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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 10:25 GMT
Passion film beats Rings record
The Passion being screened in a cinema
The Passion was released on more than 3,000 screens in the US
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ has broken the US five-day box office record held by The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Gibson's controversial religious movie made $125.2m (68.2m) in its first five days, updated figures have confirmed.

That pushed it past the Oscar-winning Rings film's earlier record of $124.1m.

The Passion of the Christ has attracted heavy media attention and fevered debate over its religious message and historical accuracy.

Some Jewish leaders have attacked the film and Gibson, who co-wrote and directed it, for portraying Jews negatively.

The Passion trailer being screened in a church
Some church groups have been given screenings of the film
But the controversy has raised the profile of the movie, about the last hours of Christ's life, and made it the most successful religious film in history.

Churches across the US booked up whole cinemas for their congregations to see the film as soon as it was released.

As well as breaking the record for the five-day total for a Wednesday release, The Passion is sixth in the all-time list of films' first weekend takings, according to industry publication Screen Daily.

The Return of the King swept the board at the Oscars on Sunday, winning 11 awards out of its 11 nominations including best film and best director for Peter Jackson.

Bruce Davey, Gibson's partner at his Icon film company, remained optimistic about their film, saying: "I think we'll see strong bookings leading up to Easter, and I would anticipate Easter would be a huge weekend."

Filmgoers have also flocked to cinemas in other countries where the film has been released.

The Passion books and merchandise
The Passion books and merchandise have been selling fast
It made A$3.6m (US$2.7m) in its first five days in Australia and NZ$410,000 (US$275,000) in four days in New Zealand, Screen Daily said.

It will be released elsewhere in the world throughout March and April, including the UK on 26 March.

Meanwhile, the film has been credited with boosting sales of religious books.

A book to accompany the film sold out of all 150,000 copies almost instantly, while a book Gibson used for the movie - The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ - has seen sales jump from 3,000 in 2002 to 17,000 this February alone.

Another work, The Passion of Jesus Christ by Baptist minister John Piper - which is not related to the film - now has 1.6 million copies in print after an initial print run of 175,000 in January.


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