'Noah' rains down on 'Divergent', 'Muppets' to win U.S. box office

Sun Mar 30, 2014 1:28pm EDT
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By Ronald Grover and Chris Michaud

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Noah", starring Russell Crowe as the biblical figure who built an ark to save his family and specimens of every animal from the great flood, collected $44 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales to lead the weekend box office.

It sailed past last weekend's winner, "Divergent", based on the novel by Veronica Roth about a dystopian world divided into factions. "Divergent" collected $26.5 million and a total of $95 million since its March 21 release.

"Muppets Most Wanted", starring Ty Burrell and Tina Fey with Jim Henson's furry puppets, was third with $11.4 million in ticket sales from Friday through Sunday, according to estimates provided by Rentrak.

The road for "Noah" to theaters was bumpy. To counter reports in trade newspapers that Christians disapproved of the film, Paramount Pictures, the film's distributor, commissioned a survey by Nielsen that found 83 percent of "very religious" moviegoers were anxious to see the film.

That helped push the film well beyond box office experts' forecast of an opening weekend of about $36 million.

The film, directed by "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler" director Darren Aronofsky, was banned from theaters in Pakistan, Indonesia and other countries because it was seen by their governments as critical of Islam.

Paramount inserted an "explanatory message" before the movie that said "the film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide."

"This is really a spectacular result," said Don Harris, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc., who said the studio had anticipated an opening of around $32 million or $33 million going into the weekend.   Continued...

Cast member Russell Crowe attends the U.S. premiere of "Noah" in New York March 26, 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly