"Noah," the controversial biblical epic starring Russell Crowe, topped the box office in its debut over the weekend, grossing $44 million in the U.S. and Canada and outselling "Divergent" and Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Sabotage."
The new film, which some criticized for deviating from the Bible upon which it is based, exceeded the projection that it would garner $41 million.
Paramount Pictures says that the $44 million weekend box office sales the film generated from 3,567 screens include $1.6 million from Thursday night preview shows. Paramount was expecting a $30-$33 million debut of the film that cost $125 million to produce.
"I was asked if the film has been a success in spite of the controversy or due to the controversy," Don Harris, president of domestic distribution at Paramount, told Bloomberg. "But movies work commercially because the movies themselves work. This film works as an epic."
Faith-based movie "Son of God" raised $25.6 million in its February debut.
Film analysts believe that "Noah" attracted a wider audience, and not just the religious, due to Hollywood touches given to the film by Director Darren Aronofsky.
"It certainly feels like the 'biggest' film of 2014," Tim Briody, analyst for Box Office Prophets, told USA Today.
"Noah" outsold "Divergent," which collected $26.5 million to place second in the U.S. and Canada, according to Rentrak Corp. "Sabotage" claimed seventh place with $5.3 million.
The audience of "Noah" was split evenly between men and women, and skewed older with 74 percent being above 25 years of age, according to Box Office Mojo.
The film was released after the National Religious Broadcasters and Paramount jointly announced that all future marketing materials for the film will add an explanatory message, saying, "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 of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."
Behind the move was an appeal by Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of NRB, "to help audiences better understand that the feature film is a dramatization of the major scriptural themes and not a line-by-line retelling of the Bible story," the two said in a statement.
"Because of the quality of the production and acting, viewers will enjoy watching main themes from the Noah story depicted in a powerful way on the big screen," Johnson said. "However, my intent in reaching out to Paramount with this request was to make sure everyone who sees this impactful film knows this is an imaginative interpretation of Scripture, and not literal."
Many people will watch the film, Johnson added. "Christians should be ready to engage with them about the main biblical themes that are portrayed in the film, namely sin, judgment, and salvation."
Weeks before the debut, creationist Ken Ham listed five ways the film deviates from the Bible.
One, Noah's family only consists of his wife, three sons, and one daughter-in-law, contrary to the Bible, Ham wrote in a blog post. Two, rock-like people (that seem to be fallen angels) build the Ark with Noah. Three, a wounded Tubal-Cain axes his way inside the Ark in only about 10 minutes, hides inside and then convinces Noah's middle son to lure Noah to the bottom of the Ark in order to murder him but the middle son has a change of heart and helps kill Tubal-Cain instead. Four, the movie has an over-the-top emphasis on environmentalism where animals are much more important than people. Five, Noah, who is portrayed as a very angry man, repeatedly told his family that they were the last generation and were never to procreate, and when his daughter-in-law became pregnant, he vowed to murder his own grandchild.