Essays · Movies

Filmmaker of the Year (2015): George Miller, The Mad Genius Who Never Let Go of Mad Max

Every year, Film School Rejects names a Filmmaker of the Year. For 2015, that honor goes to George Miller. Here’s why.
George Miller
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on December 23rd, 2015

When Mad Max: Fury Road was released into theaters on May 6, it gave the world a number of gifts. For film critics, it offered a very easy choice for the top of nearly every Top 10 list out there. For audiences, it delivered sound and fury in an apocalyptic landscape. It was a rush of adrenaline fueled by insane visuals and littered with fascinating characters. It also gave us Charlize Theron as Furiosa, perhaps the most badass hero we’ve seen in years. She wasn’t just another damaged soul of the apocalypse, she was an iconic feminist hero. While it would be easy to write off as popcorn fun, there is so much more to Fury Road. It’s the story of survival. For filmmaker George Miller, that survival wasn’t just an element of his plot, it was a very real part of his journey to get this movie made.

Recently released Star Wars continuation The Force Awakens may be a movie that audiences have been yearning to see for multiple decades. And other 2015 movies may have roots that go back a number of years. But no production – no “Legacyquel” – went through more trauma off-screen than Miller’s Fury Road. It was 1995 when he re-acquired the rights to the Mad Max franchise from Warner Bros. It was 10 years after he released Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and 16 years after he made the first Mad Max with a young Mel Gibson. It was his intention in 1995 to make a fourth Mad Max with Gibson. In 1998, he had an idea for the story. In 2001, he was set to begin shooting, only to be derailed by the political sensitivity of the film following the September 11 attacks. He went off and made other movies in the meantime. Babe: Pig in the City in 1998, Happy Feet in 2006 and Happy Feet Two in 2011. But throughout all of it, he never gave up on Mad Max 4. The project changed drastically over the years. Mel Gibson became less interested, then eventually become persona non grata in Hollywood by making some anti-semitic remarks, and eventually he dropped out. The film at one point was going to be a 3D animated feature. There was even going to be a video game from the same folks who did God of War II. At one point, Heath Ledger was said to be on track to be the lead in the film before he died in 2008. In the history of Fury Road, there exist any number of different movies that could have come to fruition. But none of them did.

In 2009, everything came together. Locations were scouted over the summer and in 2011, shooting would finally began 16 years after Miller had re-acquired the rights.

It was supposed to come out in 2012.

More delays, expansive costs and location issues plagued the production. When it did finally shoot, it was a very long 120 day that wrapped in December 2012. And even though, as Miller said, the film’s effects were 90% practical, nearly 2,000 visual effects shots were added in post-production.

In this day and age, there are few monumental tasks for filmmakers that can’t be accomplished with digital effects. That’s the easy road. For George Miller and Fury Road, there was never an easy road. As a filmmaker, he showed that sometimes a film survives on sheer force of will. He also showed that even a filmmaker whose most notable accomplishment was a franchise from the 80s that was all about masculinity could evolve, creating a massive action spectacle for 2015 with feminism in its DNA. It wasn’t just about a filmmaker returning to their comfort zone to extend a franchise, it was about a great idea surviving development hell because of one man’s love for the world he created.

As we sift through the ashes of 2015, closing out our thoughts on the year that was, it’s hard not to be thankful that George Miller stuck with Fury Road as long as he did. The end result is an immaculate movie – one that has received acclaim from critics, audiences and now, maybe even a little love from The Academy. Most importantly, it’s the kind of film that’s worth the wait. A marquee accomplishment in the action-packed cinematic landscape of 2015. George Miller earned our Filmmaker of the Year, not just for having the insane imagination to make something so wonderful, but for having the will to see it through.

We can only hope that he doesn’t have to go back through hell to make another one.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)