Mel rewards the faithful

Gibson reimburses orgs for Regal Ent.'s 'worship fee'

A year after it opened, “The Passion of the Christ” continues to astound.

In the latest development, Mel Gibson‘s Icon Prods. has sent out hundreds of $500 checks to churches that showed the film last year at 1,400 private screenings.

Aim is to compensate them for the “worship fee” charged by Regal Entertainment. An accompanying letter said Icon hadn’t been informed about the fee and was “shocked and disappointed.”

The letters went out around the time that Icon settled its suit against Regal over the chain’s alleged failure to give Icon its promised $40 million cut of “Passion” proceeds.

Terms were confidential, but there are plenty of other developments that make “Passion” a singular film:

  • The MPAA refused to give “The Passion Recut” a PG-13 rating despite having its more violent scenes trimmed. So it became the first re-release to go out unrated when it returned to theaters March 11.

  • Regal and Cinemark refused to book “Recut,” but church groups have again launched a grassroots campaign to promote the film.

  • “Recut” is being released eight months after the original film’s DVD came out, and Newmarket hopes to make the theatrical re-release an annual event around Easter.

  • A DVD release of “Recut” probably will come out some time next year.

If “Passion” were to become an Easter perennial, it could eventually square off with another zeitgeist film in re-release takings: The first “Star Wars” film grossed $153 million during re-releases in 1982 and 1997.

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