Ranking All George Miller Movies
Best known for his quadrilogy of Mad Max films and cementing a lot of what has become standard for a post-apocalyptic film, Australian director George Miller is by all accounts one of the best directors still working today. Despite only have ten feature-length films since 1979, he has established himself as an auteur that can’t be stopped. With varying genres under his belt and standing out as one of the best visual directors in the business, Miller is a force to be reckoned with and his films illustrate a man trying to make a point while still being effusively entertaining. For this ranking of his films – stirred on by the release of his tenth film, Three Thousand Years of Longing – I’ve omitted movies like The Twilight Zone: The Movie since Miller only directed one short film within that, and Babe because he is not technically the director, despite his hands being all over it. With that out of the way, let’s begin a look at Miller’s prolific filmography.
10. Happy Feet Two (2011)
George Miller’s worst movie, but even that says so little. It did not do well critically and as a sequel it definitely failed to really justify itself. Mumble (Elijah Wood) has grown up and is now raising his son Eric who, unlike his Dad, can’t dance. This idea of not belonging begins latching onto Eric and is further exacerbated when he discovers Lovelace (Robin Williams) and Sven (Hank Azaria) – the former a penguin abducted by aliens and the latter his savior: a puffin who all the penguins believe is just a penguin that can fly. A motivational speaker that essentially has a cult following behind him, Sven becomes a hero to Eric and seems more accepting of him than his father.
Happy Feet Two is often a lot to take in because it is Miller really hammering home the idea of an ecosystem and environment in shambles due to climate change. It opens with narration that emphasizes how no matter the size of an animal or species, they’re all ultimately part of a single whole. To highlight this, the film goes from small to big, showing two krill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) determined to adapt and escape their fate at the bottom of the food chain, then the emperor penguins trapped in a hopeless situation due to collapsing glaciers, and finally humans spilling oil and despite their best efforts to help, being hindered by nature itself. Everything is connected and you either all work together or you die.
Remember, this is a kids movie. However, it’s clear that Miller took more cues from Babe: Pig in the City than he did the success of Happy Feet. It’s still an impressive feat of animation that seamlessly blends with real-life actors and is both colorful and dark (a segment detailing Sven and Lovelace’s journey from human capture to freedom is particularly grim but beautifully colored). The musical numbers are maybe better here than in the first film and they feel a little less dated thanks to using classics a bit more than current chart-topping hits.
All of the family elements work well enough, but they lack the same impact as the previous film purely because it is just more of the same. It’s someone not fitting in and people not grasping how that feels. The first film had the benefit of exploring that in a much grander scope, this one is massive in scope but narratively meandering all in service of a larger thesis. Ultimately Happy Feet Two is just too bleak without really leaning into it in the way that Babe: Pig in the City successfully does. Perhaps a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, but either way it results in a movie that tries to be arresting and joyous without merging the two in a successful manner.
9. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
The last film in George Miller’s Mad Max franchise until he revived it 30 years later with Mad Max: Fury Road, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the director’s attempt to create a further world around Max that is not as depraved as the wasteland itself. Through the introduction of Bartertown, leaders, and legends, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the most hopeful entry in the franchise. While it definitely has its fun moments thanks to the Thunderdome itself and an incredibly engaging planes, trains, and automobiles chase, there’s unfortunately no denying that it’s also the weakest entry in the franchise. Co-directed by George Ogilvie, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is filled with ideas but its presentation and meandering narrative hinder it from capturing the essence of the wasteland.
Max (Mel Gibson) is completely entrenched in the ways of the wasteland by this point and more-than-capable of handling himself in any situation. Still a man solely focused on his own preservation, he’s also still willing to help out others if there’s something in it for him. He makes deals to survive and clings to the idea that trust is a two-way street. Which is why when he finds himself in Bartertown and making a deal with the town’s leader, Auntie Entity (Tina Turner, who also performs two songs for the film’s soundtrack), trust becomes the number one commodity in Max’s world. Gasoline doesn’t feel like it rules the world as much as it did in The Road Warrior, even with the film’s introduction of pig farming and the resulting value of methane from their excrement, and that is another reason why there feels like more hope in this film than others.
Unfortunately, it is dragged down by a more purposeless plot – it’s Max helping out a leader take out another leader so she can have complete control. Perhaps Bartertown just feels like the closest approximation to a society that he has seen in the post-apocalyptic world he now thrives, but the film never really feels like it captures Max as a character. Instead, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome feels more like a George Lucas or Steven Spielberg adventure film. It’s a film that doesn’t ever really have much of a plot until Max runs into the child survivors of an airplane crash. Everything is so low stakes in a world where everything should be high stakes that once the film does push itself into a narrative that gives Max a little purpose, it still doesn’t feel like what’s being done matters.
