LONDON — “Noah,” the biblical epic starring Russell Crowe, topped the box office in its debut this weekend, collecting $44 million for Viacom’s Paramount Pictures.

“Noah” outsold “Divergent,” the returning movie from Lions Gate Entertainment about teenage warriors, which collected $26.5 million to place second in U.S. and Canadian theaters, Rentrak said Sunday.

“Noah,” which cost $125 million to make, according to Box Office Mojo, follows the success of “Son of God,” a smaller, religious-themed production, which raised $25.6 million in its February debut.

The new movie won points with critics for its visual effects, while receiving some criticism for the artistic license taken with the biblical story.

“I was asked if the film has been a success in spite of the controversy or due to the controversy,” said Don Harris, president of domestic distribution at Paramount.

“But movies work commercially because the movies themselves work. This film works as an epic.”

He predicted a “very healthy number” for sales in the United States and Canada.

Crowe has the leading role as the man chosen by God to undertake a rescue mission before an apocalyptic flood destroys the world. Anthony Hopkins stars as Noah’s grandfather Methuselah and Jennifer Connelly plays his wife. Ray Winstone and Emma Watson also are featured.

“‘Noah’ is less an epic than a horror movie,” wrote A.O. Scott in The New York Times. “There are some big, noisy battle scenes and some whiz-bang computer-generated images, but the dominant moods are claustrophobia and incipient panic.”

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