Saturday, February 28, 2004

Area movie theater managers say Mel Gibson’s controversial film “The Passion of the Christ” still has moviegoers coming in droves, although by yesterday evening ticket sales had slowed.

The film, which depicts the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life and His crucifixion — has consistently sold out since its opening on Ash Wednesday, said Dennis Butler, manager of the AMC Union Station 9 theater.

“We have already sold out for our 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows,” Mr. Butler said yesterday afternoon around 3:30 p.m. “The 10 p.m. show has not sold out yet, but we expect that it will.”

“The Passion of the Christ” starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus, opened on 4,643 screens in 3,006 theaters nationwide on Feb. 25. The film took in $23.6 million on opening day, Ash Wednesday, positioning it as the biggest religious-themed box-office hit since “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur.”

Private screenings on Monday and Tuesday in advance of the official opening took in an estimated $3 million.

Earlier, previews for church groups generated generally positive reviews as well as a number of endorsements from Christian religious leaders.

A number of Jewish leaders, however, have criticized the film, saying it fosters anti-Semitism by portraying Jews as responsible for the death of Jesus; Mr. Gibson also has been taken to task for the film’s violence.

Despite the controversy, Mr. Butler reported that there have been no incidents during the film’s run at Union Station. “Everyone liked it,” he said. “A couple of people have come out [of the theater] crying, but that’s about it.”

Lenore Agaze, an employee at P&G Old Greenbelt Theatre in Greenbelt said more than 400 tickets were sold for yesterday’s screenings, including 100 sold in advance.

“We haven’t been selling out, but we have been selling a lot of tickets,” Miss Agaze said yesterday.

Jacob Szewczyk at Olney 9 Cinemas in Olney, Md., reported similar turnouts.

“It has been doing well,” said Mr. Szewczyk, who works in the theater’s box office. “It hasn’t been selling out, but it’s doing as well as I expected it would.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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