As with "Angels & Demons," "The Da Vinci Code," Howard's first film adaptation of a Brown novel, tested the tolerance of the Catholic community. The book itself was slammed for being anti-Catholic.
Religious leaders objected to the novel's suggestion that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene created the Holy Grail and to its depiction of the Catholic organization Opus Dei as a secretive, violent sect that smothers the truth about Jesus.
Even before the film opened, the Vatican launched a PR campaign against it, with Archbishop Angelo Amato calling for a boycott of the movie. Opus Dei requested that Howard and Sony Pictures add a disclaimer to the beginning of "The Da Vinci Code" stating it was a work of fiction.
Howard affirmed the movie was based on fiction, as Brown never claimed his novel to be pure history, but refused to honor Opus Dei's request, telling the Los Angeles Times, "Spy thrillers don't start off with disclaimers."
In the end, the frenzy led to the third biggest movie opening of 2006. "The Da Vinci Code" made $77 million in its first weekend and went on to gross more than $750 million worldwide, setting the bar high for the box office success of "Angels & Demons."
But before the film hit theaters, he offended scores of people. Allegations of anti-Semitism swirled around the film after the Anti Defamation League obtained a copy of the script.
"For filmmakers to do justice to the biblical accounts of the passion, they must complement their artistic vision with sound scholarship, which includes knowledge of how the passion accounts have been used historically to disparage and attack Jews and Judaism," the ADL said in a statement. "Absent such scholarly and theological understanding, productions such as The Passion could likely falsify history and fuel the animus of those who hate Jews."
Movie critics also slammed the film's negative portrayal of Jews. In The Nation, reviewer Katha Pollitt wrote, "The priests have big noses and gnarly faces, lumpish bodies, yellow teeth. … The 'good Jews' look like Italian movie stars."
When asked by conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly if his movie would "upset Jews," Gibson responded, "It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible."
Gibson attempted to turn the tide of criticism against "The Passion of the Christ" by holding private screenings for politically and socially conservative Christian and Jewish religious leaders, a move that generated its own share of negative press.
But in the end, it all added up to sizeable profits for a film so controversial, it couldn't get backing from a major studio. After opening on Ash Wednesday, 2004, "The Passion of the Christ" made $84 million in its first weekend and went on to gross more than $600 million worldwide.
Combine religiously questionable themes with a child-heavy audience and controversy can spin out of control. The "Harry Potter" books and movies have spawned a mini-movement of conservative Christians concerned with the series' depictions of witchcraft and morality.
In 2006, the Vatican's chief exorcist condemned J. K. Rowling's fictional boy wizard as downright evil.