What was The Collapse in the Mad Max Saga?

02 December 2023
Furisosa: A Mad Max Saga is set 45 years after The Collapse.

What was The Collapse?

How did the wasteland happen, and why did the world end up the way it has?

At the risk of feeling that some questions are better left unanswered and it's best to rely on one's imagination, here's what we know.

The short answer is The Collapse merely describes what happened to society after a variety of things happened which compounded until there was a breaking point.

The films change focus and flip in and out of the reasons for the social decay - Mad Max 2 leans into an oil wars explanation but Fury Road opens up the possibility of environmental damaged caused by weapons. 

So bear that in mind as we consider:

The Setting and Context of The Collapse in Mad Max films

  • Resource Scarcity

    • Fuel as a Central Conflict: In the Mad Max universe, fuel, particularly gasoline, becomes the most coveted and essential resource. This is vividly portrayed in "The Road Warrior," where entire groups and communities are formed and destroyed over the control of gasoline. The fierce battles for fuel reflect a world where traditional forms of wealth and currency have lost their value, replaced by the basic necessities for survival in a mechanized world.

    • Water Scarcity in "Fury Road": "Mad Max: Fury Road" introduces water scarcity as another critical element. Immortan Joe's control over the water supply symbolizes the power wielded by those who can control essential resources. This scenario mirrors real-world concerns about water becoming a scarce commodity in many regions due to factors like climate change and pollution.

    • Impact on Society and Culture: The scarcity of resources like fuel and water leads to a significant transformation in societal structures. Traditional government and law enforcement collapse, and in their place, tribal-like groups and warlords rise to power, controlling these resources through force and fear.
    mad max road warrior truck

    Environmental Degradation

    • Post-Apocalyptic Landscapes: The films feature vast, desolate landscapes that speak to severe environmental degradation. These settings, characterized by barren deserts and the absence of greenery, suggest a planet ravaged by ecological disasters.

    • Climate Change and Its Implications: While not explicitly stated, the environmental conditions in the Mad Max world are consistent with the extreme outcomes of unchecked climate change, such as desertification, loss of biodiversity, and extreme weather conditions. These changes contribute to the scarcity of resources like water and arable land, exacerbating the fight for survival.

    • Potential Nuclear Fallout: The presence of characters with physical mutations and the overall bleak, desolate landscapes also hint at a possible nuclear catastrophe. This aligns with the common post-apocalyptic theme of nuclear war leading to widespread destruction and a drastically altered environment.

    • Human Contribution to the Crisis: The environmental conditions in the Mad Max series can be seen as a commentary on human actions leading to ecological disaster. The relentless pursuit of resources, particularly fossil fuels, without regard for environmental impact, is a theme that resonates with contemporary concerns about sustainable living and environmental stewardship.

  • furiosa concept art anya taylor joy mad max

Detailed Backstory in "The Road Warrior" - Mad Max 2

  • In the sequel to "The Road Warrior," a stark revelation is made that wars over oil were a significant catalyst for what is referred to as The Collapse. 

  • These conflicts, known as the "Oil Wars," were not mere battles over a vital resource but represented deeper geopolitical struggles for power and dominance in a world increasingly dependent on oil. This struggle encapsulated the dire consequences of resource scarcity, pushing nations into fierce competitions that symbolized broader issues of control and hegemony.

    The scope of these wars was global, involving multiple nations and alliances that were pulled into the fray. The narrative suggests a severe escalation in these conflicts, likely involving the use of advanced and possibly unconventional weaponry. Such escalation contributed to the widespread devastation depicted in the films, highlighting the destructive capacity of modern warfare when combined with desperation over dwindling resources.

    The Oil Wars had a drastic effect on the landscape of international relations. Traditional power structures and alliances crumbled, replaced by emergent powers that gained prominence through their control over oil reserves. This reshaping of power dynamics significantly altered the geopolitical landscape, demonstrating how control over resources can shift the balance of power on a global scale.

