A couple of days ago The Hollywood Reporter published an article entitled Can Mel Gibson Still Draw a Crowd?. The piece weighs up the pros and cons of Mel Gibson’s return to acting after a seven year absence. As Screen Rant’s most vocal Mel Gibson supporter the article caught my attention and made me ponder that question. The article also mentions various films that Gibson has turned down over the last few years – some of which are quite surprising.

Mel Gibson will headline his first film since 2002’s Signs with Edge of Darkness (directed by Casino Royale’s Martin Campbell). The last film that the star acted in was a supporting role in The Singing Detective, which starred a pre-box office friendly Robert Downey Jr. Since then the actor has mainly stayed behind the camera to focus on directing and producing various interesting films. In that time he directed his religious passion project (no pun intended) The Passion of The Christ, as well as the Mayan action epic Apocalypto.

Along the way the star has had a few, well publicized personal problems, involving an arrest for drink driving and the end of his longstanding marriage. Now, Screen Rant isn’t a tabloid site, and frankly I don’t want to go into any details either. Gibson has apologised for his actions, and moved on – so should we. We’ve all done something wrong at one point in our lives. The man is a movie star, that’s his job, that is why we pay money to watch his films, he (nor we) didn’t sign up to critique personal lives.

With Edge of Darkness, Gibson is back in familiar territory as a man who is avenging the death of his daughter. The subject matters of family, loss and revenge are long running themes in most of Gibson’s movies from Mad Max, by way of Lethal Weapon to Signs. What makes Mel Gibson important is that he is an incredibly charismatic movie star, in a time where there are very few movie stars, never mind ones with the charisma and screen presence of Gibson. Sure, he may be older, and grayer, but he hasn’t lost what makes him bankable.

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Gibson was paid his usual $25 million fee for starring in Edge of Darkness, despite his absence from starring. To be fair, and I only partly agree with the Reporter here –  there is a slight gamble on the film because the studio doesn’t know if audiences will show up to see Gibson because he’s been off screen for so long, and because of his appearance in the tabloids. Having said that Gibson ended his career on a high as What Women Want and Signs were the actor’s highest grossing films. Apocalypto grossed over $50 million after his Malibu arrest – a sum that the Reporter calls “middling.” I disagree; the film was a low budget subtitled flick with no stars whatsoever. That’s a pretty decent gross.

Following the release of Edge of Darkness, Gibson will be seen in The Beaver, which is directed by his Maverick co-star Jodie Foster and then he will star in (and co-write) How I Spent My Summer Vacation. It’s interesting to note some of the films that The Hollywood Reporter states that Gibson turned down during his self-imposed absence. These films include: The Book of Eli, The A-Team, Jonah Hex, The Low Dweller, The 28th Amendment, Dan Minter: Badass for Hire, By Any Means Necessary and The Men Who Stare at Goats.

That’s a pretty long list; the star has also turned down the chance to reprise his roles in Lethal Weapon 5 and Mad Max 4. I must also say that although I have no idea what Dan Minter: Badass for Hire is, I think that it should just be made for the title alone! The article also states that Gibson has given Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black his assurances that he will star in his forthcoming action film Cold Warrior. The star is apparently cooking something up with his friend and mentor Richard Donner and he has a Viking film in the pipeline that is set to star Leonardo DiCaprio.

I agree that Gibson may have alienated some people with his off-screen actions. Apparently Columbia Pictures chief Amy Pascal won’t hire Gibson for any films after his Malibu arrest (I’m not going into details – google it, if you want to know) but it would appear that a lot of people want to be in the Gibson business. After all, the man has starred in over ten films that have grossed over $100 in the US alone, and Gibson is also a big international star and money is what makes Hollywood go around. We live in an age now where movie stars are a dying breed. Few people open a movie; it’s all about special effects and concepts. From the” Golden Age” of cinema through to about the turn of this century, audiences went to see stars. Stars therefore “opened” movies and that’s why they are paid vast sums of money – for the opening weekend. If a movie opens big and then bombs, it’s not the stars fault; it’s the fault of the director! However, today most movie stars (Gibson included) are getting older and there’s not really a new breed waiting in the wings. Do you really think that Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron will replace Gibson, Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis in a few years?

Edge of Darkness will be an interesting litmus test to see if Gibson is still a viable (and valuable) commodity for Hollywood. Warner Bros. still wants to be in the Mel Gibson business and the film has a long running relationship with another actor/director – Clint Eastwood. With Gibson an Oscar winning director, as well as a star it would make sense to keep the star close, as big box office and Oscars rarely come together.

At the very least, it’s good to see Gibson back where he belongs. Now, if he would only agree to star in Mad Max: Fury Road

Edge of Darkness opens on January, 29 2010.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter