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Barbarians And Battletrucks: The Weird World Of Mad Max Knock-Offs

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The Dollars films and Django sparked 20 years of Spaghetti Westerns. Conan The Barbarian kicked off an ‘80s sword-and-sorcery revival. And George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy – particularly the middle instalment – created its own mini-industry of international knock-offs, lasting well into the ‘90s. It may be 32 years since we last saw Max, but it’s only 20 since Steel Frontier. With Mad Max: Fury Road out this Friday, here are 27 movies inspired by the originals.


Battletruck (1982)

Starring: Michael Beck, Annie McEnroe, John Ratzenberger
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? No, the villains are military
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Beck (The Warriors) stars as Hunter: taking on the mercenary forces of General Striker on a spiffily upgraded motorcycle. The titular armoured juggernaut belongs to Striker, and as with all of these films, the world may have ended, but there’s somehow always the guzzeline to fuel the engines. We’ll see Beck again in Megaforce...


Steel Frontier (1995)

Starring: Joe Lara, Brion James, Bo Svenson, Kane Hodder
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Kind of, but with a cowboy / military twist
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Mashing up The Road Warrior and the spaghetti Western, Lara plays Yuma (as in Johnny Yuma) who cleans up the town being terrorised by James’ scenery-chewing General Quantrell. After this Lara played Tarzan on TV for a season, but eventually quit acting to become a country singer.


Metalstorm (1983)

Starring: Jeffrey Byron, Michael Preston, Tim Thomerson
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Charles Band (Puppet Master, Trancers) directed this, which brings some mythological sword-and-sorcery into the Max mix. Dogen (Byron) is the hero, searching for the lair of the evil Jared-Syn, battling the Cyclops Baal and his freakoid desert riders along the way. Imagine how good the 3D was!


Wheels Of Fire (1985)

Starring: Gary Watkins, Laura Banks, Lynda Wiesmeier
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

After the kidnap of his sister by wasteland pirates (the “Scourge”) our taciturn hero smashes a lot of cars and bikes with the help of a psychic babe and a silent midget. No, really. Filipino exploitation legend Cirio H. Santiago directed this one, along with Stryker and Equalizer 2000, both of which we’ll get to later.


Steel Dawn (1987)

Starring: Patrick Swayze, Lisa Niemi, Brion James, Anthony Zerbe
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Not so much

Not to be confused with Red Dawn, which was Swayze vs. Russians, this is Swayze vs. desert warlords. Directed by Lance Hool (Missing In Action 2 and later Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles), it simultaneously juggles a Max vibe with a bit of non-sorcerous sword and staff-play and more than a hint of the Eastwood Western. Original Mad Max composer Brian May (who isn’t the one from Queen, if you’ve ever wondered) did the music.


Megaforce (1982)

Starring: Barry Bostwick, Michael Beck, Persis Khambatta, Edward Mulhare
Post-Apocalypse? No, it seems to be a weird alternate-universe sci-fi 1980s
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? No, it’s all pretty military
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Hal Needham (Smokey And The Bandit) directed this notoriously ludicrous misfire, which plays into the ‘80s super-vehicle TV trope as much as any Max-type shenanigans. But he can’t quite resist smashing a load of bikes and dune buggies in the desert.


Waterworld (1995)

Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gerard Murphy
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? No, this one’s on the water
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

A late entry (although it came out the same year as Steel Frontier), this is obviously the biggest, most high-profile Mad Max knock-off ever produced. Costner is the Mariner, a self-sufficient loner on the flooded planet Earth, forced into a reluctant alliance with the nice survivors against Hopper’s nasty warlord Deacon. Tankers, boats, rafts and jet skis replace bikes, cars, buggies and trucks, but otherwise it’s pretty much business as usual. A notoriously troubled and expensive production, but nowhere near the flop its reputation suggests.


Hell Comes To Frogtown (1987)

Starring: Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, William Smith, Rory Calhoun
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes, of the mutant frog variety
Vehicular carnage? Some

This spoof sees Rowdy Roddy as Sam Hell, a Max-type road nomad (with a touch of the Snake Plisskens for good measure) who’s one of the last fertile men on Earth and therefore valuable to the government, who want him as breeding stock. The snag is that giant frogs have kidnapped their harem, so Hell has to mount a rescue mission, with the incentive of an explosive device strapped to his balls.


