This past decade has been the best of times and the worst of times for Mel Gibson. Between 2000 and 2002, Gibson starred in four films that grossed more than $600 million domestically, and in 2004 he co-wrote, directed and produced a movie that grossed more than $370 million all by itself.

That last film, 'The Passion of the Christ,' marks the moment where his non-monetary fortunes began to sink. 'Passion of the Christ' was No. 1 among true believers, but among others, it was widely seen as anti-Semitic, and rants by Gibson's father, a Holocaust denier who labeled the Second Vatican Council a 'Masonic plot backed by Jews,' made it seem as if Mel was simply a chip off the old block-head. This past decade has been the best of times and the worst of times for Mel Gibson. Between 2000 and 2002, Gibson starred in four films that grossed more than $600 million domestically, and in 2004 he co-wrote, directed and produced a movie that grossed more than $370 million all by itself.

That last film, 'The Passion of the Christ,' marks the moment where his non-monetary fortunes began to sink. 'Passion of the Christ' was No. 1 among true believers, but among others, it was widely seen as anti-Semitic, and rants by Gibson's father, a Holocaust denier who labeled the Second Vatican Council a 'Masonic plot backed by Jews,' made it seem as if Mel was simply a chip off the old block-head.

Gibson ignored most of the criticism, displaying the chest-out attitude of one laughing all the way to the bank. But he knocked that smile off his own face when, while being arrested for drunk driving in 2006, he asked one of the arresting officers if he was a Jew and then allegedly stated that Jews were the reason for all wars. Subsequent revelations of adultery and a love child further tarnished his once-golden image and his self-imposed exile from the front of the camera made Gibson, the Movie Star, a relic of the past.

But now, he's back, starring in a film for the first time since 'Signs' in 2002, and the questions -- as his new film, 'Edge of Darkness,' challenges the six-week supremacy of 'Avatar' -- is whether his old fans have forgiven him and if a significant percentage of the target audience has even seen him in a movie before.

Warner Bros., for whom the old Gibson long toiled, is certainly giving him every chance. 'Edge of Darkness,' adapted from a hit British TV series, stars Gibson as a Boston homicide detective out to avenge his daughter's murder, heaven help the perp. Gibson has played the avenging father before, in the 1996 'Ransom,' and he's played the quick-tempered cop in four very successful 'Lethal Weapon' movies.

The movie is also being opened on a weekend free of competition from a major televised sports event. A year ago today, Fox released 'Taken,' starring Liam Neeson as a lethal father trying to rescue his daughter from kidnappers, and it was selling out theaters until Sunday when its male audience opted for the Super Bowl. 'Taken' still took in $24.7 million, and 'Edge of Darkness' can only fail to beat that total if Gibson's name is still toxic.

'Avatar' should see a drop of about 20 percent in it seventh weekend, which equates to a Friday-Sunday take of about $27 million-28 million. 'Edge of Darkness' will have to sell at least $30 million worth of tickets to knock 'Avatar' out of the No. 1 spot and I doubt Gibson can do it. Setting aside the above questions about Gibson's character and lingering appeal, here's how similar Gibson movies have done in the past:

'Lethal Weapon,' 1987, opening gross $6.8 million.
'Lethal Weapon 2,' 1989, $20.4 million.
'Lethal Weapon 3,' 1992, $33 million.
'Conspiracy Theory,' 1997, $27.2 million.
'Ranson,' 1996, $34 million.
'Lethal Weapon 4,' 1998, $34 million.
'Payback,' 1999, $21.2 million.

The other new release this weekend is'When in Rome,' a modest romantic drama about a young, unattached woman (Kristen Bell) who takes some coins out of a Roman fountain of love and is suddenly hounded by suitors. Neither 'Avatar' nor 'Edge of Darkness' need worry. 'Rome' will do well to reach $10 million.

Last weekend's newcomers, 'Legion' and 'Tooth Fairy,' will both drop around 50 percent from last weekend, for respective totals of about $8 million and $7 million.

SEE MEL GIBSON'S BEST FILMS