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Throwback Thursday: Original ‘Mad Max’ kickstarted a cult classic franchise

Mel Gibson in 1979's "Mad Max." (MGM)

Mel Gibson, George Miller and Tom Hardy attend the Hollywood premiere of “Mad Max: Fury Road” on May 7, 2015. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

With “Mad Max: Fury Road” crashing into theaters Thursday evening, this week’s Throwback Thursday column recalls the first installment in the “Mad Max” series.

Australian director George Miller’s dystopian tale starred Aussie actor Mel Gibson as protagonist Max Rockatansky, a widower on a quest for vengeance, and introduced the young actor to an international audience.

Mel Gibson in 1979’s “Mad Max.” (MGM)

“Mad Max” made its debut Down Under on April 12, 1979; American audiences had to wait until May 2, 1980. Though critics were split, public reception was positive and the film grossed nearly $100 million worldwide and earned a nomination for best original screenplay (by Miller and James McCausland) from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. The film was also nominated for best film and direction and won for editing, original music score and sound.

Not everyone was impressed. Los Angeles Times movie critic Charles Champlin found numerous dents on the car-crashing action flick, calling it a “downer from Down Under,” with “such awful, shallow predictability, populated by such uninviting and uninteresting people, that it is almost worth seeing as a textbook example of how not to make a film.”

Champlin also criticized Gibson’s performance.

“He is a boyishly bland young actor and lacks a presence to make the character work,” Champlin wrote.

Since the plot revolves around Gibson’s character as a cop avenging the death of his partner, wife and son at the hands of rogue bikers, another Times writer had a bone to pick about the choice of antagonists.

“It all smells like burning truck tires, just another cheap shot at bikes and bikers,” Paul Garson wrote. He criticized the film for “retaining the same mentality and creating the same distorted propaganda” as Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” from 1953.

Champlin also called the biker villains “indistinguishable vrooming beings, pure evil in dusty denim. But pure evil is largely a myth and boring to watch as a fictional device, partly because it is incapable of change.”

Tom Hardy, tied to the front of the car, as Max Rockatansky in "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Warner Bros.)

Riley Keough as Capable, Zoe Kravitz as Toast, Courtney Eaton as Fragile, Rosie Huntington as Splendid, Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky and Abbey Lee as The Dag in "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)

Charlize Theron as Furiosa and Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky in "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron as Furiosa in "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)

Nathan Jones as Rictus Erectus and Hugh Keays-Byrne as Immortan Joe in "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)

Nicholas Hoult as Nux, Courtney Eaton as Fragile, Riley Keough as Capable, Charlize Theron as Furiosa and Abbey Lee as The Dag in "Mad Max: Fury Road." (Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)

Nevertheless, “Mad Max” and its two sequels — “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” in 1981 and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” in 1985 — have become cult classic cinema, serving as inspiration for later dystopian action films. The original film’s gory final scene is also credited as an inspiration for the horror film “Saw.”

And now, with Miller once again at the helm, a new actor is stepping into Max Rockatansky’s boots. The Tom Hardy-starring “Mad Max: Fury Road” is expected to dominate this weekend’s box office. Click through the gallery above for a look at the film.

— Denise Florez | @LATHeroComplex

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