Fox's family-friendly comedy nabs $70 million

Twentieth Century Fox’s sequel “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” charged past Warner Bros.’ “Terminator: Salvation” to gross $70 million in its domestic debut.

That was more than enough for “Smithsonian,” playing in 4,096 runs, to top the Memorial Day box office. Pic benefited handsomely from being the first all-audience comedy of the summer.

“T4″ grossed $53.8 million from 3,530 runs for the Friday-Monday stretch in a lower-than-expected start for the film, which relaunches the franchise sans Arnold Schwarzenegger. Pic opened Thursday to $13.4 million, putting its five-day total at $67.2 million.

Also, “Star Trek” could have cut into “T4’s” action. “Star Trek” placed No. 3 for the weekend, declining only 49% to an estimated $29.4 million for a cume of $191 million in its third sesh.

The other summer event pic that’s opened so far is Columbia’s “Angels and Demons,” which continued to see more action overseas in its second weekend. Domestically, the adult-skewing title slipped a relatively steep 54% to an estimated $27.7 million for a cume of $87.8 million.

The third pic to open over the holiday was Paramount’s raunchy sendup “Dance Flick,” from director Damien Wayans. Film overperformed in its opening, grossing an estimated $13.1 million from 2,450 runs for the four-day holiday weekend.

Weekend ran essentially flat with Memorial Day weekend in 2008, when “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” grossed north of $125 million for the four-day sesh.

“Smithsonian” scored the top Memorial Day opening ever for a PG-rated film.

Internationally, “Angels” won the weekend, grossing $60.4 million at 10,610 playdates in 99 markets for a foreign cume of $198.3 million and worldwide tally of $286 million. Sony expects the film to jump the $300 million mark Wednesday.

Foreign tally included a $4.1 million debut in Mexico in what was the biggest opening of the year in that territory. Sony and other studios were forced to rearrange their summer release schedules for Mexico because of swine flu and the resulting temporary closure of theaters.

“Smithsonian” placed No. 2 in its debut at the foreign B.O., opening to $50.1 million from 8,100 playdates in 93 markets. It finished No. 1 in a number of markets, led by the U.K. with $6.8 million. First film in the Ben Stiller franchise cumed more overseas than domestically, with $323.6 million vs. $250.9 million.

The first “Night at the Museum” opened in December 2006 to $43 million. Strength of the sequel’s debut is good news for Fox, star Stiller and director Shawn Levy. Sequel marks the best opening ever for a live-action film starring Stiller.

Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson said moviegoers want to laugh. Likewise, “Smithsonian” benefited from being accessible to a broad aud, as evidenced by the fact that families made up only 48% of the aud. Of the nonfamily group, 50% were under age 25.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, comedy is keeping the box office sweet,” Aronson said.

Directed by McG and starring Christian Bale, “T4″ played heavily male.

Warner Bros. prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said “Salvation’s” debut was a victory considering that it virtually matched the $68 million, five-day opening of “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” six years ago.

“In proportion to that, this is a great start,” Fellman said. “There are franchises that have mega-openings, and franchises that open smaller. But you are going to see this movie excel in the coming days.”

“Salvation” was a negative pickup from Halcyon for Warners, which invested roughly $50 million in the reboot (not including marketing costs) for a total production budget of roughly $200 million.

Sony, which is handling “Salvation” overseas, invested roughly $75 million. Pic doesn’t open at the international box office for another two weeks. Previous “Terminator” films saw blockbuster biz abroad.

“T4’s” performance in the coming days will be a crucial test for the relaunching of the franchise. In a not-so-good sign for “Salvation,” “Smithsonian” beat it Friday. Fan-driven pics usually do better on Fridays, while family films do bigger business on Saturday and Sunday.

On the specialty side, Summit Entertainment’s “The Brothers Bloom” scored a strong per-location average of $10,154 as it grossed $528,000 from 52 theaters in its second weekend. Cume is $651,388.

Sony Pictures Classics’ Noel Coward adaptation “Easy Virtue” scored the strongest per-screen average, with a $14,614 average from 10 screens for a total $146,140. Though already available on video-on-demand, IFC Films French-language “Summer Hours,” directed by Olivier Assayas, expanded to 27 screens with a promising $252,450, for A gross of $327,187. Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience,” which opened well ahead of its theatrical bow on VOD, grossed just $200,000 from 30 screens.

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