Holy box office.
Noah, the biblical epic starring Russell Crowe, sailed to the top at theaters this weekend, unseating Divergent after just one week at No. 1 and clobbering Sabotage, Arnold Schwarzenegger's third straight flop.
Noah cruised to $44 million, according to studio estimates from Rentrak.
Analysts expected $30 million from the film, the latest in a raft of religious-themed movies out this year. The Christian-themed Son of God ($57.9 million) and God's Not Dead ($22 million) eclipsed projections — and God's Not Dead remains in the top five. Heaven Is for Real (April 16) and Exodus (Dec. 12) remain on tap.
Analysts say that Noah's audience expanded beyond the religious because director Darren Aronofsky added plenty of Hollywood touches to give the $125 million picture the feel of a mainstream disaster flick.
"It certainly feels like the 'biggest' film of 2014," says Tim Briody, analyst for Box Office Prophets.
But how long its reign? Noah finds itself in rarefied air: a special-effects movie that pleases critics — but apparently not fans.
About three-fourths of reviewers gave the movie a thumbs-up, according to Rotten Tomatoes. But only 53% of moviegoers liked it, the site says. And the movie earned a C from pollsters CinemaScore, imperiling its long-run box office prospects.
Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo says that the movie may have alienated Christian audiences anticipating the film would hew closer to the Bible and not the "unexpected fantasy elements in the movie."
Still, Noah collected plenty to dethrone Divergent, which took second with $26.5 million. The best-seller adaptation has collected $95.3 million in 10 days, and two sequels are in the works.
Muppets Most Wanted claimed third with $11.4 million, followed by Mr. Peabody and Sherman with $9.5 million.
God's Not Dead was fifth with $9.1 million, marking another Hollywood rarity: two Christian-themed films in the top five.
Sabotage, Schwarzenegger's latest and the only other major newcomer of the weekend, claimed seventh place with $5.3 million, about $3 million below expectations. The film comes on the heels of two box-office disappointments last year: Escape Plan, which collected $25 million, and The Last Stand, which mustered only $12 million.
Final figures are due Monday.