LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Judging from its first full day in North American movie theaters, the latest chapter in the "Terminator" film franchise will do just fine without cyborg-in-chief Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Terminator Salvation," the fourth in the big-screen sci-fi series about humans battling powerful, blood-thirsty robots from the future, grossed a hefty $13.4 million from its debut on Thursday in some 3,480 U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to studio estimates on Friday.
Marking the first "Terminator" film in nearly six years, and the only one lacking Schwarzenegger, now starring in real life as California's governor, the movie is distributed by Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros. studio. It cost a reported $200 million to make.
The robust opening puts the film, starring Christian Bale as leader of the human resistance against a post-Apocalyptic takeover by cyborgs, on track to gross roughly $70 million through Monday's Memorial Day holiday, as forecast by box office analysts.
Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., said the first-day figure exceeded his expectations -- "I would have been happy to do $9 or $10 million" -- and proves that "Terminator's" fan base remains very much intact.
Fifty more domestic theaters are being added for the weekend.
By comparison, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," another fourth installment of a blockbuster franchise, opened the same day last year and grossed nearly twice as much, $25 million, on its first Thursday.
"Crystal Skull" went on to ring up $152 million in domestic ticket sales during its first five days and $317 million through its entire domestic run. But it launched in about 730 more theaters than "Terminator."
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," holds the record for the biggest Memorial Day weekend opening, grossing nearly $140 million in 2007 on its first Friday-through-Monday frame.
"Terminator Salvation" also is expected to best the openings of its three Schwarzenegger-starring predecessors, though exact comparisons are difficult because they were released so long ago and opened on different days of the week.
The last two, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," grossed $44 million and nearly $32 million, respectively, in their first Friday-through-Sunday periods over the July 4th weekends of 2003 and 1991, according to Hollywood.com Box-Office.
Together, the three previous films have amassed more than $1 billion worldwide since Schwarzenegger first promised, "I'll be back" in 1984's "The Terminator," according to the website boxofficemojo.com.
The biggest competition for the newest "Terminator" is likely to come from the Ben Stiller comedy sequel "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," which opens Friday and is expected to gross at least $50 million through Monday.
Editing by Paul Simao