Mad Max and more: Five great Australian films you have to see

With the recent success of the hotly anticipated film Mad Max: Fury Road, Stephen Clarke recommends a few essential Australian films for students to sink their teeth into. 

Tom Hardy as Mad Max

What a lovely day! Tom Hardy as Mad Max in the new film, Mad Max: Fury Road.

George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road roared into cinemas last week with a global opening weekend of more than $100 million.

Fury Road is the fourth entry in the series of dystopian Australian films that were responsible for launching Mel Gibson into the international spotlight. Despite a gap of more than 30 years to the previous sequel, the new installment of the Mad Max series retains the stark, sweaty atmosphere, eclectic costumes and frantic action that branded the first films.

If Fury Road grosses more than $47.7 million at the Australian box-office it will overtake the current leader, Crocodile Dundee (which claimed the top position in 1986) and go on to become the most successful Australian film of all time.

While not all Australian films will have as good a presentation as Mad Max: Fury Road clearly possesses, some can certainly surprise you – their potential and quality shouldn’t be underestimated by any student looking to further uncover what other Australian films are capable of.

To celebrate the arrival of Fury Road, we take a look at a handful of iconic Australian films that offer insight into the culture and roots of Aussie cinema.

The Castle

The Castle follows the blue collar Kerrigan family who lives in Coolaroo on the outskirts of Melbourne.

When his property is threatened by an airport acquisition, good-natured family man Darryl sets about trying to defend his home – which he lovingly refers to as his castle – in the courts of law.

Whilst the movie is a send-up of the self-image of the Australian working class, at its heart it’s still the classic tale of the little guy taking on the big guy against all odds. It’s a film that’s full of quirky characters and is endlessly quotable. The Castle is a go-to Aussie classic for that very reason.

Rabbit-Proof Fence

Set against the searing backdrop of 1930s Western Australia, Rabbit-Proof Fence is an incisive look into the grim history of the racist and brutal policies that brought about the Stolen Generation.

The film recounts the true story of three young Aboriginal girls living in a remote town who were taken from their mothers and sent to a re-education camp. This was part of a deliberate Australian government policy designed to breed out ‘half-castes’; children with one white and one Aboriginal parent.

When the girls escaped from the camp, they embarked on a 2400km journey home along the famous rabbit-proof fence that marked the state’s border at the time. The film has been shown a fair bit in Australian schools which only further demonstrates its importance.

Rabbit-Proof Fence is a powerful and, at times, upsetting representation of a long era of Australian history that should not be forgotten.

The Proposition

Delving deeper into Australia’s rough past, The Proposition is set in the 1880s in the outback. After a brutal attack by the infamous Burns brothers gang, a man is given a proposition by a police captain: kill his dangerous older brother within nine days or his younger, mentally slow brother will be hanged.

The Proposition is Australia’s answer to the Western genre and by comparison, makes the wild west of John Wayne fame looks like a good place for a holiday. Sweat, grime and blood with a healthy dose of flies, combined with often brutal violence are a fair portrayal of the rough living in the outback.

The Australian’s fascination with outlaws can be traced back over 100 years. The Story of the Kelly Gang is the world’s first surviving full-length feature film that was shot and produced in 1906 here in MelbourneThe 60-minute feature, which took up 1.4km of film reel, chronicles the life of Australia’s most famous bushranger, Ned Kelly. The film was produced only 26 years after Ned Kelly was executed and his mother was still alive at the time, which is an indicator of how quickly his tale became romanticised by the public.

Two Hands

Jimmy (played by the late Heath Ledger in his first major leading role) had one job to do: deliver $10,000 for the local gangster. When things don’t go according to plan, Jimmy finds himself doing anything to get back the money.

Despite it’s relatively simple premise, Two Hands is a grungy crime/black comedy film that absolutely delivers. Diving into Sydney’s seedy underworld filled with local criminals and wannabees, it’s packed full of Aussie expletives, thongs, football shorts and cheap beer – eschewing a perfect balance between crime and Australian comedy.

For a darker look at the Australian crime scene, check out Romper Stomper or The Boys. 

Muriel’s Wedding

Muriel’s Wedding follows the life of ABBA-obsessed Muriel as she pursues her dream of getting married and escaping her dull life in Porpoise Spit in North Queensland. The only problem is she’s never had a date and can’t seem to hold down a job. When she meets an old, wild classmate on an impromptu holiday she finally finds an opportunity to escape and embarks on a series of increasingly absurd pursuits.

Toni Collette is one of Australia’s most consistently amazing actors and it was this role (as Muriel) that helped launched her career.

Warning: the urge to listen to ABBA after watching this movie will be strong.

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