What a long and storied career Mel Gibson has led. From being the breakout star of films like Mad Max to becoming the Oscar-winning filmmaker of the highest-grossing R-rated film in history, Gibson has seen more than his fair share of ups and downs, the latter of which has often been colored by his own very public outbursts.
However, despite the controversy surrounding Gibson in recent years, there is real talent behind the man who headlined four Lethal Weapon films, led the story of William Wallace to glory, and gave M. Night Shyamalan his last bonafide hit with Signs.
In more ways than one, 2016 has been Gibson’s comeback year. As an actor, he returned as a vengeful dad in Blood Father and as a filmmaker, he brought the story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to earn the Medal of Honor, to remarkable life on the big-screen.
Today, we look back on his directorial efforts, focusing only on theatrical feature-length releases. For this list, we’re taking into account critical response, audience reaction, box office, and cultural impact. Let’s get started.
5. The Man Without a Face (1993)
In his directorial debut, Gibson plays a disfigured artist who befriends a young boy (Nick Stahl). The drama — based on a novel by Isabelle Holland — wasn’t the most ambitious start to Gibson’s filmmaking career, but he proved himself capable at hand crafting a story of his own after decades as one of Hollywood’s most popular leading men. Though The Man Without a Face was a box office flop, it received largely positive reviews from critics and established Gibson as a director worth keeping a close eye on, a wise move considering the impact of his follow-up project (check out No. 1).
4. Apocalypto (2006)
After the phenomenon that was The Passion of the Christ (more on that shortly), everyone wondered where Gibson as a director would turn his attention next. No one saw him opting for the incredibly daunting task of recreating the Mayan civilization. A cast of native Mexican and Native American actors lead the film’s depiction of one man’s journey to escape a dark fate. Gibson again goes the foreign language route, employing exclusively Yucatec Maya dialogue to tell his story. Brutally violent and visually arresting, Apocalypto demonstrated that Gibson isn’t afraid to take chances with his storytelling and is willing to go places many others won’t.
3. The Passion of the Christ (2004)
The aforementioned highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, this examination of the final hours of Jesus’s (Jim Caviezel) life prior to crucifixion drew both faith-heavy and mainstream audiences for its unique take on a story everyone knows. Aside from Caviezel in the lead, the cast of the film is comprised of a diverse cast, all using era-appropriate Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin dialogue. Though The Passion of the Christ was criticized for its harsh depiction of violence — to the point that some felt it focused more on carnage than Jesus’s message of peace — there’s no denying that Gibson’s vision shines through. This film stands among his greatest accomplishments to date.
2. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Gibson’s latest film stars Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) as a young soldier who refuses to kill during World War II. The film received a 10-minute standing ovation during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and, accordingly, features a startling vision of combat that hasn’t been seen on the big-screen in years. In addition to Garfield’s lead performance, Hacksaw Ridge is marked by a collection of notable supporting turns by actors like Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, and Rachel Griffiths. Naturally, the film has received an overwhelmingly positive response and is positioned to be an awards contender.
1. Braveheart (1995)
This biographical film about 13th-century Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace earned Gibson Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it tops our list. Despite barely breaking even at the domestic box office, Braveheart emerged as an international powerhouse, grossing more than $210 million worldwide.
While the film has been rightfully accused of rampant historical inaccuracy, its achievement as a piece of filmmaking remains intact, even though it has earned a bit of a divisive response from some. The film’s cultural impact and its impact on Gibson’s filmmaking career have endured, securing Braveheart a spot in cinema history and as Gibson’s best directorial effort to date.
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