On the bright side, Dean Semler provides some gorgeous cinematography to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome that is better than the previous films. It’s a brighter film where all the components put in place lead to a much less hopeless world. The Thunderdome fight is fun, though lacks the grit that its “two men enter, one man leaves” coda suggests it should have. It pales in comparison to the film’s final chase which is the closest the film gets to The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Fury Road’s ramshackle, by-the-skin-of-its-teeth action. Ultimately, it’s admirable for showing a world within the world that isn’t governed by chaos, but the end result is a movie that never quite feels like it’s attuned to Max as a character.
8. Happy Feet (2006)
While Babe and Babe: Pig in the City might be George Miller’s first foray into family films, it’s Happy Feet and its sequel that might be the most family-centric of all his movies. An animated story about a penguin that has an uncanny ability to tap dance and can’t stop doing it, even when everyone around him is both embarrassed and concerned for his well-being, Happy Feet is somehow also about persecution and the way traditions take hold of a society and form into religion. Winning George Miller an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, it’s somehow always surprising to remember that Miller wasn’t only the Mad Max guy – he was also trying to make kids movies that had something to say.
In the case of Happy Feet, it has a lot to say. Following a group of Emperor Penguins that essentially disavow a young penguin named Mumble (Elijah Wood) because he cannot sing as is necessary in their group to find a mate and be happy, the story quickly turns to one of alienation and discrimination. A long journey takes him to see other penguins and eventually comes across an alien race that rarely is seen by the penguins. These aliens, of course, are humans, and that’s where Miller also injects a healthy dose of environmentalism but it’s not to the point that he would later expand upon greatly with Happy Feet Two.
No, instead Happy Feet is a film brimming with dated music and visual effects that just barely hold up. It’s the energy that a free flowing camera – only Miller would have one flying around the screen as if it was ripped from a Mad Max film – adds to the frequent reminder that life can’t be so rigid. It’s a constant state of improvisation, something which tap dancing emphasizes a little bit more than singing covers of popular music. There’s nothing wrong with it, but the creativity of a cover song never quite reaches the heights of a penguin tap dancing his way through the arctic to the beat of his drum.
It’s not Miller’s greatest film though, and to pretend like it’s all about the depressing or more adult-oriented subject matter would be disingenuous. Happy Feet is a kids movie, perhaps much more than any of his other films besides Babe (which he did not direct but did co-write). To this extent, you get exactly what the film promises: an entertaining time for kids with a nice little message that mainly only adults are really going to catch on to.
7. Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)
Seven years after the release of Mad Max: Fury Road almost felt like 3000 years for those of us completely over-the-moon about George Miller’s action epic and wanting to see what the director does next. Three Thousand Years of Longing is definitely not the film that people who associate Miller exclusively with Mad Max will expect, but for those familiar with his inclination to explore unique stories and tell them in ambitious ways, it’s exactly the movie one should expect from the auteur. A dizzying spectacle of visual ingenuity wrapping a tale of two solitary souls who find themselves at a stalemate when a Djinn’s (Idris Elba) requirements cannot be fulfilled by Alithea (Tilda Swinton) – a narratologist comfortable with living an isolated life and seemingly devoid of any desires.
Cooped up away for – you guessed it – 3000 years, a Djinn is finally freed from a bottle after a fateful purchase is made by Alithea at a Turkish bazaar. The bottle has seen better days, but so too has the Djinn who has been incarcerated in bottles three times due to his bad luck with women and an inability to find someone who can fulfill the one requirement that will set him completely free: make three wishes of your heart’s desire. What should be a seemingly simple task is known to Alithea as a very dangerous one as there are very few stories about genies and djinns that don’t end as a cautionary tale.
Primarily taking place in a single hotel room and comprised of flashbacks as the Djinn recounts his life up to this point, Miller (who co-wrote the film with his daughter, Augusta Gore) is waxing poetic here more than in any of his other films. It’s lavish stories of people being overcome by others and their influence on them, including the Djinn who can’t seem to govern the same influence over those he needs. Elba gives an extremely nuanced, vulnerable performance even though his character is immortal. Miller’s never shied away from penetrating the facades of powerful figures and here he prods at the lack of power and obviously withering psyche of one of the most powerful figures in stories.
