Could "Passion" Escalate Beyond "Titanic" Proceeds?

( [email protected] ) Mar 16, 2004 06:55 PM EST

Could “The Passion of the Christ” soar to the top of the box-office as the biggest box-office attraction? According to the trend of the increasing profits of “Passion,” there is a possibility that it may exceed the total gross amount of the blockbuster hit of 1997 “Titanic.”

Grossing more than $214 million nationally since the release of the film, “Passion” has already surpassed the one-third mark of the total gross of $603 million from the “Titanic.”

This independent film, which carries the message of the gospel through graphic images and surreal portrayals of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus, is expected to exceed $350 million in gross based on conservative approximations. The film is already seen escalating the proceeds of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which will make it the most successful independent hit ever.

Executive producer of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Paul Brooks says, "You have, in my view, a perfect American cultural storm. You have the emotional power of religion in this country, and you have the emotional power of movies, combined with an evangelical movie star on top, creating, I think, this extraordinary tidal wave that you're seeing."

Producer Tom Sherak sees indications that “Passion” will continue in success with repeat business. Seeing the estimates that 80 percent of the people who watch the film are not typical “movie-goers,” Sherak says that, "That's an incredible number." 30 percent of those viewers are expected to watch the movie more than just once. However, Sherak doubts that Gibson’s movie will rise in profit beyond “Titanic.”

However, Brooks sees the potential for “Passion” to top “Titanic” due to repeat business. He said, "It's a platform for the evangelicals, and maybe more than that, to keep going back, and going back, and going back because they have to support what this film is saying about their religion. It is an absolutely profound cultural statement. It's a missionary statement if you will."

"When you remember how long 'Titanic' ran at $20 million a weekend, and how many girls went to see it five, six, seven times," said Sherak, "it's very hard unless you're a movie fanatic -- and these ('Passion' viewers) aren't movie fanatics."

But Sherak recognizes the expansion of the movie marketplace due to the release of Gibson’s film. While “Hidalgo” opened with $19 million and “Starsky & Hutch” with $28 million, “Passion” gained over $52 million in that same weekend, bringing the U.S. box-office up 30 percent compared to year before.

Could peer pressure be contributing to the success of this independent film? One panelist speculates that peer pressure has attributed to the increased amount of viewers. In Louisiana, there have been some complaints that some evangelicals make movie attendance a test of one’s spirituality. President of The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and The Interfaith Alliance, Reverend Weltion Gaddy said, "If you say you're not going to see it, then they ask what in the world is wrong with you? What do you have against religion? It's no wonder the film has made $214 million. It has become embraced by people who usually don't even look at movies and is being used by them to talk about their faith in ways they haven't always had an opportunity to."

Francis X. Maier, on the other hand, indicates from observation, that not much evidence can be found to support the notion that tension or hostility is being created through the movie. Maier is the special assistant and chancellor to the archbishop of Denver. He said, “I think it's driving (viewers) to take their beliefs more seriously, and anyone who seriously pursues a love of God is going to be more tolerant of other people and other beliefs." "The movie draws them into what they believe and they have to deal with it in a way that American culture prevents them from dealing with the realities of the cross," he said.

What is the reason behind the success of this leading independent film, “The Passion of the Christ?” No one knows the definite answer. However, all will wait and see how the course of Hollywood and/or the nation may change due to the affects upon the people and culture as “Passion” continues to rise in history.