Weekend Box Office (May 22 - 25, 2009)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Fox won the holiday battle of the sequels as the adventure comedy Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian debuted at number one over the long Memorial Day frame easily outgunning its rival, the Warner Bros. sci-fi actioner Terminator Salvation, which opened in second place. Holdovers fared well as the Top 20 films pulled in $217M from 30 million tickets sold virtually matching last year's holiday weekend.

Moviegoers lined up for Ben Stiller who enjoyed the best live-action opening of his career with his second Night at the Museum film which collected a hefty $70.1M, according to final studio figures, over the Friday-to-Monday holiday session. The Fox sequel averaged a muscular $17,103 over four days from an ultrawide 4,096 locations including Imax venues with higher-priced tickets. The PG-rated film banked an impressive $54.2M over the Friday-to-Sunday period for a stellar $13,226 average.

Unlike Salvation, Smithsonian built upon the opening of its predecessor. In December 2006, the first Museum bowed to $42.2M over its four-day Christmas holiday debut on its way to a $250.9M domestic haul and sensational $574M global gross. Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and director Shawn Levy all returned for the new Washington DC-set installment while new faces included Amy Adams and Hank Azaria.

Fox is riding high this year as both of its summer sequels, Smithsonian and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, debuted at number one and are each likely to cross $175M. Add in the $140M+ grosses of the sleeper hit Taken, Christmas holdover Marley & Me, and Oscar champ Slumdog Millionaire from indie unit Fox Searchlight and the studio has delivered fantastic results at the box office over the past six months and hopes to keep the momentum going in 2009 with its third Ice Age toon over Independence Day weekend plus James Cameron's Avatar in mid-December and Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel on Christmas Day.

Internationally, the new Night at the Museum invaded most major territories and grossed $50M over the weekend for a $120M global launch.

Coming in second for the long weekend was Terminator Salvation which grossed $51.9M over four days and $65.3M since its early launch on Thursday. Directed by McG, the Warner Bros. release averaged $14,715 from 3,530 locations. Over the Friday-to-Sunday span, Salvation grossed $42.6M averaging $12,056.

The debut was slightly disappointing considering the expanded holiday box office and the large fan base of the popular sci-fi franchise. The new installment's gross came in below the opening of the last film in the series, 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which launched over the Fourth of July holiday weekend with an extended tally of $72.4M over its five-day Wednesday-to-Sunday opening. That take was boosted by Tuesday night previews starting at 8pm, but Friday sales were hampered by the Independence Day holiday which always cuts into moviegoing because of outdoor activities. The T3 figure would be about $88M at today's higher ticket prices putting Salvation a troubling 26% behind in admissions when comparing the extended holiday openings. Machines starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, was rated R, and set in present day while Salvation is headlined by Christian Bale, carries a PG-13, and is set in the year 2018.

For 2009, the Friday-to-Sunday figure does not measure up to many of the year's top grossers. Salvation only made it to number eight on the list of the year's biggest openers. In fact, the street racing sequel Fast & Furious grossed more in its first three days over a normal weekend ($71M) than Terminator Salvation did in its entire five-day extended holiday launch.

Reviews were mixed for the expensive new sci-fi sequel. The production budget is reported to be in the neighborhood of $200M with Warners paying $50M for domestic rights and Sony kicking in $75M for most foreign territories. The studios are also responsible for the enormous marketing costs.

Early fan buzz does not put the film in the same league as Star Trek or last summer's Iron Man and The Dark Knight so audience erosion in the weeks ahead should be quick as is often the case with action sequels. Last year's Memorial Day winner Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull debuted with a gargantuan $152M over a similar Thursday-to-Monday five-day period which ended up accounting for 48% of its $317.1M final. A year earlier, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End bowed to $153M over 4.5 days repping 49% of its eventual total. Salvation could follow a similar path to a domestic tally of $130-140M. T3 banked more with $150.4M in North America, or $182M at today's prices. A fifth Terminator pic with Bale starring once again is in development.

Posting another strong performance was the sci-fi smash Star Trek which took in $29.4M over the Friday-to-Monday span lifting the cume to a robust $191M after 18 days of release. The three-day portion stood at $22.9M for a 47% drop which was encouraging given the arrival of competing sci-fi franchise flick Terminator. Trek now looks set to finish its domestic run in the neighborhood of $250M making it the seventh biggest blockbuster in company history for Paramount. Unless Smithsonian has incredible legs, Kirk and company will remain the most popular summer smash for the time being. By Tuesday it will surpass studio stablemate Monsters vs. Aliens to become the top-grossing film of 2009. Trek's overseas tally to date has climbed to $87.5M putting the global gross at $278.5M.

