Lighting up the family marketplace, Universal and Illumination Entertainment's "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" debuted to a staggering $70.7 million, marking the best opening ever for a non-sequel animated title if the number holds.
The 3D pic -- receiving a glowing A CinemaScore -- narrowly bested the $70.5 million earned by Pixar's "The Incredibles" in 2004, according to Universal estimates. Final numbers will come in Monday morning.
Either way, "Lorax" is an enormous victory for Universal and Illumination, as well as the film business in general. After last year's moviegoing slump, which dampened the family marketplace, the domestic box office is surging. Revenues were up nearly 30 percent this weekend, marking the 9th weekend in a row of growth.
"Lorax" broke a number of other records, including nabbing the top opening of 2012 in beating the $41.2 million debut of "The Vow." It's also the best showing for any animated film since summer 2010 when "Toy Story 3" debuted to $110.3 million and "Shrek Forever After" opened to $70.8 million. And Lorax scored the fourth best opening ever for any Universal title.
Playing in a total of 3,729 theaters, "Lorax" drew more than 50 percent of its grosses from 3D or digital IMAX theaters.
Dr. Seuss, who would have turned 108 this year, published "The Lorax" in 1971. The big screen adaptation is voiced by Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms and Betty White.
Lorax cost under $70 million to produce and is the third movie from Universal and Illumination after box office hits "Despicable Me" and "Hop."
Illumination's Chris Meledandri produced the film, which marks his second Dr. Seuss production after "Horton Hears a Who!," which he made at Fox when running Fox Animation.
Heading into the weekend, tracking was strong for "Lorax" following an aggressive marketing campaign by Universal that included more than 70 global promotional partners.
Warner Bros.' found-footage comedy "Project X" -- costing a modest $12 million to make -- also did better than expected in opening to $20.8 million. The R-rated film was produced by Todd Phililps and Joel Silver.
"Project X," receiving a B CinemaScore overall, appealed heavily to younger males, who gave it an A CinemaScore. Of those buying tickets, 67 percent were under the age of 25, while 58 percent of that demo were males.
"Todd Phillips is just incredibly talented," said Warner Bros. executive vice president of distribution Jeff Goldstein.
"Project X" was directed by Nima Nourizadeh from a script Michael Bacall and Matt Drake.
Warners waged a nationwide casting call for the R-rated pic, which stars Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown.
Also making a major push this weekend was Oscar winner "The Artist," which expanded from roughly 1,000 theaters to more than 1,756 following its Academy Award victories, including best picture. Distributed by The Weinstein Co., the silent black-and-white film came in No. 10, grossing $3.9 million for a cume of $37.1 million. The film was up 34 percent, reflecting an Oscar bump.
Domestic Box Office, March 2-March 4
Title/Weeks in Release/Theater Count, Studio/Three Day Weekend Total/Cume
1. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, 1/3729, Universal/Illumination, $70.7 million
2. Project X, 1/3,055, Warner Bros., $20.8 million
3. Act of Valor, 2/3,053, Relativity/Bandito Brothers, $13.7 million, $45.2 million
4. Safe House, 4/2,553, Universal, $7.2 million, $1 $7 million,08.2 million
5. Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, 2/2,132, Lionsgate, $25.7 million
6. Journey 2, 4/3,060, New Line/Warner Bros., $6.9 million, $85.6 million
7. The Vow, 4/2,826, Screen Gems/Spyglass, $6.1 million, $111.7 million
8. This Means War, 3/2,324, Fox, $5.6 million, $41.5 million
9. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, 3/2,487, Sony/Hyde Park, $4.7 million, $44.9 million
10. The Artist, 15/1,756, The Weinstein Co., $3.9 million, $37.1 million
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