Box Office Shocker: 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax' Opens to Record-Shattering $70.7 Mil

9:14 AM PST 03/04/2012 by Pamela McClintock

Found-footage comedy "Project X" debuts in second place with a strong $20.8 million; Oscar winner "The Artist" cracks top 10 chart with $3.9 million for a cume of $37.1 million.

Lighting up the family marketplace, Universal and Illumination Entertainment's environmentally minded Dr. Seuss' The Lorax debuted to a staggering $70.7 million, marking the best opening ever for a non-sequel animated title if the number holds.

The 3D pic -- receiving a glowing A CinemaScore -- narrowly bested the $70.5 million earned by Pixar's The Incredibles in 2004, according to Universal estimates. Final numbers will come in Monday morning.

STORY: The Lorax Film Review

Either way, Lorax is an enormous victory for Universal and Illumination, as well as the film business in general. After last year's moviegoing slump, which dampened the family marketplace, the domestic box office is surging. Revenues were up nearly 30 percent this weekend, marking the 9th weekend in a row of growth.

Lorax broke a number of other records, including nabbing the top opening of 2012 in beating the $41.2 million debut of The Vow. It's also the best showing for any animated film since summer 2010 when Toy Story 3 debuted to $110.3 million and Shrek Forever After opened to $70.8 million. And Lorax scored the fourth best opening ever for any Universal title.

"The result is phenomenal. Word of mouth was great, and that's why Saturday was up 80 percent from Friday. It's just spectacular," Universal president of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco said.

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Playing in a total of 3,729 theaters, Lorax drew more than 50 percent of its grosses from 3D and digital IMAX theaters. The 269 IMAX locations turned in a generous $5.4 million.

Dr. Seuss, who would have turned 108 this year, published The Lorax in 1971. The big screen adaptation is voiced by Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms and Betty White.

Lorax cost under $70 million to produce and is the third movie from Universal and Illumination after box office hits Despicable Me and Hop.

"I think there was a huge desire to see a Dr. Seuss 3D film from the creators of Despicable Me," Rocco said.

Nearly 70 percent of moviegoers turning out for Lorax were parents and kids under the age of 12. The pic skewed females across all age groups.

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Illumination's Chris Meledandri produced the film, which marks his second Dr. Seuss production after Horton Hears a Who!, which he made at Fox when running Fox Animation (Lorax is easily the top opening for a Dr. Seuss adaptation. Previous best was Universal's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which opened to $55.1 million in 2000).

Meledandri's best opening prior to Lorax was Fox's Ice Age: The Meltdown ($68 million).

Heading into the weekend, tracking was strong for Lorax following an aggressive marketing campaign by Universal that included more than 70 global promotional partners.

Warner Bros.' found-footage comedy Project X--costing a modest $12 million to make--also did better than expected in  opening to $20.8 million. The R-rated film was produced by Todd Phililps and Joel Silver.

Project X, receiving a B CinemaScore overall, appealed heavily to younger males, who gave it an A CinemaScore. Of those buying tickets, 67 percent were under the age of 25, while 58 percent of that demo were males.

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"Todd Phillips is just incredibly talented," said Warner Bros. executive vice president of distribution Jeff Goldstein.

Project X was directed by Nima Nourizadeh from a script Michael Bacall and Matt Drake.

Warners waged a nationwide casting call for the R-rated pic, which stars Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown.

Also making a major push this weekend was Oscar winner The Artist, which expanded from roughly 1,000 theaters to more than 1,756 following its Academy Award victories, including best picture. Distributed by The Weinstein Co., the silent black-and-white film came in No. 10, grossing $3.9 million for a cume of $37.1 million. The film was up 34 percent, reflecting an Oscar bump.

Among holdovers, Relativity Media's Navy SEALs action pic--featuring real members of the elite special forces until--scored a strong second weekend, coming in No. 3 and falling only 44 percent to an estimated $13.7 million for a domestic cume of $45.2 million.

At the specialty box office, Focus Features' Robert De Niro-Paul Dano opened to a soft $45,546 from four theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a screen average of $11,386. Paul Weitz directed the father-son drama, which Focus opens in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, Dallas and San Francisco next weekend.

Domestic Box Office, March 2-March 4

Title/Weeks in Release/Theater Count, Studio/Three Day Weekend Total/Cume

1. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, 1/3729, Universal/Illumination, $70.7 million

2. Project X, 1/3,055, Warner Bros., $20.8 million

3. Act of Valor, 2/3,053, Relativity/Bandito Brothers, $13.7 million, $45.2 million

4. Safe House, 4/2,553, Universal, $7.2 million, $108.2 million

5. Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, 2/2,132, Lionsgate, $7 million, $25.7 million

6. Journey 2, 4/3,060, New Line/Warner Bros.,  $6.9 million, $85.6 million

7. The Vow, 4/2,826, Screen Gems/Spyglass, $6.1 million, $111.7 million

8. This Means War, 3/2,324, Fox, $5.6 million, $41.5 million

9. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, 3/2,487, Sony/Hyde Park, $4.7 million, $44.9 million

10. The Artist,  15/1,756, The Weinstein Co., $3.9 million, $37.1 million

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