Apparently, the saying is true: Jesus Lives. Mel Gibson's hotly-anticipated film ''The Passion of the Christ'' shattered even the most optimistic expectations and grossed a phenomenal $76.2 million over the weekend and $117.5 million since premiering on Ash Wednesday.
Fueled by heaps of publicity (not to mention controversy) and busloads of church groups who attended first-weekend screening, "''The Passion'' became the No. 7 top opening of all-time, surpassing even ''The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,'' which earned $72.6 million in its first weekend last December. And even with its intense violence, it's the second-biggest debut for an R-rated film, behind ''The Matrix Reloaded'''s $91.8 million last year.
Far behind in second place was ''50 First Dates,'' which fell 38 percent to $12.6 million, bringing its total to a strong $88.7 million so far. Third place went to Ashley Judd's thriller ''Twisted'' with $9.1 million, a so-so showing for the actress.
Meanwhile, ''Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen'' slipped 34 percent to $6.1 million, while the new ''Dirty Dancing'' film, ''Havana Nights,'' opened with only $5.9 million. Perhaps ''Havana'''s heroine, Romala Garai, should have found religion in the movie.