The Passion at week seven

April 14, 2004 | 24 comments
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The Passion of the Christ was released seven weeks ago today. In that time it has become:

# 8 highest grossing movie of all time
# 1 highest grossing February release of all time
# 1 highest grossing non-English movie of all time
# 1 highest grossing February weekend
# 1 highest grossing R-rated movie of all time
# 2 highest grossing 7th weekend

By next week it will have overtaken Jurassic Park for the seventh spot on the all-time list.

This is all the more remarkable when considering it was produced for $30 million and marketed for an estimated $20 million. The other contemporary movies in this range cost over $100 million and had marketing budgets above $50 million.

My sources are www.boxofficemojo.com and www.boxofficeprophets.com.

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24 Responses to The Passion at week seven

  1. Charles on April 14, 2004 at 12:20 pm

    I’ve read that if it breaks 400 million it will be the number 6 spot and be in the running to overtake Spiderman (403.7 mil). It will over take Lord of the Rings as well.
    Its pretty amazing, and great to me that the Hollywood execs didn’t like it or want it.

  2. Joseph N on April 14, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Clarification:

    8th highest in the US. 46th worldwide.

  3. Matt Evans on April 14, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    You’re right Joseph — we’re an international church. ;-)

    But the movie industry, for whatever reason, always focuses on domestic gross when comparing movies.

  4. Joseph N on April 14, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Off-topic:

    I just noticed that LotR: Return of the King grossed over $1 billion internationally, only the 2nd movie to ever do that…

    Back on topic:

    That is really neat that The Passion is so popular in spite of the criticisms leveled against it.

  5. cooper on April 14, 2004 at 1:05 pm

    What I find interesting is that in its first weekend, it grossed more than Braveheart did – all receipts counted. Remarkable feat in one weekend.

  6. Frank McIntyre on April 14, 2004 at 1:19 pm

    Being the highest R-rated movie is not nearly as much of an accomplishment as some of the others. The top grossing movies clearly slant towards those that can take in a wider audience. This raises the issue of why so many R-rated movies get put out. I see 3 possibilities, and perhaps others can think of more:

    1. Top-grossing is not a good way to think about a studio’s profits. R-rated movies may on average be as profitable even if they aren’t well-represented at the top-grossing end.

    2. Those earning money from movies prefer R-rated movies. Thus there is a profit difference and it represents the premium producers are willing to pay in order to make an R-rated movie instead of something tamer.

    3. Writing a good PG movie is literally harder, thus the return is greater. Profit differences reflect returns to skill.

  7. Matt Evans on April 14, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    Frank,

    The conventional wisdom for regarding rated-R movies is that there is a large segment of the biggest group of movie goers — 16 to 24 year olds — that see almost every R-rated action or comedy. By producing even a bad R movie, the producer is assured of getting back at least $40 million from this group in tickets and video rentals.

    Families, and people who dislike the violence and sex in rated-R movies, on the other hand, only go to movies if they’re assured are good, so films targeting the family market can bomb badly.

    So to swing for a the fences they produce a G, PG or PG-13 movie, and to get a sure thing, they produce an R comedy or action movie.

  8. Mary on April 14, 2004 at 2:05 pm

    So the movie is making all of that money…so much more than it was made for… where is that money going? Do you think Gibson will just pocket it? What do you think about someone making that much money off the life of Christ?

  9. Aaron Brown on April 14, 2004 at 2:12 pm

    I STILL haven’t seen this movie. I plan to, but I just never seem to be in the mood to see Christ tortured.

    I have an “Old Catholic” priest friend, who hasn’t seen a movie since the ’70s, that I plan to see it with. I think this will make it an even more interesting experience.

    Aaron B

  10. Michelle on April 14, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    Mary,

    I see no problem with Mel Gibson “pocketing” the money he made on his own movie. His track record shows that he’ll probably do much good with it.

  11. Greg Call on April 14, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    By inflation-adjusted figures, however, The Passion isn’t even in the top 50 yet — it has quite a ways to go to catch such epics as Blazing Saddles or Beverly Hills Cop, and isn’t even among the highest grossing religious films (Ben Hur and The Robe). Its still early, of course.

    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted/

  12. Steve Evans on April 14, 2004 at 2:22 pm

    Aaron, I’m with you. I just have no motivation in me to witness that kind of thing. All my friends have gone on about it, but deep inside I can’t get the energy to see it.

  13. Thom on April 14, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    I don’t know that its fair to say he is making a load of money “off the life of Christ.” I think he is making money off of the personal effort heput into skillfully making a movie about a topic that a lot of people were willing to pay good money to see. This represents a return on the personal, financial, and artisitc risk he took to make the movie, which I’m sure was very real, considering the degree to which his personal character has been attacked for his portrayal.

    If we value high-quality movies and books about religious topics that are made skillfully and artfully by real professionals, we ought not discourage such people from taking the risks required by quibbling about them making a generous return on their investment.

  14. Connie on April 14, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    I have been wanting to see the Passion for awhile, but I wanted to wait until I could see it ina pretty empty theatre. Sounds like I won’t get that chance.

    For those of you who have seen it, what is your criticms of the film? I have heard a lot of negative about the graphic nature of it’s content (my obvious reply – well, a crucifixion isn’t a tea party). What were your takes on the film?

  15. Gary Cooper on April 14, 2004 at 2:43 pm

    Connie,

    The film, for me, was wonderful. It was extremely well made, and while doctrinally there were things that we LDS might quibble with, none of that prevented me from enjoying it. “Enjoy” is perhaps not the word to use, because I wept openly and frequently during the movie, as did dozens of others in the theatre. I would not advise you to see it alone, nor if you are liable to become squeamish at the gore. (In fact, having studied a little on the subject of crucifixtion, I recognized at least one element of it in the film that Gibson clearly toned down, and I’m glad, because it would have been just too strong for anyone to watch.) If you want a depiction of the Savior that makes Him seem real, and which touches you at a deeply emotional level and strengthens your love for Him, this film will do that.

