Despite Controversy, Mel Gibson Is Still a Draw for Cannes Film Buyers

Mel Gibson - Getty - H 2019
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With a slew of titles lined up including 'Fatman,' 'Rothchild' and 'Force of Nature' plus the action-thriller 'Boss Level,' Gibson appears to be the belle of the Marché ball.

A rowdy Santa Claus, a sinister grandfather and stubborn retired detective: three very different roles in three new film projects, with one name linking them all. In Cannes, where Nicolas Cage might have been the 2018 market’s dominant name, this year it’s Mel Gibson. Thanks to Fatman, Rothchild and Force of Nature — plus the action-thriller Boss Level, first announced in 2017 and still up for grabs in some territories — Gibson appears to be the belle of the Marché ball.

But any mention of the man who gave us Mad Max, Lethal Weapon and Braveheart doesn’t come without its controversy, as proved by a swift check on Twitter when any new Gibson film is announced. It’s clear there is still a large degree of animosity toward the actor, who was effectively blackballed from Hollywood following his infamous anti-Semitic rant during a drunk-driving arrest in 2006. And even the celebs aren’t shying away ("Ho-ho-holocaust denier," tweeted Seth Rogen over the recent Santa casting).

But sellers assert that, no matter what problems lurk stateside for Gibson, he still has a welcoming home in the international market. "None of the buyers have verbalized any concerns," says Nadine de Barros of Fortitude, which is shopping Fatman, an R-rated Christmas action-comedy in which Gibson plays an "unorthodox" Santa who finds himself the target of a hitman hired by a precocious child. (It should be noted that, of his three new projects, Fatman is the only one in which Gibson has a sizeable part.)

"Whatever has happened in the past, it doesn’t seem to affect his international value at all. He’s still beloved," adds de Barross, who says distributors have been eyeing Fatman for theatrical release. 

There are concerns, however, that too many smaller indie projects could push Gibson — whose appearance in Paramount’s 2017 comedy sequel Daddy’s Home 2 didn’t stop it from earning more than $200 million worldwide — further into Cage territory and away from cinematic releases.

"He might be in one good film, but having all these [low-end] projects can spoil his value for the one good one," says Andrew Ernster, managing director of independent distributor Splendid Film in the Netherlands. "It’s a bit like what happened with Bruce Willis recently. He was in five, six movies at the same time, and almost all of them were not theatrically released."

Gibson’s falling star has not impacted his appeal behind the camera, however. His last feature, Hacksaw Ridge, grossed $175 million worldwide and won two Oscars, and he has two more projects in the works (including a sequel to The Passion of the Christ). "He may be a little polarizing on some things," says de Barros, "but nobody can deny that he’s one of the greatest directors of all time." 

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 15 daily issue at the Cannes Film Festival.