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The Films of George Miller Take Us to the Thunderdome

Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.)

I’ve done quite a few rankings of director filmographies during my time writing for Film Obsessive and I can say with complete confidence that George Miller has the wildest filmography of any director I have covered so far. His career started with a post-apocalyptic trilogy and then went into a campy horror-comedy, an Oscar-friendly drama, and then a few kids’ movies with darker themes before eventually returning to the post-apocalyptic world. Watching his films for this was a real joy and a journey through many genres and tones.

George Miller makes films about loners. Whether a former police officer trying to survive the apocalypse, a mother and father pushing the boundaries of medicine to save their son despite everyone telling them it’s impossible, or a pig lost in a scary city, Miller’s loners use their wits to survive or get where they want to go and, in most cases, must befriend and work with strangers they meet along the way.

Since his debut film nearly fifty years ago, Miller has established himself as one of the best action directors working today. His action scenes, particularly car chases, are shot and edited with kinetic energy incomparable by any other director working in Hollywood. Throughout all his films, regardless of genre or the species of the main character, George Miller always made sure his films were stylish and interesting. Here’s my ranking of the films of George Miller.

11. Happy Feet (2006)

Mumble in Happy Feet (Warner Bros.)
Mumble in Happy Feet (Warner Bros.)

Happy Feet starts as a cutesy, mostly entertaining jukebox musical about a penguin named Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) who cannot sing in a colony of singing penguins. He can, however, dance, which is something the other penguins make fun of him for causing him to run away from his colony and explore Antarctica. If this was all the film was focused on, it might have been good. However, Miller stuffs the film with too much plot, including a moment where Mumble ends up in a zoo that features actual humans, which makes the film overlong and takes away from the film’s central theme of acceptance.

Still, Happy Feet is one of Miller’s most successful films at the box office and has the key distinction of being George Miller’s only Oscar win, so that at least accounts for something

10. Happy Feet Two (2011)

Mumble and Eric in Happy Feet 2 (Warner Bros.)
Mumble and Eric in Happy Feet 2 (Warner Bros.)

Happy Feet 2 doesn’t have as much singing and dancing as the first film but features bigger themes and ideas of global warming and false prophets in a film that finds Mumble (Elijah Wood, once again) struggling to raise his son who cannot dance and who is fascinated by a flying penguin (voiced by Hank Azaria) who has a cult following due to his unique skill.

Miller again overstuffs the plot, including a B-story of two krill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) and their journey through the ocean that takes up way too much of the film’s runtime for a silly side story. Though not nearly as successful critically and financially, Happy Feet 2 is a slight improvement from the first Happy Feet, though still not a successful film in George Miller’s filmography.

9. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Tina Turner and Mel Gibson in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (Roadshow Film Distribution)
Tina Turner and Mel Gibson in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (Roadshow Film Distribution)

Watching Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is like watching someone get a brand-new sports car who doesn’t quite know how to drive it. The film finds our lonely warrior Max (Mel Gibson) still exploring the Wasteland and finding the most advanced town in post-apocalyptic Australia. When he’s exiled for not following the town’s rules, he hatches a plan with the help of a group of abandoned children to rebel against the town’s queen (an iconic Tina Turner).

There’s a lot of Return of the Jedi vibes in Beyond Thunderdome. Its tone is sillier and the group of abandoned children is reminiscent of the Ewoks. But, Miller showed he could handle the bigger scale and the bigger budget of the film and still produced some cool action scenes and an interesting story that expanded the lore of this post-apocalyptic world.

8. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Susan Sarandon, Cher, and Michelle Pfeiffer in The Witches of Eastwick directed by George Miller.
Susan Sarandon, Cher, and Michelle Pfeiffer in The Witches of Eastwick (Warner Bros.)

The Witches of Eastwick stars Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer as three women living in the picturesque town of Eastwick who become smitten by a mysterious and flamboyant man, played by Jack Nicholson. This horror-fantasy film was George Miller’s first feature film following three Mad Max movies (he also had a segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie in 1983) and though he was playing in a different genre with the biggest budget he’s ever worked and with four mega movie stars, his stylish filmmaking and understanding of how weird the material was made the film entertaining with an insane and committed performance by Nicholson.

7. Babe: Pig in the City (1998)

Tug, Babe, Ferdinand, and Flealick in Babe: Pig in the City directed by George Miller.
Tug, Babe, Ferdinand, and Flealick in Babe: Pig in the City (Universal Pictures)

Babe, the story of a pig who became a top-tier sheepherder, was a sensation in 1995, making tons of money at the box office and being nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture. George Miller co-wrote the screenplay for the first film and following a dispute with director Mike Noonan, took over the reins when he decided to make a sequel. The result is one of the strangest kids’ movies I have ever seen.

The best way I can describe Babe: Pig in the City is that it’s a kids’ movie for adults. Little kids might find joy in the shenanigans of Babe and the other animals as Babe gets lost in a big metropolitan city. But any child with any awareness might find some of the film disturbing, like when a dog almost drowns itself by hanging off a bridge. As an adult, while there is a lot of strange stuff in the movie, this is a great and unique adventure film about being good in a bad world. It features outstanding costumes and set design and the work of the animals is incredible to watch.

