When God's got a role, someone's bound to get upset.
Last week, Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, accused Howard and "Angels & Demons" author Dan Brown of "smearing the Catholic Church with fabulously bogus tales" in a New York Daily News editorial.
Howard fought back this week via an article posted in The Huffington Post:
"Let me be clear: neither I nor 'Angels & Demons' are anti-Catholic. And let me be a little controversial: I believe Catholics, including most in the hierarchy of the Church, will enjoy the movie for what it is: an exciting mystery, set in the awe-inspiring beauty of Rome. After all, in 'Angels & Demons,' Professor Robert Langdon teams up with the Catholic Church to thwart a vicious attack against the Vatican. What, exactly, is anti-Catholic about that?"
His defense only stirred up Donahue, who rebutted Howard in a press release:
"Howard must be delusional if he thinks Vatican officials are going to like his propaganda -- they denied him the right to film on their grounds. Moreover, we know from a Canadian priest who hung out with Howard's crew last summer in Rome (dressed in civilian clothes) just how much they hate Catholicism. It's time to stop the lies and come clean."
Audiences will make the final call when "Angels & Demons" hits theaters May 15. But the feud between Howard and Donahue need not doom the film -- as past performances show, the free publicity from a religious controversy can benefit a movie's bottom line.
Below, ABCNews.com takes a look at four recent fiction-based films condemned by religious groups and how they fared at the box office:
On the surface, the pint-sized protagonist, frozen landscapes, talking polar bears and flying witches make 2007's "The Golden Compass" seem like little more than fantastical holiday fare.
But the film, co-starring Nicole Kidman and based on "His Dark Materials," a trilogy of books by self-proclaimed atheist Philip Pullman about a little girl on a quest to kill God, was of grave significance to Catholic advocates.
While New Line Cinema, the film's distributor, watered down the theme of the books for the big screen, critics argued that "The Golden Compass" would encourage movie-goers to buy Pullman's works.
"Our fear is the parents who don't know what's actually in these books and don't learn about it from the film may think [the books] are great stocking stuffers for their kids on Christmas morning," Kiera McCaffrey, the spokeswoman for the Catholic League, told ABC News at the time of the movie's release.
The Catholic League also called for a boycott of the film.
"Every single religious character is a terror in these books," McCaffrey said. "There isn't one who isn't. And the heroes of the book -- the children -- are taught that churches are all the same and that they obliterate good feelings."
Secular groups objected to New Line's treatment of "The Golden Compass" as well, saying it censored the message of freethinking in Pullman's writings, which he saw as a rebuttal to C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia."
Despite all the debate, or perhaps because of it, "The Golden Compass" was the No. 1 movie at the box office when it opened in December 2007, taking in $26 million in its first weekend. It ended up grossing $372 million worldwide.