LOS ANGELES – "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" claimed a box office victory over "Terminator Salvation."
The live-action family comedy starring Ben Stiller won $70 million over the Memorial Day weekend, according to estimates from distributor 20th Century Fox. That put it well ahead of the first "Night at the Museum" movie, which had a $30.4 million three-day opening in December 2006.
"It's blown away our expectations," said Chris Aronson, senior vice president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox. "We've nearly doubled the opening of the first 'Night at the Museum.' It's an incredibly strong No. 1 that beats out 'Terminator,' which I think most people thought would win the weekend."
"Terminator Salvation" pulled in $53.8 million over the four-day holiday weekend — plus $13.4 million on opening day Thursday — bringing the post-apocalyptic action film starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington to a total of $67.2 million since debuting, according to distributor Warner Bros.
With a three-day total of $43 million, that puts the fourth movie in the "Terminator" series behind "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," the last of the franchise's installments to star Arnold Schwarzenegger. The third chapter took in $44 million in its first weekend in 2003.
"I think people expected it to be No. 1 because of that 'Terminator' name alone," said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com. "If you look at it objectively though, it's a sci-fi action film that played to an older audience. It didn't have the broad based appeal of 'Night at the Museum."'
Paramount's "Star Trek" held up well with $29.4 million, warping down to the No. 3 spot but raising its total to $191 million. The sci-fi franchise reboot directed by J.J. Abrams is on the verge of becoming the year's top-grossing movie so far, approaching the $193.5 million gross of DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters vs. Aliens."
"'Star Trek' is living long and prospering," said Dergarabedian. "It's just one of those movies we knew would hold up. People are enjoying it and talking about it. It's unusual for a summer blockbuster to be propelled by word of mouth, not just the typical marketing push for a big opening weekend. I think it's going to continue to do well week after week."
The previous weekend's No. 1 movie, Sony's "Angels & Demons," fell to fourth place with $27.7 million, lifting its domestic haul to $87.8 million.
On the whole, it was another strong weekend of business at movie theaters, which have been drawing large crowds throughout the recession. Dergarabedian pegs the year-to-date attendance at a nearly 12 percent increase over last year. The top Memorial Day weekend at the box office remains 2007, which featured the third installments of "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Shrek" and "Spider-Man."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Monday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Tuesday.
1. "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," $70 million.
2. "Terminator Salvation," $53.8 million.
3. "Star Trek," $29.4 million.
4. "Angels & Demons," $27.7 million.
5. "Dance Flick," $13.1 million.
6. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," $10.1 million.
7. "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," $4.8 million.
8. "Obsessed," $2.5 million.
9. "Monsters vs. Aliens," $1.9 million.
10. "17 Again," $1.3 million.