6. Mad Max (1979)

Mel Gibson in Mad Max directed by George Miller.
Mel Gibson in Mad Max (Roadshow Film Distributors)

When we think of the Mad Max film series, we think of high-octane car chases and action led by the film’s titular character Max, and that’s exactly how George Miller’s feature film debut begins. It was a bold move for the director to start his first film with a fifteen-minute chase sequence that led to chaos, destruction, and violence, but George Miller showed that he had the goods right away, showcasing his filmmaking and storytelling style.

The rest of the film is a fascinating drama about a cop (Mel Gibson) trying to protect his family from a motorcycle gang in a world on the verge of collapse. This is the origin of Max and how he became the violent loner he would become in the later films. 

5. Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton in Three Thousand Years of Longing directed by George Miller.
Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton in Three Thousand Years of Longing (United Artists Releasing)

One of the great films shot during the COVID-19 pandemic was Three Thousand Years of Longing, George Miller’s fantasy fairy tale that stars Tilda Swinton as a lonely scholar who discovers a genie (Idris Elba) and is granted three wishes in exchange for his freedom.

The film is mostly Swinton and Elba sitting in a hotel room telling stories and it’s as captivating as any of Miller’s action films. Aided by stunning visuals, two sensational performances, and powerful themes of love and longing, Three Thousand Years of Longing is a beautiful and emotional film and the most under-appreciated in Miller’s filmography.

4. Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)

Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte in Lorenzo's Oil directed by George Miller.
Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte in Lorenzo’s Oil (Universal)

Lorenzo’s Oil is a based-on-a-true-story drama about Augusto (Nick Nolte) and Michaela (Susanne Sarandon, who was nominated for an Oscar for this performance) Odone, whose son Lorenzo (Zack O’Malley Greenburg) has been stricken with a very rare and incurable disease. Rather than mourn the eventual loss of their boy, Augusto and Michaela stop at nothing to try and save their son and change the course of medical history.

The idea of George Miller making an Oscar-baity drama following three action films and a horror-comedy might sound like a strange jump, but Lorenzo’s Oil was right up Miller’s alley. Before becoming a director, Miller went to medical school in Australia and his medical expertise is one of the great things about the film. Beyond it being detailed, Miller uses Augusto and Michaela, two non-medical professionals, to explain what is happening to Lorenzo, which makes this aspect of the film easy to understand. The rest of the film is a harrowing and inspiring journey about a family’s perseverance in trying to save their son.

3. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)

Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga directed by George Miller.
Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (Warner Bros.)

Even though we know that Furiosa lives at the end of the film due to her role in Mad Max: Fury Road, the film that canonically takes place after this one, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga overcomes this common prequel problem because of a captivating story and expert direction. Miller took the opportunity to not only give us the backstory on Imperator Furiosa (played in the film by Anya Taylor-Joy), but expand the Wasteland world we were already familiar with even more by introducing us to new characters and showing us more of the intricacies of the Wasteland in how they trade, live, and work politically. Furiosa is also a gripping revenge film the likes we haven’t seen since Kill Bill, as Furiosa is hell-bent on avenging her mother’s death by killing Dementus (a career-best Chris Hemsworth).

And, of course, what makes Furiosa great is the action sequences. Once again, George Miller crafted action scenes that make you scratch your head and wonder how he came up with them and how he created them, including a fifteen-minute sequence that took 78 days to shoot and close to 200 stunt people. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is a brutal, bloody, violent film and one of the best prequels ever made.

2. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

Kjell Nilsson in Mad Max 2 directed by George Miller.
Kjell Nilsson in Mad Max 2: The Warrior (Warner Bros.)

George Miller solidified himself as a real-deal director with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. While Mad Max was exciting but rough around the edges, Mad Max 2 is expertly directed and more refined. The way he shoots and edits chase sequences is unmatched and his world-building is brilliant. This was a huge leap forward for Miller as a filmmaker and as impressive as sophomore films get.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior does everything a great sequel should do. It expands the story and world we were introduced to in the first film. It gives the characters from the first film more depth while introducing us to new and interesting characters. It grows in scale and gives us bigger and more explosive action sequences. It’s a perfect sequel.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road directed by George Miller.
Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.)

It’s an unsurprising pick, but it’s the correct one. A lot has already been written about Mad Max: Fury Road. It is regarded as one of the greatest action movies ever made. It was nominated for a slew of Oscars in 2015 and won six of them. It has been touted as one of the best films of the 2000s and a landmark film in terms of stunts, practical effects, and direction by Miller. The film is worthy of all the praise and awards it received and then some.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a perfect summation of George Miller as a director and feels like the film that he was born to make. Throughout his career, George Miller was always a highly-stylized director, using cinematography and editing to heighten emotion and capture action scenes and cinematic moments unlike any director before. He is a singular visionary who has complete control over his films even when there is a lot of chaos and mayhem going on. 

And that is exactly what Mad Max: Fury Road is: controlled chaos on screen. It is a non-stop thrill ride featuring jaw-dropping action scenes you can’t believe Miller was able to conjure up. Miller keeps the energy flowing throughout the film and even finds time to fit in an emotional escape film, amongst the car chases and explosions. Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece that will live on forever and the best film of George Miller’s career.

Written by Kevin Wozniak

Kevin is a film critic and writer from the suburbs of Chicago. He is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics, Online Film & Television Association, and Internet Film Critics Society. He usually writes movie reviews and lists of Film Obsessive.

You can find more of Kevin's work at kevflix.com

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