Are we Living in a Mad Max World?

Mad Max lived in desperate times. Are we heading down the same road?
Mad Max lived in desperate times. Are we heading down the same road?

The term “Mad Max” has come up several times in the past weeks referring to our potential future. For example, someone might ask, “Will we pull it together, or will our future look like Mad Max?” I’ve seen the Canadian Prepper refer to “Mad Max” in one of his videos, and this article in Zero Hedge warns a “’Mad Max’ Scenario is Imminent.”

In light of this, I decided to re-watch the original Mad Max movies and see if there were any lessons we could take from them or what conclusions we could draw. The first conclusion is that when someone refers to a Mad Max future, they mean a dystopian future where the veneer of civilization is gone and we are living in a violent post-apocalyptic, dog-eat-dog world. A “Mad max Scenario” is a worst-case outcome.

What Happened in Mad Max’s World

The first Movie, Mad Max, released in 1979, is about a cop’s battle with a biker gang on Australia’s highways in a “self-destructing world.” Apparently, gasoline and other resources are in short supply and crime is high. (Sound familiar?) While this movie defines that Max is angry and bitter at the death of is wife and son, it is my least favorite of the series. It always seemed like a low-budget prequel to the Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome movies, which have a much grander scale.

In the second move, Mad Max: Road Warrior, released in 1982, the world has already self-destructed and cities no longer exist. Max is driving around the Australian outback in a post-apocalyptic world where he eats canned dog food, has only a couple shotgun shells to his name, and must scrounge gas for his car. The survivors have clanned up and there is inter-tribal warfare between those with resources and those without.

In the third movie, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, multiple hints lead us to understand the apocalypse was nuclear. Max starts out driving a vehicle pulled by camels because there is no gasoline to be had. Society has, however, coalesced into one with commerce instead of competition. Batertown, ruled by Tina Turner’s character “Aunty” has laws, law enforcement, and politics.

I’m leaving out Mad Max: Fury Road because it was released 30 years later and is not knit together with the previous three releases. It also does not shed any new light on the disaster. In the Mad Max world, its storyline took place between Road Warrior and Thunderdome.

The Mad Max Wiki says, “After the economy collapsed and the fabric of society disintegrated across the world, the remaining governments were still trying to secure the last oil reserves. This had led to a global nuclear exchange. It is unknown who struck first, but everyone had suffered. Nuclear winter followed shortly after.” Apparently, the collapse in the Mad Max world was multi-faceted, starting with economic depression and ending with nuclear war. I can see that happening.

Lessons from Max

Mad Max is a fictionalized story. It’s made up or pretend, not real. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful. As preppers, we must project what the future might look like so we can prepare for it. In addition to our own imaginations, books, movies and TV shows are one way to do that. So let’s see what lessons we can learn.

Should we be like Max?

Max wasn’t a prepper, but he became a survivor because of his will to survive, his cleverness, and his warrior abilities. His survival, and the survival of certain other characters—such as the Gyro Captain—are examples of survival of the fittest, or at least the most clever. In the World of Mad Max, being a fast talker and able negotiator can be as useful as being a quick draw; something to consider.

Despite losing his wife and child and seeing the world change for the worse, Max slowly regains his humanity, which he lost in the first movie. By the third movie, he refuses to kill Blaster when he realizes the giant is but a child in a man’s body. At the end of Thunderdome, he sacrifices himself to allow the plane to take off, saving the lost children and others who end up forming a new society in the bombed-out shell of Sydney.

This is a good reminder that there will be bad times after the SHTF, but we cannot let them destroy our souls. We must think quick, act quick, and be ready to kill, but we don’t need to be butchers like Lord Humungus (that’s the official spelling), who straps people to the front of cars, rapes women, and kills wantonly.

Max may be insane, hence his “mad” moniker, but who would not be at least somewhat off kilter after living through the apocalypse? Perhaps a bit of madness is what we will need to survive. After the apocalypse, we may need to be “crazy like a fox” or to have people like Max on our team; good people capable of doing bad things when necessary, even if it causes psychological harm.

This is a young Max when he was in law enforcement, before the death of his wife and daughter drove him into the wasteland.
This is a young Max when he was in law enforcement, before the death of his wife and daughter drove him into the wasteland.

