Lorax Keeps Universal Riding High
By John Hamann
March 4, 2012
The Lorax opened on Friday to a staggering $17.4 million, more than anyone was expecting. It was more than Horton Hears a Who at $13.3 million, and more than The Grinch, which took in $15.6 million on opening day. The Universal release then pulled $53.4 million on Saturday and Sunday, propelling the film to a strong internal weekend multiplier of 4.1. The weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) should have been well above 3.0, as this is a family film released in March, where kids are in school on Friday, and thinking about going back on Sunday evening. Universal's other big animated release, Despicable Me, opened in July of 2010, and because it was a summer release, had very similar Friday and Saturday numbers ($21.3 million Friday, $20.8 million Saturday). It finished with a weekend multiplier of 2.6, not only because it was a summer release, it also had midnight screenings the night before it opened. The big difference between The Lorax and Despicable Me is critics' reviews. The Lorax was only 57% fresh at RottenTomatoes, while Despicable Me was 81% fresh.
Is Universal back? It feels like it's been years since the studio was on any sort of roll. In 2008 they released Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Baby Mama, The Incredible Hulk, Wanted , Hellboy 2 and Mamma Mia! consecutively, and had a similar string in 2003 with Bruce Almighty, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Hulk, Johnny English, Seabiscuit and American Wedding. Since 2008, though, it feels like Universal has been flailing, but with back to back hits in The Lorax, Safe House, and to a lesser degree Tower Heist, is Universal back? Up next is American Reunion, a throwback to the past, which should also do decent business for the studio.
Finishing second is Project X, a movie that sounds a lot like a Mathew Broderick chimp movie (yes, I'm old). This Project X is a found footage party movie, showing audiences what a John Hughes film would look like had it gone for the hard R rating. From recently-hot producer Todd Phillips, Project X did very well this weekend, taking in $20.8 million from 3,055 venues. It had a venue average of $6,800. Project X harkens back to older Phillips comedies like 2000's Road Trip or 2003's Old School, where the characters were younger and the parties were actual parties, not flashbacks like in The Hangover and Hangover Part II.
Project X was made on the cheap, casting unknowns and using the found footage concept, which, on both counts, has led to films like The Blair Witch Project ($60,000 budget) , Cloverfield ($25 million budget), and more recently The Devil Inside ($1 million budget). Project X used an open casting call to find their unknowns, and the film ended up costing about $12 million to make. A $20 million plus opening puts Sony in a very good position, likely seeing real money returned by the end of next weekend. Anything earned after that – the rest of the domestic take, foreign box office, and home video - is gravy for the studio.