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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Angels & Demons," the film sequel to conspiracy thriller "The Da Vinci Code," will likely fall short of box office totals for its more religiously controversial predecessor when it opens on Friday.
Director Ron Howard's "Angels & Demons," starring Tom Hanks as symbology expert Robert Langdon, should make over $40 million this weekend while 2006's Da Vinci Code made $77 million at U.S. and Canada box offices, industry watchers say.
Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com Box Office said Angels lacks the buzz of its predecessor.
"It just doesn't have that cultural zeitgeist to it, because 'The Da Vinci Code' was a phenomenon, a worldwide phenomenon based on the Dan Brown book," he said.
Angels is also based on a novel from Brown, whose Da Vinci Code upset the Vatican for its storyline that Jesus impregnated Mary Magdalene, and church officials tried to keep their bloodline secret.
While the Vatican criticized the earlier film before it opened three years ago, it has taken a more measured tone against its sequel.
"The Vatican has finally learned that when you condemn a movie you encourage people to see it," said Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
Da Vinci made $758 million at worldwide box offices, and was especially popular internationally, with $541 million coming from audiences outside the U.S. and Canada.
In the wake of that international success, Sony Corp's Sony Pictures plans to launch its sequel in nearly 100 countries on Friday, instead of staggering the release dates.
Sony Pictures said it expects the film to have an opening weekend in the $45 million range in the U.S. and Canada. But with box office totals rising industrywide, opening numbers have often outstripped expectations.
Going into last weekend's U.S. and Canada opening of "Star Trek," the studio behind the movie, Viacom Inc unit Paramount Pictures, said it expected an opening slightly higher than $50 million, and the movie made $75.2 million.
Box office watchers said Angels & Demons, which will open in 3,527 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, is still expected to be No. 1 at the box office this weekend, despite competition.
"Star Trek does seem to have a lot of momentum, but the question is how much of that first weekend was fan driven and how far could it fall," said Brandon Gray, president of tracking firm Box Office Mojo.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jill Serjeant and Todd Eastham