Why ‘Furiosa’ is fighting for life at the box office and why serious doubt hangs over the future of the beloved ‘Mad Max’ franchise

Furious, indeed: Anya Taylor-Joy in ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga’.

No doubt an unsightly blend of sheer fury and deep despondency is coursing through the hearts and minds of everyone associated with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

For despite the ubiquitous signage, instant brand recognition, saturation marketing campaign, star power, sweeping press tour and wall-to-wall rave reviews from across the globe, Furiosa has – to use the comforting film industry euphemism – under-performed.

Some reports have been less accommodating, flatly declaring that Furiosa has flopped, judging from attendances over its Memorial Day long weekend run.

The figures are harsh: $US32.3 million in North America, $32.8m elsewhere bringing a global tally of $65.1m, well below the $85m predicted.

These figures pale against the take of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road and, though Furiosa finished at #1 in the US, it ranks (according to reports) as the worst performance for a top-grossing film since 1995, when Casper took $US22m – though that translates to an inflation-adjusted figure of $US45.26m, making the Casper comparison even less-flattering for Furiosa.

In Australia, Furiosa took $A3.33m across its opening weekend while Fury Road opened with a $6.2m take – or around $A7.8m in adjusted dollars.

All this indicates rather strongly that Mad Mad fever has either cooled or that other factors have gotten in the way of people flocking to see the film.

Odds are, it’s the latter. Here’s why.

Cost-of-living pressures are hitting everyone, making discretionary spending on entertainment a top target in household budgets, especially when it comes to the time, money and effort involved in going out to the pictures.

Once you factor in the costs of admission, parking, food and fuel along with the time expenditure and the unpredictable adventure of dealing with crowds – will you be seated near a cougher, a sneezer, a talker, a phone addict, a popcorn hog, a drink guzzler, a virus carrier, a kid who won’t shut up? – the prospect of rushing out to see Furiosa on its opening weekend(s) can become quite daunting and unattractive.

Adding to these disincentives is knowing Furiosa is going to be streaming sooner rather than later. Why go through the toil of opening weekend crowds when you can simply wait and watch it stress-free in the comfort of your home on your big-screen TV with as many snacks and bathroom breaks as you like? And for a fraction of the cost?

Speaking of bathroom breaks, Furiosa is a long film – 148 minutes. Given that it’s aimed at a mature audience – Boomers who saw Mad Max and Road Warrior in the full flush of youth – it’s a safe bet a lot of those bladders aren’t as robust as they were back in their Thunderdome days.

Still, anyone is liable to be put off sitting through such a long film. People simply get restless; their attention can wander.

Perhaps big films are losing their appeal. A lot of big films this year have fallen flat at the box office – The Fall Guy; Argylle; IF; Madame Web; Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.

Last year The Super Mario Bros Movie, Barbie and Oppenheimer showed how people will still flock to see event films, but all signs point to them growing weary of being pummelled by event films every other week – especially if those films are typically franchise fodder, remakes or reboots that aren’t all that good.

Just consider the 2023 slate of very expensive, high-profile box-office fizzers: The Marvels; Shazam! Fury Of The Gods; The Flash; Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny; The Haunted Mansion.

That Furiosa got greenlit demonstrates a huge expression of faith in the Mad Max brand given how Fury Road, for all its critical acclaim and six Oscars, didn’t do all that well.

The film ended up taking $US380m against a production budget of around $160m. Match that figure with marketing costs and you get a film that barely broke even or, according to The Hollywood Reporter, actually lost Warner Bros about $US50m. (Here’s a link) And this after breathless speculation that it would take a cool billion.

So, Fury Road was ultimately a disappointment at the box office – another polite euphemism. Nobody likes to say it (and very few have) but – yup – Fury Road flopped.

Yet Furiosa was backed to the tune of $US170m (double that for marketing and publicity) and the projections now are that it’ll struggle to break even. Big films very rarely recover from weak opening weekends. The Big Studio Faith might be nearing depletion.

So, what of the future for the Mad Max franchise?

While the rhetoric might proclaim “hey, who wouldn’t want to see another Mad Max movie?”, the hard, sad truth is that – critics and diehard fans aside – not enough people care. Gulp.

One issue working against the future of the series are the ginormous production budgets of Fury Road and Furiosa. Had Furiosa been made for half the cost the film would already be hailed as a hit.

Slightly more realistically, Furiosa could have (or should have) been conceived as a two-parter, with each film at 80-90 minutes, making it much easier to ingest, the first building anticipation for part 2, which would come out in a few short months. It would also have given the movie twice the screenings it has now.

Perhaps one of the big streamers could turn Mad Max into a TV series, as has happened several dozen times with Star Wars. That could work.

And never discount the possibility, however remote, that Mad Max creator George Miller works his magic and entices Mel Gibson back to play the latter-day Max. Imagine that scenario as we cut from the younger Mel/Max to the elderly road warrior was he traverses The Wasteland.

It might be a dream, but right now it seems that’s all we’ve got to go on.

Furiosa is brilliant – nothing can change that – and fans can only pray to the Movie God that, hope against hope, word-of-mouth kicks in and sparks a box-office turnaround. Or that the film finds a giant audience when it hits the stream.

Short of that, fans might need to accept the hard truth that the beloved franchise isn’t beloved by enough people, then brace for impact as the Mad Max film series accelerates towards the end of the road.

Please, no.