The Thunderdome is one of the most memorable;e setpieces of the Mad Max franchise, but how does the gladiator arena work? The original Mad Max was a scrappy little independent action movie directed by George Miller, who prior to the film worked as a doctor in Sydney. He wanted to make an action film that almost functioned without sound, and the movie's violence was partly inspired by real-life injuries he had seen working in a hospital.
Mad Max quickly became a worldwide cult hit, so Miller set to work on Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. The sequel upped the scope of the post-apocalyptic world and action sequences and is regarded as a classic of the genre. The movie would also inspire everything from Duran Duran music videos to the Fallout video game franchise. Miller later co-direct 1985's Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and returned to the franchise after a 30-year gap with Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015. He actually spent around 15 years developing the latter entry, which is one of the most acclaimed action movies of recent years.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is easily considered the weakest entry for a number of reasons. The violence and darkness were toned down for a PG-13 rating, it lacks the propulsive edge of the other Mad Max movies, and it never settles on a cohesive tone. Miller's talent for action and worldbuilding is still in evidence, and Tina Turner is pretty awesome as Aunty Entity. While the movie itself is a disappointment, everyone loves the Thunderdome sequence.
The first half of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome takes place in Bartertown, where all disputes between parties are settled in the Thunderdome. Aunt Entity makes a deal with Max to fight on her behalf in the arena against Blaster, the hulking bodyguard of Master. Dr. Dealgood acts as the ringleader of the Thunderdome, which a large dome which is strewn with weapons such as spears and chainsaws. Like Dealgood himself announces, the only official rule of the arena is that "Two men enter, one man leaves."
The two opponents are attached to bungee harnesses, allowing them much greater mobility to hop around the ring. It also helps them reach weapons that are dotted along the side of the Thunderdome itself, and the bungee concept was partly inspired by baby bouncers. While Dealgood tells Max not to worry about breaking the rules - since there technically aren't any - he still manages to do it anyway. He refuses to kill the wounded Blaster after the fight, which angers Aunt Entity, who evokes her "Bust a deal, face the wheel!" rule. This results in Max being tied to a horse and exiled into the harsh desert.
The concept clearly took off in the wasteland, as a more extreme variant of Thunderdome appeared in the Mad Max: Fury Road comics. One story finds Max seeking a part to help rebuild his famous V8 Interceptor car, and he agrees to fight in a larger Thunderdome with multiple opponents in order to secure it. The arena also made an appearance in the 2015 Mad Max video game. It says something about the Mad Max franchise that even the least loved entry has something iconic about it.