- Fox Home Entertainment heralds Mel Gibson’s controversial sleeper hit The Passion of the Christ as the bestselling R-rated/non-English-language DVD release of all time.
- What’s the most contentious Jesus movie ever made?
Mel Gibson’s controversial Jesus movie The Passion of the Christ becomes R-rated domestic DVD hit
With the not inconsiderable assistance of business-conscious Christian churches and organizations across the United States, Mel Gibson’s controversial, R-rated Jesus movie The Passion of the Christ, starring Jim Caviezel as Jesus, has sold 4.1 million DVD copies after only one day in U.S. stores. An impressive figure, though hardly a record-breaking one.
With approximately 8 million copies sold, Pixar’s animated 2003 blockbuster Finding Nemo easily retains the record for one-day DVD sales in the domestic market. Sam Raimi’s 2002 blockbuster Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, holds the record for live-action movies: 7 million copies gone from the shelves in one day.
It should be noted that Finding Nemo and Spider-Man haven’t prevented Fox Home Entertainment from heralding the ultra-violent The Passion of the Christ, with dialogue in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin, as the bestselling R-rated/non-English-language DVD release of all time – at least in the U.S.
Resurgence of anti-Jewish bigotry feared
As for the controversy surrounding this particular Jesus movie, at the time of its theatrical release a number of Jewish organizations criticized both The Passion of the Christ and actor-turned-filmmaker Mel Gibson (Best Director Oscar winner for Braveheart, 1995) because of the film’s depiction of Jews as the ones responsible for Jesus’ death. Some feared that The Passion might lead to a resurgence of anti-Jewish bigotry, though thus far it’s unclear whether that has actually happened.
Undeniably the year’s biggest sleeper blockbuster, The Passion of the Christ is to date the second highest-grossing 2004 release at the North American (U.S. and Canada) box office. With a total take of $370 million, it’s trailing only DreamWorks Animation’s kiddie flick Shrek 2, which has earned nearly $437 million. In the Shrek sequel’s voice cast: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, and Antonio Banderas.
The Passion of the Christ cast
In addition to Jim Caviezel, the cast of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ includes Monica Bellucci as Magdalen, Maia Morgenstern as Mary, Christo Jivkov as John, Francesco De Vito as Peter, Luca Lionello as Judas, and Hristo Shopov (a.k.a. Hristo Naumov Shopov) as Pontius Pilate.
Mel Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald were credited for the screenplay.
Less notorious Jesus portrayals of decades past
Long before Jim Caviezel, less controversial portrayers of Jesus Christ include the following:
- H.B. Warner in Cecil B. DeMille’s well-received silent The King of Kings (1927).
- Jeffrey Hunter in Nicholas Ray’s less well-received King of Kings (1961).
- Max von Sydow in George Stevens’ all-star epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).
- Spanish actor Enrique Irazoqui (dubbed into Italian by Enrico Maria Salerno) in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s neorealist The Gospel According to St. Matthew / Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964).
- Ted Neeley in Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), adapted from the Broadway musical.
- Pier Maria Rossi in Roberto Rossellini’s final directorial effort, The Messiah / Il Messia (1975).
- Robert Powell in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1978), originally made for American television but shown in cinemas in some international markets.
Most contentious Jesus movie ever made?
No, not Terry Jones’ Monty Python comedy Life of Brian.
In fact, there doesn’t seem to have been a more contentious Jesus movie than Martin Scorsese’s 1988 box office misfire The Last Temptation of Christ, based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ polemical 1955 novel in which Jesus on the cross is given the chance to live an alternate life.
Even prior to its release, Scorsese’s generally well-regarded effort became the target of angry protests that eventually spread to other countries. In October, a terrorist arson attack at a Paris cinema left 13 people injured.
In early 1989, The Last Temptation of Christ earned Scorsese his second Best Director Oscar nomination. The film itself, however, was bypassed in the Best Picture category.
The Last Temptation of Christ cast & talent
In the cast: Willem Dafoe as Jesus, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, Harvey Keitel as Judas, Harry Dean Stanton as the future St. Paul, Verna Bloom as Mary, and David Bowie as Pontius Pilate. Paul Schrader was credited for the screenplay adaptation. Peter Gabriel composed the now classic score.
Also of note, whereas Mel Gibson’s Jesus movie was produced and distributed independently – via Icon Productions and Newmarket Films – The Last Temptation of Christ was a Universal Pictures release in the U.S.
“Controversial Jesus Movie” endnotes
Image of Jim Caviezel in Mel Gibson’s Jesus movie The Passion of the Christ: Icon Productions | Newmarket Films.
Willem Dafoe The Last Temptation of Christ image: Universal Pictures.
“Controversial Jesus Movie Becomes R-Rated DVD Bestseller” last updated in September 2021.