Australia is a country of wild terrain, spectacular landscapes and wide-open roads, which make it inherently cinematic. As one literary classic had it, the country is defined by the tyranny of distance, where the outback can seem as far from us as Paris. Indeed, we’re as likely to know it from cinema as from real life, since so many films are inspired by the mystery of the location.
One of Quentin Tarantino’s fave Oz films, and no surprise there. This hypertense, claustrophobic thriller stars Stacy Keach as a truckie using scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as bait to catch a serial killer on the road. Maybe the best film to come out of the short-lived, much-loved Ozploitation genre, and a big inspiration on Wolf Creek twenty years later.
Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Brit acting icon Terence Stamp dons the makeup to camp it up in the Outback in this modern comedy classic. Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce are his partners in drag, and Priscilla is the bus, painted a fabulous bright lavender to cruise the iconic route from Sydney to Alice Springs. Whether you think Priscilla subverted stereotypes or peddled them, this was a massive success.
Wolf Creek is a modern cult classic, another film with a darker take on the Outback, following a group of young Aussies on a road trip to discover their country. If it all begins amiably with beer and bikinis, things take a darker turn when their car breaks down, and they have to rely on the help of a local, Mick Taylor.
Mick Taylor has become an Australian horror icon to match Freddy Kruger or Norman Bates, an outback dweller like Crocodile Dundee gone badly wrong, and mutated into Leatherface. Allegedly based on a true story – we pray it isn’t.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Mad Max films have to be the ultimate Australian road movies, having put the country at the top of the box office internationally, from its low-budget Ozploitation roots to its latest all-conquering instalment, Fury Road. Mad Max came out of pretty much nowhere in the late ‘70s to put Australia on the cinematic map, and make a star out of Mel Gibson as the vigilante cop in a post apocalyptic near future, before we knew what a drongo he could be.
If the original was shot guerrilla style near Melbourne, and would return the highest profit to cost ratio of any Australian film, the latest instalment Fury Road was actually shot in Namibia, because thanks to global warming, the original locations weren’t dry enough. Fury Road came in three versions, a 3D version, a 2D version, and a black and white version, because it’s art – which it undoubtedly is.
Not so much a road trip, more a trek on foot (or paw), Kriv Stenders’ family-friendly (if slightly rude) film tells the tale, based on a true story, of a kelpie who wandered the outback in search of his dead owner – aww. Meeting different people throughout his journey, he affects everyone, bringing a local community together. In real life, this saw the popularity of the kelpie skyrocket.
Despite it’s title, not really a road movie at all – more a cross between a crime thriller and a Western – but the best recent Australian film.
Aaron Pederson stars as an indigenous detective with a past who finds himself coming into conflict with the community while investigating the murder of a teenage girl. The real mystery of the title, the mystery that can’t be solved, it that of Australia itself. You can try and solve the mystery for yourself with your own road trip – don’t be scared. Despite the worlds that some of these films portray, the Outback isn’t a post-apocalyptic wasteland inhabited by psychos. Honest.