The biggest animation opening weekend in the history of Universal Pictures owes much to Chris Meledandri, head of the studio-owned Illumination Entertainment. Illumination is shaping up to be every bit as devastating a box-office force as Blue Sky, the company that launched the Ice Age franchise which Meledandri oversaw during his time as president of 20th Century Fox Animation.
Meledandri is a whizz at what he does, and previously delivered the superb Despicable Me (the sequel is due in 2013) for Universal, so it's little surprise that The Lorax was able to dominate the US box office charts at the weekend, even if the scale of victory stunned everybody. The $71m (£44.8m) debut was roughly $50m ahead of Warner Bros' comedy Project X in second place. This was also the biggest debut of the year so far and keeps up the dynamic pace set in January and February.
This is the type of news cinema owners are desperate for, and they will eat it up with even more relish, given that they're a beleaguered lot these days. New technology has enabled a host of cutting-edge distribution methods to flourish and the argument goes that before long we will all eschew the local multiplex or arthouse in favour of curling up on the sofa with an iPad or congregating in front of a TV to stream new releases.
The exhibition community – namely the theatre chains and smaller independent venues – clings to triumphs such as The Lorax and will get a lot of play out of its performance at next month's CinemaCon event in Las Vegas. This annual gathering with studio heads serves as a timely reminder that there's no better place to launch films such as this – as well as other tentpole movies such as the imminent The Hunger Games and of course the summer blockbusters-elect. I think they're right. The worldwide growth of Imax and the occasional spectacular success of 3D bolsters the case, even if the distribution landscape is shifting and film-makers find themselves with an increasing array of distribution methods.
The cinema has on the whole been kind to Oscar winners large and small, so it is interesting to note that The Artist has not (yet) been a major beneficiary of the so-called Oscar bounce. Michel Hazanavicius' charmer won five prizes at the Academy Awards including best picture, director and lead actor. Despite this it only climbed 37% against last weekend's box office after Harvey Weinstein expanded it by 790 theatres to 1,756. It should have done a lot better, and $3.9m in returns means a so-so $37.1m after 15 weekends. Still, it takes some doing to get bums on seats for a silent black-and-white movie and the sense is that The Artist may stick around for several weekends as word of mouth continues to grow.
By contrast, Sony Pictures Classics increased the screen count for Asghar Farhadi's Iranian best foreign language Oscar winner A Separation from 83 to 243 and watched box office climb 174% on the previous week. It added just over $1m for a $3.7m running total after 10 weekends.
North American top 10, 2-4 March 2012
1 Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, $70.7m
2 Project X, $20.8m
3 Act of Valor, $13.7m. Total: $45.2m
4 Safe House, $7.2m. Total: $108.2m
5 Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, $7m. Total: $25.7m
6 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, $6.9m. Total: $85.6m
7 The Vow, $6.1m. Total: $111.7m
8 This Means War, $5.6m. Total: $41.5m
9 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, $4.7m. Total: $44.9m
10 The Artist, $3.9m. Total: $37.1m
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