(news.yahoo.com) - Ben Stiller led the North American box office for a third weekend with the family comedy "Night at the Museum," while the sci-fi thriller "Children of Men" surged to No. 3 in its first weekend of national release.
Three new movies entered the fray, led by the Hilary Swank drama "Freedom Writers" at No. 4. The cartoon "Happily N'Ever After" arrived at No. 6, and the Cedric the Entertainer comedy "Code Name: The Cleaner" left little trace at No. 11.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "Night at the Museum" earned $24.0 million during the three days beginning January 5. After 17 days, the film has earned $164.1 million in the United States and Canada.
The comedy also led the international box office for a second weekend with sales of $29.8 million, according to its News Corp.-owned distributor 20th Century Fox. Its foreign total now stands at $116.7 million.
Stiller plays a security guard at a natural history museum whose exhibits come to life at night.
Will Smith's former chart-topper "The Pursuit of Happyness" followed at No. 2 for a third weekend with $13 million. After four weekends, its total stands at $124.2 million.
"Children of Men," starring Clive Owen in a futuristic setting where women have become infertile, jumped 19 places to No. 3 with $10.3 million after three weekends in limited release. The Universal Pictures release, which cost in the mid-$70 million range to make, also stars Michael Caine and Julianne Moore. Its total stands at $11.9 million.
Even with the expansion, to 1,209 theaters from 16 theaters, it is still playing in about a third the number of venues screening "Museum" and "Happyness."
The film has already been playing overseas for some time, and its total stands at $32 million. The top market was Britain with $9.2 million, a Universal spokeswoman said. The studio is a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.
Paramount Pictures' "Freedom Writers" earned a solid $9.7 million at No. 4. The fact-based tale stars two-time Oscar winner Swank as a neophyte English teacher at a Los Angeles-area high school full of racist and disrespectful inner-city kids.
Paramount, a Viacom Inc., said the opening was at the high end of its expectations. The film cost just over $20 million to make. According to exit polls, 62 percent of the audience was aged 21 and under.
"Dreamgirls," also released by Paramount, fell two places to No. 5 with $8.8 million in its second weekend of national release. It is still playing in just 852 theaters. Paramount plans to expand it to 1,800 outlets next Friday. The musical, loosely based on the story of Motown hitmakers the Supremes, has earned $54.5 million since its Christmas Day release.
"Happily N'Ever After," a Cinderella-type fable featuring the voices of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sigourney Weaver, opened at No. 6 with $6.8 million. It was released by Lionsgate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.
"Code Name: The Cleaner," revolving around an amnesia victim who gradually realizes he might be an undercover agent, opened at No. 11 with $4.6 million. The $20 million project was released by New Line Cinema, a unit of Time Warner Inc.