Joel Mowbray

With a five-day opening weekend gross of well over $100 million, Mel Gibson?s ?The Passion of the Christ? is shocking Hollywood in becoming a certified blockbuster.  Even as recently as this past week, the ?experts? were predicting a total opening weekend take of $30 million?slightly more than it made on just the first day.

  Thus continues the strange odyssey of ?The Passion.?

  Easily one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood was planning to write and direct a movie about the most famous and revered figure in history.  And the budget would be nothing: $25 million.  The average movie?not the average blockbuster, mind you?has a <I>marketing</I> budget north of $25 million.

  No one bit.

  Gibson had to personally finance ?The Passion,? and then he had to contract with relatively obscure arthouse indie Newmarket Films to handle the distribution.

  Sure, Gibson was behind the camera and not in front of it.  But it was clear that the devout Catholic was pouring his heart and soul into the film, and any contract could have required Gibson to plug on the usual array of TV and print media outlets.

  And how could you not get media attention about a movie showing the death of Jesus?  Controversy sells tickets, certainly enough to cover a skimpy $25 million budget.

  Taking a broader view, ?The Passion? was not just a smart business bet because of the specifics of the film?Gibson, the low cost, the inevitable controversy?but because religious films make money.

  Not that Hollywood has first-hand experience with religious movies.  Without the truly deep pockets of the major studios, the only overtly Christian movies to come out in the past few years have been low-budget cheapies with minimal star wattage. 

  The flicks may not have won critics? hearts, but deprived Christian audiences made both ?The Omega Code? and ?Left Behind: The Movie? profitable.  The $8 million-budgeted ?Omega? raked in $13 million at theaters (plus a bundle more in video rentals and sales), and though it was a dud at theaters, the $17-million ?Left Behind? sold more than 3 million copies on DVD and VHS?a threshold even many hit films don?t reach.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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