Senior movie industry executives went on the offensive yesterday in defence of The Da Vinci Code after its mauling by the critics at the Cannes Film Festival.
Executives took the almost unheard-of step of speaking personally to the press to deliver initial box office results which indicate a strong public appetite for more Dan Brown, despite criticisms that the adaptation of his bestselling book was boring and baffling.
The estimated first weekend take for the thriller starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou is expected to be at least $175m (£94m), Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said on the basis of Friday and Saturday's figures.
The film set box office records in Italy, taking €2m (£1.4m), nearly double that country's previous top hit, the Oscar-winning Holocaust drama Life is Beautiful.
This was despite calls from the Vatican to boycott the film for claiming that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and produced children whose descendants survive to the present day.
The movie also enjoyed the most successful opening weekend ever in Spain and came second only to Spider-Man in Brazil.
It is set to be among the top five most successful openings in countries as diverse as Denmark, Taiwan, Chile and Belgium. The response in the UK had been "excellent," he said.
The only major market where the film has yet to be released is India where it has not yet received certification amid fierce protests over the content.
Mr Blake said: "We have enough figures to be pretty confident that we are going to be one of the biggest worldwide openings ever.
"It will be at least $175m. That would put us in the top 10 and make us the biggest non-sequel opening of all time," he said.
The third in George Lucas's Star Wars epic had the most successful opening weekend of all time, taking nearly $254m, followed by the third in the Harry Potter franchise and films including The Matrix sequels. The most successful one-off movie until now has been War of the Worlds in seventh place on $167m. For blockbusters, opening weekends can be crucial in indicating likely long-term revenues.
Mr Blake insisted that an overview of the critics showed support as well as condemnation for the movie which is believed to have cost $125m to make.
"The week began with the Cannes Film Festival and the critical reaction and the week is ending with the people. They have spoken and decided that, in the light of all the comments and the controversy and the criticism, this was a film they wanted to see badly."
He insisted the film was "absolutely" everything they had hoped it would be. "I defer to Dan Brown on this. He said it was a thrill for him to see his book brought to the screen and it was a thrill for us to do it."
Elsewhere at the Cannes festival this weekend, Al Gore, the former American vice-president, was promoting An Inconvenient Truth, a film based on his campaigning talks warning of the dangers of global warning.
BBC Films announced a slate of projects including King Kong star Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises, a thriller to be shot in London's East End by the director David Cronenberg. Catherine Zeta Jones is to appear with Guy Pearce in Death Defying Acts, about the life of escapologist Houdini.
'The only mystery is why this film is so bad'
* RICHARD BACON in The People
Headline: Seek the truth? OK. This is rubbish.
This is a long, boring, badly made film. The main characters are under-developed, the script is laughable, there's no tension, no thrills and no way it'll match up to your hopes."
* CHRIS TOOKEY in the Daily Mail
Headline: The only mystery is why this film is so bad.
"The reason it fails is not that it's shocking or blasphemous, but that it's boring. The job of a thriller is to thrill; this one doesn't."
* ANTHONY QUINN in The Independent
Headline: More dog's dinner than Last Supper
"The Da Vinci Code is nothing more than an elaborate treasure hunt pasted with lashings of Catholic doctrine, ritual and iconography. It sets itself a spurious "puzzle" and pro- ceeds to solve it, slowly ... like someone who's forgotten the combination on their bicycle lock and tries one sequence after another."
* TIM ROBEY in The Daily Telegraph
Headline: What's the Latin for balderdash?
"The Da Vinci Code is not a film at all, but an ingeniously marketed multimedia hoax with the sole intent of separating unsuspecting viewers from their cash. Like most of [director Ron] Howard's films, this is a stiff inhabited by stiffs, several of them not even meant to be dead."
* DEREK MALCOLM in London's Evening Standard
Headline: What is Da point?
"In the main, the film either plods faithfully along or indulges in spurts of melodrama that even a saint might find incredible. It seems to hang like a limpet on the weight of the book, without finding a style to suit itself."Reuse content