Mad Max: Fury Road is technically George Miller’s directorial followup to Happy Feet Two, and that’s really all you need to know about this guy’s body of work.
Miller is a 70 year old film director who just gave us one of the most intense action spectacles of all time, which is kind of amazing considering he hasn’t helmed an adult-oriented action movie in 30 years. Looking at just how weird his entire film career is though, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised.
Miller got his start in filmmaking while in college (although he was studying medicine at the time), directing short films and meeting his longtime collaborator Byron Kennedy, with whom he would work with on the first three Mad Max films.
After completing his residency at a Sydney hospital, Miller decided, screw being a doctor, and formed a film production company with Kennedy. Seven years later, the two would work on their first feature film, the original Mad Max, and despite a ton of controversy, it managed to become a huge box office success. For decades it would retain the highest profit-to-cost ratio of any film ever (it was made on a shoestring budget of just $400,000, and returned over $100 million).
It’s no surprise then that to this day, the name Miller is most associated with is Mad Max. He would go on to direct two sequels to the film over the next six years, making Mel Gibson a household name and launching that guy’s career into mega-stardom in the process. And while each of those sequels cost more to make than ten Mad Max‘s combined, they never lost their endearing low-budget vibe (they cost about $5 and $12 million respectively).
All three are considered to be cult classics in their own regard, each was profitable by a margin of many times their film’s budget, and together they more or less gave George Miller the creative license to do whatever the hell he wanted over the next three decades. As it turns out, “whatever he wanted” is to have the weirdest filmography possible.
In between the Mad Max sequels, Miller would direct a segment of the Twilight Zone movie, as well as three Australian TV miniseries. After the third Mad Max, he would take a two year hiatus, only to return to direct The Witches of Eastwick, a 1987 supernatural comedy starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, and Cher (seriously).
While the film was fairly well-received, Miller would surprisingly refrain from directing again for five years, producing several low-budget Australian films and TV miniseries for his production company instead. His return to directing would come in the form of Lorenzo’s Oil, an Academy Award nominated drama that was absolutely adored by critics, and absolutely bombed at the box office, bringing in less than a quarter of its budget.
It would become Miller’s only directorial effort to date not to make a profit during its theatrical run, and his first and last “serious” drama. I don’t want to draw any sweeping conclusions from this, but man, after that film, Miller’s career does a total 180.
Three years after Lorenzo’s Oil, Miller would return to filmmaking… as the writer of Babe. Yes, that Babe.
The guy who directed the Mad Max trilogy had just turned in a script about a talking pig and his animal friends. That’s not to detract from the film though, Babe is a fantastic movie, and it was even nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (Miller’s second writing nomination in a row), along with five other Academy Awards. At the box office, it was an even bigger hit, grossing over $250 million on a $30 million budget.
This must have struck a chord with George Miller, because his next three directorial efforts were all family films. Three years after Babe, Miller returned to directing with a sequel… to Babe. It was pretty good, despite the fact that it somehow managed to lose quite a bit of money. It seems whenever one of his movies tanks at the box office, Miller takes a break, and this one would be a long one. Nearly eight years would pass before Miller even touched another feature (not even as a writer or producer).
So what lured him out of this semi-retirement? Another Mad Max of course! Just kidding, it was an animated penguin movie starring Elijah Wood. Over the next half a decade, Miller would direct two of those dancing penguin flicks, before moving on to finally get a crack at a fourth Mad Max movie.
It is worth noting that his stint as the Happy Feet guy might not be totally random. Both of those films were distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, the same studio that helped bankroll and distribute Mad Max: Fury Road. Could the past three decades of Miller’s career have been one extended gambit to get someone to finance an insane $150 million Mad Max movie?
Normally, that would be too crazy to even consider, but this is the guy whose work can be described with the words “Thunderdome” and “talking pig” in the same breath… so, maybe?
In any case, Fury Road is great, and it also just might be Miller’s final film (unless he can get a sequel going at WB), capping off one really random film career.