Lighting up the family marketplace, Universal and Illumination Entertainment’s Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax topped the Friday box office with a sizeable $17.4 million, putting it on course for a $60 million opening.
The 3D pic — receiving a glowing A CinemaScore — is playing in 3,729 theaters, including digital IMAX screens. The film’s better-than-expected performance is welcome news for the animated business, which struggled last year as overall moviegoing slumped.
Lorax looks to become the best opening in months for an animated film outside of Cars 2, which debuted north of $66 million in June 2011.
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.
The Lorax cost under $70 million to produce and is the third movie from Universal and Illumination after box office hits Despicable Me and Hop.
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.
Heading into the weekend, tracking was strong for Lorax following an aggressive marketing campaign by Universal that included more than 70 global promotional partners.
Overseas, Lorax only opens day and date in the United Arab Emirates. It will begin its international rollout in earnest next week.
The second new wide release of the weekend is Warner Bros.’ found-footage comedy Project X, which opened to a strong $8.2 million from 3,055 theaters on Friday. Box office observers expect the film, which is generating plenty of buzz on the Internet, to cross $20 million in its debut.
The R-rated film, made for a modest $12 million and earning a B CinemaScore, grossed a strong $1.2 million in midnight runs and so far is keeping pace with projections for a debut in the midteens.
Project X, produced by Todd Phillips and Joel Silver, 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 is Oscar winner The Artist, which expanded from roughly 1,000 theaters to more than 1,700 following its Academy Award victories, including best picture. Distributed by The Weinstein Co., the silent black-and-white film grossed $938,000 on Friday and is anticipating a $3.5 million to $4 million weekend, which would put its cume right around $36 million.
Among other holdovers, Relativity Media and the Bandito Brothers’ Navy SEALs action pic Act of Valor came in No. 3 on Friday after winning the previous weekend. The film grossed roughly $3.7 million for a domestic cume north of $35 million.
Universal’s Denzel Washington–Ryan Reynolds action-thriller Safe House is holding at No. 4, grossing $1.9 million on Friday for a domestic cume of $102.9 million.
Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds came in No. 5 on Friday, grossing roughly $1.9 million for an eight-day cume of roughly $20 million.