Hollywood is taking advantage of the Aug. 31 DVD release of “The Passion of the Christ” by hawking a significant number of other religious releases.

More than a dozen religious-themed titles are slated to hit shelves to coincide with the buzz and interest surrounding one of the most controversial movies in recent memory.

“The Passion” grossed more than $370 million earlier this year in the United States alone. The R-rated film from Mel Gibson drew loud protest for its violence and depiction of Jews.

Gibson’s Icon Productions used a savvy marketing strategy targeting the faithful for the film’s theatrical release. A similar strategy is underway now, with churches being able to offer DVD/VHS discounts to their members.

Though the DVD has not yet been released by Fox Home Entertainment, customers anywhere may pre-order the film. Amazon.com already lists the movie as its second-best selling title, behind the “Star Wars” trilogy.

Alex Carloss, senior vice president of marketing for MGM Home Entertainment, told USA Today that piggybacking is a key strategy for marketers.

MGM is itself using “The Passion” to springboard a different kind of religious film. Its irreverent teen comedy “Saved!” will hit shelves Oct. 5.

“‘The Passion’ ignited interest in the whole religious debate,” Carloss told USA Today. “For us, there are opportunities on both sides of the aisle.”

Those who aren’t interested in “Saved!” can turn back the clock to 1965 and enjoy “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” This story of Christ, from birth to resurrection, stars Charlton Heston, Max von Sydow and a host of other Hollywood notables. MGM will release it Aug. 31.

The first season of the CBS drama “Touched By an Angel,” which concluded in 2003 after nine seasons, arrives on DVD Aug. 31 as well. The four-disc box set includes the first 13 episodes, as well as the season finale and several featurettes about the show.

Other religious-themed DVDs scheduled for an Aug. 31 release include “Jesus Christ Superstar: Special Edition” and “NBC News Presents: The Last Days of Jesus.”

“Judas,” from Paulist Productions, originally ran on ABC as a movie of the week March 8, during the original theatrical run of “The Passion.” It was released on DVD Aug. 24.

The home market for religious and spiritual movies is also being tapped in a different way.

The Spiritual Cinema Circle was founded in February 2004 by Stephen Simon, producer of “Somewhere in Time” and “What Dreams May Come.”

This Netflix-inspired service offers spiritual films, not necessarily “religious” ones. Simon told the Chicago Sun-Times that his service would not offer “The Passion of the Christ,” for example.

“First of all, in my opinion, it doesn’t make you feel better about being a human being when it’s finished,” Simon said. “And it’s tied to very specific edicts and beliefs of a particular religion.”

Simon’s goal is to get positive entertainment into people’s homes.

“Before now, hardly anybody got to see the best movies made each year,” said Simon on the Web site. “Now, with The Circle, you can enjoy heartful, soulful movies … without leaving home.”

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

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