Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
May 26, 2009
In one corner this Memorial Day weekend was the sequel to a blockbuster and first major family comedy event in two months, and, in the other, the latest entry in a faded action franchise, emerging from a six-year dormancy and lacking its most iconic figure. It was clear which picture would gross more, and, while both may ultimately pale compared to their predecessors, they each did about as well as could reasonably be expected.
Boasting the top start for a live-action Ben Stiller movie, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was on par with Stiller's animated Madagascar, which opened on Memorial weekend 2005, adjusted for ticket price inflation. The first Night at the Museum made $42.2 million on approximately 4,900 screens at 3,685 sites in its first four days, which was huge by the standards of its Christmas berth.
Memorial releases tend to be more front-loaded than Christmas releases, and it's unlikely that Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian will wind up near the first Night's $250.9 million final gross. That wouldn't be disappointing because sequels of this ilk frequently fail to sustain the audience of their predecessors, even when the predecessors are well-liked, from Ghostbusters to Men in Black to the recent Pink Panther redux. In its marketing campaign, Battle of the Smithsonian simply offered more of the same shenanigans as the first Night, adding a few new characters to the mix but without a new hook. It coasted on the audience's good will from the first movie, so retaining most of that audience would be a fine result.
Runs at 160 IMAX sites accounted for $5.4 million of Battle of the Smithsonian's gross. One of those was the Smithsonian itself, which was the picture's top-grossing venue. Distributor 20th Century Fox's exit polling classified 52 percent of the audience as "non-family" (the other 48 percent being families), and suggested that 55 percent of that crowd was under 25 years old with an even split between the genders.
Following the disappointment of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines six years ago, the ratings fizzle of the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the failure of California "Governator" Arnold Schwarzenegger (who makes a cameo in the new movie), Terminator Salvation rose from the ashes with a solid debut. Distributor Warner Bros.' research indicated that 63 percent of the audience was male and 58 percent was in the 18-34-year-old range. Attendance was lower than Terminator 3 (T3) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (T2). Salvation's three-day weekend was $42.6 million, while T3's was $44 million at 3,504 locations, which would adjust to around $53 million today, and T2's $31.8 million weekend at 2,274 locations back in 1991 is the equivalent of over $54 million today. Each had greater five-day attendance tallies than Salvation. T3 itself didn't have the market impact of T2, though initial numbers were similar, and it quickly faded to a $150.4 million final gross.
In the context of the Terminator franchise, Terminator Salvation is as much a prequel as it is a sequel, because the future is treated as the past in the previous movies and its setting is before that future. Coming off more as fan boy fantasias than story advancers, prequels and spin-offs can struggle to appeal beyond the franchise bases. That's why Salvation was destined to be more commercially akin to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which hit a series low) than the rebooted Star Trek. However, the previous Terminators' dramatic flashes of the post-apocalyptic future captured viewers' imaginations to a degree that further exploration was welcome enough to retain more of the audience than a T3 retread might have. Credit must also go to Salvation's slick advertisements that promised a grand action drama.
Down 47 percent for the three-day weekend, Star Trek notched a $29.4 million four-day, and, with $191 million in 18 days, it jumped ahead of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock to become the Star Trek franchise's fourth most-attended picture. Its descent was partly due to a loss of IMAX showings: the Night at the Museum sequel took over nearly all of them. Playing only midnight shows at 138 sites, Star Trek's IMAX-only weekend was $578,376, off 89 percent from last weekend for an IMAX-only tally of $20.7 million.
Angels & Demons held slightly better than The Da Vinci Code, which also had the Memorial Day timeframe for its second weekend. Down 53 percent for the three-day, the thriller sequel collected a $27.4 million four-day for $87.5 million in eleven days, though Da Vinci nabbed $144.9 million in the same amount of time. As with Da Vinci, foreign box office was the main story here, accounting for over 70 percent of the worldwide gross. While ranking fourth domestically, Angels & Demons was again the weekend's top movie on the foreign front with $58.4 million (through Sunday), followed by the Night at the Museum sequel ($49 million in 93 markets). Angels' worldwide tally is $284.2 million, or about 62 percent of Da Vinci through the same point.
While franchise recycling proliferated on Memorial weekend, moviegoers showed modest interest in the latest haphazard, Frankenstein's monster approach to spoofing. With a $12.6 million four-day on around 2,600 screens at 2,450 venues, Dance Flick had a lower opening than any of the movies it mocked, but it nearly doubled the start of the last spoof of its kind, Disaster Movie, thanks to a better thematic focus. Part of the problem was that the main movie it spoofed, Save the Last Dance, was eight years old, not to mention that the dance sub-genre has not produced a blockbuster in decades: generally-speaking, the more popular the target, the more popular the spoof.