Jose Padilha's controversial Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite) logged the biggest opening weekend for a Brazilian film this year.

The portrait of police corruption sold around 178.000 tickets - 40% up on the next most seen local film of 2007, A Grande Familia. Elite Squad grossed about $970,000 (BRL 1.7m).

The performance was particularly strong given that the film opened earlier than planned only in Sao Paulo and Rio because of piracy.

Elite Squad has already been seen by an estimated 1.5 million people, who bought illegal DVD copies before its release on the streets. The release date was brought forward to prevent further piracy which meant missing out on a television advertising campaign.

'We were very worried about the piracy, but in the end the opening exceeded our expectations in 30%,'' says director of Paramount Pictures Brasil, Cesar Silva.

He added that no other local film from recent years has managed to get the same result without advertising on TV.

Elite Squad will open wide this Friday into 300 Brazilian venues. Outside Brazil and Latin America, the rights were sold to The Weinstein Co, which has scheduled the film release in US for January.

Distributed by Universal in Latin America, the film will reach the Spanish-speaking audiences in March-May period. In Mexico and Argentina the release date is the end of March.

Not even City of God (2002) has generated such buzz before reaching the screens.

Since its shooting, Elite Squad has fueled a debate about Rio's war on drugs and drug legalisation. What makes the film unique is not just the cops perspective (which is rare in Brazilian cinema) but the point that the movie makes: if there weren't so many consumers there wouldn't be any drug dealers.

Wagner Moura plays a captain tired of the criminal reality, proving again that his talent had been wasted on TV. In Brazil the actor is most known for his work on Globo soaps.

Produced by Zazen Produções, this US$5m action film is the second film and the first feature by Padilha, who won more then 20 awards for Bus 174, a documentary about a bus that was hijacked in front of TV troops who broadcast the episode live.

Elite Squad'sscript was written by Padilha, Bráulio Mantovani (City of God) and Rodrigo Pimentel, a former Rio police officer.

Pimentel is one of the authors of the book that inspired the film: A Elite da Tropa, that narrates the daily routine of the BOPE (Rio de Janeiro Military Police Special Unit).

Both book and film enraged the police unit, that even tried to stop the movie's release in court, concerned about the 'integrity' of BOPE - described as a 'killing machine''.