With a week left before its US release, it has become the most discussed movie event of the year, with surveys predicting an opening take of between $15 million and $30 million - stunning figures for a film with no-name stars speaking in Latin and Aramaic.


Much of the free publicity has come Gibson's way from the controversy surrounding the movie - focused on concerns by Jewish groups that the film carries an anti-Semitic message.


While the controversy has undoubtedly played a large part in raising the movie's profile, its anticipated success owes much to an astute marketing strategy that has targeted Christian groups across the country.




Gibson's production company, Icon Productions, has enlisted churches and ministries as marketing partners, pushing the film from the pulpit rather than through the press.


Until last week, Icon had eschewed television advertising altogether, soliciting instead ringing endorsements from senior members of the clergy who provided sound bites worthy of any Hollywood publicity department.


"I'm sure there are a lot of priests promoting it, although many haven't seen it yet"

Louis Giovino,
spokesman, Catholic League, New York

"The Passion of Christ is extraordinary for the power of its acting, directing, camera work, and editing," the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput wrote in his weekly diocesan newspaper column last month.


"See this film. You'll never read the scriptural accounts of Christ's Passion in quite the same way," wrote Chaput, one of many Church leaders invited to advance screenings.


The film which depicts Christ's last day on earth, opens on 2000 screens on 25 February - Ash Wednesday. Hundreds of cinemas have reported first-week sell-outs, mainly as the result of mass bookings by Christian groups.


Some 2000 students from a Catholic high school in Long Island plan to take part in a "pilgrimage" march to the closest theatre showing the film.


"I'm sure there are a lot of priests promoting it, although many haven't seen it yet," said Louis Giovino, spokesman for the New York-based Catholic League.


Icon Productions fell just short of securing the ultimate rave review when the Vatican denied reports that the Pope had officially endorsed the movie.