Mel Gibson is cashing in on the controversy surrounding his new movie,
The Passion of the Christ, and looks set to personally pocket around
$US300 million.

Gibson to reap record profits from Passion

Sealed section March 5

Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ has now grossed more than $US153
million in the US and Canada and looks sure to pass $US200 million this
weekend. It has also earned more than $4 million in Australia and New
Zealand since it was released on Ash Wednesday.

Similar success seems inevitable in Europe – and even South America –
with the predominantly conservative Christian populations in countries
like Italy and Spain expected to flock to the cinema.

It is a mystery as to why the average cinema goer – at least those with
no religious motivations – would want to endure the gratuitously
violent depiction of Jesus’s last hours. But that is the power of
controversy.

Appealing to churches to promote the film was marketing genius –
churches across Australia and the US are buying up entire sessions to
give tickets away to their congregations.

After all the major studios passed on the project, Gibson personally
invested more than $US40 million in producing and promoting the film
but now looks likely to reap at least $US200 million in net profits
after the cinemas and the distributor Newmarket Films take their cut –
probably a lot more.

It has to be the best investment ever made outside of the mainstream
Hollywood structure and is sure to become the highest grossing
independent film in history – a title current held by My Big Fat Greek
Wedding with $US356 million worldwide.

And the question is what will Mel do with the money? Gibson took a huge
risk to bring his vision to the screen and some would argue that he has
earned the huge windfall. But it seems unlikely that he would want to
be seen to have profited from The Passion – especially as he used his
faith to promote it.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bolt attacked the accuracy of The Passion in his
column today – describing it as “little more than a gore-splattered
fantasy” – and questioned the portrayal of Jews and homosexuals.

It is good to see Bolt defending minorities rather than attacking them
and he has obviously re-read the gospels as he deconstructs Gibson’s
ultra-violent account of Christ’s trial and death.

Read it here.

Mel stirring up Passion and profits
Sealed section March 8

It was good to see The Fin Review’s Neil Shoebridge today latched onto
Crikey’s piece on Friday about the enourmous profits heading Mel
Gibson’s way from “The Passion”.

Shoebridge quotes US marketing predictions that the Passion’s global
box-office revenue could top $US650 million and film industry
executives who estimate that as director and co-producer Gibson will
personally pocket around 45 per cent of the gross revenue or $US300 million.

Interestingly, the Fin also mentions that Rupert Murdoch is looking
to cash in as well – Fox Entertainment will distribute The Passion on
DVD later in the year.

Check out this story on CNN.com which explains that it took $US51.4
million in the US on its second weekend, a drop of only 39 per cent
from the opening weekend which suggests it has lots of staying
power: “Passion tops box-office again”

Total receipts have now hit $US212 million meaning Gibson is set to
become Australia’s richest entertainer and would be shooting up the BRW
Rich List if he hadn’t been dropped off it a few years back.

Could this be the fastest amount of money that an Australian has ever
made? Having invested $US40 million, Gibson appears likely to pocket a
500 per cent profit in less than two years.

Meanwhile, a subscriber writes:

Christopher Hitchens is one of the few overseas commentators to give
Gibson the pounding he deserves. I for one will not be contributing to
the man’s pockets – he may not have come out like his father with
statements of Holocaust denial, but in the case of that insidious
movement, a silence on the topic is equal to agreement.

Check out these two offerings from Hitchens:

“I detest this film…with a passion”

“Schlock, yes; awe, no; fascism, probably”

Another subscriber writes:

“Small correction from Friday, chaps – the best investment made outside
the normal Hollywood machine is not Mel’s Passion but the Star Wars
prequels by George Lucas – he used the profits from the first three,
including the merchandise etc, and from Industrial Light & Magic,
to bankroll the Phantom Menace (box office $925m) and Attack of the
Clones ($648m). They may have been dud films but they made him one of
the richest men in Film history – estimated net worth $3bn according to
Forbes.”

CRIKEY: Gibson’s total return won’t be anywhere near Lucas’s
record profits but the percentage return on his investment will be much
higher. Each Star Wars prequel cost more than $US100
million to produce – Passion’s production budget was only $US30
million.

Peter Fray

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