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March 3, 2004 2:00 AM
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"The Passion" is a Box Office Messiah; "Lenin" Debuts Strong

"The Passion" is a Box Office Messiah; "Lenin" Debuts Strong

by Brian Brooks

"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" ruled the Oscars race over the weekend, but without a doubt, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" performed a box office miracle at theaters across the country with divine numbers not seen from an 'independently' produced and distributed film. Also packing some good numbers a little closer to earth was German film "Good Bye, Lenin!" which opened in a half-dozen venues.

indieWIRE wrestled on whether to include "The Passion" in the box office report, but have decided its independent financing and distribution with Newmarket Films (along with Gibson's production company, Icon) makes the project an appropriate title to track, despite being a behemoth at the box office. [For more on this topic, check out today's article that asks the question, "Is 'The Passion of the Christ' an independent film?"] The film, not surprisingly, was the vast majority of the iW BOT's total of $89.76 million. Minus "The Passion," the b.o. total would have been around $5.91 million, a decline from the previous weekend's $8.16 million. Another Newmarket title, "Monster" represents over one-third of that number, although the film's grosses were lower over the prior weekend.

Newmarket Films/Icon's "The Passion of the Christ" drew phenomenal crowds over the weekend, grossing a stratospheric $83.8 million on 3,043 screens for a spectacular $27,554 per screen average. The controversial film, which debuted last Wednesday, has cumed more than $125.18 million through Sunday. (The film made another $10 million on Monday so it has topped $135 million.)

"It's amazing," said Newmarket chief Bob Berney by telephone from Los Angeles. "Nobody could have expected it [to be] at a level like this." Prior to the film's opening, there was some speculation that the film may have a lopsided take from the so-called Bible-belt, but the feature apparently showed strength throughout the country. " It's really working across the board, from Times Square to Oklahoma City to Orange County (California), 'The Passion' had staggering numbers. There's nowhere that it's not record-breaking from the smallest town to the biggest urban center," said Berney. He went on to comment that he believed there was a vacuum for religious-themed films, but insisted 'The Passion' stood up well in sustaining that need." It's an exceptional film, [and] without great word of mouth, you wouldn't get this kind of response." Going forward, "The Passion" will have approximately 200 additional prints added next weekend, according to Berney.

Sony Classics opened its multi-European Film Awards-winner "Good Bye, Lenin!" in six venues, capitalizing with a gross of $57,968. The film, which took in spectacular numbers from its native Germany last year, averaged $9,661.

Singer Neil Young's film, "Greendale" screened on two SoCal screens over the weekend, taking in $10,163 for a decent $5,082. Young hosted a debut party for the feature in Santa Monica last Friday night, which drew stars in an intimate setting. "It's a strong opening," commented Richard Abramowitz, who is consulting on Neil Young's Shakey Pictures release of the film. "'The Passion' attracted [huge] audiences, and given that Sunday was naturally weak [because of the Academy Awards broadcast] it was a strong opening." Abramowitz said the film will open "going east," following Young's tour across the country.

Next weekend, the film will debut in three markets, followed by seven the following week. "We're using concerts to promote the film, and Neil is doing press along the way." Abramowitz also observed the diversity of the film's audience was also a hopeful sign for the project's ultimate success. "People with gray-haired ponytails and blue spiked hair [attended]. I find it hopeful for not only for the film, but also for humanity actually (laughs)."

"Monster" continued to be a iW BOT giant, although the film fell to 968 screens from 1,087 last week. The Patty Jenkins-directed film took in just over $2 million for a per screen average of $2,073 and a gargantuous cume of over $26.81 million. Charlize Theron received the Oscar for best actress and the Spirit for the same category over the weekend. Newmarket's Berney said the film will most likely add around 200 screens next weekend. "I think we will see a nice bump," he added.

Next weekend openers include "James' Journey to Jerusalem" and "The Reckoning."

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