Box Office Blockbuster: $70.7M For Dr. Seuss 'The Lorax' Is Year's Biggest

SUNDAY AM, 2ND UPDATE: Obviously huge pent-up demand for a true children’s classic, an ‘A’ CinemaScore, plus an overheated box office converged for a monster hit. Universal’s The Lorax lunged to $70.7M for the highest non-sequel animated/family film opening. ($5.4M from IMAX, or 8% of the gross which is on the high side for a family film.) It’s the biggest grossing film ever from a Dr Seuss book, as well as the biggest opener of 2012, the 4th biggest March opener, the 8th biggest animated PG film, and the 5th biggest animated 3D film. The $70M-budget toon from Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment (Despicable Me, Hop) also is the 4th biggest Universal opener of all time. And remember: the next animated kid film isn’t until April 27th. Yowza! Exit polls showed that 68% of the audience was 12 years and under with their parents. Of those moviegoers age 25 and older, 74% were parents of a child under 13 years of age. Among children 12 and under, the audience was 57% female vs 43% male. Among those 13 years and older, the audience was 63% female vs. 37% male. Friday’s release date (same as Rango‘s last year) is the birthday of Dr. Seuss, who would have turned 108 this year. Film is based on his 1971 bestseller and Meledandri’s 2nd Seuss adaptation following his Horton Hears a Who! for Fox in 2008. This is his and his toon company Illumination’s 3rd successful film for Universal. Many from the Despicable Me team, including writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, producer Janet Healy, and director Chris Renaud. The film is executive produced by Audrey Geisel of the Seuss Estate.

The marketing campaign’s goal was to have the color orange be synonymous with The Lorax in the minds of consumers. Talk about successful: parents told me that whenever they passed the orange-takeover outdoor ads, kids would point and say, “Lorax”.  The primary marketing began last October with the launch of the teaser one-sheet image of the lead character and the teaser trailer made its first debut with Puss In Boots. The TV campaign stressed the younger voice talent like Taylor Swift and Zac Efron. Using them, a record number of media promotional partners supported The Lorax, resulting in integrations, tune-ins, and stunts on 18 networks over four weeks and more than 1,100 total promotional elements. The studio says its digital campaign was one of Universal’s “largest and most immersive in history” with the Facebook campaign including a 2-month content program “60 Days of Seuss” and a tie-in with The Nature Conservancy to help conserve a South American rainforest. Targeted outreach to mom and dad bloggers was the most expansive in the studio’s history, culminating at the Blissdom Conference, the largest annual convention of parenting bloggers. On opening day, Amazon allowed an external brand to take over its main page for the first time in its history as The Lorax promoted the Read Across America program. There were customized Lorax games and experiences developed for leading children’s digital destinations including Nick/Neopets, Poptropica, Webkinz. And Universal also partnered with Scholastic, The National Education Association, Random House and  Target on different initiatives to celebrate Dr. Seuss and to develop materials for in-school awareness. Finally, The Lorax received a ton of synergistic promotion from Comcast and NBCUniversal with integrations across 20 networks and more than 40 digital platforms. Danny DeVito, Betty White, and Zac Efron appeared in musical performances judged by the film’s animated characters in an opening-week episode of NBC’s hit show The Voice.) The costumed Lorax character began appearing at both Universal theme parks in the holiday season. More than 70  global partners signed on to be a part of The Lorax, delivering more than $70 million in total media value, including IHOP, HP, Whole Foods, Hilton DoubleTree, and the Ad Council. The Hispanic outreach retitled the film El Lórax including Spanish-language versions of all promotional elements.

Warner Bros also had success with its found footage R-rated opener Project X which hit $20+M. Audiences gave the teens-gone-wild pic a ‘B’ CinemaScore (‘C+’ from families not surprisingly). This low-budget teaming of producers Todd Phillips and Joel Silver made a surprisingly solid $1.1M in Friday midnights from only 1,003 locations and went up from there. Warner Bros credits the success to a very unconventional marketing campaign for Project X. Given the lack of stars and the stale wild party theme, the studio sought word-of-mouth in the viral space and built urgency in a non-traditional way. “We did use Todd Phillips’ pedigree along with The Hangover brand in all the materials to engage the young male target and give the movie credibility from the get go,” an exec tells me. At its center was a partnership with global youth brand Vice that was designed to seed early awareness and buzz. Studio created a series of videos called “Project X Party Legends: An oral history of absolute insanity,” featuring Snoop Dogg, Johnny Knoxville, Tyler the Creator, Ken Jeong, and others. Then there was a Vice-sponsored screening program across 10 cities and an after-party with underground hip-hop acts Machine Gun Kelly and Pusha T. These led to extensive college efforts and targeted national opportunities ranging from Howard Stern to Jimmy Kimmel. The trailer and ads took audience comments from word of mouth screenings and Twitter to lend the movie credibility with the target audience. Screenplay was from first-timer Matt Drake and Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, upcoming 21 Jump Street) directed by first-timer Nima Nourizadeh.

Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist from The Weinstein Co creeps into the Top 10 for its 15th week in release thanks to 790 additional locationss. Overall weekend biz is up for the 9th weekend in a row in 2012: $168M or +25% over last year. But will next weekend require me to autopsy report John Carter?

1. The Lorax (Universal) NEW [3,729 Theaters]
Friday $17.4M, Saturday $31.3M, Weekend $70.7M

2. Project X (Warner Bros) NEW [3,055 Theaters]
Friday $8.1M, Saturday $7.6M, Weekend $20.7M

3. Act of Valor (Relativity) Week 2 [3,093 Theaters]
Friday $3.8M, Saturday $6.1M, Weekend $13.7M (-44%), Cume $45.2M

4. Safe House (Universal) Week 4 [2,553 Theaters]
Friday $1.9M, Saturday $3.5M, Weekend $7.3M, Cume $108.3M

5. Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds (Lionsgate) Week 2 [2,132 Theaters]
Friday $1.8M, Saturday $3.4M, Weekend $7.0M (-55%), Cume $25.7M

6. Journey 2 (Warner Bros) Week 4 [3,060 Theaters]
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $3.2M, Weekend $6.9M, Cume $85.6M

7. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 4 [2,826 Theaters]
Friday $1.8M, Saturday $2.7M, Weekend $6.0M, Cume $111.6M

8. This Means War (Fox) Week 3 [2,342 Theaters]
Friday $1.6M, Saturday $2.6M, Weekend $5.6M, Cume $41.4M

9. Ghost Rider 2 (Sony) Week 3 [2,487 Theaters[]
Friday $1.1M, Saturday $2.2M, Weekend $4.6M, Cume $44.8M

10. The Artist (Weinstein) Week 15 [1,756 theaters]
Friday $938K, Saturday $1.6M, Weekend $3.8M, Cume $37M

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