It’s also Miller taking a look at the impact of the 21st century on the ways of the old and storytelling as a whole. The ways in which information is disseminated and how progress comes at a cost to valuable foundations of our past. It’s Miller’s messiest movie, but it’s also one of his most ambitious narratives anchored by wonderful performances and stunning visuals. Perhaps given more time to digest this will be along the lines of Babe: Pig in the City and Lorenzo’s Oil in their place within Miller’s filmography, but as of now it’s a thought-provoking meditation on narrative that just doesn’t cleanly come together.
6. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
George Miller’s only horror film in this list is also an adult comedy centered around sex and misogyny in a sleepy, picturesque Rhode Island town. Where fantasies generally go to die, the town of Eastwick comes alive when a mysterious man buys one of the town’s biggest estates and seduces three single women during his stay. Based on the 1984 novel of the same name by John Updike, Miller’s film is hardly subtle when it comes to its subject matter thanks to a sharp screenplay from Michael Cristofer and an undeniably hypnotic performance in Jack Nicholson as the mysterious man, Daryl Van Horne.
However, it takes three attractive women to sell the film’s sexual exploits and The Witches of Eastwick hits the jackpot with Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon taking on the role of the three ladies taken by Daryl’s eccentric charm. Three strong women who end up infatuated by Daryl’s boldness, Miller lets characters wax poetic about female frustration and male frustration in equal measure but the point is in who the good guys and bad guys are in the end. There’s no mincing words and Cristofer’s screenplay tackles male fragility, the power of sex, and the wonders of the human body while Miller injects the film’s philosophical musings on gender with the insanity of a Looney Tunes cartoon.
What results is a fun film that doesn’t quite work all the time but when it shoots for the stars, it’s enrapturing. A nonsensical performance from Nicholson (as well as Veronica Cartwright as the uptight, moral balance to Nicholson’s devilish delights) and Miller’s push for every moment to be heightened either by spite or by whimsy forms a barrage of delirious sights and sounds. As the first feature length film after spending years in the wastelands with Mad Max, Miller proves here that his creativity knows no bounds and even when a film appears on the surface to be one thing, he’s able to give it significantly more depth.
5. Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
Did you know that George Miller is a medical doctor? It explains the way Miller’s most depressing drama is also his most methodical and empathetic. Lorenzo’s Oil was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress for Susan Sarandon at the 1993 Academy Awards. Nick Nolte is no slouch here either, but I suspect his thick Italian accent divided the Academy. Regardless, Lorenzo’s Oil is surprisingly clinical in its approach towards a family fighting with a then-relatively-obscure ALD (Adrenoleukodystrophy) diagnosed in their young child. The pursuit of knowledge and finding safety during a struggle for survival broadly covers the harrowing journey that the Odone family faces when they attempt to save their son from certain death.
It’s the way Miller sets everything up in under twenty minutes of a 129-minute movie that underscores just how clinical the film really is. A brief moment of joy as Lorenzo enjoys a trip to South Africa before coming back home and suddenly being hit by symptom after symptom until it comes to light that he has ALD – a relatively unheard of disease at the time that quickly damages the nerves and brain until a sudden untimely death. Where some parents accept their child’s fate in the face of no known cure, and others try to make the best of the time they have left, Michaela (Sarandon) and Augusto (Nolte) dive headfirst into attempting to find a cure that no one else can seem to discover.
What’s most remarkable about Lorenzo’s Oil is that even when it’s decidedly pointing a finger at science and the slow process of change, it’s able to present scientists and research as vital and understand the way hands get tied that prevent help being provided when it’s urgent. It highlights the problems without excusing the reasons for why they exist. The headstrong nature of Michaela and Augusto also emphasizes the other side of the equation: the reckless and human response to a loved one being taken away.
It’s a heartbreaking film, made without the need to tug on heartstrings and play up the anguish. It’s all there and it never leaves during the entirety of Michaela and Augusto’s journey with Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s Oil also features gorgeous cinematography throughout, marking John Seale’s first collaboration with Miller before returning again in 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s easy to forget about Lorenzo’s Oil when talking about Miller’s films due to its lack of fantastical elements and it being a grounded feature in comparison to everything else he’s done, but it’s also easily one of his best films and shows the director capable of having a riveting, heart wrenching conversation without having to resort to the traditional saccharine tricks these films often prance out.
4. Mad Max (1979)
“A few years from now…” is how George Miller sets the stage for what ultimately ends up an evergreen call-to-action against those tearing the world apart. A far more depraved entry in the iconic Mad Max franchise (a key touchstone for all post-apocalyptic films), Miller’s 1979 Ozploitation classic is also the auteur’s most character-centric narrative in the series. Setting the groundwork for both the world and the wandering drifter that finds himself compelled to be a cog in the wheel of change, Mad Max is never pretty as it always teeters towards complete chaos in its exploration of what even just a glimpse of madness can do to a civilization.
