How 'Mad Max: Fury Road' Changed Cinema In 2015

No one would fault you for assuming that the latest chapter in the Mad Max series, Fury Road, was geared towards men — mainly because most action movies are aimed at male audiences. Summer action blockbusters like Fury Road often focus on men with big muscles who deal with even bigger explosions and have women fawning all over them — usually while wearing very little. But, not this film: Mad Max: Fury Road changed cinema in 2015 by being both visually stunning and surprisingly feminist. This is even more surprising being that it was made by a male director.

But the film's director George Miller seemed up for the challenge of tricking audiences into seeing a movie that may be named after its male character, but was focused on its female character's journey. It's probably why he gave his female protagonist a warrior's name: Imperator Furiosa. With a shaved head and a robotic arm, Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is the one driving this plot — Max is just her sidekick.

Miller, who directed the three previous Mad Max films — the last of which was 30 years ago — set his beautifully visceral film that looks larger than life even on a small screen in a post-apocalyptic hell where water is rationed and women are relegated to being baby-makers. But, Furiosa is not like those young women. Unable to procreate, she is instead a road warrior who uses her position to smuggle the young wives of the tyrannical leader Immortan Joe out of the Citadel. Of course, he's not to happy about it, and thus begins the heavy metal-soundtracked race to survive.

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The plot itself is nothing new — just your classic good-vs.-evil struggle — but the way Miller chooses to cast women instead of men to play the good guys is enlightened. While the plot may be simple, the questions Miller's movie addresses in terms of the treatment of women are also groundbreaking. They start off as sexual objects, who are solely in control of this new world's population, but have no control over their own bodies. But, Theron's character is not treated like some sexual being: She is different than the rest and Miller made that clear by writing her that way. She is not thwarted by any man. There is no love story for her. Instead, she is just a woman looking to do what is right. And in Theron's capable hands, Furiosa becomes a female hero for the ages.

Women throughout this film are portrayed as strong and tough, more than capable of taking care of themselves. Even the young women Furiosa is helping escape in her big rig don't need saving — they just need some help to fight the Immortan Joe and his War Boys. A group of older women — most of whom appear to be over 50 — are the ones who ultimately help Furiosa head back to her home in the Citadel, sacrificing themselves for the greater good.

Being female in this film is a plus, which is not often the case in action movies. And even better, it celebrates all types of women, be they young or old. No one here would be described as weak, even if they are fragile. They are instead capable and ready to take on this fight — a fight that is entirely female being that they are prisoners in their own bodies. Furiosa is our hero, but really any of the women in the movie are worth emulating. It makes you wish more female characters were written this way, and maybe because of Fury Road, they will be.

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The reason Mad Max: Fury Road changed cinema wasn't because it was visually breathtaking or portrayed strong female characters, but because it was both of these things. While in 2015 some argued for more female-driven movies and others (unfairly) claimed these films wouldn't do well at the box office, this film was a major contradiction. It brought in over $153 million at the domestic box office while being one of the most critically celebrated films of the year being named the most acclaimed movie of 2015, according to Tastebud.

Now, after picking up Best Picture and Best Director prizes at the AACTA Awards, dubbed the "Australian Oscars" by many, and earning multiple Golden Globe nominations, the film may have just earned itself a spot on Oscar's short list. What this movie showed was that there is a place for women in big-budget action movies both in the minds of filmgoers and critics. It also changed the perception of what a female hero can be. Hopefully no one will forget that in 2016.

Images: Warner Bros Pictures; Giphy (2)