With all of the prime real estate for Summer 2009 occupied, Warner Brothers has decided they’ll just barge onto another studio’s release date with Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins.  And isn’t it interesting that they’ve targeted the Memorial Day launch of A Night at the Museum 2: Escape from the Smithsonian?  That’s a 20th Century Fox release.  Maybe this’ll halt that transparent Watchmen shakedown. 

Though A Night at the Museum grossed $573 million worldwide, it was also the beneficiary of a weak holiday ’06 slate.  Put it up against stronger competition than Charlotte’s Web and Eragon, and… it’d still make enough coin to justify a sequel.  But a Memorial Day release?  Memorial Day is for event films.  It’s for closers.  And a franchise centered on Ben Stiller running away from giant museum displays feels a bit soft when compared to the red-meat appeal of The Terminator

Then again, I’m sure Rambo III’s distributor, TriStar, laughed off the challenge of Crocodile Dundee II back in 1988.  But for some odd reason, the Terminator series is much more durable than Sylvester Stallone’s lonely Vietnam vet saga; though the time travel conceit has been reconfigured to the point of incomprehensibility, people love watching the Connor family do battle with cyborgs.  And if The Dark Knight does what Warner Brothers thinks it’s going to do this summer, the presence of Christian Bale in Terminator Salvation will mean much, much more than it does right now. 

Interestingly, the absence of Schwarzenegger is something of a plus for the McG-directed fourth installment:  without a politically-motivated star, the production is free to shoot outside of California.  Setting up shop in New Mexico for two months is going to save this production a bundle of money, and those savings will be funneled into the f/x budget.  I don’t know what WB is planning to spend on Terminator Salvation, but if they’re gearing up for a second trilogy, that number has to be somewhere in the $200 million range.

A Night at the Museum 2 can’t compete with this.  It’s too modest.  And every kid over ten will kick and scream for Terminator (even though the popularity of The Sarah Connor Chronicles appears to be waning).  Someone’s going to blink.