U's Dr. Seuss pic should do roughly $40 million; 'Project X' eyes teens

X marks the spot this weekend with a pair of lively counterprogramming newbies, “The Lorax” and “Project X,” likely to keep 2012’s perfect year-over-year winning streak going at the domestic box office.

Universal’s toon hitmaker Illumination Entertainment looks to have a third B.O. contender in “The Lorax” on Friday — what would be the 108th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel himself. Studio’s adaptation of the 1971 book is expected to see an opening of about $40 million, though some pundits put it north of $50 million.

Since tracking services first weighed in three weeks ago, the $70 million “Lorax” has been steadily building buzz, especially among families. Pic screens at 3,728 locations, including 269 in Imax.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’s R-rated house party pic “Project X” kickstarted its rollout Thursday at approximately 1,000 midnight runs.

At the high end of expectations, “Project X” could break the $20 million mark, though high teens seem more likely for the $12 million film with no movie stars. The R-rated “X,” from Green Hat Films and Silver Pictures, is tracking best with men 17-25.

The projected B.O. might of “Lorax” and “Project X,” along with the market’s top holdovers including “Act of Valor” and “Safe House,” should be enough to extend 2012 Stateside B.O.’s year-over-year streak to nine weeks. This time last year, Paramount’s “Rango” debuted at $38 million, followed by a $21 million opening for U’s “The Adjustment Bureau.”

In an expected post-Oscars push, the Weinstein Co. adds nearly 800 additional locations to “The Artist” for a total 1,756. The best picture winner enters its 15th frame with a Stateside cume of $32.9 million.

Also at the specialty B.O., Focus Features debuts Robert De Niro-Paul Dano starrer “Being Flynn” at four U.S. engagements.

“Lorax,” produced by Illumination founder Chris Meledandri, has generated strong pre-release reactions from auds across the board — and not just with families. U inked more than 70 global partnerships on the environmentally themed film including with the EPA, Hewlett Packard, Seventh Generation and Mazda. The studio also targeted Hispanic auds through various promotional campaigns, as well as an aggressive TV blitz on Univision.

Dr. Seuss adaptations have made popular family fodder over the past decade: In 2000, U scored with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” grossing $341 million worldwide. Three years later, Universal adapted a live version of “The Cat in the Hat” ($136 million globally), followed in 2008 by Fox’s toon “Horton Hears a Who,” which cumed nearly $300 million worldwide.

“Horton” stands as the highest-grossing Seuss adaptation internationally, with $143.4 million. That pic performed best mainly throughout Europe and in some Latin American territories, notably, Mexico and Brazil. “Lorax” launches March 8 in Russia before expanding to additional overseas markets over the next few months, timed for Easter and school holidays.

Illumination’s track record includes past family hits “Hop” and “Despicable Me.” Last year, “Hop” bowed four weeks prior to Easter, opening to $37.5 million, while 2010 summer title “Despicable Me” tallied $56 million in its opening frame.

For “Project X,” Warners said it expects word of mouth to pop online, based on the film’s twentysomething target aud. Pic, from first-time director Nima Nourizadeh, bows day-and-date this weekend in Australia and the U.K.

Among the weekend’s repeat players, Relativity Media’s Navy SEALs actioner “Act of Valor” should hold best. Pic has been tops in midweek rankings, with a cume just shy of $30 million as of Wednesday. Meanwhile, U’s “Safe House” recently crossed the $100 million domestic mark.

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