South African cinemagoers were out in force this past weekend to check out two major icons - and the result was a combined box-office bonanza.

Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ had an opening weekend of $600,000 (R3,758,025) (including premieres), on 35 prints representing a print average of $16,000 (R102,229), making it the biggest opening weekend per print average of all time in the territory.

Distributor Nu Metro says the release echoes that of event releases, but in reality Gibson's film has outstripped them.

The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King which was released on 85 prints made an average of R85,000 on its opening weekend while The Matrix Reloaded earned R70,000 on 95 prints.

Also breaking records was local funnyman Leon Schuster with his latest candid-camera feature Oh Schuks, I'm Gatvol achieving a $676,500 (R4,237,456) weekend gross on 106 prints. Distributor Ster-Kinekor announced the film had an opening that was 43% bigger than Mr. Bones, Schuster's last film that is currently the country's top grossing local product.

Both The Passion and Oh Shuks have been hogging the media spotlight. The Gibson film through its self-inducing publicity campaign, South Africans are deeply religious and the contentious issues surrounding the film have swamped the media from radio talk-in shows through to the print media.

Schuster, who is the country's cinema darling, cleverly deflected generally negative reviews of his film by saying he was giving the South African public what they wanted, and what they loved.

The Passion of the Christ created its own form of pre-release visibility when a number of churches across the country were prosecuted for holding public screenings of the film, using pirated DVDs, which were purchased at fleamarkets. The country's anti-piracy body SAFACT (South African Federation Against Copyright Theft) and distributors Nu Metro instituted legal proceedings against the churches who claimed ignorance of the law.