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Monday, May 25, 2009

'Night at the Museum 2' bests 'Terminator Salvation' with $70m bow, May 22-25, 2009

Though this Memorial Day weekend didn't have the wow factor of last year's $126 million Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull bow, or even better 2007's $139.8 million Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End debut, the weekend's two heavyweights Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Terminator Salvation posted strong openings, helping the box office equal the total of last year's holiday frame.

The consensus among analysts was a tight victory for Fox's big budget Night at the Museum, but the sequel blew away even those lofty predictions with a huge $70 million four-day bow, outpacing Salvation by over $16 million and averaging an impressive $17,090 from Friday to Monday from an ultrawide 4,096 theaters. Over the three day frame the Ben Stiller pic took in $53.5 million.

The sequel to Fox's $574 million grossing comedy blockbuster Night at the Museum, Battle of the Smithsonian's $53.5 million Friday-Sunday haul was the biggest live-action debut ever for star Ben Stiller, surpassing the $46m debut of 2004's Meet the Fockers. His career best is still last winter's animated Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, which bowed with $63.1 million.

The original Night at the Museum debuted over the Christmas frame of 2006, opening over the four-day holiday frame with $42.2 million on its way to $250.9m domestic and $574m worldwide. Budgeted at a hefty $150 million, this latest family comedy will face stiff competition next weekend in the form of Pixar's computer-animated comedy Up. Internationally, Smithsonian hauled in an additional $50 million, giving the PG-rated pic a huge $120 million global launch.

Debuting in second with what was certainly a very disappointing $53.8 million four-day bow was Warner's massively-expensive sequel Terminator Salvation. Directed by McG, the $200 million budgeted sci-fi actioner averaged $15,248 in 3,530 theaters.

With buzz seemingly strong given the Springtime hoopla surrounding Christian Bale's on-set meltdown, as well as the strength of the sci-fi franchise itself, many thought Terminator Salvation had the makings of one of the summer's surefire blockbusters. But poor reviews (34% on Rottentomatoes.com) and a surprisingly huge weekend from top competitor Night at the Museum doomed the film's hopes of a record weekend.

Instead, the film finished below its 2003 predecessor Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which took in $72.4 million over its first five days of release compared with the $67.2 million haul for Salvation (which includes Thursday-Monday numbers). Over the Friday-to-Sunday frame Salvation managed just $43 million.

The film's massive price tag was split by Warner Bros., who is handling the film's domestic release, and Sony, which owns the rights to the international market.

The curious choice of handing over the reigns of their Terminator franchise to McG, whose most notable films to date have been the two Charlie's Angels movies, will surely be wondered about for the remainder of the summer. And unless the film generates Oscar-worthy word of mouth, don't expect Salvation to come close to recouping its gigantic budget on the domestic side.

The only other wide-release debut this weekend came from Paramount's spoof comedy Dance Flick, which took in $13.1 million over the holiday frame, averaging $5,347 in 2,450 theaters.

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