There are few surprises in Hollywood, but Mel Gibson has shocked the establishment once again. His controversial "The Passion of the Christ" came off the best five-day opening ever, lost nearly 40 percent of its audience and still pulled in an estimated $51.4 million to easily win the box-office race.
Just 12 days into its release, the blood-drenched telling of the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus has raked in more than $212 million, making it the sixth-fastest movie to hit the $200 million mark and giving it the fifth-best second weekend in box-office history.
Not even box-office darlings Ben Stiller and Viggo Mortensen could compete with that kind of muscle. Stiller and Owen Wilson's remake of the TV cop show "Starsky & Hutch" debuted in second place with an estimated $29 million, a strong opening that would have likely guaranteed it the top spot during the typically slow March period. (Click for photos from "Starsky & Hutch.")
The first starring role for "The Lord of the Rings" hunk Viggo Mortensen since that series elevated him from character-actor status, the horseracing adventure "Hidalgo," debuted at #3 with $19.6 million.
The Drew Barrymore/ Adam Sandler comedy "50 First Dates" slipped two notches to #4 in its fourth weekend in theaters, banking $7.7 million, putting it just a hair under a $100 million total gross.
Several movies received an Academy Awards bump, including Best Picture winner "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which moved back into the top 10 with $3.2 million, good enough for seventh place.
Best Actress winner Charlize Theron also benefited from Oscar, with her serial-killer drama "Monster" also climbing back into the top 10 at #10 on grosses of $2.2 million. "Mystic River," which took home a Best Actor nod for Sean Penn and a Best Supporting Actor award for Tim Robbins, got a one-spot bump to #11 on grosses of $2 million.
Just how big is "The Passion of the Christ"? Gibson has been involved with 11 movies that have passed the $100 million mark, but with grosses that are estimated to top out at or above $300 million, "The Passion" is expected to become the top-grossing film with which the actor/director has been connected. The movie, which has drawn fire from some religious leaders who worry that it might inflame tensions with Jews, has propped up a box office that was trending downward seven percent for the year so far. It has helped bring receipts nearly even with last year's at this time.
Rounding out the top 10 are "Twisted" at #5 with $5 million; "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" at #6 with $4 million; "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" at #8 with $2.8 million and "Miracle" at #9 with $2.6 million.
Ticket sales were up for a second weekend in a row, and the top 12 movies grossed $131.5 million, up 39 percent from the same weekend last year.