Public embraces 'Passion'

March 08, 2004|by DON AINES

The movie-going public's enthusiasm for "The Passion of The Christ" remains strong across the country and locally with some theaters extending their runs of the nation's top-grossing film.

"We did better the second weekend than we did the first weekend," said Lou Radakovich, owner of Waynesboro (Pa.) Cinema. "We're going to run it for at least three weeks."

Last Tuesday, Jim Bailey, owner of the Star Theatre in Mercersburg, Pa., said he was "selling out every show" of the 292-seat theater and planned to extend the film's run until at least March 13.


"We're going to go at least 'til March 23," Bailey said Sunday. "We can't get them in and they keep calling."

The management had to set up chairs at Sunday's 2:30 p.m. showing to accommodate the overflow crowd, Bailey said.

"This has been absolutely amazing. I've never seen anything like it in the movie business," Bailey said.

Normally, his theater in the community of 1,200 people is open only on weekends, but he has added showings through the week to fill the demand, which includes groups from conservative churches that normally don't attend films.

"The Passion of the Christ" took in $51.4 million in its second weekend to remain the top movie, racing past the $200 million mark in just 12 days.

"The Passion," Mel Gibson's bloody re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion, has grossed $212 million so far in the United States and Canada. The movie is expected to top $300 million, said Bob Berney, president of Newmarket Films. The independent distributor was hired by Gibson to release "The Passion" after Hollywood studios passed on it.

Strong second week

The film, which stars Jim Caviezel as Christ, held up strongly, with receipts down just 39 percent from its huge opening weekend of $83.8 million. Movies debuting to such high numbers often drop 50 percent or more in their second weekends.

"The Passion" propelled Hollywood to a second straight weekend of rising revenues after a prolonged slump. The top 12 movies grossed $131.5 million, up 39 percent from the same weekend last year.

Before "The Passion" opened, box-office revenues were running 7 percent behind last year's. Two big weekends for "The Passion" have pulled the industry virtually even with last year's receipts, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Waynesboro Cinema had 1 and 7 p.m. showings Sunday, but Radakovich said a 4 p.m. showing was added for about 150 members of Christ United Methodist Church in Waynesboro.

"Afterward, we went over to the church and discussed the movie," he said.

More special showings for groups are in the works, Radakovich said.

At Carmike Cinemas at Chambersburg Mall, the answering machine noted the 7 p.m. showing of "Passion" was sold out. Advance ticket sales are to continue through Tuesday; afterward, all ticket sales will be same-day only.

Valley Mall Movie 16 theaters in Hagerstown had nine showings scheduled Sunday, according to its schedule.

'Real phenomena'

"This is a real phenomena. Nobody expected it," Radakovich said of the film's popularity. "None of the major studios wanted to distribute it," he said.

That makes the Gibson film different from "Titanic," "Finding Nemo" and other films that ran for several weeks at his theater, Radakovich said.

More implausible to its popularity is the fact that the film's characters speak in Aramaic and Latin.

Bailey said Gibson had to be talked into putting in subtitles rather than showing it without any translation.

This is a film that also draws a different kind of viewer, Radakovich said. Many of those buying tickets are middle-aged or senior citizens, groups that rarely go out to the movies.

'R' rating

The "R" rating for the film's violence and brutality has proven to deter only younger audiences, Radakovich said.

"It's not the kind of violence you see in Freddie or Jason or 'The Chainsaw Massacre,'" he said. "It's brutality, one human to another."

The impact on the audience also is different, both theater owners said.

"They're not saying a word when the movie is over. They're silent," Bailey said.

"They just sit there," said Radakovich. "We've had people sit there for 10 minutes after the show."

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