Those more familiar with every other entry in the series might be shocked to find that Mad Max is not as focused on its action. Instead, Miller opens the film with a car chase between the police trying to maintain order in a crumbling society and Nightrider (Vincent Gil) – a member of Toecutter’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) motorbike gang that terrorizes the innocent. That chase – a dizzying display of Miller’s dedication to vehicular mayhem and a hint to what the franchise will ultimately become – sets off a sequence of events when Max (Gibson) kills Nightrider and paints a target on his back by the rest of his gang.
Throughout this chase and every interaction with Toecutter’s gang, there’s an unhinged insanity that forces people who want to survive against it to fall into a similar mindset. There’s a recurring notion that Max is one of the last of his kind: a hero. It’s what drives him to continue facing the world around him and attempt to restore some semblance of humanity – or at least protect what’s left of it.
As an origin story, it doesn’t get more simpler than a man attempting to fix what’s broken and watching it break down even further. Max in Mad Max: Fury Road says something similar when he says “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane”. But it’s the way Miller slowly tears down Max’s reality and forces him to confront the way the world really is that solidifies Mad Max as an incredible exploitation flick that ends up serving as the foundation to one of the best characters in cinema.
3. Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
While George Miller’s hands are all over the 1995 original film, Babe, it isn’t until Babe: Pig in the City where you realize that Miller is in complete control of something he should maybe not be in control of. On paper, it seems absolutely horrifying and in action it is too. Where Babe was about an outsider (a pig) feeling included in a tight knit group (sheepdogs), Babe: Pig in the City is about the ruthlessness of the world to an outsider – to someone who does not belong. Putting humans as main characters just as much as the animals, Miller ends up illustrating a hostile world where animals take on the role of the downtrodden and left behind: the homeless, drug abusers, prostitutes, etc. As I said with Happy Feet Two, remember that this is a kids movie.
I have fond memories of Babe, but admittedly I had either not seen or blocked out any recollection of Babe: Pig in the City before I attended a double feature of the film at a rep theater in Toronto where it played right before Mad Max: Fury Road. Those who have seen the former, will fully understand why that may not be an obvious pairing at first but it somehow works so well. The two share the same deranged DNA of someone looking at the world and seeing the way anyone not in power is treated, capitalizing on misfortunes, and ultimately costing lives in order to build a society.
It’s also a funny movie with a lot of dark humor. That eventually bleeds into really traumatic content that I would never show a child, but that’s somewhat why Babe: Pig in the City works so well. It doesn’t shy away from being the dark film it wants to be and while it is using one of the most adorable animals in cinematic history as a launching pad for exploring the fringes of society, Miller doesn’t seem to forget that. The talking animal schtick gets leaned into more and the film is more zany than the previous. It’s a slapstick comedy in many regards, but also a harrowing journey where someone has their eyes opened to the reality of the world outside of their idealistic farm.
Art design and production wise, it’s also a staggering achievement. Babe: Pig in the City has one of the coolest settings ever as the titular city is really just a hodgepodge of different metropolises smushed together into a horrifying monstrosity that reminds you of the similarities between cities. I’m not sure if Miller hates cities, but nothing in Babe: Pig in the City is alluring. It’s a constant struggle to survive and by using so many different landmarks, Miller paints an image of homogenized oppression and discrimination towards those who have fallen between the cracks. It’s not Miller’s best movie, but it certainly is one of his most audacious.
2. The Road Warrior (1981)
“Their leaders talked and talked and talked, but nothing could stem the avalanche. Their world crumbled.”
Again, Miller opens The Road Warrior with a similarly chilling tone to his 1979 film. Narration that essentially sets up the film for those who did not watch Mad Max while also forever timely in its subject matter, The Road Warrior begins by feeling hopeless. The events of Mad Max were so absolute that it eventually just became the world of The Road Warrior. A lawless wasteland now serves as the setting for Max (Gibson) and establishes a framework for Max’s adventures that would later be refined and perfected in Mad Max: Fury Road 34 years later. Gone is any pretense in Max’s head that the world can be saved, and instead he now wanders through the barren landscape helping himself.
However, what Miller established in the 1979 film was that Max firmly believed himself to be a hero. He’s not one, and he does not present himself as one, but he is angry and bitter towards the chaos and ingrained in him now is a sense of honor – the idea of doing the right thing. It’s what ultimately leads him to help a group attempting to fuel their tanker and keep moving until they can find somewhere less hostile. Families and children surrounded by Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) and his gang of marauders and scavengers, they have no chance of making their trek if they don’t deal with the enemies at their door who want nothing but to steal the most valuable resource in the wasteland: gasoline.
