Total Recall

Total Recall: Mel Gibson's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Edge of Darkness star.

by | January 28, 2010 | Comments

Mel Gibson

Eight years is an eternity in Hollywood. Why, in 2002, Pierce Brosnan was still James Bond, Nia Vardalos was a budding film mogul, and Ryan Reynolds was still just that guy from National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. It was also the year Mel Gibson starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, an eventual $400 million hit — and the beginning of an unexpectedly long absence for one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Aside from an appearance in The Singing Detective the following year, Gibson has been uncharacteristically camera-shy for almost a decade now, but all that ends this week, with his starring turn in Martin Campbell’s Edge of Darkness. Seeing Mel return to his action roots has us in a celebratory mood — and what better way to celebrate than a look back at his best-reviewed films? Yes, folks, it’s Total Recall time!


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10. Braveheart

Okay, so maybe there’s still grumbling in the critical community about it taking the Best Picure Oscar. And it may very well have deserved its high ranking in the London Times’ list of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time. Whatever its flaws, though, it takes a special kind of historical epic to hold an audience in thrall for nearly three hours, and that’s exactly what Braveheart did — to the tune of a $210 million worldwide gross and five Academy Awards against a rather incredible 10 nominations. Making his directorial follow-up to 1993’s The Man Without a Face, Gibson initially resisted casting himself as Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, but once he took the role, he made it his own, infusing what might have been a fusty period piece with plenty of timeless, vein-bulging action. Forgive Braveheart its arguably bloated length, as well as the many smirking cries of “Freedom!” it triggered; applaud it instead, because, in the words of Film Scouts’ Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, “At the heart of Mel Gibson’s tumultuously entertaining epic is the almost-quaint notion that movie heroics should mean something more than a play for the much-coveted 18-25 box office demographic.”


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9. The Bounty

The oft-told tale of Captain Bligh and his unwieldy crew got the revisionist treatment in this watery Roger Donaldson-directed epic, which gave a young Gibson (as the mutinous Fletcher Christian) the chance to lock big-screen horns with Anthony Hopkins (as the tyrannical, or perhaps merely beleaguered, Bligh) for the fate of the HMS Bounty. Of course, we all know how things turned out for Bligh and his men — so it’s to Gibson and Hopkins’ immense credit, as well as a testament to a stellar supporting cast that included Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson, that The Bounty was such a critical success. Though some critics took issue with the script’s historical errors, as well as an overall absence of the type of fireworks one might expect from a cast of this caliber, the majority had kind words for the film — including Roger Ebert, who wrote, “this Bounty is not only a wonderful movie, high-spirited and intelligent, but something of a production triumph as well.”


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8. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

The first two films in the trilogy are widely acknowledged action classics, leaving 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome the runt of the litter. Of course, an 81 percent Tomatometer rating is nothing to sneeze at, particularly when we’re talking about the third installment in a series, but Thunderdome is easily the most hotly contested of the franchise, with fans and critics either hating it (“Definitely the worst movie in the Mad Max series,” wrote James O’Ehley of the Sci-Fi Movie Page) or preferring it to its predecessors (Roger Ebert called it “more visionary and more entertaining than the first two”). No matter how you feel about Thunderdome, though, one thing’s for sure: Between George Miller halfway bailing on the project after the death of his friend Byron Kennedy, and the stunt casting of Tina Turner as the power-hungry Aunty Entity, things probably should have turned out a lot worse than they did. In fact, Thunderdome has some of the most memorable moments and quotable lines in the series — and boasts, according to Time Out’s Derek Adams, “Enough imagination, wit and ingenuity to put recent Spielberg to shame.”


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7. Lethal Weapon 2

After the immense success of 1987’s Lethal Weapon, and the enduring popularity of the buddy cop genre it helped define, it came as no surprise to anyone when a sequel surfaced two years later. What was shocking, however, was just how much fun Lethal Weapon 2 turned out to be. Boasting further opportunities for Gibson to test the limits of action-hero funny business as nutty LAPD sergeant Martin Riggs, some of the nastiest bad guys in any late ’80s action thriller, and rapid-fire comic relief in the form of Joe Pesci, the second Weapon flew in the face of conventional wisdom by scoring with filmgoers and critics alike. In fact, some preferred it to the original — including scribes like Brian Orndorf, who called it “One of the finest examples of the genre, and, in my humble estimation, one of the greatest sequels put to film. Perhaps deranged hyperbole, but rarely does a follow-up outgun the original film as swiftly as Lethal 2 does.”


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6. Gallipoli

A number of films have tried to send a message about the futility and waste of war, but few have done it with the plain and heartbreaking precision of Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, which recounts the terrible saga of the Australian soldiers who perished in a poorly planned attempt to break a stalemate on the Turkish peninsula during World War I. By focusing less on the action-heavy aspect of the war and more on the doomed friendship of two soldiers named Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Gibson), Gallipoli underlined the human cost of the campaign, culminating in a harrowing final sequence that painfully illustrates the human cost of battle. “Weir’s work has a delicacy, gentleness, even wispiness that would seem not well suited to the subject,” observed Janet Maslin of the New York Times, “and yet his film has an uncommon beauty, warmth, and immediacy, and a touch of the mysterious, too.”

