'Angels and Demons' Tops Box Office ... Barely

"Angels & Demons" came out on top by the weekend's end but only beat out Paramount Pictures' "Star Trek" by a few million.

In its opening weekend, the sequel to "The Da Vinci Code" pulled in $48 million – just $5 million more than "Star Trek," which raked in $75.2 million the weekend before.

The figure was far less than "The Da Vinci Code," which hit theaters in 2006 with a $77.1 million opening, but studio executives at Sony expect the film to eventually take in a half a billion altogether in theatrical release.

"That chemistry [of actor Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard] worked incredibly well with 'Da Vinci' and it looks like it's absolutely headed in that same vein, certainly on a lesser scale," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony, according to The Associate Press. "We never expected anything to the phenomenon of `Da Vinci.'"

Though the reviews for "Angels & Demons" were slightly better than those for "The Da Vinci Code," the latest Dan Brown adaptation had a lot less hype than the first converted bestseller.

"The Da Vinci Code" had riled Catholic conservatives around the world for asserting the alleged relationship between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene as the "greatest cover-up in human history" and for vilifying the Catholic group Opus Dei as a secretive cult – a depiction that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced as "deeply abhorrent."

In the movie's sequel, however, it is the Catholic Church that protagonist Robert Langdon (played by Hanks) is working to defend, and the group suspected of trying to destroy Vatican City is one, unlike Opus Dei, that is no longer operating today.

"In 'The Da Vinci Code,' there were serious issues, such as who Jesus Christ was or the nature of church in the course of history, but none of them is taken in 'Angels & Demons,'" noted Father John Wauck, an Opus Dei priest who teaches history and literature at Holy Cross University in Rome.

"It's simply, you know, a thriller," he told CNN.

In a review of the movie published two days after the world premiere of "Angels & Demons," the semi-official Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano described the movie as "harmless entertainment" that "hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity."

In a more scathing review, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League called the move "so spectacularly stupid that it blunts its anti-Catholic elements."

"In the end ... director Ron Howard turned out to be a blessing: his melodramatic characterization, and positively James Bondish type absurdities, have the effect of undercutting Dan Brown's malicious portrayal of Catholicism," he stated Friday.

Angels & Demons was Brown's first of two best-sellers, and second of four novels – the best selling ones having focused on secret religious groups and the others on agencies of the U.S. government.

His fifth book, expected to hit bookstores on Sept. 15, is rumored to involve Freemasons and the Kryptos sculpture on the grounds of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.