As expected by many (including myself), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian took the top spot away from Terminator Salvation on its first night. The sequel to the insanely leggy 2006 family favorite took in $15.3 million, while Terminator Salvation took in $14.8 million on its second day of release. For comparison, the first Night at the Museum took in $12.1 million on opening day, but it only managed an opening weekend of $30 million, since its first Sunday fell on the box office black hole known as Christmas Eve. From the looks of things, the three-day total will be around or above $45 million, putting this franchise right in line with the National Treasure series (the $35 million opening original gave way to a $45 million opening sequel). I'd just assume not speculate too much until the full weekend numbers are in. Family-driven matinees could absolutely explode over the weekend, leading to a three-day total well over $50 million (a 3.5x multiplier would give it $54 million for the three-day weekend). But this is a rock-solid, if not spectacular start for a film that most expected to place second for the weekend.
But with Saturday, Sunday, and Monday matinees now in play, Terminator Salvation is now doomed to come in second for the weekend. At this point, there is no reason to assume that it's not playing like and old-fashioned, adult-skewing hit that will peak on Saturday instead of opening day (think Indiana Jones 4 or King Kong). For example, the $14.8 million looks like only a token 11% uptick from its opening Thursday, if you take away the $3 million in midnight showings, then the Thursday to Friday bounce becomes a more impressive 35% increase. Tomato/tomata perhaps, but its too soon to write this one off quite yet (Saturday is this film's day of reckoning).
As of this moment, the two-day total is still right in line with the $28 million earned by Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and the former sequel had the advantage of opening in the middle of summer vacation (while this new sequel had the advantage of six years worth of inflation). By Monday, it should be sitting right around the $72 million that Terminator 3 earned over the five-day Fourth of July weekend. Those who are making negative comparisons to Fast & Furious should remember that the three-day total for T3 ($44 million) was still under the three-day opening weekend of 2 Fast 2 Furious ($50 million) in the summer of 2003.
For the record, I still think it was beyond stupid for Warner Bros. to open this one a day early. First of all, by splitting the opening day audience into two non-vacation days, you basically ended up with two middling box office days as opposed to one superior opening day. I'd imagine that WB would be more impressed with a $20-$25 million opening day that blew away Night at the Museum 2, as opposed to a $28 million two-day total. Second of all, the film isn't all that good, and the extra day has just given the general audiences one extra day to tell their friends as the weekend rolls on. I call this the 'Godzilla Rule': if your movie isn't all that good, do NOT open it early and allow bad word of mouth to spread prior to the Fri-Sun weekend (see also - Matrix Revolutions and Superman Returns).
For more Friday box office info, including how well Angels & Demons and Star Trek held up, go to Mendelson's Memos.
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