LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Angels & Demons," the new movie based on Dan Brown's popular novel about conspiracy in the Catholic church, racked up $152 million in global ticket sales over the weekend, but failed to match the start of its predecessor "The Da Vinci Code."
Distributor Columbia Pictures said on Sunday the $150 million sequel earned about $48 million during its first three days of release in the United States and Canada, reaching No. 1 on box office charts and eclipsing last week's champ, "Star Trek," which slipped to No. 2 with $43 million.
Guided by the studio, box office pundits had expected "Angels" to open in the $40 million to $50 million range, and Columbia said it was thrilled with the result.
The sequel should pass $150 million in domestic ticket sales, said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at the Sony Corp unit.
Still, the popular "Da Vinci Code" opened to $77 million in 2006 on its way to a domestic haul of $217.5 million.
"Angels" also earned $104.3 million from No. 1 starts in 96 countries, down from the $147 million start for "Da Vinci."
Inevitably, the new film failed to replicate the buzz of the first movie. "The Da Vinci Code," based on another best-selling book by Brown, generated a firestorm of criticism with its premise that Jesus impregnated Mary Magdalene and that church officials tried to keep their bloodline secret.
The Vatican -- along with most critics -- ripped the film, but took a more measured tone against its sequel. Columbia said the first book sold twice as many copies as the second one, a clear indication that the second movie would come up short.
"On the other hand, 'Angels' absolutely was a far more cinematic book than 'Da Vinci Code' was," said Bruer.
In "Angels & Demons," Tom Hanks returned to the series as a Harvard professor on a mission to save the papacy, and Ron Howard is also back directing the film. And much as they were with "Da Vinci Code," critics were scathing.
On website rottentomatoes.com that collects criticism and scores movies said the film earned only 38 percent positive reviews.
The Washington Post's John Anderson said: "What the movie is supposed to accomplish -- laying out a fairly complex mystery in a way that creates suspense -- is precisely what it doesn't do."
Still, Bruer expected the film to hold up well in coming weeks, as a rare adult thriller in a summer marketplace dominated by youth-skewing pictures like "Star Trek" and Thursday's upcoming release of "Terminator Salvation."
Columbia was also bullish about overseas prospects, noting it was the biggest international opening for a film since "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" in 2008.
Germany was the top market, contributing $12.7 million -- about the same as the opening for "The Da Vinci Code." Italy was also steady with $11.4 million. But Britain accounted for $9.7 million, down from $15.7 million for "Da Vinci." Spain ($7.1 million) and Japan ($6.9 million) also saw sizable drops.
"Da Vinci" finished with $540.7 million internationally.
Meanwhile, "Star Trek" lost just 43 percent of the audience from its opening round at box offices last week. Total sales rose to $147.6 million. The sci-fi reboot was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc.
"X Men Origins: Wolverine," which kicked off the lucrative summer movie season two weekends ago, was down one to No. 3 with $14.8 million. The total for the superhero picture rose to $151.1 million, with foreign fans kicking in an additional $144.5 million. The film was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Philip Barbara