LOS ANGELES - Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" took in $51.4 million in its second weekend to remain the top movie, racing past the $200 million mark in just 12 days.
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson's action comedy "Starsky & Hutch" debuted in second place with $29.05 million, while Viggo Mortensen's horse-racing adventure "Hidalgo" opened at No. 3 with $19.6 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"The Passion," Gibson's bloody re-enactment of Christ's crucifixion, has grossed $212 million so far in the United States and Canada. The movie is expected to top $300 million, said Bob Berney, president of Newmarket Films. The independent distributor was hired by Gibson to release "The Passion" after Hollywood studios passed on it.
The film, which stars Jim Caviezel as Christ, held up strongly, with receipts down just 39 percent from its huge opening weekend of $83.8 million. Movies debuting to such high numbers often drop 50 percent or more in their second weekends.
"The Passion" propelled Hollywood to a second straight weekend of rising revenues after a prolonged slump. The top 12 movies grossed $131.5 million, up 39 percent from the same weekend last year.
Before "The Passion" opened, box-office revenues had been running 7 percent behind last year's. Two big weekends for "The Passion" have pulled the industry virtually even with last year's receipts, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
The Academy Awards gave a solid bounce to best-picture winner "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which climbed back into the top 10 with $3.2 million, raising its total to $368.3 million.
"The Passion" rode a storm of debate over its grisly violence and accusations of anti-Semitism to become the first religious blockbuster since the 1950s epics "The Ten Commandments" and "Ben-Hur."
Its success indicates Christian crowds rarely targeted by filmmakers will flock to theaters when a movie suits them.
"I think it does show there's an ignored market, but the way I look at it, it's film by film. To make this work, you have to have a brilliant film. The audience is very discerning," Berney said.
In the next week, "The Passion" will climb past the $228 million total take for "Signs," the top-grossing movie Gibson has been connected with. Even adjusting Gibson's "Lethal Weapon" grosses for inflation, "The Passion" will be his biggest hit.
"Here's one of the most popular movie stars in the world. Who would have thought he would out-gross all his big summer blockbusters with a movie about the crucifixion?" said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations.
After studios declined to handle "The Passion," Gibson orchestrated a marketing scheme that rallied Christian leaders and church groups, which spread the word and snapped up blocks of tickets.
Fueling the frenzy was criticism from some Jewish and Christian leaders, who said "The Passion" could revive the notion that Jews collectively were responsible for Christ's death.
"Starsky & Hutch," an update of the 1970s TV show, stars Stiller and Wilson as buddy cops hunting a cocaine dealer. "Hidalgo" stars Mortensen as an Old West cowboy who becomes the first Westerner invited to compete in a horse race across the Arabian desert.
"Starsky & Hutch" distributor Warner Bros. and "Hidalgo" studio Disney were happy to finish a distant second and third to "The Passion."
"I've never seen anything quite like `The Passion,'" said Disney head of distribution Chuck Viane. "To have two other movies come in and open as strongly as they did in the face of a steamroller, you can't complain."
Here are estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Passion of the Christ," $51.4 million.
2. "Starsky & Hutch," $29.05 million.
3. "Hidalgo," $19.6 million.
4. "50 First Dates," $7.7 million.
5. "Twisted," $5 million.
6. "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," $4 million.
7. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," $3.2 million.
8. "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," $2.85 million.
9. "Miracle," $2.6 million.
10. "Monster," $2.25 million.