Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2006 #6: Mel Is an Angry Drunk
By David Mumpower
January 2, 2007
At the end of 2004, Mel Gibson was on top of the world. A movie that one harsh critic at Fox News claimed was a financial disaster had earned roughly $612 million worldwide. The self-financed production, The Passion of the Christ, had claimed its spot among the ten biggest earners in North American box office history. This feat was accomplished despite the fact that the movie's dialogue was spoken in a dead language.
Emboldened by his success, Gibson announced plans for a follow-up project of even greater ambition, Apocalypto. This movie would feature first-time actors, natives from the area upon which the story was based. Gibson headed off to an area most recently used for a season of Survivor and proceeded to use the ancient Mayan backdrop for his violent tale of the end of a civilization. Disney, the distributor for the project, was giddy over its upside, remembering that Gibson's two most recent directorial outings had been commercially viable as well as awards contenders. The former Road Warrior was on top of the world.
Then, well, you know...
On July 28, 2006, Mr. Gibson had too much to drink. Sure, this was not a first for the self-professed recovering alcoholic/drug addict. A DUI would not have looked good on his Wikipedia page, but it would have been quickly forgotten in the current media era of fire-crotch notoriety. Unfortunately, The Man Without a Face was not a man without a voice that evening. Had he but kept his mouth shut, no one would have remembered the story. On August 17, 2006, he would have pleaded no contest to a minor drunk driving charge, served a tiny period on probation and remained one of the most popular actors in the world.
What he chose to do instead was be a miserable drunk. Sure, everybody knows this guy at a party. He is the one who is beyond inebriated and is espousing his theories on why the world is such a terrible place. Since you are reading this around New Year's, it's likely that a mental image of someone doing just this popped in your head immediately. You probably thought the guy was an idiot, told stories about him to your friends and that was the end of it. Mel Gibson is famous, so he was not quite so fortunate.
July 28, 2006 was a publicist's nightmare for the Gibson camp. Word began to circulate that Gibson had resisted arrest in an odd way. He had derided the arresting officers, making sexually offensive comments as well as anti-Semitic remarks. As you well know, the latter comments created the media maelstrom. The Passion of the Christ was riddled with criticism before its release due to concerns about its depiction of Jews in the movie as well as a concern about whether the project would make hate-mongering of the religion more acceptable behavior.
Gibson, to his credit, apologized like a man. He stood in the blinding public spotlight created by the situation, acknowledged the actions, expressed what seemed to be real regret and asked for assistance in helping him make up for what he had done. He requested a meeting with Jewish leaders and demonstrated the people skills that had made him so famous. A judge sentenced him to Alcoholics Anonymous treatments through the end of the year and suspended his license for a few months.
Gibson can probably afford the chauffeur. What he could not afford was the intense media scrutiny his actions received. Family-friendly Disney suddenly found themselves in possession of a project with the stink of hatred upon it. Almost immediately, the distributor attempted to sell Apocalypto to any major competitor who would have it. In the end, they were unsuccessful. The movie was conservatively marketed, while Gibson's presence on the project went almost unmentioned. The weekend of December 8th, Apocalypto opened to $15 million in 2,465 exhibitions. The movie has earned in excess of $40 million, well beneath its stated budget of $70 million. It has also been universally shut out of end-of-year awards consideration. The director of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ's latest offering earned barely 10% of what his prior release had accrued and critics were unwilling to lavish any lasting praise upon Apocalypto. While BOP cannot say with absolute certainty that the movie would have been a blockbuster if not for Gibson's actions in July, this story's presence on the list speaks volumes about how we feel his actions tarnished his art's ability to reach mass audiences.