In his first film in the Mad Max series in 30 years, George Miller returns to the franchise with the skull-cracking Mad Max: Fury Road — starring Tom Hardy as the iconic “Mad” Max Rockatansky. The stench of leather, burnt rubber, and sweat permeates the screen, introducing a whole new set of road warriors who are clad in their post-apocalyptic best. Cinema’s after-the-fall canon is full of outrageous costumes, but there’s also a fair share of movies that predict post-apocalyptic times could look like a sea of khaki. We surveyed fashions from film’s post-apocalypse that inspired us to scratch our heads and hope for a future where citizens of the world feel free to indulge their inner weirdo.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Tina Turner’s Aunty keeps her henchmen in line with a chain mail dress that, apparently, weighed more than 121 pounds.
The Hunger Games (film series)
“You don’t think of it as science fiction. And I always say: A suit’s been around for over 100 years; what makes us think it’s not going to be there for another 100 years? I find if you go too far afield from what we know, it becomes dated very quickly,” explained Hunger Games costume designer Judianna Makovsky. For the second film, designer Trish Summerville (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) used pieces from Alexander McQueen. Two-parter Mockingjay saw Kurt and Bart and Christian Cordella contributing designs. Writing about the movies as fashion-savvy films, New York Times‘ Vanessa Friedman explained:
It’s not that The Hunger Games is about the fashion world. But it is very much about the role that fashion plays in the world, and this is as true for Mockingjay as for any of the previous films in the series. Just consider the fact that the creation of an outfit expressly for propaganda purposes is one of the main themes of the movie, and one of the main characters is … a stylist.
In the year 2293, James Bond trades his custom single-breasted, two-buttoned suits for a ponytail, tall leather boots, bandoliers, and a red diaper.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
In Terminator 2, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is not the frightened woman we met ten years earlier in the first film. She’s an outlaw with the guns to prove it — including the ones she shows off with a simple black tank, paired with rugged BDUs.
The Omega Man (1971)
Charlton Heston has the time of his life playing an Army doctor who becomes the last man standing during a plague, with a mountain of weapons at his disposal. His blue jumpsuit is as electrifying as his swagger.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Jude Law’s robot gigolo is very The Man-Machine-era Kraftwerk.
Blade Runner (1982)
Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where Earth and its people have been ravaged by nuclear war. Ridley Scott’s adaptation outfits the population in noir-inspired and punk clothes. Costume designer Michael Kaplan (who worked on the film with Charles Knode) spoke about his favorite outfit from the 1982 movie:
I think my favourite costume in the movie is the one we see the first time we see Rachael. It’s a black suit with big shoulders and it’s so dramatic. It’s a situation where everything came together: the hair, the make-up, her posture, and Ridley Scott – he operated his own camera, and the way he shot that scene with the owl was and still is an amazing entrance for an actress. We based the ideas for the costumes on the film noir period of the 1930s and 1940s but exaggerated the clothes, so that it was a bit of a whacked-out take on the 1940s that pushed the clothes into the future. We exaggerated the shoulders so that the shoulder pads had nothing to do with the way they did things in the 1940s, but it still had that film noir feeling that we were looking for.
Cherry 2000 (1987)
A wealthy man loses his sex bot. Fringe-clad Melanie Griffith is the “tracker” who takes him across post-apocalyptic America to find a new one. They fall in love instead. Who could say no to her falconry gloves, tan rawhide, and tangerine hair?
Six-String Samurai (1998)
Billed as a “post-apocalyptic musical satire,” Six-String Samurai’s guitar-slaying protagonist is Buddy Holly reborn in a mortician’s suit.
The New Barbarians (1983)
The Golden Girls called, Enzo Castellari, and they want their shoulder pads back.
Tank Girl (1995)
Anarchy rules Tank Girl’s style, designed by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, who were inspired by punk zines, pop culture, and psychedelic ephemera when they created the comic book character (played by Lori Petty in the movie adaptation).
Escape From New York (1981)
A little leather and feather, but the eye patch captures Snake Plissken’s (Kurt Russell) antihero cool.
World Gone Wild (1987)
Earth is a nuclear wasteland in 2087. Water is scarce, but there’s a surplus of chain mail.
Cybergoth cowboy chic.
Rubber’s Lover (1996)
Post-apocalypse, post-human cyberpunk meets fetishy schoolgirl.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Costume designer Norma Moriceau gave us punk, bondage, biker, and Mel in all-leather for the second installment in the Mad Max series. There’s so much fashion eye candy, it’s hard to know where to look first.
Logan’s Run (1976)
Disco in the dystopia.
The Matrix (1999)
Kym Barrett on creating the fashions for Andy and Lana Wachowski’s post-apocalyptic vision of the future:
Like those fierce-looking fashions, the movie’s costumes were conceived in part as urban camouflage. ”The characters are always dodging bullets; someone is always after them,” said Kym Barrett, the costume designer for all three ”Matrix” films. Trinity’s shiny cat suit was meant to look like an oil slick, Ms. Barrett said, ”something like mercury, that you can’t catch, it moves so quickly through your fingers.”
