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''Night at the Museum'' will be No. 1 again

”Night at the Museum” will spend its third straight weekend at No. 1; look for ”Happily N’Ever After” and ”Children of Men” both to debut in top 5

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Ben Stiller, Night at the Museum

Happy new year, friends! Hope your favorite football team started off 2007 better than mine did (unless, of course, you’re a USC fan). Now that the Rose Bowl is behind us, how about we pay some attention to Weekend No. 1 of this brand-spanking-new set of 365 days at the box office? Several movies are opening, but the Christmas-season holdovers will continue to dominate, with Night at the Museum winning its third straight frame.

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

Night at the Museum
Fox / PG / 3,730 theaters / 3rd weekend
It’s hard to believe there’s anybody left (who cares) who hasn’t seen the Ben Stiller-slapping monkey farce, which has already banked $136.7 mil. Expect it to drop about 40 percent from last weekend’s $36.8 mil three-day total.
Weekend prediction: $22 million

Happily N’ever After
Lionsgate / PG / 2,381 theaters / NEW
Last year saw more animated releases than ever, so what better way to kick off 2007 than…with another feature-length cartoon! Here we have a fairy tale involving witches, wolves, and fairy godmothers that has been running under the marketing radar. But Happy Feet has just about run its course and kids n’ever get enough of the talking animals. And let’s n’ot forget how the awfully similar Hoodwinked came out of n’owhere to score a three-day debut of $12.4 mil a year ago.
Weekend prediction: $12 million

Dreamgirls
Paramount / PG-13 / 852 theaters / 4th weekend
It’s already grossed $44.4 mil in limited release, and expect to see it in about 1,800 theaters next weekend.
Weekend prediction: $11 million

Children of Men
Universal / R / 1,210 theaters / 2nd weekend
Auteur Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian sci-fi literary adaptation scored big bucks ($1.5 mil) and critical coos (including a solid A grade from EW’s very own Lisa Schwarzbaum) in just 16 locations last weekend. Which is to say that the word of mouth on this Clive Owen thriller is stellar and it stands to become a hit as it slowly expands.
Weekend prediction: $10 million

The Pursuit of Happyness
Sony / PG-13 / 3,027 theaters / 4th weekend
Now at $109.3 mil, the 10th $100-mil grosser of Will Smith’s career will have surpassed Enemy of the State ($111.5 mil) and Wild Wild West ($113.8 mil) by Sunday.
Weekend prediction: $10 million

OTHER NOTABLE NEW RELEASES

Freedom Writers
Paramount / PG-13 / 1,360 theaters / NEW
Pardon my cynicism, but when a studio has an inspirational-teacher flick that stars a two-time Oscar winner (Hilary Swank) and a recent Oscar nominee (Imelda Staunton), and is written and directed by another former Oscar contender (Richard LaGravenese), I really have to wonder why they didn’t opt to release it just one week earlier in an Academy Awards qualifying run. Never a good sign.
Weekend prediction: $6 million

Code Name: The Cleaner
New Line / PG-13 / 1,736 theaters / NEW
In recent years, Cedric the Entertainer has emerged as a bit of a box-office draw, with mid-level successes like Barbershop ($75.8 mil) and Johnson Family Vacation ($31.2 mil). But he’ll have trouble keeping the pace up with this comedy (he plays an amnesiac janitor who gets caught up in a government conspiracy), which New Line supposedly recut after bumping it from the Spring 2006 release slate.
Weekend prediction: $4 million

Thr3e
Fox / PG-13 / 280 theaters / NEW
If this starless horror flick about, you know, a psycho killer (hell, even its title isn’t original, when you consider stuff like Se7en and Thir13en Ghosts) earns more than a mil after Fox plops it into just 280 locations, I’ll be truly frightened.
Weekend prediction: $1 million