"The Lorax" surpassed all box-office expectations in its opening weekend, taking $70.7 million -- the biggest opening of 2012 so far and the most ever for a Universal animated film.
Universal's pre-release expectations for the 3D movie were around $40 million.
Warner Bros. had a strong opening weekend, as well. Its R-rated comedy "Project X" debuted to $20.8 million.
And The Weinstein Company saw that Oscar bump it had been waiting for. "The Artist," which won five Academy Awards last Sunday, returned to the top 10 at the box office, taking $3.9 million. The silent, black and white movie, now in its 15th week of release, has grossed $37.1 million domestically.
Overall, the box office was up about 24 percent compared to the same weekend in 2011. This marks the ninth consecutive week that the box office has beaten last year's.
This weekend, however, is all about "The Lorax."
Universal's PG-rated adaptation of the Dr. Suess book is now the biggest-opening animated family film that is not a sequel. It is Universal's fourth-biggest opening of all time. And it is the biggest opening weekend for a movie based on a Dr. Suess book.
Until "The Lorax," Screen Gems' "The Vow" had the biggest opening weekend of 2012. That movie debuted to $41.2 million.
And in all of 2011, only a half-dozen movies -- "Fast Five," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," " The Hangover: Part II," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 1" -- opened to more than $70 million.
The huge numbers for "The Lorax" are especially encouraging for Universal because family movies tend to have larger multiples than other types of films.
Nikki Rocco, Universal's head of distribution, attributed the film's remarkable box-office success to the movie itself -- the audience survey company Cinemascore gave it an "A" -- but also to its marketing campaign, which began early, and to its release date.
"Some people said to me, 'Why not open it in the summer?'" Rocco told TheWrap Sunday morning. "Why not now, when there's a lack of family films? 'Journey 2' is the last one, and it is in its fourth week."
She also noted that Universal partnered with more than 70 other companies and organizations, including Mazda, The Nature Conservancy, IHOP, Pottery Barn, HP and Whole Foods, to promote the film.
As expected, "The Lorax" played to families: 68 percent of the audience was children 12 and younger and their parents.
And the movie skewed female. Among children 12 and younger, the audience was 57 percent female. Among those 13 and older, it was 63 percent female.
(The Wrap, March 4, 2012)