Director, Producer, Actor

By EW Staff
Updated October 15, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Mel Gibson: Sam Jones: Corbis Outline

How Mel Gibson gained power in 2004

AGE 48

In a cover story last February, Entertainment Weekly posed the question: ”Can Mel Gibson survive The Passion of the Christ?”

We now have the answer: Hell, yeah.

The brutal, controversial account of Jesus Christ’s final hours on earth didn’t fail to polarize. But it didn’t cast him out of the Hollywood heavens, either. On the contrary: $610 million in global box office later, Gibson has been transfigured. What once seemed like a zealous bit of risky business (Gibson even said God was directing the movie through him) has proved to be one of the most successful power plays in Hollywood history. ”He’s an entity now — a Spielberg, a Bruckheimer. He’s untouchable,” says one studio chief. Eight months ago, studios were taking a wait-and-see position on working with him. Now his next project is a Must-Have. ”Anything he does is hot, whether he’s acting or directing,” says Bob Berney, president of Newmarket Films, which released The Passion in the U.S. ”Just Mel as Mel is extremely hot.”

Gibson also controls his own creative destiny. The self-financed Passion cost him $25 million. He’s reportedly taking home more than $400 million, including DVD sales. Flush with cash, Gibson’s production and film distribution company, Icon, decided not to renew its alliance with Fox and is said to be charting a truly independent course, though he’s still figuring out where that course will lead him. Since The Passion, Gibson has turned down directing gigs and back-burnered acting work (in fact, he’s not slated to be in any upcoming movies) to produce TV series (CBS’ The Clubhouse, ABC’s Complete Savages). His next film might be another biblical epic — this one about the revolt of the Maccabees (Happy Hanukkah!). It’s a testament to his power surge that distributors who questioned The Passion now say they’d jump at another Gibson religious opus. Thing is, he might not even give them the chance. Notes Berney: ”The question is, would he need them or want them?”

Only God knows — or Mel. And neither of them is talking.