Terminator, Stiller in franchise fracas

Tentpoles battle for Memorial Day box office

Robots and historical figures will do battle at the Memorial Day box office as 20th Century Fox’s “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” and Warner Bros.’ “Terminator Salvation” both open domestically.

Directed by McG and starring Christian Bale, “T4” opens Thursday at 12:01 a.m. Warners is taking the reboot out in 3,480 theaters, adding another 50 playdates on Friday.

Fox’s Ben Stiller topliner “Smithsonian” opens Friday day-and-date in 4,095 runs domestically and at 8,100 playdates in 93 territories around the globe. It has a key advantage as the only family pic in the marketplace.

What’s more, as the first live-action family film since Disney’s “Race to Witch Mountain” in March, it should benefit from pent-up demand.

Paramount opens the spoof “Dance Flick” on Friday at about 2,450 theaters. Directed by Damien Wayans, film should see modest biz. Cast is led by Marlon Wayans, Amy Sedaris and Shawn Wayans.

Though “Smithsonian” and “Salvation” target different demos, it’s not ideal to have two tentpole pics opening on the same weekend. To complicate matters, Paramount’s “Star Trek” looks poised have another strong weekend.

Last Memorial Day, the only big opener was Paramount’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which opened to $127.9 million over the four-day holiday weekend.

McG’s rendition of the “Terminator” action franchise — sans Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role — is tracking strongly among men. The trick will be getting females in the door.

Pic is McG’s first feature directorial outing since “We Are Marshall,” which opened in December 2006. It returns the “Terminator” franchise to the bigscreen after a six-year gap.

Warners hopes to find the same success with McG’s pic that it did when relaunching the “Batman” franchise, or as Paramount has done with “Star Trek,” which is heading into its third sesh.

“T4,” handled by Sony internationally, will be held back until next weekend in Asia and until the first June frame in most major markets. The delay avoids direct competition with the studio’s “Angels and Demons,” which opened to a spectacular $102.1 million overseas last weekend at 10,468 playdates in 96 markets.

Although that trailed the 2006 launch of “The Da Vinci Code” by $53 million, it still marked the 11th best international debut ever.

Pic opened to $46.2 million domestically last weekend. It was a strong, but not spectacular, showing. But since its target demo is adults, film could do steady business domestically over the next few weekends.

“Angels” is drawing its most strength internationally, but “Smithsonian” could give it a run for its money.

Original “Night at the Museum” quickly turned into a blockbuster when opening over the Christmas holiday in 2006. Pic grossed $250.9 million domestically and $323.6 million overseas.

Sequel reteams director Shawn Levy and Stiller, Owen Wilson and Robin Williams. Amy Adams and Hank Azaria join the cast.

“Smithsonian” could pose real competition for “Angels” as adult moviegoers take their families to the theater.

Last weekend’s big surprise was the tight race between “Star Trek” in its second week and the opening of “Angels.” “Star Trek” grossed $43 million in its soph sesh and has cumed $152 million domestically.

J.J. Abrams’ pic has been less powerful overseas, though the film’s already become the top foreign grosser in the franchise with $72 million as of Tuesday.