Movie Goers Feel Plenty of 'Passion'

03/01/2004 01:00AM

There was no crisis of faith among moviegoers flocking to see "The Passion of the Christ" over the weekend.

From Friday through Sunday, Mel Gibson's controversial story about the 12 hours leading up to Jesus's crucifixion drew record-breaking numbers of fans to theaters around the country, taking in $76.2 million. "Passion" earned nearly 50 percent more at the box office than the other nine films in the Top 10 combined.

Together, the Top 10 films earned slightly more than $132 million -- a jump of 53 percent over the same weekend last year. Those numbers helped bring some juice back to an anemic box office after four straight weekends of declining sales, the Associated Press reports.

But the box-office bump is due almost entirely to "Passion." Of the three new movies that broke the top 10, not one proved to be a huge success. "Twisted," the new thriller starring Ashley Judd, finished in third place behind "50 First Dates," which has led the box office the past two weeks. "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," a prequel to the original Patrick Swayze cult classic, finished in the fifth spot, while the horror spoof "Broken Lizard's Club Dread" was No. 10.

Even during Oscars weekend, word of mouth about "The Passion of the Christ" continued to draw audiences, despite the film having virtually no advertising budget. While some Jewish leaders have labeled the film anti-Semitic, many filmgoers have hailed it as a powerful piece of cinema. "It all began with the grass-roots campaign we started," said Bruce Davey, Gibson's partner in Icon Productions, which released the film. "But," Davey told AP, "the controversy has obviously helped in creating awareness."

The top 10 movies as compiled by box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations are as follows:

1. "The Passion of the Christ," $76.2 million
2. "50 First Dates," $12.6 million
3. "Twisted," $9.1 million
4. "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," $6.1 million
5. "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," $5.9 million
6. "Miracle," $4.4 million
7. "Eurotrip," $4.1 million
8. "Welcome to Mooseport," $3.35 million
9. "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," $3.1 million
10. "Broken Lizard's Club Dread," $3 million

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