Mel's film does repeat business; 'Menace,' 'Rings' tops

Newmarket’s “The Passion of the Christ” so outperformed initial estimates for its first weekend that the controversial religious-themed pic has now grabbed the record for a five-day opening at $125.2 million.

The Mel Gibson-helmed crucifixion drama thus outpaced previous record holder “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which grossed $124 million over its first five days in December.

To be fair, it must be noted that “Passion” played to $3 million of paid previews over the Monday and Tuesday preceding its official Wednesday bow. Its distrib lumped those grosses into pic’s Wednesday box office.

Subtracting out that sum would mean “Passion” actually played to $122.2 million in biz over its first five days in official distribution. That would rank pic’s bow just below New Line’s “Return of the King,” though still much higher than the third-highest five-day opener, “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” which rang up $106 million in a May 1999 debut.

Meanwhile, the continued market traction of “Passion” has industryites suggesting the movie phenom could see a huge second weekend as well.

Initially, observers were predicting a big soph-session drop as pic’s religious fan base burned off over opening days. But execs at Gibson’s Icon Prods. claim repeat viewing is already in evidence, and block purchases by many church groups continues to swell grosses.

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