The Road Warrior

1982

Car culture may have been born in the United States, but it took a couple of Australians (director George Miller and actor Mel Gibson) to take it to its logical cinematic extreme. Their story distills the car-love of a thousand Hollywood wheelmen and turns it into something desperate, a world in which losing your wheels is unthinkable. Miller's characters match the furnace-blasted chassis they ride: These heroes and villains have so much primal ferocity they make Humvee drivers look like sissies. Petrol may be scarce in the world of the future but adrenaline flows freely in scenes of asphalt-gripping combat that are brilliantly imagined and shot with low-budget perfection. Even Miller himself couldn't replicate this film's visceral impact -- the earlier "Mad Max" wasn't fully formed, and the "Beyond Thunderdome" sequel foolishly dressed up the spare narrative -- and few intelligent filmmakers have been bold enough to try to beat him at his game.