''The Passion of the Christ'' looks to be an even bigger hit the second time around. During its theatrical release this spring, Mel Gibson's epic about the final hours of Jesus' life grossed some $370 million in North American cinemas, second only to ''Shrek 2'' for the year to date. With its release on DVD and VHS Tuesday, its home video sales may already be on track to top the theatrical gross. As of lunchtime, distributor Fox announced, the video had already sold 2.4 million copies.
It won't be until later on Wednesday that full first-day sales figures are available; the record to beat belongs to ''Finding Nemo,'' with 8 million sold out of the box. Still, some 15 million units have been shipped to stores, and the marketing has been as shrewdly focused on churches and religious groups as it was for the theatrical release. Scott Hetrick, editor of trade magazine DVD Exclusive, predicts that the home video sales could ultimately reach 18 million, for a gross of $400 million. Reuters reports that ''Passion'' could even boost sales of DVD players, inspiring people who haven't bought one yet to try the new format; in fact, as Hetrick notes, some retailers are selling players and the ''Passion'' disc side by side. Now, that's cross-promotion.