Newmarket's number oneopener The Passion Of The Christ intervened divinely in the course ofthe US box office this week, scoring a sensational five-day $117.5m estimatedgross by the close of Sunday.

Mel Gibson's gritty accountof the final 12 hours of Christ's life scored the second biggest five-day (andtherefore Wednesday) opening of all time behind The Lord Of The Rings: TheReturn Of The King's $124.1m December haul.

The picture, which stars JimCaviezel and Monica Bellucci, took $76.2m over the Friday-to-Sunday weekend,making it the seventh biggest three-day opening of all time. Spider-Manstill holds sway on $114.8m in May 2002.

The picture averaged astunning three-day $25,041 average from 3,043 venues. It took $26.6m onWednesday - the third biggest ever - and went on to gross $22.8m on Friday,rising to $32.8m on Saturday and an estimated $20.5m on Sunday.

In fact Passion,which received mixed reviews, is arguably on course to becoming the biggestearning foreign language picture at the US box office by virtue of the factthat the dialogue is spoken entirely in Aramaic and Latin.

Ang Lee's CrouchingTiger, Hidden Dragon has held the record up until now for its $128.1mgross, reached in 2001.

Passion also scored the biggest February bow of all time andthe second biggest R-rated opening ever behind The Matrix Reloaded's$92m bow last May.

"From Manhattan toAlberquerque to Texas the take-up on the film has been across the board,"Newmarket Films chief Bob Berney said. "I see no signs of it slowing down thisweek."

Bruce Davey, who heads upIcon Productions with Gibson, said advance bookings for Easter were "solid",adding: "We've dealt with the controversy by taking the high road and as youcan imagine we are a happy bunch of campers. Everywhere has been sold outinternationally."

Paramount's serial killerthriller Twisted starring Ashley Judd and Samuel L Jackson opened thirdon $9.1m, averaging $3,366 from 2,703 sites. Philip Kaufman's picture opened asexpected but drew appalling reviews.

Lions Gate's dancing sequel DirtyDancing 2: Havana Nights opened fifth on $5.9m for a $2,889 average from2,042 venues.

Diego Luna and Romola Garaistar and the poorly-reviewed picture was directed by Guy Ferland.

Fox Searchlight opened BrokenLizard's Club Dread, a farcical teen horror picture that failed to excitethe critics, in 10th place on $3m. It averaged $1,674 from 1807sites.

In an ironic twist ahead ofwhat could be a crowning moment at the Academy Awards tonight (29), New Line'sThe Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King fell out of the charts for thefirst time in 11 weeks. It added $2.2m for $364.1m running total.

Next weekend's wide releasesare Buena Vista's Hidalgo, which stars Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif,and Warner Bros' Starsky & Hutch, starring Ben Stiller and OwenWilson.

Estimated Top Ten US Feb 27-29 2004
Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimatedtotal to date
1 (-) The Passion Of The Christ (Newmarket) Icon Productions $76.2m$117.5m
2 (1) Fifty First Dates (Columbia) CTFDI $12.6m $88.7m
3 (-) Twisted (Paramount) Summit Entertainment $9.1m -
4 (2) Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen (Buena Vista) BVI $6.1m$16.7m
5 (-) Dirty Dancing: Havana Knights (Lions Gate) Miramax International$5.9m -
6 (3) Miracle (Buena Vista) BVI $4.4m $56.3m
7 (5) Eurotrip (DreamWorks) UIP $4.1m $4.1m $12.8m
8 (4) Welcome To Mooseport (Fox) Fox Int'l $3.4m $11.6m
9 (6) Barbershop 2: Back In Business (MGM) Fox Int'l $3.1m $57.6m
10 (-) Broken Lizard's Club Dread (Fox Searchlight) Fox International$3m --