The Vatican thriller Angels & Demons dropped from first to fourth place grossing $27.4M over four days boosting the domestic take to $87.5M after 11 days. Tom Hanks and Ron Howard took in $21.7M over the three-day span representing a steep 53% fall from the opening weekend. By comparison, 2006's The Da Vinci Code opened at the exact same time and fell by 56% in its sophomore session (also the Memorial Day holiday frame) for an 11-day cume of $144.9M. Angels is now running 40% behind the pace of Code. A final gross of $130-140M seems likely for North America. Overseas, the Robert Langdon pic was the top draw once again with $60.4M in ticket sales boosting the international haul to $198.3M and the worldwide total to $286M. Sony expects Angels to fly past the $300M global mark on Wednesday.

Paramount's spoof comedy Dance Flick bowed in fifth with $12.6M over four days. Debuting in 2,450 locations, the PG-13 pic averaged a respectable $5,152 per site. Dance was the first film from a new generation of Wayans with Damon Wayans Jr. in the lead and Damien Dante Wayans directing. Over the Friday-to-Sunday period the gross was $10.6M with a mild $4,344 average. The numbers did not match up to those delivered by family leader Keenan Ivory Wayans whose last two directorial efforts Little Man and White Chicks opened to $21.6M and $19.7M, respectively.

Dropping down to sixth place in its fourth weekend was the super hero prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine with $9.9M. The three-day tally accounted for $8.1M, off 46% from last weekend, and Fox has collected $165.2M domestically to date. Add in the $156.7M from overseas markets and the mutant flick has banked a commendable $322M worldwide.

The romantic comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past settled into seventh place with $4.8M boosting the total to $46.9M for Warner Bros. Sony's hit thriller Obsessed followed with $2.4M which raised the total to $66.3M.

In its ninth weekend of collecting extra surcharges for its 3D presentation, the DreamWorks toon Monsters vs. Aliens remained in the top ten once again grossing $2.1M boosting the cume to $193.7M. The Paramount release is now the highest-grossing film released since last summer's colossal smash The Dark Knight surpassing the $191.5M of Twilight. Rounding out the top ten was the teen comedy 17 Again with $1.3M over the long weekend giving Warner Bros. $60.6M to date.

The top ten films grossed $211.9M over four days which was even with last year when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opened in the top spot with $126.9M; but down 13% from 2007 when Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End debuted at number one with $139.8M.

Compared to projections, Night at the Museum debuted a few notches above my $66M four-day forecast while Terminator fell well short of my $68M prediction. Dance Flick was close to my $12M projection.

Check the NEW chart for the Memorial Day weekend box office throughout this decade.

For NEW reviews of Terminator Salvation and Up visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Up and Drag Me to Hell both debut.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title May 22 - 25 May 15 - 17 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian $ 70,052,004 4,096 1 $ 17,103 $ 70,052,004 Fox
2 Terminator Salvation 51,943,726 3,530 1 14,715 65,316,217 Warner Bros.
3 Star Trek 29,380,384 43,034,547 -31.7 4,053 3 7,249 191,014,403 Paramount
4 Angels & Demons 27,413,992 46,204,168 -40.7 3,527 2 7,773 87,524,618 Sony
5 Dance Flick 12,622,450 2,450 1 5,152 12,622,450 Paramount
6 X-Men Origins: Wolverine 9,910,686 14,702,425 -32.6 3,183 4 3,114 165,164,423 Fox
7 Ghosts of Girlfriends Past 4,767,809 6,653,384 -28.3 2,255 4 2,114 46,906,154 Warner Bros.
8 Obsessed 2,424,470 4,588,973 -47.2 1,603 5 1,512 66,332,824 Sony
9 Monsters vs. Aliens 2,060,680 3,182,085 -35.2 1,434 9 1,437 193,706,544 Paramount
10 17 Again 1,292,506 3,368,189 -61.6 1,107 6 1,168 60,601,427 Warner Bros.
11 The Soloist 1,112,075 2,402,801 -53.7 654 5 1,700 29,507,907 Paramount
12 Next Day Air 780,280 2,244,878 -65.2 542 3 1,440 9,092,382 Summit
13 Earth 656,239 1,697,956 -61.4 619 5 1,060 30,602,070 Buena Vista
14 Hannah Montana The Movie 616,109 1,613,180 -61.8 628 7 981 77,002,329 Buena Vista
15 The Brothers Bloom 495,527 90,400 448.1 52 2 9,529 618,915 Summit
16 Fast & Furious 419,585 793,805 -47.1 378 8 1,110 153,616,625 Universal
17 State of Play 382,285 958,400 -60.1 278 6 1,375 36,284,540 Universal
18 Race to Witch Mountain 377,099 149,586 152.1 310 11 1,216 65,402,038 Buena Vista
19 Under the Sea 3D 332,024 277,064 19.8 40 15 8,301 8,390,160 Warner Bros.
20 Rudo y Cursi 320,865 444,131 -27.8 134 3 2,395 1,216,084 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 191,412,556 $ 115,183,497 66.2
Top 10 211,868,707 128,079,406 65.4
Top 20 217,360,795 134,632,921 61.4
Top 20 vs. 2008 217,360,795 216,288,315 0.5

Last Updated: May 26, 2009 at 9:45PM ET