Stryker (1983)

Starring: Steve Sandor, Andrea Savio
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Back to the Philippines with Cirio H. Santiago, and the twist this time is that half the desert freaks are Amazon women. So you’ve got some Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! to go with your Road Warrior.


Exterminators Of The Year 3000 (1983)

Starring: Robert Iannucci, Alicia Moro
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Director Giuliano Carnimeo (here going under the moniker 'Jules Harrison') had a background in spaghetti Westerns, including four of the Sartana series. That Spanish/Italian co-production set-up remained, but he updated to the post-nuclear nowhere of the Max movies for this bit of plotless chaos. “Meet the new breed of Road Warriors,” the poster unsubtly proclaimed.


The New Barbarians (1983)

Starring: Giancarlo Prete, Fred Williamson
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Another spaghetti veteran, director Enzo G. Castellari directed Keoma, starring Franco Nero, and the original (correctly spelled) Inglorious Bastards. Yes, Quentin Tarantino likes him, to the extent that Castellari had a cameo in Django Unchained. After Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Castellari directed Caribbean Basterds, and he’s currently developing Keoma Unchained... Here's a man who knows a cash-in opportunity when he sees one.


Equalizer 2000 (1987)

Starring: Robert Patrick, Richard Norton
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Nothing to do with Edward Woodward, this is Cirio Santiago and the Philippines yet again, with warring factions struggling to claim the titular weapon. Three years later, Robert Patrick would turn into liquid metal and fight Arnold Schwarzenegger in T2. Everybody has to start somewhere.


Warriors Of The Apocalypse (1985)

Starring: Michael James, Deborah Moore
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes, but also jungle
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? No

The trailer makes it look like jungle sword-and-sorcery, but there’s plenty of leather-clad Max-type business along the way (though only on foot, with some tyres lying around). This one’s director was another legendary Filipino exploitation figure, Bobby A. Suarez. Hero Trapper (James) is on a search for the Mountain of Life, encountering Amazon women, road pirates and pygmies along the way. One of the pygmies is Bobby’s son Richard S. Suarez, trivia fans.


A Man Called Rage (1984)

Starring: Bruno Minniti, Stelio Candelli
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes, but also horses

Director Tonino Ricci followed his previous Rush with this thing, which is essentially the same. The only major difference is the plot on which it all hangs. Rush is something vague about a warlord, whereas this one’s about two opponents – Rage and Slash – racing to find some uranium.


Salute Of The Jugger (1989)

Starring: Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Delroy Lindo, Vincent D’Onofrio
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? No

Blade Runner, Twelve Monkeys and Unforgiven’s writer David Webb Peoples came up with this cult classic, twisting the Mad Max frame into a sports saga. Jugger is a violent game played by roving teams. We end up in the city, but there’s plenty of fighting in the dust before we get there.


Ultra Warrior (1990)

Starring: Dack Rambo, Clare Beresford, Charles Dougherty
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

A Peruvian / American co-production, in which a hero called Kenner rises from the ashes of... whatever to lead a rag-tag band of survivors against "The Bishop" and his cult of violent crazies. Incredibly, it took two people to direct this. One of them, Kevin Tent, went on to become a successful editor. He cut Election, Sideways and Nebraska, and was Oscar-nominated for The Descendants. Working with Dack Rambo must seem a long time ago.


World Gone Wild (1987)

Starring: Bruce Dern, Michael Paré, Adam Ant, Catherine Mary Stewart, Anthony James
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

It’s 2087 and water is scarce. The peaceniks of Lost Wells (not the one in Somerset) have got a steady supply of H2O, but sadly the evil minions of Adam Ant have their sights on it. Enter hippie Bruce Dern, persuaded back from a sojourn in a cannibal city to wage war with motorbikes. Yup, you read that right: this is a film where Bruce Dern has to save the world from Adam Ant.


Cyborg (1989)

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vincent Klyn, Ralf Moeller
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? No

This Golan/Globus Cannon classic was famously cobbled together from the ashes of an abandoned Spider-Man film and a Masters Of The Universe sequel, originally intended to shoot back-to-back on the same sets. Albert Pyun’s undisputed masterpiece sees Van Damme playing a character galled Gibson Rickenbacker, with Klyn as Fender Tremolo. There isn’t a terrible amount of plot, but there’s a lot of hitting and kicking, and Van Damme gets crucified.


