From Mad Max (1979) to Braveheart (1995), here’s our ranking of the best Mel Gibson movies.
Australian actor Mel Gibson’s career is rife with examples of projects that were challenging. He understood the clout he had as a bankable star and used his goodwill to risk his career both as an actor and director. Gibson debuted as an actor with Australian soap opera The Sullivans (1976-83) at 20. Eight years later he would make his Hollywood debut with Mark Rydell’s drama The River (1984).
Later he’d embark upon one sucessful project after another and soon set foot firmly amongst other popular stars in the American film industry. In 1993, Gibson would make a major move in his career directing his first film. The Man Without a Face. Since then the actor has not only earned the status of a star but also known to be one to make precarious choices as an artist and come up with remarkable results. Very quickly then, here are 15 best Mel Gibson movies as an actor:
15. Bird on the Wire (1990)
In the action comedy directed by John Badham, Mel Gibson plays the role of an undercovered agent Richard Jarmin. As Richard, he’s stubborn, vain, and proud, and Gibson is excellent at playing it for comedy as well as drama. His romantic and witty scenes with co-actor Goldie Hawn are thrilling and humorous in equal measure. But despite the enthralling central performance by Gibson, his character lacks depth and complexity. The film needed to offer an actor of his caliber much more to play with by adding a layer of sophistication to the role.
14. Ransom (1996)
Gibson plays the role of a rich airline owner, Tom Mullen, who finds himself in the horns of a dilemma when the ransom for the release of his son goes askew. Gibson plays the role of a desperate father with aplomb. He elevates his character to another level with the choices he makes around the margins. As he announces the bounty on national television, it does justice to the motif of the film. Desperate times need desperate measures. A large amount of credit goes to Gibson’s performance for keeping the thriller quotient alive and kicking.
13. Conspiracy Theory (1997)
Set in the city of New York, Mel Gibson plays the role of a taxi driver, Jerry Fletcher who is seized with the paranoia wanderings such as plots that have been hatched to kill government officials and the intrusion of UFOs in the city amongst others. The role gives Gibson enough room to show off his comedy chops, which gives the movie a level of airy comfort. His character manages to retain humanity even in the face of dire circumstances where he seems to lose his sanity.
12. Tequila Sunrise (1988)
In this romantic crime drama, written and directed by academy award winner Robert Towne, Mel Gibson plays Dale McKussic, a former drug dealer who wants to amend his ways. Gibson breathes life into the character who was once compelled to lead the life of a criminal and now finds himself sucked into a fate from which there is no respite. The warmth and reassuring quality of his performance with his friend Lieutenant Nick Frescia (Kurt Russell) and lover Jo Ann Vallenari (Michelle Pfeiffer), despite the fact that it is not one of his greatest, will be most remembered.
11. The Bounty (1984)
The film is based on the premise of the famous tale of Fletcher Christian’s (Mel Gibson) mutiny against Captain Bligh (Anthony Hopkins). In a film dominated by startling performers, like Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis, Gibson still managed to steal the show. As a rebel, he bares the numerous facets of his skill set and throws them all into the role of an upright and honest officer. Gibson brings a frenetic energy to his character, symbolizing the ultimate dangers of choosing to confront the people in power and conveying the film’s theme of questioning authority.
10. Hamlet (1990)
Mel Gibson plays the titular character in director Franco Zeffirelli’s sensual rendition of Shakespeare’s play on the vengeance of a grieving son. In the hands of a less gifted actor, Gibson’s role in the film could have been an underwhelming one. To watch an actor associated with vitality and expressiveness capturing the heightened emotions of an anguished soul is nothing short of majestic. He delivers a remarkable performance, alive with cruelty, self-loathing and rage. There is an endearing mix of innocence in his face along with the menace in his eyes as Gibson scores in his interpretation of the character.
9. The River (1984)
Gibson plays a farmer, Tom Garvey, who will leave no stone unturned to save his family property. The actor exhibits an immensely moving and controlled portrayal of an individual’s anguish, as he ceaselessly awaits the end of his suffering. Gibson carries in his performance the pain and hopelessness of the millions of faceless, unknown farmers facing challenges to preserve their dignity. His character provides the film with its bruising heart and the spectacular power of hope. Gibson’s on-screen romantic chemistry with Sissy Spacek as his wife offers some mellow moments in the film.
