20th Century Fox, which has a first-look production deal with Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey’s Icon Productions, has quietly become far more involved in The Passion Of The Christ than originally thought.

Fox is understood to have sealed the lucrative domestic home entertainment rights tithe film as well as theatrical rights in Asia-Pacific and Latin America excluding Puerto Rico.

Fox had very publicly passed on the chance to distribute the film theatrically in North America last August, when the controversy surrounding it exploded in the media and protestors demonstrated outside the Manhattan headquarters of Fox parent company News Corp. The demo was led by Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn assemblyman who said the film could incite anti-Semitic violence.

Icon instead opted to pact with independent distributor Newmarket Films whose distribution chief Bob Berney has successfully released difficult films into the market like Happiness and Y Tu Mama Tambien.

As it became clear this year that Passion would become a major money-spinner for Newmarket and Icon, Fox and indeed theother studios which balked at releasing the picture realized that they were missing out on a major revenue opportunity.

However, the home entertainment rights that Icon was brokering separately to a theatrical deal are potentially of even more significance. Bearing in mind the acceptance which the film has received in the church groups across the US, its educational and religious applications over a long period of time could be substantial.

Both Fox and Icon were remaining strictly mum on the issue and neither would confirm any deals on the film or comment for this story.

In international territories, Fox will first open The Passion Of The Christ in Jamaica and Trinidad on Mar 17,followed by Chile and Peru on Mar 25, Brazil and Mexico on Mar 26 and Taiwan on Mar 27.

The picture will subsequently go out in Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Argentina and Bolivia in the first week of April.

The remaining markets will open throughout April. Icon’s Australian distribution company opened the film day and date with the US yesterday.