  16. Russell Arben Fox on April 14, 2004 at 3:19 pm

    Connie, I finally got around to seeing the movie just a few days ago. Short and sweet summary: I didn’t like it as much as Gary did. I thought it was filled with a great deal of insight and spirituality, but its better elements were all but entirely undermined by the decision to make the figure of Christ into a repulsive, bloody spectacle.

    I wrote more about my thoughts here: http://philosophenweg.blogspot.com/2004_04_01_philosophenweg_archive.html#108182765514282143 .

  17. Gary Cooper on April 14, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    Russell,

    I understand where you are coming from, with regard to the bloodiness of the movie. For me, I was not repulsed by this, because, at least to me, I saw the symbolism of Christ, a pure and sinless being, voluntarily submitting Himself to OUR filth and repulsiveness, to save us from it. When I think of Gethsemane, I think of of just how filthy our sins must have seemed to Christ, yet He took them on anyway. Watching the movie, seeing Christ beaten to a pulp and the bloody mess His tormentors made of His body, I could see myself, cleansed every whit from all my littleness of soul, because this Son of God CHOSE to take all this on Himself. If Christ seemed bloodied and repulsive, it is to me because that is what WE ALL are, without His Atonement—He submitted Himself to this for us. I say this not to put down your response, only to share my own. Again, it is very gory, and even Gibson has said this is not for everyone.

  18. Connie on April 14, 2004 at 5:00 pm

    Russell – thank you for your thoughts, I will definately keep them in mind.

    We all too soon try and “clean” the crucifixion because we cannot stand the thought of our Lord enduring such an ordeal. I want to see Passion because, from what I’ve been told, it makes the very distinct point of being real, and not cleaning anything. You experience what Christ probably experienced. How close will we ever come to that?

    Gary –

    How beautiful your sentiment on the Gift of Christ’s Life for our sins. You are so right – I think we gloss over the crucifixion too much in our churches in general. The act itself would have been too much for anyone to bear, but not the loving Son of God, who did so in order for us to live again.

    Focus on His life, but never forget His death – the ultimate sacrifice for all of God’s children.

  19. cooper on April 14, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    I am not sure I am going to worry about the money Mel’s made in prdoucing this film. He is a good man and I am sure a portion of the funds will go to good causes. To liberally make the statement “money made off the life of Christ” is, I believe, not a good train of thought. If we are to take that road, how many of us own or wear a CTR ring or any other of the familiar icons of the Gospel? This goes back to an old thread where we discussed the virtues of making money off the “Gospel”. Do we really want to go there again?

  20. Matt Evans on April 14, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    Russell,

    I just read your review and agree with your complaint that the grotesquely bloodied Jesus was distracting. Mostly I wanted the movie to be hyper-realistic, and those parts that irritated me were those that seemed unreal: the scourging, the crow, the spear’s raining blood. Because I experienced those scenes less in terms of their violence and more by their incongruence with my conceptions of what the final hours were like, I could inure myself somewhat by remembering that I don’t know that it *wasn’t* like that, either.

  21. Ivan Wolfe on April 14, 2004 at 11:01 pm

    Matt – that’s not totally true about R rated movies. In fact, most R rated movies lose money. While it is true that R rated movies are slightly more likely to break even or make a slight profit, but to really make the big bucks, R rated movies just don’t cut it.

    http://www.dove.org/news/forbes990419.htm

    http://www.angelicentertainment.com/content/ R-Rated%20Losing%206-06-01.pdf

    http://www.probe.org/docs/c-movies2.html

    http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/12-27-03/cultural_2.asp

  22. Gordon Smith on April 15, 2004 at 3:16 am

    Matt, I confess that I am missing the point. What do all of these numbers show, other than the continuing importance of evangelical Christians as a cultural force? My impression is that this movie did not make it big by drawing a new audience for Jesus. Instead, the numbers seem to reflect a concerted effort by evangelicals to turn the movie into a missionary tool. In my circle of contacts, admittedly small, people who were not predisposed to have a spiritual experience either stayed away or left feeling grossed out.

  23. Matt Evans on April 15, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    Pro-family groups have been making that point for a long time (it was a staple argument in 1996-1997 when I was president of the Salt Lake chapter of the American Family Association), but I’ve since seen several convincing rebuttals that show the movie studios are not irrational. They are not indeed in the business of losing money.

    The enormous success of The Lion King and the Pixar movies rejuvenated projects targeting families, but there is still a large percentage of rated-R movies. Apparently PG-13 is now considered the most profitable rating: http://www.boxofficeprophets.com/fallacies/

  24. Matt Evans on April 15, 2004 at 4:52 pm

    Gordon,

    Pro-family groups have been urging Hollywood to produce better movies for twenty years. Yet story lines that ridicule religion, or that present religious people as harboring sinister motives, were infinitely more common than movies that took religion seriously.

    For those of us who have waged this side of the culture war, the huge commercial success of a religious movie that so many people in Hollywood refused to touch and hoped would fail has been delightful. Last August on the Hollywood Stock Exchange, The Passion was trading at $8.30. That meant the market traders thought the movie would only gross $8.3 million in it’s first four weeks of release. Gibson had to create a new distribution company because none of the powerhouses would touch his project. When The Passion was released, it’s HSX share price had risen to about $90. The final price was around $290. (Gross receipts were $290 million in first four weeks.)

    So not only has The Passion been a huge success in an industry that couldn’t be more dismissive of religion, it’s written its own Cinderella-Rocky-Underdog drama.

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