Furiosa Offers Hope, But Not at the Box Office


When “Mad Max: Fury Road” debuted in 2015, it was met with a strong reception from audiences, partly due to the culture war conflicts it stirred.

A few men’s rights activist bloggers found the film’s content objectionable and criticized director George Miller for enlisting “Vagina Monologues” writer Eve Ensler as a consultant to discuss the feminist elements of the film. Additionally, some critics disapproved of sidelining the titular Max character by introducing Furiosa and replacing Mel Gibson in the starring role.

While the film didn’t achieve massive box office success — earning $154.3 million domestically and $226.1 million internationally on a budget over $150 million — it nonetheless solidified its status as one of the most critically acclaimed films of the 2010s and a landmark action movie.

Nine years later, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” a prequel to Miller’s “Fury Road,” faces similar box office and cultural disputes. Reviews have praised the film, but its opening weekend performed poorly, marking the worst Memorial Day box office in 43 years by grossing $32 million domestically and $33 million internationally.

Twitter has been abuzz with theories on why the film is failing. Conservative movie fans debate whether the failure is due to audiences’ dislike for female-led action films or because fans anticipate it being bad. Beyond criticisms of the film, audiences may not be willing to pay the average cost of $68.73 for a family of four to go to the movies. Moreover, movies are shifting to streaming services more quickly post-Covid, leading to a decline in box office revenue. There is also a general and growing disinterest in blockbusters and sequels.

“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” has its shortcomings compared to its predecessor. Its special effects are less impressive, performances are weaker, and the extended runtime makes it feel slow. However, the film’s vignettes, excellent action scenes, a stellar lead performance by Anya Taylor-Joy, and a strong spiritual core hold it together. Despite these qualities, the reluctance of audiences to give it a chance is understandable.

Whether the backlash against strong female leads or broader negative industry trends are to blame, audiences appear uninterested in a fifth “Mad Max” film.

These discussions are intriguing considering the film itself, as “Furiosa” is arguably less political than its predecessor. George Miller is upfront about his politics, with themes of atheism, anti-racism, environmentalism, and class issues evident in his other films like “Happy Feet,” “Babe: Pig in the City,” and “Three Thousand Years of Longing.” “Mad Max: Fury Road” explicitly tackled the need for gender equality against the backdrop of a capitalist patriarchy, embodied by the cruel warlord Immortan Joe.

“Furiosa,” even though more ambitious and expansive, has a more focused narrative. It is a revenge epic akin to “Ben-Hur” and “Kill Bill,” leaving out many direct sociopolitical elements of the wasteland to tell a story about spiritual degradation.

The film’s sole major political critique comes through its villain Dementus, a wannabe tyrant who espouses populist rhetoric under red banners but is actually a power-hungry monster. He critiques revolutionary politics of the left, portraying leaders like him as self-serving rather than dedicated to the cause.

The wasteland metaphorically represents the brutality of the human psyche, much like the infamous island in “The Lord of the Flies,” where civilization erodes and survival instincts take over. Each “Mad Max” film explores human behavior in extreme survival situations, starting with a man driven to insanity by his family’s murder and continuing with similar themes of brutality and harshness.

A common thread in the “Mad Max” films is the exploration of hope and grace. Although the entries are loosely connected, each reflects a deeper engagement with its core idea. “Mad Max: Fury Road” epitomized this by blending the dissociative nature of Max with a wildly imaginative world.

Paradoxically, the franchise shines when moments of brutality are interspersed with grace and mercy. Characters like Max and Furiosa grapple with the thin strand of hope that drives them, questioning the moral costs of their survival instincts. Even when mercy is exploited by evil characters, the films ask viewers to consider what they are willing to become and whether they can overcome their descent.

“Furiosa” addresses this theme from the start, depicting a young Furiosa reaching for forbidden fruit in the paradise of the “Green Place.” Drawing on Biblical metaphor, she is kidnapped from her Eden and forced into a violent world. She struggles with the evil around her, realizing that her descent mirrors the cruelty inflicted by others.

Early in the film, Furiosa’s mother gives her a seed from the “Green Place,” which she ties to her hair as a symbol of hope. This seed becomes a profound emblem of her aspiration to return home, setting up “Mad Max: Fury Road” as a story of redemption. The adult Furiosa in that film seeks personal redemption from her descent into hatred and wrath. Like all good revenge tales, “Furiosa” reveals the soul-poisoning nature of vengeance, capturing the tension between hope, grace, and human nature that defines this action franchise.

Tyler Hummel
Tyler Hummel
Tyler Hummel is a Nashville-based freelance journalist, a College Fix Fellow, and a member of the Music City Film Critics Association. He has contributed to The Dispatch, The New York Sun, Hollywood in Toto, The Pamphleteer, Law and Liberty, Main Street Nashville, North American Anglican, Living Church, and Geeks Under Grace.

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