six countries, and making the top five in many others.
4. They nearly cost the pork market dear
You may recall that Bartertown has an interesting, ecologically forward-thinking energy source: the town’s power is derived from the methane produced by pig excrement. In order to convey this, the filmmakers needed access to a lot of pigs, but the pursuit of so many of the animals proved to pose an unexpected challenge.
Originally the filmmakers intended to simply buy 600 pigs, but then learned that doing so could have severely hurt the local pork market. An alternative had to be found, so in the interest of the local economy they simply rented 600 pigs from a local pig farmer instead, and returned them all once all the scenes that required them had been shot.
3. It’s the only PG-13 Mad Max movie
Thanks in part to the heavy presence of youngsters in the movie, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome has a considerably lighter tone than the previous films (as well as 2015 follow-up Mad Max: Fury Road). It wound up the only film in the series to get a PG-13 rating, although it was still deemed violent enough to get a 15 in Britain.
While Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was on the whole well-received by critics and audiences, some devotees of the Mad Max series have long expressed dissatisfaction with it. It is argued by some that the film compromised the franchise’s tone and content for the sake of satisfying the Hollywood system.
2. Tina Turner had to shave her head for Aunty’s wig
Mad Max villains are noted for their distinctive appearances, and Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity is no exception there. To play the silver-haired, chainmail-clad Amazonian overlord (or should that be overlady?), Turner had to go to lengths that might have pushed some performers out of their comfort zone.
For starters, in order to ensure the mighty silver wig fit her correctly, Turner consented to having her head shaved. As for that dress: while it may appear a tad bit skimpy, in reality it was anything but. Constructed from real chainmail, the garment reportedly weighed an oppressive 121 pounds.
1. George Miller was later given the rights to the film in exchange for the director’s chair on Contact
After Beyond Thunderdome, director George Miller embarked on a successful Hollywood career with such films as The Witches of Eastwick and Lorenzo’s Oil. In the mid-90s, he was attached to direct the film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, but after a troubled development period, studio Warner Bros wanted to hire Robert Zemeckis to direct instead.
Miller reluctantly agreed to walk away from Contact on one condition: that studio Warner Bros give him back the rights to the Mad Max sequels. Having these rights would ultimately enable Miller to embark on making the fourth film in the series, Fury Road, although after an even more troubled development this would not make it to screens until 2015.