8. We Were Soldiers (2002)
Another war film in Gibson’s career as an actor, where he plays the role of Lt. Col. Hal Moore in the first major battle between the United States and North Vietnamese forces. Here Gibson’s performance infuses flesh and blood into Mooreas a cynic, unwilling to go along with the self-serving political nature of those in charge. In reality, Moore shows the system itself to be the cynic. While his idealistic devotion to truth makes him the doomed hero. Gibson turns his character into a brave and poignant individual in the war field, where the mayhem tends to obscure humanity and reason.
7. The Patriot (2000)
Set against the backdrop of the American Revolutionary War, Gibson dons the hat of Benjamin Martin, a widower and war veteran. Benjamin transforms from a forbearing farmer to a soldier unleashing havoc on the enemies. Gibson performs both roles with brilliance. His strong screen presence effectively captures the contradictions and pathos of a man caught between two worlds. By turning his gaze inwards and undergoing critical self-introspection, Gibson’s performance asks important questions regarding the causes and consequences of the crime and punishment.
6. Signs (2002)
In M. Night Shyamalan’s fifth outing as a director, Gibson is a farmer and former Episcopal, Father Graham Hess. While he’s still grieving the loss of his wife, an alien invasion happens in his cornfield. He’s now saddled with the responsibility to save his family from the imminent peril. Gibson plays Graham with such aplomb that we as viewers can’t help but root for him. The film is considered to have been the biggest opening weekend in Mel Gibson’s career.
5. Lethal Weapon (1987)
The first film in the Lethal Weapon franchise would bring together one of the coolest collaborations between a director, Richard Donner and actor, Mel Gibson, in the history of action filmmaking in Hollywood. Gibson plays the role of Sergeant Martin Riggs. He has a dark past that forces him to develop a suicidal and aggressive attitude. Though he does his duty with dedication, he reacts violently against his antagonist. His bonding with Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) brings some of the funniest and most vital moments which also makes this buddy movie worth a watch.
4. Mad Max (1979)
In the first installment of the Mad Max franchise, helmed by George Miller, Gibson plays the role of Max Rockatansky, an officer of the Main Force Patrol (MFP), combating the evil forces in a bleak dystopian future with elan. The meticulously structured sound design accompanied by Gibson’s expression as a tormented and troubled individual adds a layer of intricacy to the narrative. Gibson was a relatively unknown name back then. It was this film that earned him the reputation of a promising actor. Though he wasn’t Miller’s first choice! Mad Max solidified Gibson’s rising star power and would strengthen the collaborative relationship between him and Miller.
3. The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
Mel Gibson plays journalist Guy Hamilton, assigned the job of a foreign correspondent for an Australian TV television channel in Jakarta, Indonesia. He meets a young lady, Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver), working in the British embassy. A relationship ignites between the two. At the same time, political unrest in Indonesia flares due to the communist uprising. Peter Weir’s unflinching details about the injustices of President Sukarno’s failing regime in late 1965 and the strong performances of the two leads make it a riveting drama.
2. Gallipoli (1981)
Mel Gibson plays Archy, a sprinter who was shortlisted to participate in the Olympics of 1915. However, in an unexpected twist of fate, Archy grows patriotic and enlists in the Australian Light Horse as a soldier. What happens next is a solid war movie that has a lot of strong messages and an engaging tale of self-discovery. Observing the lead character evolve through the events in the story is both inspiring and entertaining. The battle sequences are stunning. Peter Weir’s brilliant framing brings a sense of realism to the story.
1. Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson’s sophomore as a director is constructed as an inspirational tale of William Wallace played by Gibson himself. From beginning to end, there isn’t a weak performance by any of the central characters. The narrative is rooted in the protagonist and how Wallace overcomes obstacles and rages war against the authoritarian brings believability to the role. The romantic scenes between Wallace and Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack) accompanied by James Horner’s score are structured in a breathtaking mosaic. Gibson as Wallace competently exhibits a dynamic performance that gives more dimension to the character than what seems to be on the page.
There you go! These are some of the best Mel Gibson movies and performances. Few actors working today can generate anticipation for an upcoming film like him, both as an actor and director. Despite conforming to generic roles and mostly working in thriller and crime genres, Gibson has maintained a consistency in his four-decade-long career in Hollywood that is confounding and unique.
FTII alumnus and freelance writer. My articles have appeared in Scroll.in, The Hindu, Livemint.com, The Quint, The Tribune, Upperstall, among other publications.