Despite boycotts and lawsuits in the lead up to its French release, The Passion Of The Christ has had a healthy first five days at the local box office.

On its opening day, Wednesday March 31, Mel Gibson's film sold 82,111 tickets for a take of just over $500,000 on 502 screens.

It's not a blockbuster tally - by comparison recent hit, Les Choristes, did nearly twice that business on fewer screens on its opening day.

The Passion went on to sell nearly half a million tickets in its first 5 days, taking in $3.3m at the box office. Overall, it's a respectable figure: recent number one opening Along Came Polly took 461,000 admissions in its first seven days last month.

In its second week, The Passion will be bumped up to 520 screens according to Patrice Delaytermoz head of distribution at Quinta Distribution, the company owned by Tunisian-born businessman Tarak Ben Ammar who came to the film's rescue when no distributor in France seemed willing to touch it.

Delaytermoz commented: "It's just great. We have been very happily surprised that the clientele we expected has come out to see the film and especially that it has attracted audiences in the suburbs and very deep provinces."

Delaytermoz added that on Monday the film had outperformed its Wednesday score in Paris alone.

Last week, the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions blasted the film for its "extreme violence" and "medieval representation of the story of Jesus." However, the group did not call for the film to be banned.

A Paris judge also threw out a case brought by three Jewish brothers last week who demanded the film be banned due to its potentially incendiary message.

However, there was support for the film from the Producers' Union which issued a statement Wednesday saying that Tarak Ben Ammar had "affirmed his commitment to freedom of expression and the free circulation of artistic works by leaving the audience to be the sole judge of Mel Gibson's direction."

Indeed, Delaytermoz noted that, after speaking with theatre owners, "nothing untoward has happened in any cinema. There really have been no problems."

Asked whether the refusal of Marin Karmitz's MK2 circuit of theatres to screen the film had affected the release, Delaytermoz said: "In Paris we might have had a few more screens but in the end it's he who loses since he's losing business by not having the film."

Delaytermoz added that "the film should hold quite a long time."