Multihyphenate likely to move on to Viking pic

The three-decades-long love affair between Warner Bros. and Mel Gibson has hit a rough patch.

In a move that surprised few, the studio has shelved the controversial project about Jewish hero Judah Maccabee that teamed screenwriter Joe Eszterhas with Gibson, who had first option to direct and produce via his Icon Prods. banner. Gibson’s involvement irritated Jewish leaders when it was announced seven months ago, given his history of anti-Semitic comments.

Studio brass decided this week that they were not ready to film the Eszterhas script, a decision that sparked a fiery war of words between Eszterhas and Gibson that played out online. Eszterhas claimed Gibson deep-sixed the project because of his deep-seated anti-Semitism, an accusation that Gibson flatly denied.

Warner’s decision last year to take a chance on the Maccabee movie reflected its long and mostly profitable relationship with the actor. The studio first became involved with Gibson when it handled the 1982 release of “The Road Warrior” and 1985’s “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” then went to another level with the launch of the “Lethal Weapon” franchise.

The four “Weapon” movies, released between 1987 and 1998, grossed close to $500 million domestically and nearly that much overseas.

Gibson also starred in four other Warner films: 1994’s “Maverick,” which topped $100 million domestically, “Tequila Sunrise,” “Conspiracy Theory” and “Edge of Darkness.” The latter pic, seen as something of a comeback for Gibson after his anti-Semitic comments during a 2006 DUI arrest, turned in a middling performance with $43 million domestically — a sign that controversy had diminished Gibson’s box office drawing power.

Warners has remained non-committal. “We are analyzing what to do with the project,” a spokesman said.

Gibson’s last outing, in Summit’s Jodie Foster-directed drama “The Beaver,” drew a sparse $1 million domestic gross.

In the wake of Warner Bros. putting the Maccabee project on hold, Gibson spokesman Alan Nierob said his next project is most likely to be directing a Viking pic written by Randall Wallace. The duo teamed on “Braveheart,” with Wallace writing and Gibson directing and starring.

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