Box Office: 'Noah' Sets Sail to an OK $1.6 Million Thursday Night in U.S.; Soars in Russia

8:20 AM PST 03/28/2014 by Pamela McClintock

UPDATED: In Russia on Thursday, Darren Aronofsky's controversial biblical epic scored the fourth-biggest opening day of all time for a nonholiday title.

Paramount and New Regency's big-budget Noah set sail at the North American box office Thursday night, grossing a decent $1.6 million.

Overseas, Noah generated huge numbers in Russia on Thursday, grossing $2.6 million to nab the fourth-biggest opening day of all time for a nonholiday title. Overall, the movie has already grossed $22 million in its first week from Mexico, South Korea, Australia and Russia. By Friday, it will be playing in a total of 22 markets.

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Testing the appetite for biblical spectacles, Darren Aronofsky's darker take on the Old Testament prophet hopes to play both to mainstream moviegoers and faith-based audiences.

Noah's Thursday night take was behind the $3.3 million grossed by recent ancient action pic, 300: Rise of an Empire, which went on to earn $45 million for the weekend.

Noah came in ahead of the $1.1 million grossed by Christian film Son of God on its opening Thursday night. That film, exclusively targeting faith-based consumers, grossed $25.6 million in its first weekend in late February.

Paramount noted that Thursday's gross was ahead of the $1.4 million earned by Gravity on Thursday night.

Box office observers are divided over Noah's potential this weekend, although most believe it will cross $35 million in its North American launch in 3,400 theaters. Paramount and New Regency, which co-financed the $125 million-plus epic, are being more conservative, saying $30 million to $33 million.

PHOTOS: 'Noah's' Berlin Premiere: Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth Flood the Red Carpet

Noah, starring Russell Crowe in the title role, is designed to play both as a mainstream tentpole and as a faith-based offering. Whether it can accomplish the latter in North America is the big question.

If it does attract the faith-based crowd -- a lucrative demo -- in big numbers, Noah could surprise. A potential competitor, however, is Christian film God's Not Dead, which opened to a stellar $9.2 million from less than 800 theaters last weekend. The film is expected to increase its theater count on Friday.

Paramount has gone to great lengths to appease concerns among religious leaders and church organizations about the tone of the film. The studio agreed to tweak its marketing campaign in recent weeks to say that Noah -- which has a strong environmental component -- is inspired by the story of Noah and the Ark, versus being a literal retelling.

STORY: Rough Seas on 'Noah': Darren Aronofsky Opens Up on the Biblical Battle to Woo Christians (and Everyone Else)

Overall, older moviegoers are expressing the most interest in seeing Noah, according to prerelease tracking. If that prediction holds, Paramount believes the movie will have strong legs, since adults tend not to rush out on opening weekend. The film sported a 76 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of Thursday afternoon.

Noah also stars Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth.

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