Here is where Miller firmly establishes many of the aesthetic properties of a post-apocalyptic film while also crafting one of the greatest action films of all time. Leather-clad bikers wielding metallic makeshift weaponry, merging the insanity of the world around them with the single resource that keeps them alive. It’s almost cyberpunk in its aesthetic choices because it’s very much man becoming the thing they’re dependent on with every character feeling like an extension or accessory to their vehicle, as opposed to the cyberpunk fusing of flesh and technology. The Road Warrior is a film that is always portraying madness and desperation, which is why its protagonist ends up being the perfect hero for this world – someone desperate to see the world survive but has nothing to lose.
Ending with what is arguably just a condensed version of the entirety of Mad Max: Fury Road without the narrative beats, the tanker chase in The Road Warrior is a masterclass in action filmmaking. It’s tense, having set up the stakes so effectively prior while also presenting a new cast of characters to become invested in their journey, while also being viscerally engaging. It’s an insane sequence that always feels like it’s on the verge of falling off the rails but never does. It understands that in the wasteland you are never guaranteed to succeed but the risk is always worth taking. Miller’s action throughout the franchise always abides by this acknowledgement that confidence in your seemingly deranged decisions is the only way to survive. You can’t get further if you don’t try, and the only way to try in the wasteland is to be completely mad.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Making the wise pivot from oil to water as the valuable resource in a post-apoclyptic landscape, George Miller’s magnum opus sees him at his angriest and most creative. An exhilarating chase sequence as its focal point, Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t just George Miller’s best movie; it’s one of the best action movies ever made. A singular vision where you can feel the blood, sweat, and oil in every frame, it’s a film where its dedication to practical effects and clever use of CG exemplifies the best approach to Miller’s specific brand of vehicular chaos.
Even outside of its outrageous stuntwork and carsploitation, Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterclass in telling a story through action beats. Introducing an immediately captivating Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who is revealed to be in the process of smuggling out Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who fans of the franchise will know as Toecutter in the original film) prized wives that he keeps purely for breeding new sons, Fury Road wastes no time jumping right into its action and plot at the same time. A captured Max (now played by Tom Hardy) gets strapped to the front of Nux’s (Nicholas Hoult) war rig as a blood bag so that the young War Boy can chase after Furiosa and be noticed by the great Immortan Joe, who runs the Citadel due to his complete control over the water supply.
The fact remains that Miller isn’t just playing with toys here and letting the wasteland be his sandbox. If the previous Mad Max films did not exist, Fury Road would still be a crowning achievement because it establishes the framework for a Mad Max movie (Max is a drifter and a catalyst for change), it nuances the politics and society that allows corruption to fester, it brings together a unique cast of characters that all embody some broken part of humanity, and most of all, it’s all done through action. There’s not an ounce of fat on the film and even when it “takes a break”, it’s for some of the most gut wrenching moments like the realization of hopelessness or the reality check of a memory. It’s a fresh start for the franchise while also refining every aspect of the original trilogy starring Mel Gibson.
There’s an underlying sadness to the entirety of the film – a futility that Max has long since accepted but never quite given up on. In the face of impossible odds, Max has always been the character that is saddled with the potential to ignite change in a world but will only do so if he truly believes there’s a chance. It can be a slim chance, but he’ll do it. The events of Fury Road are no exception and it’s why even when he’s strapped to the front of a War Rig as spears fly by his head and explosions go off in his view, he still survives. The end goal is always just to survive, but it’s how he does it that imbues even the saddest reality with a glimmer of hope.
The fact that Miller returned to the franchise after Beyond Thunderdome and essentially took action cinema by storm is a testament to the foundations he had built and the way he creatively pivots the film into the 21st century. Miller’s inability to be subtle about what his films are actually about – in this instance, humanity tearing itself apart and the eventual privatization of basic resources needed for survival by the elite – is what makes Mad Max: Fury Road click better than any of his other films. He doesn’t just segment it away to some opening narration. Nor does he hide it in subtext. It’s all right there in its characters and a hunt to stop someone from exposing cracks in the armor. Mad Max: Fury Road will always be talked about when discussing the best action films ever made and has perhaps rightfully overshadowed The Road Warrior in that it takes many of its elements and refines them into a perfectly well-oiled machine. It’s a staggering piece of filmmaking and inarguably Miller’s greatest achievement and contribution to cinema.