A wildly imaginative Australian filmmaker, George Miller received critical and popular success in both live action - with the successful "Mad Max" series of films, starring Mel Gibson - as well as in animation - with the enormously popular family friendly classics, "Babe" and "Happy Feet." Despite a natural flair for storytelling and a gifted director's eye in terms of visual composition, Miller not only studied to be a doctor, but he practiced medicine for some time in his homeland. But the movie bug had bit him, so in between his medical practices, in whatever spare time he had, he studied cinema and worked on short films, before immersing himself in filmmaking full time.
Miller was born to Greek immigrant on March 3, 1945, settling in Australia. He attended Sydney Boys School, and was an altar boy, but throughout his youth, he nurtured a deep love of movies. Still, he veered away from pursuing films professionally, opting to study medicine at the University of South Wales alongside his non-identical twin brother, John. But the bug remained with him, and during their last year of med school, the brothers made a one-minute short film, which went on to win a prize at a student film festival - a slot at a film workshop. Dividing his time between film and medicine, Miller attended the workshop at Melbourne University, and also volunteered his time working as a crewmember on films - all the while completing his residency at Sydney's St. Vincent's Hospital. During this period, Miller befriended another film fanatic, Byron Kennedy. The two of them helped each other out in their fledgling crew member days, and would go on to enjoy fruitful creative collaborations later on. Their first project together was the 1971 short film, "Violence in the Cinema, Part 1."
Throughout the 1970s, Miller and Kennedy continued to collaborate on short, experimental films, while Miller supported himself working part-time as a doctor. Miller also wrote screenplays, one of which became his first feature as director - the post-apocalyptic action film, "Mad Max" (1979), starring a then unknown Aussie actor, Mel Gibson, as a rough and tumble member of a futuristic police force dedicated to fending off violent motorcycle gangs in a mostly lawless society. Shot in desolate desert regions of Australia, the film - with its rag tag roustabouts, dune buggies and bizarre language - set the tone for countless futuristic films to follow - although few demonstrated the wit, humor and cleverness that Miller brought to what could have been another B-level action film.
Miller followed up his first big success with 1981's "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior," which Kennedy produced. Thanks to its success, Miller was considered part of the "Australian New Wave" - an emerging group of filmmakers and actors that included Gibson, actress Judy Davis and director Peter Weir. As his reputation grew, he was asked by Steven Spielberg to helm a segment of "Twilight Zone: The Movie," (1982), alongside John Landis, Joe Dante, and Spielberg himself. Miller's was the fourth chapter in the film - an adaptation of the episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," starring John Lithgow in the role of an airline passenger who must convince his fellow travelers that he is not crazy after seeing a creature crawling along the wing of the plane. Miller's chapter was considered by many to be the strongest segment of the film. After this stateside success, he returned to Australia to work with Kennedy on the 1983 television miniseries, "The Dismissal" (Network Ten).
Miller and Kennedy were in the process of planning the third Mad Max installment when Kennedy was tragically killed in a helicopter crash. Uncertain of continuing without his friend and collaborator, Miller eventually plunged ahead to make 1985's "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome," which broke through to mainstream audiences with its tie-in single, "We Don't Need Another Hero," by Tina Turner, who also starred opposite Gibson in the film. The movie was also recognized for its tagline, "Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves." Although Miller co-wrote and co-produced "Thunderdome," he shared directing credit with George Ogilvie.
Offers to direct more mainstream Hollywood fare began pouring in. In 1987, he directed "The Witches of Eastwick," starring Susan Sarandon, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson - the latter of whom was perfectly cast as the Devil. Miller also found time to produce a number of films, including 1989's "Dead Calm," a thriller starring Nicole Kidman in her first major role, as well as 1991's "Flirting," also starring Nicole Kidman. He returned to the director's chair - and his original love of medicine - with 1992's "Lorenzo's Oil," which he also co-wrote. The film centered around parents (Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte) struggling to find an alternative cure for their young son's rare mental degenerative disorder. Miller and co-writer Nick Enright earned an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay for their efforts on the deeply emotional film.
In 1995, Miller co-wrote along with Chris Noonan, "Babe," a critically acclaimed film centering around a barnyard pig who decides to become a sheep pig in order to escape slaughter. Filmed in and set in Australia, the film featured groundbreaking visuals in both animatronics and computer-generated technology - all in an effort to create the highly realistic effect of talking animals such as pigs, sheep and border collies. But aside from its convincing effects, the film was also celebrated for its sensitive but unsentimental take on class systems, earning Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
But Miller stumbled commercially with the follow-up, 1998's "Babe 2: Pig in the City," which he directed himself. While continuing the tradition of brilliant effects and voice work - and despite good reviews for taking the sequel in a different direction - the film, much of which took place at a creepy home for lost animals, for was considered too dark in contrast to the original. Audiences stayed away in droves, but the movie went on to become an kind of unappreciated gem among serious film fans.
Despite the unexpected setback, Miller came back with a vengeance with "Happy Feet" (2006), an animated musical featuring the voice and singing talents of Robin Williams, among others. Completely in control, Miller performed all three behind-the-camera duties - writing, producing and directing. Despite a glut of animated CGI films in recent years - to say nothing of a marketplace already saturated with penguin stories - Miller's film was a commercial smash, combining standout animation with themes of both individualism and ecological responsibility. The film earned an Oscar nomination and would go on to win for Best Animated Feature, putting Miller onstage with an Oscar in hand at 2007's 79th Annual Academy Awards.
Director (Feature Film)
Assistant Direction (Feature Film)
Director (TV Mini-Series)
Producer (TV Mini-Series)
Began working in Australian TV
Feature debut, 1st assistant director on "In Search of Anna"
Directed "Against the Wind", an Aussie soap shown briefly in US syndication
Feature debut "The Man from Snowy River" starred Kirk Douglas and attracted attention in the USA
Helmed the first two parts of "All the Rivers Run", the first made-for-cable miniseries, broadcast on HBO
Directed "The Aviator"
First American TV-movie, "Badlands 2005", an ABC sci-fi Western, originally a pilot for a series, not picked up by the network; cast included Sharon Stone
Directed "Over the Hill", with Olympia Dukakis as a grandmother who makes a daring journey of self-discovery across the Australian continent
Directed first US feature, the pallid comedy "Frozen Assets", featuring Shelley Long and Corbin Bernsen
Helmed heartwarming true story "Andre", about a seal that travels 400 miles to return to the human family that had nursed it back to health
Directed "Zeus and Roxanne" about the friendship between a dog and a dolphin that brings the dog's owner together with marine biologist; starred Steve Gutenberg and Kathleen Quinlan
Stepped away from children's genre to direct "Tidal Wave: No Escape", an ABC TV-movie starring Corbin Bernsen