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Studio Claims Box Office Victory for Controversial Film With PM-Religious Films, Bjt

August 16, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Universal Pictures may have won a temporary financial victory with ″The Last Temptation of Christ,″ but the film could be costly to the studio in the long-run, some fundamentalist religious leaders say.

The movie played to sold-out crowds last week in seven U.S. cities and two in Canada, taking in $44,579 per screen for a three-day total of $401,211, Universal said.

″We’re gratified at the response of the American people. Every show sold out. We’re pleased,″ Universal President Tom Pollock said.

John Krier of Exhibitor Relations Co., which surveys box office performance, described the film’s debut as phenomenal. ″This is a tremendous showing,″ he said.

A movie in general release - for example, one shown on 1,300 to 1,400 screens, ″is really something″ if it takes in $7,000 to $8,000 a screen, Krier said.

″With all this free publicity, of course they were full. But the more the Christian community sees this thing, the angrier they will get,″ the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association said Monday.

The preacher is among several religious leaders who have labeled the film blasphemous and have urged urged a boycott of MCA Inc., Universal’s parent company.

″There’s no question that in Round 1, the publicity that we generated created a lot of curiosity,″ said Tim Penland, who served as a religious consultant to Universal but later resigned to protest the film.

″It certainly appears we helped Universal,″ he said. But he predicted the adverse publicity will ″ultimately burn Universal.″

″There comes a point where the publicity becomes damaging,″ Wildmon agreed.

Wildmon said the demonstrations, which climaxed Thursday with a march on Universal Studios by 25,000 Christians, are over.

The next tactic will go beyond the boycott of Universal films, Universal Tours and appeals to MCA shareholders, he said, adding he may disclose the next strategy later in the week.

″Christians are angry,″ Wildmon said. ″They (Universal) may realize short-term profits, but in the long-term they will hurt economically from this. The anger is building and this isn’t going to be forgotten in two weeks.″

Some conservative Christians have denounced the movie for what they said was a blasphemous depiction of Jesus, who is portrayed as fantasizing about abandoning death on the cross to live as a man and raise a family with Mary Magdalene.

Director Martin Scorsese, a Roman Catholic, has said the movie is a work of fiction and was not made with blasphemous intent.