'Passion' Nails $26.6 Million on First Day
Perhaps Ash Wednesday should be renamed Fat Wednesday.

Fueled by an unprecedented media frenzy and religious fervor, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ has delivered on the hype.

Playing on 4,643 screens at 3,006 theaters, the $30 million production took in a whopping $26,556,573 on Wednesday—ironically prompting most in the industry to use the Lord's name in vain out of sheer amazement.

In the process, The Passion burned onto the record books, notching the biggest opening day for a movie released outside the summer (May-August) and holiday (November-December) seasons. Hannibal was the previous title holder with $19.8 million posted in February 2001.

Among all opening days, The Passion land at No. 9, but it reached No. 3 among all Wednesday bows, behind only The Return of the King's $34.5 million and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace's $28.5 million and ahead of The Two Towers's $26.2 million and The Matrix Revolutions' $24.3 million.

Private screenings for church groups on Monday and Tuesday accounted for approximately $3 million of The Passion's gross, according to Newmarket. That would put the Wednesday total at around $23.6 million. When more accurate figures are available, the preview grosses will be sifted out to get the true opening day figure.

The Passion's opening day far exceeded Newmarket's and Box Office Mojo's Wednesday projections that it would come in at around $20 million, based on matinee grosses from around 28% of theaters. That shows that projecting that early can be as inaccurate as if the news called the winner of a political primary with only a fraction of precincts reporting.

With less than 900 theaters reporting mid-Wednesday, The Passion had rung up over $7 million from matinees alone. That was about 18% behind what The Return of the King had at the same point on its opening day, and around 4% behind The Matrix Reloaded. The Passion ultimately followed a similar pattern to Return of the King.

In just one day, The Passion has become the highest-grossing Christian-themed movie of recent memory. It's a genre that's been ghettoized as a niche market up until now—former champ Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie grossed a modest $25.6 million in its entire run.