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Religion & Spirituality: The ‘Passion' of the Industry

4 Apr, 2004 By: Brendan Howard

After months of hype, The Passion of the Christ exploded into theaters with opening five-day box office receipts of $125.2 million and a total $315.2 million as of March 28.When it comes to theatrical releases, odds are the copycats will come.

“If these movies have a real audience, at least one of the studios is going to want to make some of them,” said an unnamed executive quoted in a CNN/Money online story.

“I do expect a Noah's Ark film and a Revelations film down the pike pretty quickly after this,” said David Mumpower, president of BoxOfficeProphets.com, in the same article.

One rentailer, though, wonders why anyone's surprised.

“It's proof positive [the analysts] are not students of history,” said Alan Millican, owner of Marquee Movies Inc. in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, even Quo Vadis were all commercial successes in their own eras, and movies such as King of Kings and Jesus of Nazareth certainly all generated their own amount of excitement in their own time.”

As for how Passion's success is affecting the titles out now, it's hard to tell.

“The new Ten Commandments special collector's edition DVD is selling briskly, but whether that's because it's a new release of an evergreen title or because of a halo effect from The Passion is hard to say,” said Martin Blythe, VP of publicity for Paramount Home Entertainment.

Another film about Jesus, The Gospel of John, is being promoted to rentailers for a street date of April 6. VisualBible's PR and communications manager, Daphna Nussbaum, said it's gotten a boost in sales, with customers coming to John as a “companion piece” for more of the story.

When it comes to Passion's effect on theatrical movies or home video, Millican is skeptical about a money-driven increase in religious films.

“As we all know, if one studio makes a movie about any given topic that is successful, then all of the others must follow suit,” he said. “So will there be a rash of religious-based features next spring? Probably. Will they be as successful as Passion? Likely not. One thing that a movie such as this needs, aside from good acting and technical quality, is, if you will excuse the pun, passion by the participants for the project — and that passion cannot be dollar-driven.”

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