Forecast: Box Office Be Warned - 'The Lorax' Set For Huge Debut
Midnight Update (3/2): Project X got off to a solid start last night with $1.15 million from midnight shows at 1,003 locations. That gross pretty much guarantees that Project X won't be a flop; however, ads for the past week have almost all mentioned the midnight screenings, which surely helped boost these grosses a bit. No midnight grosses are currently available for The Lorax, though it's unlikely they were very significant given the movie's family audience.

Forecast (3/1): On the heels of the highest-grossing February in history, the box office party looks like it will keep raging on the first weekend of March. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, which is the second fully animated movie from Illumination Entertainment, opens at 3,728 locations, including 269 IMAX venues (a 3D theater count is not currently available). Meanwhile, found footage comedy Project X reaches 3,055 locations.

All signs indicate that The Lorax is set for a huge first place debut this weekend. The adaptation of Dr. Seuss' environmentalist children's book has almost the entire Despicable Me team on board, from the distributor (Universal) and animation house (Illumination) down through the main producer (Christopher Meledandri), the director (Chris Renaud) and the writers (Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul). That movie opened to $56.4 million in July 2010 on its way to a $251.5 million total. Despicable Me did come out during a year when animation was extraordinarily popular, and due partly to market saturation and partly to a subpar lineup the format took a bit of a hit in 2011.

Working in The Lorax's favor is the fact that the last major computer animated movie was The Adventures of Tintin, which opened over two months ago and wasn't all that popular ($77 million to date). Also, Universal has mounted an impressive marketing effort that nicely blends the bright colors and whimsical characters associated with Dr. Seuss' work with some slightly irreverent humor, most of which comes from the diminutive title character voiced by Danny DeVito.

The last Dr. Seuss adaptation, Horton Hears a Who!, was also produced by Meledandri while he was at Blue Sky Animation. That movie opened to $45 million in March 2008 and ultimately earned over $154 million. With four years of inflation plus 3D and IMAX ticket prices, there's no reason why The Lorax can't at least match this opening. Rango debuted to $38.1 million on the same weekend last year, and Universal's tracking indicates that The Lorax will likely wind up above that mark.

Following The Devil Inside (January) and Chronicle (February), Project X is the latest found footage movie to open on the first weekend of the month. With advertisements that specifically mention that it's from the producer of The Hangover ($277.3 million), and that it's "Superbad on crack" ($121.5 million), it's not hard to see what kind of money Warner Bros. is chasing with Project X. Even with a robust campaign, though, the movie is unlikely to match Superbad's $33.05 million debut—party movies generally don't do too well, with Take Me Home Tonight ($6.9 million) serving as a recent example.

Still, Chronicle proved that even without supernatural horror, found footage flicks can still score a strong opening ($22 million in this case). With strong word-of-mouth floating around the Twitter-sphere, Project X does seem well-positioned as the sort of cool event movie that college-aged moviegoers turn out for in droves (the "R" rating will prevent most high-schoolers from seeing it).

After winning five Academy Awards on Sunday, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, The Artist is expanding from 966 to 1,756 locations. Through Wednesday, the movie has earned $32.9 million, and it has a very good chance of winding up around $50 million by the end of its run.

Weekend Forecast (March 2-4)

1. The Lorax - $53.5 million

2. Project X - $21.5 million

3. Act of Valor - $14.7 million (-40%)

4. Journey 2 - $7.4 million (-45%)

5. Good Deeds - $6.5 million (-58%)

-. The Artist - $4.7 million (+62%)

Bar for Success

The Lorax is in very good shape if it opens over $40 million, while Project X gets a pass at around $20 million.

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