`Lorax' cleans up at box office with $70.7M debut

"Dr. Seuss

In this film image released by Universal Pictures, animated character Lorax, voiced by Danny Devito, is shown in a scene from "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" raked in all kinds of green, earning $70.7 million in its first weekend to score the biggest box-office debut of the year by far.

The 3-D animated family film from Universal Pictures, featuring the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, is based on Seuss' cautionary fable about the importance of preserving the environment. Of its opening haul, $5.4 million, or 8 percent, came from IMAX screens, which is on the high side for a family film.

Coming in second place with a strong debut of its own was the R-rated "Project X," about a trio of high school misfits who throw a raging party in hopes of becoming popular. The Warner Bros. comedy made about $20.8 million, according to Sunday studio estimates.

"The Lorax" comes from the makers of "Despicable Me," - Illumination Entertainment, led by producer Christopher Meledandri - and director Chris Renaud. It actually had a bigger opening than that film, which debuted with $56.4 million in July 2010. It also scored the biggest opening for a Dr. Seuss adaptation, topping the $55.1 million that "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" made in 2000.

Before this, "The Vow" had the best debut of 2012 with $41.2 million.

"I was stunned from Friday," when "The Lorax" made $17.4 million, said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution. It then made a huge leap on Saturday, earning $31.3 million. "Who would have expected a result like this?"

Rocco attributed the movie's success to "a combination of a) a great film, b) an incredible marketing campaign and b-plus) the need for another family film in the marketplace. I think that has a lot to do with it. ...

"People love Dr. Seuss," she added, "and audiences now know about Illumination and Chris Meledandri, what he delivers."

The strong showing for "The Lorax" continues a trend of movies overperforming so far this year, said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. Revenues are up 19 percent from this point in 2011.

"It's so different from what we were seeing last year and especially the end of last year. Now it's like a box-office bonanza," Dergarabedian said. "What a great turnaround from where we were last year with the down-trending week after week and the lowest attendance in 15 years. If we keep up this pace, we're going to be looking at a massive summer."

Some huge sequels are coming out this summer, Dergarabedian pointed out, including "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Dergarabedian had expected "The Lorax" would open somewhere in the $45-to-$50 million range and that "Project X," in a bit of counter-programming, would end up in the high teens: "Warner Bros. perfectly put their R-rated, raunchy comedy right there in the same weekend as `The Lorax' and both films did very well."

Last week's No. 1 movie, "Act of Valor," dropped to third place with $13.7 million. The action picture from Relativity Media, which stars real, active-duty U.S. Navy SEALs, has made over $45.2 million total.

This year's best-picture winner at the Academy Awards, the silent, black-and-white "The Artist," got a 34 percent bump from its victory last weekend. The Weinstein Co. film made $3.9 million to come in 10th place and now has grossed over $37 million total.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," $70.7 million ($500,000 international).

2. "Project X," $20.8 million ($1.7 million international).

3. "Act of Valor," $13.7 million.

4. "Safe House," $7.2 million ($10.8 million international).

5. "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds," $7 million.

6. "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," $6.9 million ($14.7 million international).

7. "The Vow," $6.1 million ($4.1 million international).

8. "This Means War," $5.6 million ($14.1 million international).

9. "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," $4.7 million ($6 million international).

10. "The Artist," $3.9 million ($5.3 million international).

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Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:

1. "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," $14.7 million.

2. "This Means War," $14.1 million.

3. "Safe House," $10.8 million.

4. "War Horse," $10.6 million.

5. "Hugo," $10.25 million.

6. "The Devil Inside," $7 million.

7. "Chronicle," $6 million (tie).

7. "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," $6 million (tie).

9. "The Woman in Black," $5.6 million.

10. "Intouchables," $5.4 million.

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Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.

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