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Night at the Museum 2 triumphs over Memorial Day - Huff Post weekend box office in review (05/25/09)

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As expected, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian pulled a rock-solid 3.49x multiplier over its three-day Fri-Sun weekend, grossing $54.1 million. The four-day gross is $70 million. This is a big win for a sequel that most underestimated, not remembering that the first film grossed a whopping $250 million in the US, which tops any X-Men, James Bond, Terminator, Star Trek, Bourne, or Superman picture to date. That initial film opened over Christmas weekend. It had the advantage of arriving right in the middle of Christmas vacation, but had the disadvantage of having its third day occur on the dreaded Christmas Eve. It ended up grossing $30 million over three days and $42 million over four days. It took the first Night at the Museum just over six days to reach the $70 million mark. Like the most successful family films, this sequel had its smallest day on its opening day. To wit, its first four days were - $15.5 million, $20 million, $18..5 million, and a Monday gross of $15.8 million. The biggest single day gross for Night at the Museum was $13.7 million on December 30th, 2006.

Now no one expects this sequel to have the kind of legs that the original had. Quite frankly, December releases are infamous for their long legs. Only in December can a $10 million opening weekend can still net you $90 million if the film is good enough (The Emperor's New Groove in December 2000) or where a $5-6 million opening weekend just before Christmas still get you over the $50 million mark (Sabrina, Mouse Hunt). But still, in this day and age, a $30 million opener going on to cross $200 million without being an actual cultural phenomenon is a rare thing (Cast Away was another freak occurrence over Christmas 2000).

But this boffo opening weekend for Battle of the Smithsonian gives the sequel a little breathing room for the usual quick-kill nature of summer sequels. A mere 3x weekend-to-total gives the film $210 million (using the four-day $70 million total). Even if it performs like the likely 2/3 track of Angels Vs. Demons (which is currently running a bit under 2/3 the pace of The Da Vinci Code), that still gives the film a domestic total of $167 million and an international total of $383 million. The biggest obstacles are the next two weekends, as two powerhouse family projects make their move. Next weekend brings Disney/Pixar's Up and the weekend after that is the Universal Will Ferrell comedy adventure Land of the Lost. If the Ben Stiller vehicle can weather the storm, and the IMAX screens will help with that, then this could easily be a $200 million performer. This is especially true if Up ends up being too depressing for parents and Land of the Lost ends up being too PG-13-y for younger kids. All of this is pure speculation, but one can only speculate in a summer filled with so few sure things.

I've written at length about Terminator Salvation, but the new five-day total is officially $65.3 million. For the record, this is not even close to a flop, but merely a much-too expensive picture that won't measure up to somewhat inflated expectations. (Mis) casting Christian Bale was not enough to make up for the lack of the series's marquee name and this series was not one that justified the $200 million investment. Furthermore, nothing against McG, but Warner Bros. should not have hired a director that was so loathed (fairly or not) by the core geek community. Heck, at least bringing Jonathan Mostow back would have maintained some series continuity. Most importantly, this was a film that should have cost $150 million tops.

The Terminator series has always been a vaguely cult-ish sci-fi property. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the exception to the rule, due to a killer trailer, its groundbreaking special effects, and its opening right as Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the peak of his fame (he was coming off the crowd-pleasing trio of Twins, Total Recall, and Kindergarten Cop). But because they allowed the budget to spiral past $200 million, a moderately OK box office performance becomes a potential disaster. I've said this a lot and it's worth repeating... studios have to stop spending so much on their major franchise pictures that each and everyone has to all-but break records just to break even. It's easy to applaud Warner Bros. when they throw unlimited funds at The Dark Knight or Harry Potter, and its easy to beat them up when they do the same for Speed Racer or Poseidon. But this is an industry-wide problem. DVDs aren't going to save you anymore and you can't always count on a doubling or tripling of the domestic gross overseas.

Anyway, moving on, Star Trek continued to prove me dead wrong with another below-50% dip in weekend three (the 3-day to 3-day weekend drop was 46.8%). Direct competition with Terminator Salvation prevented the film from equaling last weekend's three day take over the four-day weekend, but its four-day $29.3 million take (and $22 million three-day take) pushed its total to $191 million. Alas, it will have to wait a day or two at most to overtake Monsters Vs. Aliens ($193.7 million) as the year's highest grossing film. It's still petering out a little quicker than the word of mouth and general audience excitement would account for, but next weekend will be the one of reckoning. If it holds up, it'll make it to $250 million+ and become the inflation-adjusted highest-grossing Star Trek picture of all time (that would be the $235 million adjusted gross for Star Trek: The Motion Picture). If it crumbles, it'll stop dead at a still terrific $225 million. Either way, Paramount is playing long term with this franchise, so the sky is the limit for the eventual sequel.

Angels & Demons dropped a disturbing 53% in its second three-day weekend (40.7% if you count all four days). Still, the original film dropped a larger 55%, but this sequel is still pulling in the expected 2/3 business of The Da Vinci Code. No surprises here, although I'm sure that Sony would have preferred a $100 million+ gross for the end of the second weekend, but $87.5 million isn't so bad. This will cross $100 million next weekend and probably has another $30 million left (especially as Sony is stupidly releasing the adult-thriller June alternative, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 in two weeks). Not a major performance, but (as expected) the international numbers are coming to the rescue. The eleven-day international total is already $286 million.

Dance Movie opened to $12.62 million over four days. I couldn't care less, and you probably don't either. Moving on (for a spoof that actually feels like a 1980s ZAZ comedy, try Superhero Movie). X-Men Origins: Wolverine posted another 45.1% three-day to three-day weekend drop in its fourth weekend. Its $8 million three-day and $9.9 million four-day took the picture over the $165 million mark. It'll crap out at $180 million, and the international business is doing just fine. The current international total, not counting this weekend's overseas gross, is $310 million. Ironically, for all the insane circumstances surrounding this movie's production and release (amazing how Fox never found whomever leaked that bootleg), this one pretty much did the business that it was always likely going to do. It was never going to play like Iron Man or even a top-flier X-Men sequel, and it was lucky that it didn't end up like a Hulk film. I still can't wait for the director's commentary on the DVD/Blu Ray.

And that's pretty much all the news that's fit to print. Join us next weekend when Up makes the obligatory $50-70 million over opening weekend and Sam Raimi returns to horror with the ridiculous (but often ridiculously fun) Drag Me To Hell.

Scott Mendelson