As I predicted, along with a bunch of you guys on Twitter, cute trumped carnage this Memorial holiday weekend. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian took in $70 million over four days to seriously outgun Terminator: Salvation, which grossed $53.8 million over the same Friday to Monday frame. What happened? To quote star Christian Bale’s tirade against the T4 director of photography on the set last summer: “what don’t you fucking understand?” As I see it, Museum attracted family audiences with its wuss-friendly PG rating.
On the other hand, Terminator fans were put off that T4 also carried a relatively wussy rating, PG-13, the first in the franchise to not go out with a hardcore “R” on its hood. In fact, T4 director McG didn’t wuss out. His first entry into the franchise stretched that PG-13 way past its usual limits. Maybe guys 25 and older — the target audience for T4 — were diverted by televised basketball playoffs this weekend. Or maybe the continued success of Star Trek, tickling $200 million in just three weeks, also siphoned off the core demographic. Or maybe it was the latest box-office gimmick: giant screens. T4 had no IMAX showings. Museum had several, including sellouts at DC’s Smithsonian Museum itself, accounting for $5.4 million in take home.
Variety reports that Museum is Stiller’s best ever opening in a live-action film. Significant fact? In terms of quality, not really. Listen, I’ve been hammered recently by a few blog readers for even doing this weekly box-office report. One reader asked: “What the hell does box office have to do with excellence? In truth, nothing. For me, box office is a fun game to play one day a week. It’s a chance to see Hollywood marketing dollars at work and maybe even an opportunity to expose the crass manipulation that gets butts into seats. It might actually help explain why we decide our choice is between T4 or Museum when good movies minus a marketing budget (Tyson, The Girlfriend Experience, Summer Hours) are languishing under the radar.
So let’s end today’s blog with a test: Variety reports that Museum is the biggest opening in Ben Stiller’s live-action career. Is Museum his best movie? Hell, it’s not even a good movie. So let’s fight the box-office gods by asking: Taken solely on quality, what Ben Stiller movie actually deserves to wear a crown? There’s lots of Stiller hits: Tropic Thunder, There’s Something About Mary, Meet the Parents. But I’d go for the ones that made less money but stay with me (Zoolander, The Royal Tenenbaums, Flirting With Disaster, Reality Bites, The Cable Guy). It’s your turn to speak up. Do it.