Her costumes, she said, drew upon fairy tales, the robes of Tibetan monks and Chinese scholars, and the costumes in the samurai movies and American westerns she saw as a child. ”When I read the script it reminded me of those movies,” she said. ”Everyone in them had long coats, and when they moved in slow motion, their costumes created a very strong silhouette.”
Battlefield Earth (2000)
Costume designer Patrick Tatopoulos on creating the bizarre style of Battlefield Earth (just try to take your eyes off that intimidating codpiece):
With the Psychlos and their world in Battlefield Earth, there are a lot of elements that you find in their costumes that are repeated in the set, and the dressing; implicit unities that work together because you are in a certain state of mind when you start designing. Everything begins with that and achieves and sustains a coherent, consistent flow and rhythm. I think at the end it heightens the movie adding defining accents of style and composition. Everything seems to blend better.
Criterion on Derek Jarman’s punk ode to the end of it all. Fun fact: Pamela Rooke (aka Jordan) would style her own hair and makeup before boarding public transportation to head to set due to the film’s limited budget:
When Queen Elizabeth I asks her court alchemist to show her England in the future, she’s transported 400 years to a post-apocalyptic wasteland of roving girl gangs, an all-powerful media mogul, fascistic police, scattered filth, and twisted sex. With Jubilee, legendary British filmmaker Derek Jarman channeled political dissent and artistic daring into a revolutionary blend of history and fantasy, musical and cinematic experimentation, satire and anger, fashion and philosophy. With its uninhibited punk petulance and sloganeering, Jubilee brings together many cultural and musical icons of the time, including Jordan, Toyah Willcox, Little Nell, Wayne County, Adam Ant, and Brian Eno (with his first original film score), to create a genuinely unique, unforgettable vision. Ahead of its time and often frighteningly accurate in its predictions, it is a fascinating historical document and a gorgeous work of film art.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Retro cosmonaut meets cave girl meets high-fashion doomsday cult.
Morning Patrol (1987)
Michele Valley (Dogtooth) is not letting a ruined city destroy her affection for wools and knits.
O-bi, O-ba – The End of Civilization (1985)
Kalina Jedrusik, Polish cult actress and ’60s sex symbol, brings the glitter to the end of civilization.
Snowpiercer designer Catherine George spoke to Clothes on Film about creating the fashions for Tilda Swinton’s gloriously bizarre character Minister Mason:
CG: Mason was inspired initially by a Smithsonian photograph that our production designer Ondrej Nekvasil had found for a set. There was an older lady in the picture amongst a room full of dead birds at the Museum of Natural History.
I went from there and found images of women from the from late 60’s/early 70’s, a certain type that I remembered growing up who would wear their fur to go into town and scoff at people who were less better off, a bit of a Margaret Thatcher type, really. The suit was a typical conservative politician shape and style – the purple has the royal quality and it pops with the colour of the fur.
CoF: Did you ever think, “We’ve gone too far” with Tilda’s look and have to pull back?
CG: We had a lot of fun with Mason and at one point during Tilda’s fitting we also gave her a bit of a hump like one of our reference pictures, but with the false teeth, the glasses, wig and sagging breasts, the hump had to go.
France just does the post-apocalypse better.
The Book of Eli (2010)
Sunglasses and backpack by Oakley, badassery by Denzel.
Coachella? No — it’s Neil Marshall’s Doomsday. The director created the film as a tribute to the best post-apocalyptica of the ‘70s and ‘80s:
Right from the start, I wanted my film to be an homage to these sorts of movies, and deliberately so. I wanted to make a movie for a new generation of audience that hadn’t seen those movies in the cinema — hadn’t seen them at all maybe — and to give them the same thrill that I got from watching them. But kind of contemporise it, pump up the action and the blood and guts.
Pirate, jet ski-riding Dennis Hopper steals the (fashion) show.
1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)
Italian trash cinema that blends Escape From New York, The Warriors, and A Clockwork Orange into something resembling a film — with roller skates and heavy metal.
Children of Men (2006)
This is how “a former political activist turned bureaucrat in 2027 London,” who becomes a reluctant hero dresses.
The Road (2009)
Viggo Mortensen embraced the role of a father leading his son across a post-apocalyptic wasteland in John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. The actor slept in his clothes and lost a lot of weight, which led to people mistaking him for a homeless man.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Resident Evil heroine Alice, portrayed by Milla Jovovich, wore designs from Jovovich’s clothing line, Jovovich-Hawk, for the third film in the series, drawing heavily on western cinema style.
Land of the Dead (2005)
George Romero imagines a post-apocalypse where goth prostitutes (here, played by Asia Argento) battle zombies.
“In a post-apocalyptic world divided between two groups called the Flockers and the Ravagers, an adventurer and his ‘pleasure girl’ try to find their way to a rumored safe haven called the Land of Genesis.” Also, scarves.
