Who doesn’t love the post-apocalyptic sci-fi films of the 1980s? If you define the subgenre broadly, you’ll count at least 100 such films. They include post-nuke films and post-pandemic films. They also include Road Warrior imitators.
For my next few articles, I’d like to cover these Road Warrior imitators; that is, post-apocalyptic films that obviously owe a large debt to George Miller’s 1981 masterpiece.
Compared with some other “imitation” subgenres that I’ve covered in this column (like Carrie imitators or Alien imitators), these Road Warrior imitators are a surprisingly strong bunch. Many are extremely low budget, and many are from Italian or Filipino filmmakers famous for their lack of originality, but all of them deliver what they promise.
If your priority is watching ragtag gangs with punk leather outfits and armored vehicles fight each other in a sparsely populated wasteland, then you simply can’t go wrong with any of the films on this fairly long list.
The Road Warrior was a critical and popular success when first released in late 1981 and early 1982, and thus the first imitators appear around mid 1982.
The Road Warrior grew increasingly popular on home video, so it was no surprise that Beyond Thunderdome became an even bigger hit when it appeared in mid 1985. Though Beyond Thunderdome was clearly inferior to its predecessor, its influence can be easily discerned in the later imitator films that feature duels, makeshift towns, and prominent female characters.
We should note that the post-apocalyptic subgenre can be traced as far back as Roger Corman’s Day the World Ended (1955) or Ray Milland’s Panic in Year Zero! (1962). More immediate predecessors include A Boy and His Dog (1975) and maybe Deathsport (1978). Then of course there was Mad Max itself (1979).
So The Road Warrior did not define the subgenre of post-apocalyptic sci-fi films; instead it defined its own sub-subgenre within it.
Note: I’m skipping parodies like She (1982), America 3000 (1986), Interzone (1987), and Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988). I’m also skipping space opera versions like Metalstorm (1983) and Spacehunter (1983).
Let’s lay out 10 hallmarks of The Road Warrior imitator subgenre and then get to the very fun films.