Mad Max: solving the apocalypse timeline before Furiosa hits cinemas

When did Mad Max's apocalypse actually happen? Are we living in the wasteland right now, and is Max an immortal being?
Mad Max gang in truck. Image from Mad Max: Fury Road. Roadshow Entertainment.

George Miller’s Mad Max series has been running for so long that its nightmarish future has become a nightmarish past, or perhaps a nightmarish present? The series doesn’t give us a concrete end-of-the-world timeline, but there are some hints if you look for them, and to prepare for the upcoming release of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, look for them I did.

The timeline of Mad Max, explained!

Mad Max (1979):

Must take place between 1984-1988

The first film introduces Max (Mel Gibson) as an officer of the Main Force Patrol, or MFP, in a world that hasn’t quite ended yet. The oil wars are raging on, but there are still bureaucracies to observe and forms to sign. An intertitle at the beginning sets the film ‘a few years from now,’ but how many years is a few?

At one point, Max’s baby is seen unsecured in the back seat of his car, which means the events of the film can’t take place any later than 1988, when car seats for infants under 12 months were made mandatory in Australia. So nine years ‘from now’ is our maximum, but what’s the minimum?

Mad Max, of the Main Force Patrol. Image: Roadshow Entertainment

Enough time has passed to replace the police with the MFP, and a rebrand complete with new vehicles and uniforms takes time. Victoria Police finished rolling out their new uniforms in 2014, but the redesign was announced as early as 2011. Even in a crumbling society, I’d wager it would take at least as long as that for the MFP to swap to their head-to-toe leather look, plus designing time beforehand.

So, if we give the MFP a minimum of a year to merge with and then replace the police, another year to design their new look, then three years to roll out new uniforms, then Mad Max is set no earlier than 1984.

Mad Max 2 (1981)

Must take place around 1987

When Mad Max 2 (also known as The Road Warrior) begins, the world has ended and new societies are forming out of the rubble. The MFP haven’t recovered the Interceptor Max stole at the end of the first film, so my guess is that in 1985 the apocalypse gave them more pressing concerns. Since then, Max has been living a nomadic lifestyle for at least long enough to train a dog and develop a grey streak in his hair.

Dye, Max, dye! Image: Roadshow Entertainment

The biggest hint about the timeline comes from the members of the gang led by Lord Humongous’s (Kjell Nilsson), who have very nicely dyed hair. Hair dye has a shelf life of about three years, and expired dye is likely to leave you with damaged follicles and an uneven finish. The gang members’ dye jobs have a nice even finish to them, which tells me they’re using in-date dyes. Assuming the last hair dye factory was pumping out dyes until the apocalypse forced them to stop, Road Warrior must take place around 1987.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Must take place no later than 2015

Between Road Warrior and Thunderdome, enough time has passed that a whole generation of people don’t remember a pre-apocalypse life. Max meets some of these children, who have been hiding out in an oasis for long enough to develop a messianic prophecy and a new dialect of English. The oldest of these children, Savannah (Helen Buday) and Slake M’Thirst (Tom Jennings) seem to be in their late teens and must have been born after the apocalypse, meaning Thunderdome is set in 2000 at the earliest.

Aunt Entity. Image: Roadshow Entertainment

Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) has established Bartertown, which has been around long enough to have infrastructure, a justice system, and even a train that sees use in the film’s climax. Train tracks require constant maintenance, but in theory could last for 30 years before they need to be replaced. I can’t imagine these tracks are being maintained, but since they’re not being damaged by regular use I’ll suspend my disbelief enough to say that less than 30 years have passed, meaning Thunderdome takes place no later than 2015.

Read: New Furiosa trailer takes us to the Green Place

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Must take place between the 2050s and 2070s

In Fury Road, the world ended so long ago that Mel Gibson has been replaced by Tom Hardy, whose Max is along for the ride when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) betrays her boss Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), frees his five favourite wives, and seeks sanctuary with the Vuvalini in the Green Place.

In a preamble, Max says he used to be a cop. If Max was a cop before the apocalypse, Fury Road must take place between Road Warrior and Thunderdome. A nice simple answer, right? Of course not, look how many more paragraphs I’ve written. Based on some other pieces of dialogue, I think it’s more likely that Max was maintaining order in a Bartertown-esque post-apocalyptic society.

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky. Image: Roadshow Entertainment

Dialogue tells us about the few people who remember a pre-apocalypse world. Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a devout follower of Immortan Joe’s mythology, laments that he should be in Valhalla, ‘McFeasting with the heroes of all time’. This means that not only does Immortan Joe know about McDonalds, but almost nobody alive is old enough to contradict him about what it is. Miss Giddy (Jennifer Hagan) taught the wives that satellites ‘used to bounce messages across the earth,’ and one of the Vuvalini says that ‘everyone in the old world had a show’. The world ended so long ago that television, satellites, and McDonalds are half-remembered by only the very elderly. If the 70- or 80-something Miss Giddy knows about satellites but not the internet or emails, she must have been a child in the 80s or 90s, placing events of Fury Road between the 2050s and 2070s.

Perhaps Furiosa will solidify this timeline. What we know is that Furiosa was kidnapped from the Green Place 7000 days before she freed the wives, so maybe we’ll see what became of Bartertown or the last Manic Panic factory. But I still have one question: how old is Max?

Is Max Rockatansky an immortal being?

The first three movies have something of a continuity, which Fury Road throws out the window by recasting Max. But does the same jacket make him the same person? Assuming that Max isn’t ageing backwards like Benjamin Button, we’re left with two possibilities:

Option 1: ‘Max Rockatansky’ became a sort of Dread Pirate Roberts figure when the original Max retired and passed on his jacket, his Interceptor, and his name, starting a potentially infinite lineage.

Option 2: Don’t worry about it. Do what Evil Dead fans have been doing for decades, and James Bond fans for even longer. So what if the chronology doesn’t line up? Aren’t you having fun? Are you enjoying Mad Max: Fury Road? Yes you are, don’t lie to me. And if you’re having fun then does it matter? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Mad Max is available to stream on Stan and Amazon Prime Video; Mad Max 2 is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video and Google Play Movies; Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is available to stream on Binge; Mad Max: Fury Road is available to stream on Netflix, Stan, and Amazon Prime Australia; and Furiosa: a Mad Max Saga is in cinemas from May 24.

PhD candidate in cinema and screen studies based in Naarm. My current research area is revenge and justice in teen film, and I like to write about genre films, feminism and queer theory. I co-host a podcast called Pill Pop, an audio roadtrip for the chronically ill.