EXCLUSIVE: Despicable Me, the first film out of the gate for Universal Pictures and Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, will cross the $500 million worldwide gross mark tomorrow. It steps into rarefied territory as the film continues to roll out around the world. The 3D animated film that starred Steve Carell recently cracked the Top 10 list of all time biggest domestic-grossing animated films. The pic, which cost $69 million to make, has grossed $248 million domestically, which puts it a distant second behind Toy Story 3, but makes it 2010’s second biggest animated film domestic grosser so far. Despicable Me also has become  Universal’s sixth highest domestic-grossing film ever, and the studio’s biggest international grossing film of 2010. The film just opened in Japan but hasn’t played yet in several territories including China. It has done $247 million overseas, and is expected to finish as Universal’s fifth all-time biggest grossing film in the international marketplace. Just as important, the picture pulled Universal out of a prolonged slump.

“We couldn’t be more impressed with the movie or with the global Universal and Illumination team that has made it a certifiable blockbuster,” said  Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley in a joint statement. “This was a mammoth effort from every division of the company, and their work resulted in the film’s brilliant success. To know that the first project from Chris’ production company has blossomed into an enormous, franchise-launching enterprise is inspiring. We look forward to a long partnership with Illumination.”

Said Meledandri: “In forming Illumination my goal was to produce movies that not only played to audiences of all ages but also played across all cultures. Despicable Me‘s achievement of this goal is a tribute to my directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul and my fellow producers Janet Healy and John Cohen. In Universal I have found truly like-minded partners whose contribution to the film and its success was nothing short of spectacular.”

Meledandri, who left Fox Animation to form the family film unit at Universal, next releases Hop, the CG/live action mix that features Russell Brand as the voice of the Easter Bunny, on April 1, 2011. Right behind that is Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the Ricky Gervais-created Flanimals, a new stop-motion version of The Addams Family with Tim Burton directing, and a sequel to Despicable Me. And there are two short films featuring The Minions, the adorable yellow henchmen to the Carell-voiced mischief maker.