Traumatised by the death of his family, Max Rockatansky roams the desert wilderness of a post-apocalyptic Australia in a scarred, black, supercharged V-8 Pursuit Special. Scavenging for food and petrol, Max's only companions are an Australian Cattle Dog and a sawn-off shotgun with scarce ammunition. After driving off a gang led by the unhinged biker warrior Wez, and taking petrol from one of their wrecked vehicles, Max finds a nearby gyrocopter and decides to collect its fuel. The gyrocopter is boobytrapped, but Max overpowers the pilot hiding nearby, sparing his life upon being told of a small oil refinery nearby in the wasteland. However, upon arriving, Max finds the compound under siege by the Marauders, a motley gang of racers and motorcyclists of which Wez is a member. The Marauders' leader, a large disfigured man called "Lord Humungus", has his gang swarm the complex daily, believing that the compound contains some kind of petrol reserves or even a small refinery.
Biding his time, Max makes his move when a group of settlers attempt to break out of the compound to find a means to take the fuel tank out of the complex. With the others captured and subjected to torture, rape and death, Max rescues the remaining survivor and offers to get him back to the complex in return for a tank of petrol. The man dies shortly from his wound after Max returns him, and the settlers' leader Papagallo reneges on the deal. The settlers are on the verge of killing Max when the Marauders return and, despite the death of Wez's partner by the metal boomerang of a feral child living within the complex, Humungus offers the settlers safe passage from the territory in exchange for the fuel supply.