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5. The Year of Living Dangerously

Later in his career, Gibson acquired a rep for gravitating toward films that depicted grievous bodily harm, but anyone who’d been paying attention knew his taste for cinematic pain wasn’t a recent development. Take, for instance, 1983’s The Year of Living Dangerously, in which Gibson plays a journalist whose hunger for a big story leads him into the heart of an Indonesian coup — and earns him a busted eye in the process. Gibson’s second film with director Peter Weir, Dangerously benefited from its star’s heightened post-Mad Max profile, although it was his co-star, Linda Hunt, who walked away with an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (and for good reason: She played a half-Chinese dwarf named Billy Kwan). “The Year of Living Dangerously is a flawed film,” wrote Dan Jardine of the Apollo Guide, “but it is richly textured and imbued with enough emotional and intellectual subtlety to make it a rewarding experience.”


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4. Lethal Weapon

Movies had been making cash out of the male buddy dynamic for decades before Lethal Weapon came along, so it would be a mistake to call it groundbreaking, but it was still one of the more influential (and successful) action flicks of the late ’80s. Of course, that influence was partially felt through turkeys like Tango & Cash — not to mention Weapon‘s three uneven sequels — but let us focus here on the positive: Gibson and Glover have the easy chemistry of two old friends, Richard Donner’s direction is at its sleekest, Shane Black’s script combines laughs and thrills in equal measure, and Gibson’s mullet was never more exquisite. The role of mentally unstable cop Martin Riggs wasn’t really anything new for Gibson (Time’s Richard Schickel cracked that the movie was “Mad Max meets The Cosby Show“), but it put him squarely in his wheelhouse, and introduced filmgoers to one of the more interesting and complex characters in the genre. “From a distance, Lethal Weapon might appear generic,” wrote James Berardinelli of ReelViews, “but a closer look reveals something special.”


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3. Mad Max

Pop quiz: Before Paranormal Activity came along last year, what was the biggest cost-to-profit success in movie history? That’s right, it was 1979’s Mad Max, George Miller’s dystopian shoot-’em-up about an emotionally frayed cop (Gibson) driven over the edge after a gang of lunatics murders his wife and daughter. Gibson’s unthrottled performance as Max Rockatansky channeled the unfocused anger that led the fledgling actor into bar fights, launching a hugely successful film career in the process — and Miller’s brilliant way with an adrenalized set piece helped change global perceptions of the Australian film industry. Not bad for a movie with a shoestring budget, peppered with accents and slang its American distributors insisted on overdubbing, and little more on its mind than 95 minutes of very gruesome violence. The next time you’re caught in the grip of a filmmaker’s nightmarish vision of the future, thank Mad Max — the movie that, in the words of eFilmCritic’s Brian McKay, “launched not only [Mel Gibson’s] career, but the whole post-apocalyptic genre of the ’80s and beyond.”


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2. Chicken Run

Disagreements during its production ultimately led to a parting of the ways for Aardman Animations and DreamWorks Animation, but as far as critics and filmgoers were concerned, Chicken Run was nothing but a winner. The stop-motion animated adventure, which finds Gibson lending his voice to a suave rooster named Rocky, offered American audiences their first opportunity to get an extended look at the distinctive style of Nick Park and his cohorts — and it gave Gibson the chance to add another kid-friendly entry to a rather dark filmography. (Gibson’s previous foray into animation, 1995’s Pocahontas, left critics lukewarm at 55 percent on the Tomatometer.) Whatever led to the Aardman/DreamWorks divorce didn’t show up on screen; Chicken Run‘s feathery blend of comedy and adventure produced nearly $225 million in worldwide grosses and applause from critics like Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle, who called it “the most consistently entertaining animated film in years.”


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1. The Road Warrior

If you’re going to make a sequel, it helps if the first installment leaves you enough room to grow — and a storyline open-ended enough to give the characters something truly interesting to do. George Miller was lucky enough to have both with 1979’s Mad Max, as well as a huge worldwide gross; two years later, he put them all to use for The Road Warrior, which placed Gibson, returning as Mad Max, at the center of a battle for one of the last working oil refineries in the world. But bigger battles and improved special effects weren’t all that The Road Warrior brought to the table — where the first film found Max tearing loose from the bonds of society after losing his family, the sequel gave him a few reminders of his own humanity. “The Road Warrior isn’t Citizen Kane,” wrote James Rocchi of Netflix, “but it has a lot of things — power, speed, brains and energy — in massive quantities and at a high degree of quality that many films can only dream of.”


In case you were wondering, here are Gibson’s top ten movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Braveheart — 93%
2. Lethal Weapon — 93%
3. The Road Warrior — 92%
4. Gallipoli — 92%
5. Lethal Weapon 2 — 88%
6. Mad Max — 86%
7. Maverick — 85%
8. The Year of Living Dangerously — 85%
9. Chicken Run — 83%
10. The Bounty — 81%


Take a look through Gibson’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Edge of Darkness.

Finally, here’s Gibson in the trailer for the forthcoming epic, The Colonel:

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