Stockpile Ammo

In the second movie, ammunition is in short supply. Max has an empty sawed-off double-barrel shotgun until the refinery residents reward him with shells. Even then, one is a dud and fails to fire. Lord Humungus has a cherished revolver, but only a few rounds of ammo. The refinery and oil tanker defenders use arrows, bladed weapons, and flame throwers instead of guns.

By the third movie, ammunition is almost non-existent and there is very little shooting. In the Mad Max timeline, Thunderdome takes place 18 years after the original movie, so it makes sense that most stockpiles would be consumed. I expect most preppers have enough ammunition to allow them to hunt for decades and to defend their retreat for months or even years. But do we have enough to last for decades?

The 18-year time frame is interesting to note because that’s longer than I expect it to take to start rebuilding society. I hope things will bounce back on a local level within three to five years and then improve regionally and nationally. What are the odds we will live 18 years in a “Mad Max scenario?”

Food and Water

Nuclear Winter is going to mean several years, perhaps as long as a decade, of reduced sunlight. This would be bad for farmers, if any survive the war and subsequent fallout, but so many people will have died that there will be less demand for large-scale farm production. A shorter growing season, however, will be bad for preppers and survivalists, too. A greenhouse might make it possible to raise plants if the climate turns colder, but how many of us have greenhouses? And how many are large enough to raise enough food to support several people? We’ll need to rely on stored food. How much do you have stored?

Preppers have always known food is the foundation of a good preparedness plan. That can of Dinki-Di dog food just drives the point home.

Water is a big issue in Fury Road, but in Thunderdome, Max meets a vendor on a beat-up bicycle who is selling water. There are also several scenes in the desert that illustrate the importance of drinking water. We learn water is not only scarce, but purity is also an issue. For those of us living in more tropical locations, there may be water, but we must deal with storing and purifying it.

The movies don’t directly address hygiene, but you’ll notice few of the characters are clean.


Through the course of the trilogy, we see the use of gasoline-powered vehicles diminish due to a lack of resources. I expect this will be the case in the real world. The gasoline in those underground tanks at the gas station will not last for long and gasoline-powered vehicles will have decreasing value. Better to use your limited fuel to power chain saws, tractors, and other tools and equipment that can improve your survival than to spend it driving about.

In Mad Max 2 and 3, the road is a dangerous place where drivers are targeted by land pirates looking to plunder their petrol and other resources. The lesson here is to get where you are going, secure the location, and stay there as long as it is tenable. Driving alone makes you a target for marauders.


I find it interesting that the Mad Max movies show the development of enclaves like Batertown and the besieged refinery. Humans are a social animal, and as much as preppers such as myself want to be isolated and left alone, we will eventually need something that is only found at a trading post, which means we have to go to town. What “town” looks like is a big question mark.

In this country, cities and towns often grew around transportation nexuses, such as natural ports, river crossings, or railroad stops. After the SHTF, the survivors may gather at other locations, such as near hydroelectric plants where electricity is available, or outside military bases (assuming any survive), where the civilian populace is protected. Anywhere resources sufficient to support life are found, you can expect to people will gather. The more resources, the more people.

The enclaves in the Mad Max universe also have strong leaders who can hold things together. In some cases, such as Aunty, they founded and built the town. In the refinery, it seems that Pappagallo pulls the people together based on charisma and common senses. As a result, he is a less forceful, and perhaps less effective, leader than Aunty.


While we do not know Lord Humungus’ origin story, he is an early example of a warlord who rules by strength and intimidation. He may have grown out of the very motorcycle gangs Max faced off with in the first movie. Aunty is an evolved and improved version of Humungus but remains a “strongman” in her own right.

We must consider that there will be local strongmen or warlords near us after the SHTF. Preppers and other survivors may face the choice of joining them, ignoring them and hoping to be left alone, or competing with them. This will depend very much on their disposition, your strength, and where your best interests lie.

The Mad Max Scenario

Given the current global situation with a land war in Europe that may evolve into a nuclear war, reports that China is a crumbling empire and as such may lash out, and the poor economic and social conditions facing most of the world, a “Mad Max Scenario” is perhaps as likely today than when the first Mad Max movie was released. In fact, if you look back at 1979, you see inflation, a cold war, and various types of political and social unrest.

Whether you choose to think the future is a post-apocalyptic one as seen in Mad Max or not, it’s a good target for your preps. Use it and the many other movies, TV shows and books to test your level of preparedness. Are you ready for One Second After? What would you do in a Jericho situation? What Mad Max Character would you be like?