It's Official: 'Passion' Trumps the 'Code'

The media buildup of The Da Vinci Code is now history.

(Or, at least, should be; though, it was curious a week out—at the start of the Memorial Day weekend when everyone was relaxing at the beach, or the equivalent—to see all the Code coverage, including Dateline’s Dan Brown interview and Anderson Cooper’s 360º “decoding” feature.)

Now, it’s time to weigh the hype against the raw numbers.

(Which, no doubt, the media conglomerates are watching closely, as well, and may explain NBC’s and CNN’s renewed attention to yesterday’s news.)

According to IMDb Box Office figures, the “all time” top 10 grossing films “for USA” are:

  1. Titanic (1997)—$601 million
  2. Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)—$461 million
  3. Shrek 2 (2004)—$436 million
  4. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)—$435 million
  5. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)—$431 million
  6. Spider-Man (2002)—$404 million
  7. Star Wars: Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005)—$380 million
  8. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)—$377 million
  9. Spider-Man 2 (2004)—$373 million
  10. The Passion of the Christ (2004)—$370 million

Except for the sleeper hit ET, the top 10 films released at or around the same time of year as The Da Vinci Code, packed real punch in their first week—with U.S. box office totals ranging from $148.5 million for Shrek 2, released May 15, 2004—to $207 million (i.e., first eight days) for Star Wars: Episode I, released on May 21, 1999.

Star Wars: Episode III is, perhaps, a better comparison, given its release on May 19, 2005—exactly one year to the day before The Da Vinci Code. The week one U.S. take? A cool $191,363,000.

The Da Vinci Code, on the other hand, grossed a mere $102,481,037 (U.S.) its first week.

Now, $102.48 million is not exactly chump change. But, when you consider Ron Howard risked $125 million of Sony’s money making the film and another $125 million marketing the film, it’s underwhelming.

The comparison to The Passion of the Christ, dramatically depicting the last three days of Christ’s life on earth—faithful to the Gospels—is illustrative.

The Passion’s first week U.S. take was $144.6 million—a figure all the more impressive considering that it cost less than one-fourth (i.e., $30 million) what The Code cost to make and significantly less to market—much of the buzz generated under the radar screen among Christian communities across America, who, viewing the film, then sent out multitudinous e-mails to friends and family, encouraging them to see it. As with The Code, while The Passion’s impending release generated much free media, unlike The Code, that media was largely negative—not exactly a harbinger of a runaway hit. But, The Passion stands firm at No. 10 on the list of top grossing films.

But then Hollywood should know what Cecil B. DeMille, producer of The Ten Commandments, knew: Blasphemy doesn’t pay. For even now, this Memorial Day, The Da Vinci Code, IMDb reports, has now fallen to No. 2, behind X Men: The Last Stand and has grossed, as of Day 8, $145.5 million in U.S. sales, which falls well behind the compared films when, at the same point, sales all exceeded $150 million—most hovering around $200 million.