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Making sense of the Mad Max timelines: When do each of the movies take place?

It's not a straight road for anyone trying to make sense of Mad Max canon. But does it matter?

Furiosa trailer screenshot
Image credit: Warner Bros.

If there is a film franchise that operates almost exclusively on the Rule of Cool, it is Mad Max. Even dating back to the first film in 1979, the series has played things loose when it comes to a strict timeline... but that makes it tough to know exactly when each movie takes place, especially when you factor in the upcoming Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga prequel coming out in 2024.

If you’re looking for a strict timeline of events for everything Mad Max, it is going to be tough to come by. That is because Fury Road makes some drastic changes to both the main character and the world around him. However, here is the Mad Max timeline as we know it now.

Obviously, this timeline sparks some big questions, particularly around the age of the main character. Max is a grown man with a wife and son in the first film, which takes place in the mid-1980s thanks to the opening message that reads “A few years from now” – now being the 1979 release date of the first movie – and some graffiti in the background that references 1984. These two films show a world that is still operating with some level of law and order, though that society is rapidly crumbling away.

Beyond Thunderdome is the first Mad Max film that takes place after a nuclear war has scorched the planet. Its opening implies that planes were still operating in 1999 which was a few years earlier. Even giving society a few years to collapse would put the film as somewhere in the mid-2000s but not much later.

This is contradicted by a Mad Max: Fury Road prequel comic that explicitly states that the war didn’t happen until sometime after 2015. That would put Max at around 55 years old in Beyond Thunderdome. The age of the main character becomes a bigger problem in Fury Road, where Max has a tattoo that marks exactly 33 years since the fall of mankind, which would put him somewhere between 65 and 75 years old in the film despite looking and acting like a man in his mid-30s.

George Miller himself hasn’t been forthcoming with details to clarify these contradictions and we have no indication that Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga will clear things up. Instead, it is likely that it will further complicate things by depicting a land already fallen to chaos following the collapse of society without giving specific dates or years.

However, we don’t think these contradictions are big issues in a series that doesn’t take its own lore as seriously as its fanbase. The point of the movies, particularly in Fury Road and Furiosa, is as much the spectacle of a world without laws as anything else. So long as the series remains fun and gives us the over-the-top action and larger-than-life characters we’ve come to expect, does it matter if we aren’t sure if Tom Hardy is really playing the same Max as Mel Gibson? Not everything needs a strict timeline, after all.

As the year wind downs, it's time to look back and all you've read and watched. Popverse has picked the best movies, best comics, and best TV shows of the year.

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About the Author
Trent Cannon avatar

Trent Cannon


Trent is a freelance writer who has been covering anime, video games, and pop culture for a decade. (He/Him)