"MAD MAX: FURY ROAD" roars into theaters Thursday, and if the astounding trailers and ecstatic reviews are to be trusted, it's an instant classic, one of the best action movies in many years.
"Fury Road" is the apex of the post-apocalyptic action movie, a film that mostly ignores plot and (thank God) shared universes in favor of two glorious hours of tightly controlled mayhem.
The movie comes from a long line of after-the-fall thrillers — not just the three preceding "Mad Max" movies but a slew of other greats. Here are a few essentials.
1"The Road Warrior" (1981)
The second "Mad Max" movie remains the series' peak, at least for now. As with all the "Mad Max" movies, "Road Warrior" was directed by George Miller, who brings economy and clarity to every scene. He was working with a really simple framework here: Max finds himself in a compound where apocalypse survivors hoard fuel. A band of bad guys wants the fuel. Max tries to protect it. Vroom vroom.
2 "Snowpiercer" (2014)
A surreal, darkly comic sci-fi movie set on a massive train barreling through a frozen Earth. In the near future, the world has been destroyed by an experiment gone awry. Everywhere is covered in snow, dropped to deadly cold temperatures. The last survivors live on a self-perpetuating train that travels on a track round and round the planet. The people at the back of the train are poor and powerless; the people at the front of the train are rich and make all the decisions. A band of disenfranchised survivors (led by Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer) decide to fight their way to the front. The closer the group gets to the engine, the stranger the train cars (and the narrative) become.
3 "28 Days Later" (2003)
Yeah, it's also a zombie movie, and the apocalypse is limited to the UK, and the end of the world is averted (at least until the sequel). But this is a post-apocalyptic movie, nonetheless. A man-created virus that turns people crazed and homicidal hits England. Cillian Murphy wakes up from a coma to find a world with few survivors and a whole lot of infected maniacs who want to spread their sickness.
4 "The World's End" (2013)
The third (and best) of Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy is a comedic riff on "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" that becomes an apocalypse movie. It's also a really touching tribute to the foibles of humankind, about how that which dooms us also makes us beautiful.
5 "Children of Men" (2006)
All right, this one leans heavily into the dystopian camp, but its look and feel and stakes are post-apocalyptic enough. And it's just the best science-fiction movie of the last 20 years, so it's getting included, OK!? OK. In a near-future, for no known reason, women can no longer have babies. Without hope for a future, humanity's either given up or given in to madness. Fascist governments, terrorist factions and, in the middle of it all, a young woman becomes the first in years to get pregnant. Clive Owen tries to lead her to safety and help ensure the future of the species.