1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)

Starring: Vic Morrow, Fred Williamson, Mark Gregory
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes, but it’s more about the ruined city
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Not much; there isn’t the space

Here’s Enzo Castellari again, this time mashing up a Mad Max biker future with the set-up from Escape From New York and the gangs of Walter Hill’s The Warriors. The man knows no shame. Michael Beck, who was in The Warriors, didn’t do this, but must have consoled himself with Battletruck and Megaforce. If you want to know more, Fred Williamson manages to talk about Bronx Warriors for 40 minutes here.


2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983)

Starring: Michael Sopkiw, Valentine Monnier, Hal Yamanouchi
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Flipping the focus of Bronx Warriors, this Italian/French co-production is about wasteland bikers trying to get into the ruined New York to kidnap the last fertile woman on the planet. Director Sergio Martino, of course, had a background in Spaghetti Westerns. Japanese actor Hal Yamanouchi plays the Rat Eater, but has gone onto bigger things since, like The Wolverine and Push.


Doomsday (2008)

Starring: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell
Post-Apocalypse? No
Blasted wasteland? No
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Neil Marshall’s loving homage to Mad Max 2 and Escape From New York takes place in a future Britain where a virus has caused the quarantine of Scotland (insert your own independence joke here). But when the sickness gets south of the massive new Hadrian’s Wall, warrior Rhona Mitra is sent north to find Dr. Malcolm McDowell. Many vehicles are smashed in the process.


Cherry-2000 (1987)

Starring: Melanie Griffith, David Andrews, Brion James, Lawrence Fishburne
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? No
Vehicular carnage? Some

While there’s a lot in this that’s nothing like Mad Max, there’s certainly a bit of driving and shooting in the dust of Zone 7. The thrust of the plot is Andrews entering the forbidden post-war wastelands with the help of ass-kicker Griffith to find a replacement for his broken sex robot. Brion James is in it, marking his third appearance on this list. That bloke was, as they say, a legend.


Tank Girl (1995)

Starring: Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell, Ice-T
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes – kangaroos!
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Revisiting Cherry-2000 also immediately reminded us of this. Obviously it’s based on Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s comics, but the comics, set in an apocalyptic, mutant-filled Australia, were clearly channelling George Miller, consciously or otherwise. As is the movie, although it adds kangaroos and a musical number.


Spacehunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone (1983)

Starring: Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, Michael Ironside
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

This one has spaceships, but once we get on the ground we encounter colonies not quite abandoned after civil wars and plagues, marauding survivors called Zoners and Scavs, four-wheel-drive “scramblers” and plow things as well as Michael Ironside as an evil cyborg. Harold Ramis has a voice cameo. The film was released in 3D the same year as Metalstorm.


New Gladiators (1984)

Starring: Jared Martin, Fred Williamson, Howard Ross
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? No
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Yes

Also known as Warriors Of The Year 2072 and Fighting Centurions. The infamous Lucio Fulci directed some spaghetti Westerns but is better known for his gnarly horrors like The Beyond and Zombie Flesh Eaters. And there’s this. For our money this is WAY more Rollerball than Max, but Empire Facebook fan John Curr thought we should throw it in, and it does at least have killer bikers. It’s not actually a Troma film as the trailer suggests: Lloyd Kaufman and co. picked it up for distribution later in its life.


Bad Land: Road To Fury (2014)

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Michael Shannon, Elle Fanning, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? No
Vehicular carnage? Doesn’t look like it

Facebooker Bruce McConachie suggested this, and he makes an interesting point. Known as Young Ones all through its production, Jake Paltrow’s low-key post-apocalypse drought-Western, starring Nicholas Hoult, has mysteriously gained a new title, the sub-part of which has the words “Road” and “Fury” in it. What could that possibly be about?


Furious Road (2013)

Starring: Tristan James Butler, Elisabeth Meurer, Morgan Roberts
Post-Apocalypse? Yes
Blasted wasteland? Yes
Future freaks? Yes
Vehicular carnage? Doesn’t look like they could afford it

And then there’s this, which you may suddenly have noticed on the shelves of your local supermarket. You might have assumed it’s an Asylum “mockbuster”, but it looks as if it could only have dreamed even of an Asylum budget. It’s actually a film called Enemy Empire, made in 2013 by Michael Ryan Hahn. The original trailer (above) at least reveals a jokey agenda. The “Furious Road” version less so. The DVD cover includes an image of a heavily-beweaponed Interceptor, which, we’re guessing, isn’t in the film at all since it would almost certainly have been used in the promos. There should probably be some sort of law…