U's 'Lorax' looking at $50 million-plus weekend

Universal’s “The Lorax” is bringing in the green out of the gate, with the 3D animated family pic on track for a $16 million haul on Friday and a boffo weekend gross in the mid-$50 millions, according to early B.O. estimates.

Based on the 1971 Dr. Seuss book, Illumination Entertainment’s “Lorax,” featuring the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, has the potential to upstage “Despicable Me” ($56 million) as Illumination’s largest opening ever and could best “How the Grinch Stole Christmas ($55 million) as the highest-grossing Dr. Seuss bow of all-time.

“Lorax,” produced by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri for $70 million, generated strong pre-release reactions from global audiences while the studio partnered with several environmentally friendly sponsors to tie into the film’s tree-friendly theme, including the EPA, Hewlett Packard, Seventh Generation and Mazda.

This weekend’s other new release, Warners’ “Project X,” is tracking in the mid-teens for the weekend with a Friday take of nearly $6 million. B.O. pundits said the R-rated high school party pic, produced by Todd Phillips, could see an uptick from nightly screenings as well as word of mouth among its twentysomething demo. “Project X” had already cumed $1.15 million in Thursday midnight runs.

Meanwhile, last week’s B.O. victor, Relativity Media’s “Act of Valor,” isn’t far behind in third place. The Navy SEALs actioner, which took the top spot with $25 million last weekend, is on a pace toward $13 million-$14 million for the frame.

The Weinstein Company’s “The Artist,” riding a likely bump from its win as best picture at last Sunday’s Oscarcast, is up 43% from last weekend and should gross roughly $4 million-$5 million for the weekend.

The rest of the week’s top holdovers — “Safe House,” “Good Deeds” and “Journey 2″ — are all neck and neck and expected to fall in the under-$7 million range for the weekend, according to estimates.

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