CORRECTED - 'Museum' comedy beats 'Terminator' at box office

(In paragraph 8, corrects ranking for “Angels & Demons” to No. 4 from No. 3; adds details on No. 3 ranked “Star Trek)

LOS ANGELES, May 24 (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.

The 20th Century Fox comedy “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” sold $53.5 million worth of tickets during the three days beginning Friday, far exceeding the $30.4 million debut of its 2006 predecessor.

“Terminator Salvation” earned $43.0 million. The film fell short of 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. That takes the film’s four-day total to $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 TWX.N-owned Warner Bros. said "Terminator" was likely more affected by competition for older men from the National Basketball Association playoffs, which hurt business in cities like Los Angeles.

Fox, a unit of News Corp NWSA.O, said the "Night at the Museum" opening set a new live-action record for Stiller. The film also opened in most international markets, earning $50.5 million.

Last weekend’ North American champion, “Angels & Demons,” fell to No. 4 with $21.4 million, taking the 10-day total for Columbia Pictures’ Tom Hanks religious thriller to $81.5 million. By contrast, its 2006 predecessor “The Da Vinci Code” had earned $136.5 million after the same period.

But the Sony Corp 6758.TSNE.N unit has said it never expected the second film to be as big, and noted it that it was the top choice internationally with sales of $60.4 million. Its foreign total now stands at $198.3 million.

Paramount Pictures' "Star Trek" slipped one place to No. 3 with $22 million, taking its total to $183.5 million after three weekends. The studio is a unit of Viacom Inc VIAb.N. (Editing by Alan Elsner)