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(USA TODAY) What if you could get the pope to endorse your movie? Could there be better publicity?

But it was not to be for Russell Crowe and the makers of his new big-budget Bible epic, Noah, which doesn't open until next week but is already being criticized in much of the Muslim world and among some American Christians.

Instead, Crowe was just another pilgrim among 80,000 in St. Peter's Square at Pope Francis' general audience in the Vatican today. Crowe was spotted in the VIP section but was too far back to reach Pope Francis.

Crowe and the filmmakers, including director Darren Aronofsky, lobbied hard for a papal thumbs-up and a photo-op to bless their re-imagining of the flood story.

Crowe even tweeted about it last month: "Holy Father @pontifex, it would be my deepest pleasure to bring the @darrenAronofsky film to you to screen. That this may happen Inshallah."

But the Vatican turned them down, according to the Associated Press.

The film has already been banned in much of the Muslim world because of how it depicts the prophet, and some American Christians also complain it takes too many liberties with the Biblical account of Noah and the ark.

Pope Francis has been generally reluctant to endorse movies for publicity, although he did make an exception recently when he met with Philomena Lee and the makers of the Oscar-nominated (and Catholic-related) film Philomena during a recent general audience.

But the Vatican is sensitive to the Muslim world at the moment — the pope is traveling to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories soon — so possibly he's concerned about blessing a film that might offend Muslim viewers.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the AP in an e-mail that the request from Noah's producers for a private audience was immediately turned down. Lombardi also said there was no scheduled "meet and greet" after today's general audience, when VIPs can sometimes get a quick word with the pope. Today's audience drew an estimated crowd of 80,000.

Although he didn't get what he wanted, Crowe was thrilled anyway, according to his tweets today.

"Ciao Roma, my love for your eternal light just grows deeper. Thank you holy father@Pontifex for the blessing," he tweeted.

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