The gritty movie, which revolves around the last 12 hours of Christ's life, sold an estimated $76.2 million worth of tickets for the three days beginning February 27, officials for the film said Sunday -- the seventh-best three-day opener of all time, and the best for a new release in February.
Since opening Wednesday, "Passion" has grossed $117.5 million, which included about $3 million worth of group sales for preview screenings the prior two days. The tally represented the second-best for a Wednesday release, behind only 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" with $124.1 million in its first five days.
However, the Friday-to-Sunday sum for "Passion" beat the equivalent three-day haul for "The Return of the King" of $72.7 million. The three-day record of $115 million is held by the 2002 hit "Spider-Man."
"Passion" also ranks as the second-best R-rated opener, behind last year's "The Matrix Reloaded" with a three-day sum of $92 million.
The film, starring James Caviezel as Jesus and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene, has outraged some Jewish groups, who say it pins the blame for Jesus' demise on them. It drew sharply divergent reviews from critics, and benefited from keen grass-roots enthusiasm among Christians, thousands of whom have seen the movie in focus groups over the last few months.
"The grass-roots and the controversy obviously helped, but when you get this big a number, it's a mainstream 'wanna-see,' and word-of-mouth is now in effect," said Bob Berney, president of the film's North American distributor, Newmarket Films.
Many people have accessed the film's Web site to write that they have already seen the film multiple times, according to producer Bruce Davey, who runs Gibson's Icon Prods. film banner. The site received 54.1 million visits Thursday.
Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic, reportedly financed the film out of his own pocket for about $30 million, although Davey said he had "no idea" about that. He declined to reveal the break-even point.
"Passion" played on about 4,700 screens in 3,043 theaters across the United States and Canada. Davey said the movie is playing equally strongly in Australia, where Gibson was raised.
Newmarket Films, a unit of closely held Newmarket Capital Group, is best known for such art house hits as "Monster" and "Whale Rider."
Elsewhere at the box office, "50 First Dates" slipped to No. 2 with $12.6 million in its third weekend. The total for the romantic comedy, which stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, rose to $88.7 million. The film was released by Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp.
Three other films debuted in the top 10, none of them with much gusto. Leading the pack was "Twisted," a cop thriller starring Ashley Judd and Samuel L. Jackson. It opened at No. 3 with $9.1 million, a figure that pleased executives at its distributor, Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. The film played mostly to older women, a spokeswoman said.
"Havana Nights: Dirty Dancing," a sequel of sorts to the 1987 hit "Dirty Dancing," opened at No. 5 with $5.9 million.
The figure was on target, said a spokeswoman for its North American distributor, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. British newcomer Romola Garai and Mexican actor Diego Luna star as mismatched lovers and dance partners in the last days of pre-Castro Cuba. It played primarily to young girls, the spokeswoman said.
The low-budget comedy "Club Dread," from the five-man troupe behind sleeper hit "Super Troopers," opened at No. 10 with $3.0 million, doing well with the college crowd, said a spokesman for its distributor, Fox Searchlight Pictures. The studio is a unit of News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment Group Inc.
After 10 weeks in the top 10, leading Oscar contender "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" slipped one place to No. 11 with $2.2 million.
James Caviezel as Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ."