Best: Mad Max (1979)
Mel’s first big role remains one of his most defining. A moody futuristic thriller that’s basically a grunt-level road movie spliced with a revenge flick, its impact hasn’t lessened any over 30 years later.
As the titular Max, Gibson’s on stellar form – young, driven and with a temper not to be scoffed at, he’s got fire in his eyes during the film’s iconic closing moments. It takes Max the entire film to turn into the mad avenger the title promises, but when he finally does that 180, it’s riveting stuff.
Worst: Air America (1990)
Gibson and co-star Robert Downey Jr are Air America pilots who discover that government agents are using their planes for heroin smuggling operations, and are then framed themselves for the criminal activities.
It’s based on fact, but Air America ’s been cranked through the Hollywood grinder and comes out the other side as a ridiculous action movie that’s striving for credibility. Gibson and Downey Jr attempt to stir up some Lethal Weapon -like buddy chemistry, but mostly they just look bored. Speaking of...
Best: Lethal Weapon (1987)
First and best in the Lethal Weapon franchise, this buddy cop thriller has Mel playing demented once more as the steel-kahuna-possessing Sergeant Martin Riggs. He’s the bad cop to Danny Glover’s good cop, an unreliable wild card who’s as unpredictable as a bull in a china shop.
It’s a ballsy turn, Gibson unafraid of shying away from Riggs’ less palatable characteristics and creating an all-the-more interesting antihero in the process. This is also the film that cemented Gibson as an unequivocal sex icon, that bare bum shot getting hearts fluttering the world over.
Worst: Edge Of Darkness (2010)
Gibson returns after taking a few years off acting to concentrate on a directing career, and it’s like he’s never been away. There’s nothing massively wrong with Edge Of Darkness per se, it’s just all so miserably predictable as a Gibson vehicle.
Mel’s again playing a man bent on revenge, something we’ve seen him do a hundred times before. This time, he’s Thomas Craven, whose daughter is killed in front of him, and leads him into a beehive of political conspiracy. Yawn.
Best: The Beaver (2011)
He’s been branded ‘Mad Mel’ by the tabloids at this point, and Gibson really does seem to have dug a hole for himself with those obscene phone rants. But the controversy of the actor’s real life chimes perfectly with the themes muddying up this domestic drama from director Jodie Foster.
Mel plays CEO Walter Black, who’s gone cuckoo and uses a discarded old hand puppet to communicate with his family. Gibson’s on better form than he’s been for years, delivering a nuanced performance that’s both shocking and absorbing.
Worst: The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)
A detective (Gibson) is commissioned to look into the death of a United States Senator’s son in a hotel where all manner of unusual people are holed up – including Milla Jovovich and Jeremy Davies’ star-crossed lovers.
The film’s based on an idea by U2’s Bono (who provides music throughout), and director Wim Wenders aims for an oddball indie vibe, but just ends up presenting something inexplicably annoying. Even Gibson can’t save this mess.
Best: Tim (1979)
Made just after Mad Max , Gibson shows he’s a versatile talent by playing the eponymous Tim, a young man with developmental disabilities.
It’s based on Colleen McCullough’s 1974 novel, and follows Tim’s relationship with older woman Mary (Piper Laurie). Gibson so impressed the industry that he landed a Best Actor award from the Australian Film Institute.
Worst: Tequila Sunrise (1988)
Commercially successful but critically drubbed, the most Tequila Sunrise has going for it is its cast – Gibson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell proving to be the main box office draws.
But director Robert Towne hasn’t quite hit his stride behind the camera (having worked previously as an Oscar-winning scriptwriter), and the result is an over-complicated story that's hard to pin down. At least Gibson’s performance earned light praise, with Variety commending his projection of “control skating atop paranoia, and is appealing as a man you'd want to trust”.
Best: Gallipoli (1981)
Another Best Actor award from the AFI heralded Gibson’s first team up with fellow Australian, director Peter Weir. The film further established the actor’s reputation as a serious actor who could tip his hand to anything, and Hollywood came calling in the form of agent Ed Limato.
Gallipolo follows a group of young men who join the Australian Army during WW1. They’re then sent to Turkey, where they are part of the Gallipoli Campaign, an attempt to acquire a sea route to Russia via Constantinople.
Worst: The Singing Detective (2003)
Gotta respect a man who doesn’t mind putting on a bald cap and a pair of coke bottle specs for a role – especially a man who’s built a career around his dual role as hero/sex symbol.
Sadly, Gibson’s uglification routine turns out to be all for nothing, this oddity from director Keith Gordon turning out to be nothing more than a vaguely diverting experiment. Gibson plays Dr Gibbon, while Robert Downey Jr is the detective novelist Dan Dark who’s suffering from psoriasis...
