LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ben Stiller beat Christian Bale in the North American weekend box office duel between their respective "Night at the Museum" and "Terminator" sequels, according to studio estimates issued on Sunday.
Reigning champ Tom Hanks fell to No. 4 with "Angels & Demons," although the Vatican thriller remained the top choice internationally.
"Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" sold $53.5 million worth of tickets across the United States and Canada during the three days beginning Friday, said 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.
The comedy far exceeded the $30.4 million debut of its 2006 predecessor, "Night at the Museum," and also set a new live-action record for Stiller, one of Hollywood's most reliable box office performers.
Stiller, 43, reprises his role as a night security guard, this time at the center of a battle involving historical figures at the massive Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The cast includes Robin Williams as former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and Amy Adams as aviatrix Amelia Earhart. The film cost about $125 million to make, Fox said.
It also enjoyed a strong foreign debut, earning $50.5 million from 93 markets, bested only by the $60.4 million haul for "Angels & Demons" from a similar number of territories.
"Terminator Salvation," meanwhile, earned $43.0 million in North America. The film failed to beat the $44 million start for the previous entry in the cyborg series, 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," the swan song of franchise star Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But the race between the two new sequels was closer than it appeared because Warner Bros. got a head start on the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend by opening "Terminator" on Thursday, when it earned about $13.4 million. Much of those ticket sales would have been pushed over to the weekend if it had opened on Friday. Its four-day total was $56.4 million.
The studios generally try to avoid each other when they roll out their big movies. In this case, "Night at the Museum" played to a broad audience, while "Terminator" was more targeted at male moviegoers.
Time Warner Inc-owned Warner Bros. said "Terminator" was likely more affected by competition from the similarly-skewing "Star Trek," which slipped one place to No. 3 in its third weekend with $22 million. The National Basketball Association playoffs also appeared to siphon off older men in cities such as Los Angeles.
Warner Bros. paid $50 million for domestic distribution rights. The post-apocalyptic film, in which "Batman" star Bale takes on the freedom-fighter role of John Connor, cost about $180 million to make, the studio said.
"Angels & Demons," sequel to 2006 film "The Da Vinci Code," earned $21.4 million, taking the 10-day total for the Columbia Pictures release to $81.5 million. By contrast, "The Da Vinci Code" had earned $136.5 million after the same period.
But the Sony Corp unit has said it never expected the second film to be as big. As was the case with "The Da Vinci Code," the film is a much bigger international draw. Its overseas total now stands at $198.3 million.
Paramount Pictures' youth-oriented reboot of the "Star Trek" sci-fi franchise has earned $183.5 million after three weekends.
The Viacom Inc unit also claimed the No. 5 spot with "Dance Flick," a comedy spoof from the Wayans family. It earned a modest $11 million.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman