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Da Vinci: Bucking the backlash
Could calls for a protest of "The Da Vinci Code" hurt the film's chances for big bucks at the box office?
By Paul R. La Monica, senior writer

This is an updated version of a story that originally appeared on May 10.

NEW YORK ( -- Apparently there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Audrey Tatou and Tom Hanks star in
Audrey Tatou and Tom Hanks star in "The Da Vinci Code." The movie, based on the bestselling novel, is expected to be one of the biggest hits of the summer but some religious organizations have called for a boycott.
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Do you plan to see "The Da Vinci Code" movie in theaters?
  • Yes...albino monks couldn't keep me away
  • No...I could care less about the "sacred feminine"
  • Not sure yet...I'm waiting for the reviews

"Mission: Impossible III" had a less than spectacular opening weekend earlier this month, pulling in about $48 million at the box office. Many Hollywood insiders were predicting a take of at least $60 million and the movie was expected to be the first of several sure-fire hits that would lead to a big summer movie season.

Many industry pundits blamed the movie's subpar performance on star Tom Cruise's peculiar off-screen antics, such as his vocal support for Scientology, a verbal dressing down of "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer about the history of psychiatry and a somewhat creepy relationship with actress (and now his baby momma) Katie Holmes.

Who buys an ultrasound machine? Really.

With that in mind, could another supposedly "can't miss" box office smash of the summer face some trouble?

"The Da Vinci Code," the adaptation of the highly successful, but also extremely controversial, novel about a Harvard symbologist's search for the Holy Grail (not to be confused with the Monty Python comedy...Ni! Ni!), was released on May 19.

A Catholic boycott?

Sure, the film's stars aren't generating bad press but the novel's plot (SPOILER ALERT for the four of you who haven't read the book...the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene and the novel claims that she married Jesus Christ and had his child) has raised the ire of many religious leaders.

Protests of the film have taken place worldwide, including at the Cannes Film Festival in France, where the film premiered earlier this week to mostly tepid reviews.

Monsignor Angelo Amato, a high-ranking official with the Vatican, said at a conference in Rome last month that he hoped Catholics and other Christians boycott the film. And Italy's Interior Ministry also recently removed a poster for the movie that was on the scaffolding of a church in Rome after receiving complaints from clergymen.

Another high profile organization called Movieguide, which describes itself on its Web site as "a ministry dedicated to redeeming the values of the mass media according to biblical principles," is also urging a boycott of the movie. The Web site also features an online petition to protest the film.

Could a boycott actually work? To be sure, people should not underestimate the power of organized religion.

Earlier this year, NBC wound up pulling the plug on TV show "The Book of Daniel," which featured among other things, a Vicodin-addicted priest. The show was criticized by several religious leaders and wound up generating poor ratings.

But "Da Vinci" is not a mid-season replacement TV show. The book has sold over 40 million copies. Presumably, many of those readers are eagerly awaiting the release of the film.

"People are big fans of the book and will go see the movie. That will outweigh any criticism about religious aspects of the film," said Michael Coristine, an entertainment analyst with Brandimensions, a research firm that measures consumer opinion based on online buzz from blogs, message boards and other Internet sources.

Coristine said that his firm also looked at posts from many religious Web sites and based on his firm's research, there is more curiosity about the film than anger about its topic.

Hanks and Howard outweigh religious concerns

Plus, there are some pretty big names attached to the movie as well. Star Tom Hanks is kind of the anti-Cruise, a loveable Everyman who's not likely to polarize audiences. He hasn't jumped on any couches professing his love for Rita Wilson lately.

And Ron Howard, the director of the film, is another guy who is well-liked by audiences and has a strong Hollywood track record.

"It definitely helps that Tom Hanks and Ron Howard have this all-American persona," said Chad Hartigan, a box office analyst with Reel Source, a Los Angeles-based movie research firm. "It creates a little bit of a safer vibe around the movie."

Hartigan said he expects "Da Vinci" to have a bigger opening weekend than "M:I3." He added that an encouraging sign for Sony (Research), the movie's distributor, is the fact that the film has been gaining more buzz among younger filmgoers during the past few weeks.

"Films that just bring in an adult audience usually don't open with blockbuster numbers but it has been picking up steam with teens as well," Hartigan said.

Even Opus Dei, the Catholic institution that is featured prominently in the book (mostly in a negative light), seems to realize that a boycott probably won't be a success.

Opus Dei is not calling for a boycott of the film but it has asked Sony to add a disclaimer that clearly labels the film a work of fiction. Sony has refused to do so. The organization also goes through great lengths on its Web site to point out what it believes are misconceptions and inaccuracies in "The Da Vinci Code."

Brian Finnerty, the U.S. spokesperson for Opus Dei, said he's read the book and plans on seeing the film. He added that the success of the novel and the buzz that the movie is receiving could work in Opus Dei's favor.

"Our overall strategy is to turn lemons into lemonade," he said. "We are concerned about the movie but we are continuing to try and use the attention to talk about the reality of the Catholic Church and the reality of Opus Dei."

So yes, Hollywood may have missed the boat on just how many moviegoers actively dislike Tom Cruise. But it doesn't look like a surprise religious backlash is going to put a big dent in "The Da Vinci Code."


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The Da Vinci Code
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