‘Da Vinci Code’ a hot ticket

Movie News | May 21st, 2006

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LOS ANGELES, California (AP) — Moviegoers gave their blessing to “The Da Vinci Code” over the weekend, spending an estimated $77 million to see the Tom Hanks religious thriller.

Although the film didn’t set a domestic box office record, it was the largest weekend opening of the year so far and became the second-largest worldwide release after “Star Wars: Episode III.” It garnered some $224 million worldwide, according to Sony Pictures.

The film also was the best domestic opening for both Hanks and director Ron Howard.

The movie’s performance, combined with the family film “Over the Hedge” debuting in second place with $37.2 million, was a welcome contrast to the last two weekends that saw disappointing results from “Poseidon” and “Mission: Impossible III.”

The total box office was down about 2.8 percent from the same weekend last year, according to studio estimates released Sunday. But that’s a tough comparison given that last year’s numbers included the record-setting debut of “Star Wars: Episode III.”

“‘Da Vinci’ opening this big just tells you that people do want to go to the movies, they just need the right movie to go,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

Sony Pictures took a risk in the marketing of “The Da Vinci Code,” keeping the adaptation of the Dan Brown best-seller under wraps until a few days before its opening.

The film received mixed reviews, and protesters picketed outside a number of theaters, upset over the story’s suggestion that Jesus Christ was married and had a child. But the controversy did little to deter moviegoers, who packed theaters in almost every country in which the film debuted.

“You had a built-in audience from the book and the awareness levels were so high from this film,” Dergarabedian said. “You would have to live under a rock not to know this movie was opening.”

The movie also set opening-weekend records in Italy and Spain, Sony Pictures said.

“This is a fantastically great surprise for us this morning,” said Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures.

It was good news for the studio, which had been struggling of late and had been counting on “The Da Vinci Code” to boost its fortunes.

“This is starting out to be a very good year,” studio chief Amy Pascal said.

The animated film “Over the Hedge” had a strong showing with its $37.2 million as part of a counter-programming strategy from distributor Paramount Pictures. Although the opening was slightly low for a computer-animated family movie, the studio believes the film will hold its own next weekend as children have the Memorial Day holiday off.

“We thought we could very easily coexist with ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ and I think the numbers bear that out,” said Dan Harris, executive vice president at Paramount.

The Tom Cruise action film “Mission: Impossible III” crossed the $100 million mark in its third weekend with a total domestic box office take of $103 million.