Green opening for “The Lorax” with $70.7 million

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Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

Universal Pictures’ “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” cleaned up at the North American box office over the weekend, making $70.7 million for the biggest opening of any movie so far this year.

Produced by Illumination Entertainment, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax features the voices of Danny DeVito, Zac Efron and Taylor Swift. The 3-D animated family film from Universal Pictures, is based on Seuss’ semi-serious tale of the need for environmental preservation.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax had the biggest opening for a Dr. Seuss adaptation. In 2000, the live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey, debuted at $55.1 million.

The previous best debut of 2012 was The Vow with $41.2 million.

Illumination Entertainment previously made Despicable Me. The studio’s latest movie had a bigger opening than that film, which debuted with $56.4 million in July 2010.

Some $5.4 million, or 8%, of the opening gross for Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax came from IMAX screens. That’s more than usual for a family film.

The R-rated Warner Bros. comedy Project X reached a strong second place with about $20.8 million, according to Sunday studio estimates.

“I was stunned from Friday,” when The Lorax brought in made $17.4 million, said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s president of domestic distribution. On Saturday, the film collected another $31.3 million.

“Who would have expected a result like this?”

She credited the success of The Lorax to “a combination of a) a great film, b) an incredible marketing campaign and b-plus) the need for another family film in the marketplace. I think that has a lot to do with it….

“People love Dr. Seuss, and audiences now know about Illumination and Chris Meledandri, what he delivers.” box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian had anticipated a $45 million to $50 million opening for The Lorax, and thought that Project X would start in the high teens. “Warner Bros. perfectly put their R-rated, raunchy comedy right there in the same weekend as The Lorax, and both films did very well,” he said.

Dergarabedian observed that The Lorax‘s major box-office success continues a string of strong results for movies overperforming so far this year. Revenues are up 19 percent from this point in 2011.

“It’s so different from what we were seeing last year and especially the end of last year. Now it’s like a box-office bonanza,” he said. “What a great turnaround from where we were last year with the down-trending week after week and the lowest attendance in 15 years. If we keep up this pace, we’re going to be looking at a massive summer.”

Action picture Act of Valor, which was No. 1 last week, fell to third place.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at United States and Canadian theaters were released by Final domestic figures are due Monday.

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