Best: The Year Of Living Dangerously (1982)
Co-star Linda Hunt got the Oscar kudos for credibly playing a man despite really being a woman, but Gibson’s equally impressive in this drama from buddy Peter Weir.
He plays Guy Hamilton, an Australian reporter who's stationed in Indonesia, where President Sukarno is turning the landscape into a bombsite. Gibson gives his hero guts, and there’s no denying he looks all kinds of smart in a suit.
Worst: Payback (1999)
Brian Helgeland’s first film as director, and one that suffered from annoying studio tampering. It shows. The theatrical cut of Payback amounting to little more than a showcase for explosions and never-ending chase scenes.
Gibson plays Porter, who’s been betrayed by his ex-wife and former partner. Payback is a bland, mildly entertaining thriller that isn’t able to live up to its intriguing concept.
Best: The Bounty (1984)
Gibson had big boots to fill with this new retelling of the mutiny on the Bounty, a British Royal Navy ship. Previous films that told the tale had starred Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando and Clark Gable.
To his credit, Gibson’s interpretation of Fletcher Christian - who seizes control of the Bounty from William Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) – is on par with the character work he’s accomplished elsewhere. Gibbo refuses to turn Christian into an all-out villain, which works in the film’s favour, even if Gibson later regretted the ploy.
Worst: Lethal Weapon 4 (1998)
Three sequels and 12 years after the original Lethal Weapon , the wear and tear is beginning to show in Gibson’s pair-up with Danny Glover. That’s probably because, by now, buddy cop movies are the thing of bargain buckets and DTV.
Still, Weapon 4 has a good crack at being a decent fourquel, recruiting Jet Li, Rene Russo and Joe Pesci for another action-packed spin around LA’s criminal underworld. There’s no denying, though, that this is now getting very tired indeed.
Best: Hamlet (1990)
Now we’re getting serious. Gibson has become so confident in his craft that he decides to take on The Bard for this Franco Zeffirelli directed adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
Mel plays the melancholic Danish prince, and holds his own against experienced Shakespearean actors Ian Holm and Alan Bates. Gibson described working with them as like being “thrown into the ring with Mike Tyson”. He comes out mostly unscathed.
Worst: Casper (1995)
A thankless role in this kiddie caper does nothing for Gibson’s CV, the actor appearing briefly during a sequence in which Bill Pullman looks in the mirror and sees himself as Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson.
We can only imagine that it was Gibbo’s kid who set up this meeting. That, or he was offered a paycheck that he just couldn’t refuse.
Best: Signs (2002)
Helmed by director M Night Shyamalan before he was accused of disappearing up his own proverbial backside, this intimate sci-fi pairs blockbuster storytelling with an affecting, effective low-key approach.
Gibbo’s again playing a fractured man striving for redemption (is that a pattern emerging?), here a priest who’s lost his wife and is struggling with his faith. That an alien appears to have landed in his back garden is par for the course in an atmospheric tale that ebbs with real humanity.
Worst: Forever Young (1992)
Written by JJ Abrams, this sentimental drama has Gibson playing reckless test pilot Captain Daniel McCormick. He’s frozen in a cryonic chamber and wakes up decades later in 1992, only to discover that the world has entirely changed.
An interesting idea, but Forever Young is grating in its sappiness, and suffers from a truly horrible ending. The best reviewer Roger Ebert can commend it for is having “its heart in the right place”.
Best: Braveheart (1995)
Gibson gets behind the camera for a second time after 1993’s The Man Without A Face , bagging himself five Academy Awards – including the coveted Best Picture and Best Director.
He deserved the accolades. Braveheart is a raw, unflinchingly violent retelling of history’s Sir William Wallace. Who cares if the factual accuracy is way off? With Gibson at the film’s centre giving it his all as Wallace, not to mention the Hollywoodised Battle of Stirling Bridge, Braveheart is a towering achievement in filmmaking.
Worst: FairyTale A True Story (1997)
Gibson’s back playing uncredited bit parts, FairyTale continuing the Casper trend as he appears for mere moments in a part that amounts to nothing more than a cipher.
He’s the father of Frances, a young girl who discovers the existence of fairies when she manages to capture them on camera. Gibson does little more than leave his daughter for war, and then return at the end of the movie. A sad state of affairs.
Best: The Road Warrior (1981)
Otherwise known as Mad Max 2 , The Road Warrior was Gibson’s first big hit in the States. Again helmed by writer/ director George Miller, the sequel plays up the western angle as a community of settlers attempt to fight off a band of marauders.
Rather than resting on his laurels, Gibson spies Road Warrior as a chance to add layers to hero Mad Max Rockatansky, while Miller crafts something visually sumptuous. The result is a tightly-paced and violent thrill ride.