Best & Worst: Mel Gibson

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...

Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.