Why should Furiosa’s disappointing box office stop a new Mad Max movie?

Estimated read time 5 min read

The film industry is obsessed with box office figures. The Tinseltown trades spend far more time focusing on whichever recent blockbuster has lost $200m than they do on the movies that pick up critical plaudits. There is a constant sense that, with such huge budgets flying around in the era of Avatar: The Way of Water ($350m, reportedly) and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny ($326m, same) that the entire financial Hollywood house of cards could be about to come crashing down faster than one can mutter “massive CGI mega-budget” under one’s breath.

I was once fortunate enough to share the same rarefied air as Willem Dafoe, who asked me politely, in response to an impertinent question regarding the elevated budget of the sci-fi flick in which he had just portrayed a four-armed, green-skinned, 15ft Martian, whether I or anybody else really cared how much a movie cost. For all I know, Dafoe had trotted this one out with trademark sly and irresistible charm for every hapless interviewer that day at the Dorchester, but either way I was reminded of it this week after George Miller’s excellent Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga was greeted with brickbats after only making $32m (£25m) over its debut weekend at the US box office. “Worst Memorial Day opening in three decades” screamed the Hollywood Reporter, before suggesting that Furiosa’s box office results “puts brakes on George Miller’s next Mad Max movie”.

The problem here, of course, is that box office has been down ever since the pandemic, when everyone realised it wasn’t necessary to head to the cinema to watch the latest releases, given that we’d been viewing them quite happily on streaming platforms throughout Covid. The same stars, the same (occasionally) brilliant storylines and special effects, without any requirement to step outside the walls of one’s own sweet palace and engage with the rest of humanity. The emperor, it turned out, had been naked all along (even if nobody could quite resist the prospect of Tom Cruise zooming at 40,000ft while grinning cheesily to a background of macho 80s beats).

Yet why apply the usual industry way of thinking to a Mad Max movie? It’s not as if the early films starring Mel Gibson as future desert warrior Max Rockatansky represented a grand chapter of the blockbuster era. They were cult sci-fi flicks made on relatively small budgets, even if 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome did its best to step things up a little bit with Tina Turner and those quirky kids with the inability to speak proper English. They were designed to appeal to a certain type of cinema-goer, one with a liking for dystopian adventurers who are constantly and inexplicably determined to head into the deepest and driest reaches of the desert in search of industrial furnaces, when everyone knows Australia is an island and that they only need head in one direction for long enough to eventually hit greenery and the ocean. It is all weird, offbeat, comic book-esque stuff and, frankly, the commercial appeal is not obvious, unless your idea of mainstream is late-70s 2000AD.

But then along came 2015’s Fury Road – a Mad Max movie with an all-new, baggage-free star in Tom Hardy (Gibson having become a commercial liability) – a full three decades after Beyond Thunderdome. Nobody had expected it, and when it did arrive, it was on a wave of nostalgia for the films that preceded it. It earned six Oscars and was also popular at the box office – albeit the Hollywood Reporter at the time estimated the film still made a small loss overall.

It remains to be seen whether Furiosa’s disappointing opening actually will cause studio Warner Bros to change its mind about ponying up for Miller’s mooted follow-up, The Wasteland. And would the Australian director, at 79, have the energy to return to his low-budget roots if blockbuster cash were no longer available? It seems unlikely. And Furiosa is such a gloriously big-budget B-movie – the kind of picture so few pulpy sci-fi film-makers ever get the money to make – that it would be a crying shame if all the flaming gasoline, blood and acrobatic razzamatazz had to be choreographed on a slimmer scale.

Plus, Anya Taylor-Joy makes a superb action hero. And this is a world that, five movies in, still feels largely unexplored. Are there really no cities left on the coast, and why would they have all been nuked? Moreover, even at a time when sequelitis has become a serious drain on inspiration in the film industry, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who complained that Miller made a follow-up to Mad Max. This one can run and run.

Equally, while I was belatedly exploring 70s and 80s cinema as a teenager, I don’t remember ever thinking: “Great movies, pity they didn’t make loads of money for the studios.” Because in the grand scheme of things, as long as these films keep coming, who really cares?

Source: theguardian.com

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