We Need to Stop Naming Mad Max: Fury Road Best Movie of the Year, Even If It Is

By  · Published on December 8th, 2015

Warner Bros.

Mad Max: Fury Road is an exceptional action movie. That’s not a good thing. Exceptional means unusually good, with a stress on it being an exception. George Miller’s return to the Mad Max franchise is accomplished on many levels, but unfortunately one of them is that it’s such a rarity. Fury Road makes most of today’s action movies look like sweded versions of Uwe Boll films. Everything else in the genre has been exposed for just how lazy it is. That’s why Fury Road needs to be looked at as an example, not an anomaly.

The best way to spotlight something as being better but not a special case or freak occurrence is to honor it among other great things but not name it the greatest of all those things. Whether or not Fury Road is in fact the best movie of the year, awards organizations and critics groups need to cool it with their recognition. Giving it the top prize is to exaggerate its worth, even if it is deserved. That’s not just true of this movie, but all. Every Oscar winner for Best Picture is overvalued.

But most movies elected as Best Picture are of a certain breed and so they do no harm to their own kind. By lumping Fury Road in with them, awards bequeathers classify it as a prestige picture, like it’s too good for the action genre. Maybe throw it into a non-ranked top 10 or a list of nominees, but don’t give it a crown and the fancy pants that come with it. Even naming it “Runner-Up” for such a prize is a bad idea. The only title it should be receiving is “Best Action Movie of the Year.” That’s how examples are made.

Consider it like this: when a bulldog first won Best in Show of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1913, after years of various terriers taking the giant ribbon, it must have been really exciting initially for fans of bulldogs and of that one, Strathtay Prince Albert, in particular. But what did other bulldogs think? What about owners of other bulldogs? None figured they needed to suddenly have a dog so shapely and majestic (see a photo here). He may have been chosen as their standard, but he was no longer their peer. When we think of bulldogs we don’t picture them like that. Only one other bulldog has won Westminster, and that was 60 years ago. His name was Kippax Fearnought, which makes him sound like an action movie hero.

So far, Fury Road has been picked as the cream of all crops by the National Board of Review and the Boston Online Film Critics Association, with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association naming it second place. All three groups have been known lately to recognize genre pictures like Snowpiercer, Gravity and Her. But nothing as bulldog-like as Fury Road. There have been other tough dogs that managed to be hybrids, also. Best Pictures with fighting and car chases and warriors against tyrants – a boxer, a French bulldog, a Molossus, among them. Each with a dash of a more stereotypically distinguished pedigree.

Fury Road is wilder, even if it is well-groomed beneath the dirt. It doesn’t belong in a tuxedo at a big to-do. It needs to be roaming around, leading the pack by example rather than by throne, showing the other dogs its tricks and revealing how to be in touch with its feminine side without being neutered. Soon enough, without awards recognition, this movie is going to be one of the most popular action movies there is, and only then can it start a sort of breeding revolution in the industry.

Producers of movies like Fury Road don’t want acclaim and trophies. They want a large audience. The Mad Max reboot-quel cost a lot of money, and it made a decent amount of money globally but nothing like Avengers: Age of Ultron or Furious 7 coin. We don’t need another reason for Hollywood to possibly see Fury Road as the way not to do things, and making it even more of an outlier will do that. Awards may seem like a positive, especially to make up for its inferior box office, when really the honors will further distance it from its blockbuster spectacle appeal.

Anytime multiplex fare turns out to be great, we want to promote it to the big leagues. Why not let them stick around in the minors to make that tier more enjoyable? Trying to group a Mad Max or a Batman movie with the Kings Speeches and Birdmans is never going to make the highbrow audience any more interested in these kinds of movies anyway. We don’t want Fury Road to be reach upward, we want it to reach downward and pull up other action movies. Prove that a Marvel movie could be that good, and it will make much more money because it’s still a Marvel movie.

Maybe you can maintain a certain stock once you’re in the awards show, have Fury Road sire quality offspring in its own franchise. But the mangy mutts that people favor in their homes are going to continue to be more popular. The majority of us will be better off if we let the more acclaimed dog mix with the more popular dogs than let a tougher breed into the ranks of the hoity-toity winner’s circle. We can all include Fury Road in our year-end coverage for the cool edge, but think of the future of action movies by keeping it out of actual reach of awards, especially Best Picture.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.