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Box Office: 'The Lorax' posts year's biggest opening with $70.7 million [Updated]

March 4, 2012 |  8:59 am

The Lorax was the No 1 film atthe box office this weekend

It seemed like money grew on trees for "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" this weekend, as the animated family film posted the biggest opening of the year at the box office.

The 3-D environmental tale far exceeded industry expectations, raking in $70.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Universal Pictures. The weekend's other new release, the polar opposite R-rated party flick "Project X," collected a healthy $20.8 million.

Heading into the weekend, the romantic drama "The Vow" held the record for 2012's highest debut after it opened with $41 million last month. But moviegoers were clearly hungry for a family film, which have been few and far between at the multiplex so far this year. The only other animated movies to hit theaters have been rereleases: a reformatted 3-D version of "Beauty and the Beast" and an American dubbing of the Japanese anime film "The Secret World of Arrietty."

PHOTOS: "The Lorax" premiere

Featuring the voices of Danny DeVito and Ed Helms, "The Lorax" is based on Dr. Seuss' 1971 children's book about a fuzzy orange creature on a mission to save trees. Audiences also responded positively to another Dr. Seuss adaptation in 2008, 20th Century Fox's "Horton Hears A Who!," which debuted with a comparatively small $45 million and ultimately raked in nearly $300 million worldwide.

Those who saw the film this weekend loved it, assigning it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. The movie was a hit with families, as 68% of the audience was made up of parents and their children.

"The Lorax," which cost Universal about $70 million to produce, will open abroad next weekend. "Despicable Me," the studio's last release from its family unit Illumination Entertainment, was a huge success internationally. That movie grossed $251 million domestically and $291 million abroad, becoming such a success that it spawned a sequel that will hit theaters next year.

"Project X," about three teenagers who throw a massive rager, went after a completely different audience. Not surprisingly, the raunch-fest appealed mostly to young males. Men comprised 58% of the crowd, and 67% was under the age of 25. The film received a decent average grade of B.

It remains to be seen whether the film will become a word-of-mouth sensation, though it had generated much buzz on Twitter and Facebook in the weeks leading to its release. Warner Bros. produced the movie for only $12 million and did much of the marketing for the film online, later including fans' remarks from social media sites in its advertising campaign.

The film is the latest movie this year to fall into the found-footage genre, which combines outlandish story lines with documentary-style video that audiences are meant to believe could be real. But the film did not start off as strongly as either the superhero film "Chronicle" or the horror movie "The Devil Inside," two other found-footage pictures released this year that audiences responded to. "Project X," which stars no big names and was directed by first-timer Nima Nourizadeh, was produced by Todd Phillips, best known for his work on the hit comedy franchise "The Hangover."

Meanwhile, after winning the Academy Award for best picture a week ago, "The Artist" grossed more this weekend than it has on any weekend since its Thanksgiving release. The Weinstein Co.'s silent, black-and-white picture expanded from 966 locations to 1,756 and grossed $3.9 million as a result. The film, which also received Oscars for best director Michel Hazanavicius and lead actor Jean Dujardin, has now grossed $37.1 million. At this point, it seems unlikely that the film will become as broad of a commercial hit as last year's best picture winner, Weinstein Co.'s "The King's Speech," which sold $123 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada during the same time period in 2011.

[Updated, 12:30 p.m., March 4: In limited release, Focus Features' "Being Flynn" got off to a soft start. The drama, starring Robert De Niro and adapted from Nick Flynn's 2004 memoir about homelessness, grossed $45,546 from four theaters. That amounted to a lackluster per-theater average of 11,387.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic office, with international results when available, according to studio estimates:

1. "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" (Universal): Opened to $70.7 million. 

2. "Project X" (Warner Bros.): Opened to $20.8 million. $1.8 million overseas in two foreign markets.

3. "Act of Valor" (Relativity/Bandito Bros.): $13.7 million on its second weekend, down 44%. Domestic total: $45.2 million.

4. "Safe House" (Universal/Relativity): $7.2 million on its fourth weekend, down 34%. $10.8 million overseas in 50 foreign markets. Domestic total: $108.2 million. International total: $51.6 million.

5. "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds" (Lionsgate): $7 million on its second weekend, down 55%. Domestic total: $25.7 million.

6. "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (Warner Bros.): $6.9 million on its fourth weekend, down 48%. $14.7 million overseas in 52 foreign markets. Domestic total: $85.6 million. International total: $184.5 million.

7. "The Vow" (Sony/Spyglass): $6.1 million on its fourth weekend, down 38%. $4.1 million overseas in 23 foreign markets. Domestic total: $111.7 million. International total: $36 million.

8. "This Means War" (Fox/Dune): $5.6 million on its third weekend, down 33%. $14.1 million overseas in 51 foreign markets. Domestic total: $41.5 million. International total: $43.2 million.

9. "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" (Sony/Hyde Park): $4.7 million on its third weekend, down 48%. Domestic total: $44.9 million.

10. "The Artist" (Weinstein Co.): $3.9 million on its 15th weekend, up 34%. Domestic total: $37.1 million.]


'The Lorax' targeted for its green credentials

'The Devil Inside' is latest film to use 'found footage'

Movie Projector: 'The Lorax' hopes to plant a seed with audiences

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: A scene from "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.' Credit: Universal Pictures