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"Angels & Demons" flies high at box office (Reuters)

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Tom Hanks religious thriller "Angels & Demons" took the No. 1 spot at the weekend box office in North America after selling a respectable $48.0 million of tickets, its distributor said on Sunday, trailing its much-hyped predecessor "The Da Vinci Code."

Box office pundits had expected the latest movie to open in the $40 million to $50 million range, and Columbia Pictures said it was thrilled with the result.

In 2006, "The Da Vinci Code" opened to $77 million on its way to a domestic haul of $217.5 million. It was even bigger internationally, earning $540.7 million.

Both films are based on best-selling books by Dan Brown. But Columbia said the first book sold twice as many copies as the second one, a clear indication that the second movie would not match the first. The first film also generated a firestorm of controversy with its assertion that Jesus was married.

Hanks returns as a Harvard professor on a mission to save the papacy, and director Ron Howard is also back. The films have one other thing in common: Critics hated both, the new one a little less.

"Angels & Demons" also earned $104.3 million from 96 countries, which Columbia said was the biggest international opening for a film since "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" last year. Columbia is a unit of Sony Corp.

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