'Meet the Parents' Tops Box Office

Monday, October 30th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The witch in the woods cast a weaker spell the second time around.

``Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,'' the follow-up to last year's low-budget surprise hit, ``The Blair Witch Project,'' was unable to knock off reigning box-office champ ``Meet the Parents.''

The ``Blair Witch'' sequel took in $13.1 million at 3,317 theaters, debuting in second place for the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

``Meet the Parents,'' the comedy starring Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, remained No. 1 for the fourth straight weekend — the first movie to do so since last year's blockbuster ``The Sixth Sense.'' It grossed $15.1 million for the weekend, pushing its total to $100 million.

``Blair Witch 2'' pulled in less than half what its predecessor did during its first weekend of wide release in July 1999. ``Blair Witch'' grossed a whopping $29.2 million on its way to a $140 million domestic gross after playing to sold-out theaters in limited release for two weekends.

It racked up those opening numbers in only 1,101 theaters, averaging a stellar $26,528 a cinema. Playing in three times as many places, the sequel averaged $3,949 a theater.

``Blair Witch'' began as a low-budget independent movie about three filmmakers who vanished in the woods while pursuing the legend of a witch. Presented as a documentary, the fictional movie tricked some people into thinking it was real.

``I guess you can fool movie-goers once, but they won't go for it a second time,'' said box-office analyst Robert Bucksbaum of Reel Source Inc.

The sequel scrapped the documentary approach, adopting a more traditional horror narrative about five people who visit the woods after getting caught up in the phenomenon of the first movie.

``I think the fan base is still there, but everybody knew this was a different movie,'' said Paul Pflug, spokesman for Artisan Entertainment, which released the ``Blair Witch'' movies. ``The first film was one of those industry phenomena that no one can predict.''

``Blair Witch 2'' cost about $15 million to make. The original cost an estimated $60,000 to shoot, plus around $300,000 to improve the sound and other steps to make it ready for theaters. Artisan still expects to turn a good profit on the sequel by the time its domestic gross, overseas rights, television sales and video revenue are added up, Pflug said.

A third movie, a prequel relating how the ``Blair Witch'' legend started, is planned for release next year.

``Meet the Parents'' became the first movie to top the box office four straight weekends since last year's blockbuster ``The Sixth Sense.'' ``Charlie's Angels'' opens next weekend, a virtual shoo-in to knock ``Meet the Parents'' out of the top spot.

``Lucky Numbers'' starring John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow, also had a poor debut, grossing $4.6 million for seventh place. The black comedy tells the story of a TV weatherman and lotto-ball girl who rig the Pennsylvania lottery.

It finished behind another new movie, the family film ``The Little Vampire,'' which played in 500 fewer theaters but debuted at No. 6 with $5.5 million.

``We're definitely disappointed,'' said Rob Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount motion-pictures group. ``We felt it was the sort of offbeat, dark comedy that audiences would embrace, and they didn't.''

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures are to be released Monday.

1. ``Meet the Parents,'' $15.1 million.

2. ``Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,'' $13.1 million.

3. ``Remember the Titans,'' $8 million.

4. ``Bedazzled,'' $7.7 million.

5. ``Pay It Forward,'' $6.9 million.

6. ``The Little Vampire,'' $5.5 million.

7. ``Lucky Numbers,'' $4.6 million.

8. ``The Contender,'' $2.5 million.

9. ``The Legend of Drunken Master,'' $2.3 million.

10. ``Best in Show,'' $1.8 million.

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