Mad Max (1979) | The Road Warrior (1982)
Long before Mel Gibson started making bloated, violent celebrations of himself, he burst to stardom with a pair of lean, violent celebrations of the kinetic possibilities of car and camera. Mad Max introduced Gibson to much of the world as a cop who tires of chasing speed demons across the (Out)backroads of a dystopic, possibly post-apocalyptic future Australia and retires, only to get pulled back when a biker gang kills his wife and son. By The Road Warrior (known outside the States as Mad Max 2), Max has become half-outlaw himself, a Shane-like loner who reluctantly comes to the aid of a band of survivors clinging to a crucial cache of gasoline in the barren wasteland. Gibson, young and raw, is magnetic in his first two major movies, but the real star is director/co-writer George Miller, whose landmark chase sequences thrum like an engine at maximum throttle. After two decades and several quantum leaps in action-flick technology, Road Warrior's climactic convoy still boggles the mind with its gut-level intensity and almost balletic automotive interplay. It isn't just about the wheels--Miller stuffs both films with weird humor, outlandish punked-out villains with names like Toecutter and Wez, and genuine feeling for his characters, weaving the narrative with Western (as in both film and civ) archetypes of heroism, myth, and community. But man, do those car chases kick ass.