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'Night at the Museum' Tops Box Office for Third Straight Week

Museum crowds are strong at movie theaters.

Ben Stiller's "Night at the Museum" took in $24 million to stay on top at the box office for a third straight weekend, fending off a soft crop of newcomers during the post-holiday lull.

"Night at the Museum," from 20th Century Fox, raised its three-week domestic total to $164.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. Will Smith's "The Pursuit of Happyness," from Sony, finished second again with $13 million to raise its total to $124.2 million.

Expanding from its Christmas debut in a handful of theaters, Universal's thriller "Children of Men" led the new wide releases, coming in at No. 3 with $10.3 million. The film stars Clive Owen and Julianne Moore in a tale of a near future in which humanity faces extinction because of infertility.

Debuting in fourth with $9.7 million was Paramount's drama "Freedom Writers," starring Hilary Swank as an idealistic teacher who uses writing journals and exercises in tolerance to inspire her class of racially divided teens.

Lionsgate's animated comedy "Happily N'Ever After," a fairy-tale farce featuring the voices of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sigourney Weaver, opened at No. 6 with $6.8 million.

New Line's "Code Name: The Cleaner," a comedy with Cedric the Entertainer as a janitor who thinks he's a spy, premiered out of the top 10, coming in at No. 11 with $4.6 million.

Films competing for Academy Awards attention did well as they expanded to more theaters, including Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal," which took in $1.1 million in just 93 theaters. The film stars Judi Dench as a teacher preying on a colleague ( Cate Blanchett) having an affair with a student.

Hollywood started off 2007 well, with overall grosses for the first week of the year at $273 million, up 10 percent from the same period last year, according to box-office tracker Media By Numbers.

"This is a reflection of the fact that 2006 ended rather strongly" with "Night at the Museum," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers. "So it's not surprising that 2007 would start on a positive note."

With a family-friendly PG rating plus a lot of appeal for adults without children, "Night at the Museum" is pulling in audiences of all ages.

"It plays from 8 to 80, and it plays from Maine to Maui," said Chris Aronson, senior vice president for distribution at 20th Century Fox. "It's one of those across-the-board hits that pleases everybody who sees it."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Night at the Museum," $24 million.

2. "The Pursuit of Happyness," $13 million.

3. "Children of Men," $10.3 million.

4. "Freedom Writers," $9.7 million.

5. "Dreamgirls," $8.8 million.

6. "Happily N'Ever After," $6.8 million.

7. "Charlotte's Web," $6.6 million.

8. "The Good Shepherd," $6.5 million.

9. "Rocky Balboa," $6.3 million.

10. "We Are Marshall," $5.1 million.