LOS ANGELES -- Mel Gibson's gamble on "The Passion of the Christ" paid off enormously, riding a storm of religious debate to a $117.5 million haul in its first five days, according to studio estimates yesterday.
"The Passion," which debuted on Ash Wednesday, rocketed to the No. 1 box-office slot for the weekend with $76.2 million from Friday to yesterday.
It was the seventh-best three-day opening ever, behind "Spider-Man" at $114.8 million and such Hollywood franchises as "The Matrix Reloaded" and the first two "Harry Potter" movies.
"The Passion" put up the second-best five-day figures for a movie opening on Wednesday, behind last year's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at $124.1 million and ahead of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" at $105.6 million.
The first movie released in 2004 to cross the $100 million mark, "The Passion" easily passed the weekend's No. 2 flick, "50 First Dates" at $88.7 million, as the year's top-grossing film.