December 19, 2003 01:25 PM

Quite a week for Mel Gibson: Not only did he get a sort-of blessing from the Pope for his controversial upcoming “The Passion of the Christ” (“It is as it was,” the pontiff said of the film), but he also nabbed the top spot among Americans in a Harris Poll of adults asked to name their favorite star.

Gibson, 47, who was No. 2 in 2002, has found himself in the top four every year since 1994. The last time he was No. 1, however, was in 1996, a year after his “Braveheart” was released, and when the “Lethal Weapon” movies were still fresh in people’s minds.

Julia Roberts, 36, whose new “Mona Lisa Smile” was pretty much trampled by the critics, was No. 1 in 2001 and in third place last year, but she’s now No. 2. Last year’s favorite star, Tom Hanks, 47, has slipped to No. 4, while Sean Connery, 73, is in third place.

Others on the list include 61-year-old Harrison Ford (last year’s No. 4), who shares the fourth spot this year with Tom Cruise, 41.

John Wayne, who died in 1979 but was first or second on the list almost every year until 2001, slips from sixth place last year to his current seventh, with tough guy Clint Eastwood, 73, retaining the No. 8 spot that he held last year.

Denzel Washington, 49, who was No. 7 last year, is now No. 9, while a newcomer to the list, 40-year-old No. 10 Johnny Depp, displaces Sandra Bullock, 39.

As noted by movie critics, only Depp had a major box-office hit this year (“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”). Others on the list either released no major movie this year or else a movie that fared poorly.

The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between Nov. 17-23, 2003, among 1,102 adults.

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