In a year in which one movie after another has surpassed industry expectations, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax just blew the roof off.
According to studio estimates, Universal’s CG-animated film harvested $70.7 million this weekend, breaking a number of records in the process. First, it easily scored the best opening of the year so far, trouncing The Vow ($41.2 million). The Lorax had the strongest opening ever for a Dr. Seuss adaptation, topping How the Grinch Stole Christmas‘ $55.1 debut in 2000. Finally, if the estimate holds, the movie will have earned the sixth best debut ever for an animated feature, beating both The Incredibles ($70.5 million) and Finding Nemo ($70.3 million). And if one discounts sequels, then The Lorax had the second-best opening among animated fare, behind only The Simpsons Movie ($74 million).
Going into the weekend, most industry prognosticators (myself included) were predicting The Lorax to debut to around $50 million. Clearly we didn’t realize just how much of a box-office juggernaut the little tree-loving creature would be. Credit must be given to Universal, which launched an omnipresent marketing campaign that included more than 70 global partners. And the production company Illumination Entertainment has proved it’s a force to be reckoned with, having now gone three-for-three after the success of Despicable Me and Hop. That track record is especially impressive considering that all three of those movies were made on relatively modest budgets — The Lorax cost $70 million to produce.
Unsurprisingly, The Lorax thrived thanks to family audiences. Universal reports that 68 percent of the audience consisted of parents attending with children under the age of 13. The box-office data itself also suggests a huge family presence, as the PG-rated movie jumped 80 percent from Friday to Saturday. The Lorax picked up an “A” rating from CinemaScore moviegoers, suggesting that it should benefit from positive word of mouth in the weeks to come.
In second place, Project X may have been overshadowed by The Lorax, but the teen party flick debuted to a solid $20.8 million. Made for only $12 million, the R-rated film is the third “found-footage” movie this year to open strongly, after The Devil Inside and Chronicle. The “found-footage” style of filmmaking, with its no-name stars and you-are-there handheld camerawork, has been particularly attractive to young men. That should come as a relief to Hollywood since many young men seemingly abandoned the multiplex during 2011.
Project X drew a crowd that was 58 percent male and 67 percent under the age of 25. It received an overall “B” grade from CinemaScore audiences and fared much better with men (B+) than with women (C+).
As for holdovers, the Navy SEALs war film Act of Valor dropped 44 percent for $13.7 million, pushing its two-week tally to $45.2 million. The Denzel Washington thriller Safe House slipped just 34 percent for $7.2 million — it has so far grossed $108.2 million. And Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds fell 55 percent for $7 million. That drop is slightly better than Perry’s average second-weekend decline of 59 percent.
The Artist, which won the Best Picture Oscar last Sunday, had its biggest showing to date with $3.9 million — a 34 percent increase over the prior weekend. However, the black-and-white silent film had to nearly double its theater count (from 966 to 1,756) to get there, and its per-location average of $2,221 was its lowest so far. By comparison, last year’s Best Picture winner The King’s Speech earned $6.2 million the weekend after the Oscars, and had already collected $123.5 million by this point.
Still, The Artist is by no means a financial disappointment. The movie cost a mere $15 million to produce and has grossed $37.1 million domestically (and $81.8 million worldwide). It just will finish its run as one of the lowest-grossing Best Picture winners of the past 30 years.
1. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax — $70.7 mil
2. Project X — $20.8 mil
3. Act of Valor — $13.7 mil
4. Safe House — $7.2 mil
5. Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds — $7.0 mil