Thousands visit Natural History Museum after Ben Stiller movie

NEW YORK (AP) – Thousands of moviegoers who saw the film “Night at the Museum” are spending the day there, too.

The American Museum of Natural History has seen a 20 percent boost in attendance during the holiday season this year, and museum officials attribute some of the increase to the family film that stars Ben Stiller as a museum night watchman who must deal with exhibits that come to life.

Parts of the movie were shot at the venerable building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“The movie has generated a lot of interest,” said museum president Ellen V. Futter. “But there’s also just terrific excitement about the museum right now _ especially with some of our exhibits like the live butterflies, and the gorgeous gold exhibit.”

Futter also attributed the jump to an overall increase in New York City tourism. She said there’s usually a spike in attendance during the holidays, but not like this. About 250,000 visitors came to the museum between Dec. 22 and Jan. 7, which is nearly 50,000 more than the same time last year.

Emily Baldwin, 14, and her sister, 10-year-old sister Brianna, of Milford, Conn., had never really wanted to go until they saw the movie.

They begged their parents to take them, so the family played hooky on Monday for Emily’s birthday and spent the day among the dinosaurs, dioramas and ocean displays.

“In real life, it’s not much like the movie,” Emily said. “But in a lot of ways, it’s better. The ocean scenes, the Asia stuff, it’s really cool.”

The movie is not doing so bad, either. It was the No. 1 film at the box office for the third straight weekend, pulling in $23.7 million in ticket sales.

Stiller’s character battles Attila the Hun, a mischievous monkey, tiny cowboys and Roman soldiers and other figures from museum exhibits. The comedy from director Shawn Levy also stars Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney. Robin Williams makes a cameo as a wax figure of Teddy Roosevelt that’s among the exhibits that come alive.

Still, many of the visitors were just there to see the sights. Eight-year-old Michael Zuppone and his friend Steven Halsband, who is 9, are regulars and said they were excited to see the movie because they love coming to the museum.

“I want to go see it, but I really like the real thing,” Michael said.

The gold exhibit, which features pre-Columbian jewelry and an Academy Award statuette, is on display until Aug. 19. The butterfly conservatory, where butterflies fly around in an enclosed habitat, runs through May 28.

The museum also recently started a sleep-over program, focusing on children between the ages of 8 and 12, along with their parents or other accompanying adults. Participants, paying $79 each, are asked to bring a sleeping bag and are given cots and light snacks. Futter said the program has been hugely popular and was sold out until June.