  • The continuous state of war profoundly affected societies worldwide. The constant threat of conflict and the prioritization of resource acquisition over other aspects of governance eroded cultural and social norms, fostering a more militaristic and survival-focused mindset. This shift reflected a broader transformation in societal structures, where survival often preempted the cultural, social, and political ethos of the time.
  • Economic and Societal Breakdown

    • Collapse of Economies: The global conflicts over resources would have led to severe economic instability. With the focus shifted entirely to resource acquisition and war, traditional economic activities like trade, manufacturing, and services would have suffered, leading to economic collapse.

    • Government Dysfunction and Collapse: As resources became scarcer and the wars intensified, governments would have found it increasingly difficult to maintain control and provide basic services. This would have led to a loss of public trust and authority, culminating in the collapse of governments.

    • Emergence of Anarchy: In the absence of functional governments and economies, lawlessness would have become the norm. The societal structure would have shifted from organized governments to smaller, tribal-like groups often led by warlords and strongmen, as seen in the films.

    • Survival of the Fittest: The societal breakdown would have led to a "survival of the fittest" mentality. Social norms and moral codes would have deteriorated, giving way to a more brutal, survivalist ethos. This is evident in the violent, opportunistic behavior of many characters in "The Road Warrior."

Thematic Exploration Across the Series

The thematic exploration in the Mad Max series is rich and multifaceted, delving into the depths of human nature, power dynamics, and the enduring themes of resilience and hope. These themes are not just narrative elements; they reflect deeper philosophical and sociological questions pertinent to our understanding of human behavior and societal structures.

Human Nature and Survival

  • Primal Instincts: The series vividly depicts how, in the absence of societal norms and order, humans revert to primal instincts for survival. This regression is evident in the aggressive, often brutal behavior of many characters, who prioritize survival above all else.

  • Moral Dilemmas: Characters are frequently faced with tough moral choices, challenging their ethics and humanity. The stark contrast between those who maintain a sense of morality (like Max) and those who descend into barbarism underscores the complex nature of human morality under extreme conditions.

  • Psychological Impact: The harsh realities of the Mad Max world have profound psychological impacts on its inhabitants. Fear, trauma, and the constant fight for survival shape their mental states, often leading to a hardened, survivalist mindset.

Power Dynamics

  • Resource Control Equals Power: In a world where traditional structures have collapsed, control over resources like water, fuel, and ammunition becomes the primary source of power. Characters like Immortan Joe in "Fury Road" are embodiments of this reality, wielding control over essential resources to exert power and influence.

  • Tyranny and Resistance: The rise of tyrannical figures like Immortan Joe and the resistance against them (such as Furiosa's rebellion) reflect the ongoing struggle between oppression and the fight for freedom. This struggle highlights how power dynamics shift in a lawless world and the lengths to which individuals will go to gain or resist power.

  • Leadership and Loyalty: The series explores various forms of leadership and the loyalty they inspire. Leaders like Immortan Joe and Dementus command through fear and manipulation, while others, like Max, inadvertently become leaders through their actions and moral stance, inspiring others through respect and shared goals.

Resilience and Hope

  • Endurance in the Face of Adversity: Characters like Max and Furiosa exemplify resilience. Despite the desolation and despair that pervade their world, they continue to fight for betterment, often against overwhelming odds.

  • Quest for Redemption and Change: Many characters are driven by a desire for redemption or a need to effect change. This drive is a powerful motivator and a source of hope, both for the characters and the audience.

  • Symbolism of Hope: The series often incorporates symbols of hope — be it the green place sought in "Fury Road" or the sanctuary Max and the group aim for in "The Road Warrior." These symbols, although sometimes illusory, propel the narrative and the characters forward, representing the innate human tendency to strive for something better, even in the bleakest of situations.


The Mad Max series, through its portrayal of The Collapse, serves as a critical narrative device that reflects the complexities of a post-apocalyptic society shaped by human actions and natural forces. The detailed backstory in "The Road Warrior" enriches this narrative, providing a clearer understanding of the events leading to the societal downfall.

Through this dystopian lens, George Miller not only crafts a vivid, enduring image of a world struggling to rise from its own ashes but also offers a reflection on the resilience of the human spirit in extreme circumstances. The series stands as a compelling exploration of themes such as resource scarcity, power dynamics, and the enduring human struggle for survival and morality in a world gone awry.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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