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‘Lorax’ draws $70.7 million opening

'Project X' still manages $20.8 domestic bow

Backed by an aggressive marketing and promotional campaign, Universal’s “The Lorax” scored a boffo $70.7 million domestic opening and set a slew of Stateside records, including the best-ever debut for a nonsequel toon.

Stalwart family holdover “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” meanwhile, reclaimed the overseas weekend title, tallying an estimated $14.7 million for an international cume of $184.5 million.

Only a few markets in the Middle East saw “The Lorax” open this weekend; U has timed a major overseas push for the toon to coincide with Easter and school holidays over the next few months.

Playing second fiddle to “Lorax,” Warner Bros.’ R-rated counterprogrammer “Project X” managed a hearty $20.8 million domestic bow. “X,” which cost $12 million to produce, was projected by most pre-weekend tracking services to land somewhere in the mid-to-high teens.

The combined B.O. might of “Lorax” and “Project X” lifted domestic box office up more than 23% over this time last year, making for the ninth week in a row in which box office was higher than in the same frame last year; year-to-date B.O. is outpacing 2011 by approximately 19%, with admissions up even further by 21%.

The specialty biz saw mixed results from new and expanding titles, however.

Focus Features’ “Being Flynn” opened to a disappointing per-screen average of $11,386 from four locations in New York and L.A.

Meanwhile, the Weinstein Co.’s “The Artist,” with a cume of $37 million, did well in its first post-Oscars frame with an additional 790 playdates, improving by 34% for an estimated weekend gross of $3.9 million.

“The Academy recognition is opening doors for the film in smaller markets,” said Weinstein distribution chief Erik Lomis.

TWC’s other Oscar-winning title, “The Iron Lady,” at $27 million domestically, was up 29% with 11 fewer locations vs. last weekend.

Partnering on ‘Lorax’

In the run-up to its nationwide release, U signed more than 70 global partnerships on the $70 million enviro-themed “Lorax,” totaling upwards of $60 million in media value. Promotional partners included the EPA, Hewlett Packard, Whole Foods Market, Seventh Generation and Mazda.

“Audiences were aware of this movie ever since the marketing campaign first popped up last year,” said U prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco. “Still, I never thought it would open to $70 million-plus.”

The pic’s boffo perf should be attributed to the studio’s distribution strategy as well.

Instead of a summer bow (like with “Despicable Me”), U opted for a first-quarter release, given such past family successes as “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” which debuted to $68 million during this month in 2006, and 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland,” the all-time March leader with a bow of $116 million.

“We took a hard look at every weekend in the calendar year,” Rocco said, “and there have been some huge successes around this time.”

In addition to its toon benchmark, “Lorax” now stands as the highest Stateside debut for a Dr. Seuss adaptation, besting 2000’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at $55.1 million, as well as the biggest opening for Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment. The company’s previous two titles, “Despicable Me” and “Hop,” debuted at $56.4 million and $37.5 million, respectively.

“Lorax” scored 52% of its opening from 3D, including 8% in Imax. That’s at the high end of recent 3D animated fare: “Happy Feet Two” earned 48% from 3D, “Puss in Boots” 50%.

B.O.’s X-factor

While “The Lorax” skewed heavily toward families, parents and females, there was also a substantial contingent of non-parents or parents with older kids. “Lorax” received an A CinemaScore rating. “Project X,” meanwhile, averaged a B, but men under 25 gave the pic an A.

Despite its predominately male turnout, “Project X,” from producer Todd Phillips and first-time director Nima Nourizadeh, earned a strong 42% female contingency. Pic’s age breakdown, however, was weighted more heavily toward under-25 moviegoers at 67%.

Warner distribution exec Jeff Goldstein praised the filmmakers, saying, “Todd mentored this young director, and they both did a great job. This is the movie to party by.”

The weekend’s top holdover, Relativity Media’s “Act of Valor,” dropped 44% in its second frame for an estimated weekend take of $13.7 million. Similarly male-targeted “Safe House” followed in ranking with a projected $7.2 million, down just 34%. “Valor” has cumed $45.2 million domestically, while “Safe House” crossed the $100 million mark in four weeks.

Lionsgate’s “Good Deeds” saw the steepest drop among the weekend’s top 10 players, down 55%. Tyler Perry’s latest estimated $7 million through Sunday, bringing its Stateside cume to a tepid $25.7 million.

“Journey 2,” meanwhile, held remarkably well, down 48%, given “Lorax’s” entrance into the family market. The Warner-New Line sequel took an estimated $6.9 million, pushing cume to $85.6 million domestically. “Journey 2” has become one of the more notable box office successes of 2012, with a global cume just north of $270 million — already more than 10% higher than its predecessor’s lifetime cume worldwide.

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