B-movie budget props double and triple for costumes in this Sandahl Bergman-starring absurdity, featuring “orgiastic werewolves, a psychic communist, a tutu-wearing giant, a mad scientist, and gladiators.”
From Basement Rejects on this Jean-Claude Van Damme schlockfest, with the rags to prove it:
Directed by Albert Pyun, Cyborg is a sci-fi action-adventure film set in a post-apocalyptic future. The movie is an amalgam of plots, sets, and costumes from a proposed sequel to the live Masters of the Universe film and an early attempt at a live action Spider-Man that fell through. The movie was heavily edited to avoid an X rating and generally was panned by critics.
Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)
Hot Amazon women in space wear sexy, torn aquatic costumes and like to talk about mating. That’s about as “forbidden” as Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone gets.
Robert Altman used up his fur coat and sweater budget when he made this sci-fi film set during a new ice age.
Night of the Comet (1984)
Southern California in the ‘80s or Brooklyn in the twenty-tens? Catherine Mary Stewart’s movie theater usher (pictured, right) fights off zombies after a comet destroys most of the life on Earth.
The Roller Blade Seven (1991)
From Michael Adams’ “So Bad They’re Unmissable” list on the bewildering Roller Blade Seven:
The late acid casualty Donald G. Jackson and his protégé, the self-styled martial arts Zen master Scott Shaw, crafted this Z-grade rarity out of a passionate belief that there was an audience for surrealist, soft-core sci-fi rollerskating movies co-starring the likes of Frank Stallone, Karen Black and Joe Estevez. An inexplicable montage of kung-faux, topless bondage, horned demons, skating punks and swordplay carried out across parallel time zones, The Roller Blade Seven makes Eraserhead look positively straight-forward. It might just be art.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Arguments about whether this cult racing film depicts a dystopian future or a post-apocalyptic dictatorship aside, the costumes in Death Race 2000 are great fun. David Carradine was a vegetarian and refused to wear leather for his sleek Frankenstein getup in the Roger Corman-produced B-movie. Costume designer Jane Ruhm created Carradine’s memorable outfit with a lookalike fabric.
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
In Darren Lynn Bousman’s rock opera, Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy fame played a scarred, masked playboy — a dandy of the post-apocalyptic age. Fun fact: Paris Hilton stars in the film as a surgery addict. The heiress wore some of her own clothes as costumes.
Æon Flux (2005)
Charlize Theron’s assassin-ready catsuit gave the big-screen version of Aeon Flux the right amount of mystery, sex appeal, and ass-kicking capability.
Café Flesh (1982)
A cult pornographic theatrical spectacle co-written by novelist Jerry Stahl (Permanent Midnight).
Dead End Drive-In (1986)
Bring the Noise on Brian Trenchard-Smith’s punk/new wave-styled Aussie cult favorite:
There was a period in the late ’70s and early ’80s where Australian cinema went exploitation crazy and a new breed of gutter punk directors started producing blood-soaked, boob-addled, car-wrecking B-movies — the most famous of which being Mad Max, the film that introduced a certain Mel Gibson to the world. While Mad Max’s director George Miller later went on to helm such family friendly fare as Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet, the director of Dead End Drive-In, Anglo-Aussie Brian Trenchard-Smith stayed firmly on the outer, generic fringes. . . . Made in 1986, Dead End Drive-In is set in a semi post-apocalyptic future where crime has spiralled out of control, economies have fallen into permanent collapse and the Government’s solution is to imprison the undesirable elements of society in gigantic concentration camps. However, these camps take the form of drive-in movie theatres which show a constant loop of scuzzy grindhouse flicks (mainly Trenchard-Smith’s own!) and keep their inmates sedated with a steady diet of junk food and New Wave punk music. However, our hero Jimmy (or Crabs as he’s referred to) wants more from life and hatches a plot to escape by any means necessary.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Even the demons are dressed to the nines in the Wachowskis’ tale of intersecting lives in the past, present, and future.
The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)
Colleen Atwood’s costume designs for the film adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s chilling novel, which depicts women as concubines for the ruling class, outfits each woman with the same robe, obscuring individual characteristics with the oppressive “uniform.”
2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)
Italian sci-fi cinema in the ‘80s loved a good rip-off. 2019’s mercenary is basically Escape from New York’s Snake Plissken, with a leather headband instead of an eye patch.
Damnation Alley (1977)
If the men of Star Wars survived a nuclear detonation during World War III on Earth, topless and in their Levi’s, it might look something like Damnation Alley.
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
Don Johnson scavenger couture. American Cinematographer briefly discussed the costumes in the film, based on a novella by Harlan Ellison:
Right from the first scene, you may find yourself wondering whether George Miller studied A Boy and His Dog long and hard before making the Mad Max movies, particularly The Road Warrior. It’s the same barren, post-apocalyptic landscape, with the same violent marauders dressed in a crazy-quilt of costumes. But Jones doesn’t go in for the visceral charge of Miller; his style is much more considered, even cerebral, with an oddball sense of satire to keep you on your toes.