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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Gibson's Passion adds to records
The Passion of the Christ
Actor Mel Gibson's controversial hit The Passion of the Christ has helped push US winter box office takings to their highest-ever level.

Ticket sales for the winter were more than $1.78bn (1bn), a 15% rise compared to last year.

But, according to figures, had it not been for Gibson's' film the figures would have been 5% less than 2003.

The film, about 12 hours in Christ's life, has taken more than $302m (167.7m) in the US alone.

The film, which has been accused of being anti-Semitic, has become one of the most popular films of all time.

Tickets down

In the US the winter box office season is listed as the first 10 or 11 weeks of the year, and this year the period ended on 25 March.

More than 290m tickets were sold in the period - a rise of 13% compared to last year, but well down on the 305m tickets sold in 2002.

The only other film to make more than $100m was the Drew Barrymore comedy 50 First Dates, which made $114m (63.3m).

Distorted view

The Passion of the Christ opened in France on Wednesday, where it has met with a largely hostile response.

French Roman Catholic bishops have condemned the film as liable to incite anti-Semitic beliefs and accused Gibson of delivering a distorted view of Christianity.

A statement released from the Conference of French Bishops agreed the film might not be anti-Semitic, but "could be used to support anti-Semitic opinions".

"In this film, the face of Christ shows through less than the obsessions of our times"
Bishop's conference, France

It added: "In this film, the face of Christ shows through less than the obsessions of our times - the dread of evil, fascination with violence and the search for the guilty.

"(The film's) violence... ends up blotting out the meaning of the Passion and the essence of Christ's person and message."

Despite widespread criticism in France, the bishops' criticism is the first official statement from the Church hierarchy.


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