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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ben Stiller's "Night at the Museum" sequel crushed the fourth installment of the "Terminator" franchise in a battle for North American box office supremacy between two special-effects extravaganzas.
According to studio estimates issued on Monday, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" earned $70 million during the four days beginning Friday, outperforming the expectations of its distributor, 20th Century Fox.
On the other hand, Warner Bros.' "Terminator Salvation" -- the first in the series without Arnold Schwarzenegger -- made its debut at No. 2 with a disappointing $53.8 million.
"Star Trek" slipped one place to No. 3 with $29.4 million in its third weekend. Reigning champ "Angels & Demons" fell to No. 4 with $27.7 million in its second weekend, although the Tom Hanks Vatican thriller remained the top choice internationally.
Big studio movies rarely open against each other during the lucrative summer period in order to avoid cannibalization. But in this case families made up almost half of the audience for "Night at the Museum" while men accounted for 70 percent of the audience for "Terminator."
Stiller, one of Hollywood's most reliable box office performers, set a personal live-action record with his new film. His previous best was the $46 million start for "Meet the Fockers" in 2004.
The 43-year-old actor reprises his role as a night security guard at a museum where historical figures come to life. The cast also includes Robin Williams as former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and Amy Adams as aviatrix Amelia Earhart.
Fox, a unit of News Corp said it would have been happy with a four-day opening above $60 million. The film cost about $125 million to make.
The first movie, "Night at the Museum," earned $30 million during its first three days just before Christmas 2006, and went on to make $250 million.
The previous "Terminator" film, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" finished with $150 million in 2003, an indication of the new film's underdog status in the weekend derby.
Since opening on Thursday, in order to get a head start on the U.S. Memorial Day holiday weekend, "Terminator Salvation" has earned $67.2 million, falling short of industry forecasts in the $70 million range.
But Warner Bros. domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said he was happy with the performance, noting that the latest entry in the 25-year-old sci-fi franchise had a narrowly defined target audience.
The post-apocalyptic film, in which "Batman" star Christian Bale takes on the freedom-fighter role of John Connor, cost about $180 million to make, the studio said.
The Time Warner Inc unit paid $50 million for domestic distribution rights from closely held producer Halcyon Co. Sony Corp's Columbia Pictures has foreign rights.
After 11 days, Columbia's "Angels & Demons" has earned $87.8 million, far short of the $145 million haul in the same time period for its 2006 predecessor "The Da Vinci Code."
But the studio 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 stood at $198.3 million through Sunday.
Paramount Pictures' youth-oriented reboot of the "Star Trek" sci-fi franchise has earned $191 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 $13.5 million.
Editing by Bill Trott