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''Meet the Parents'' tops the box office

The Ben Stiller/ Robert De Niro farce scores the best October opening ever

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Teri Polo, Ben Stiller, ...
Parents: Phillip V. Caruso

”Meet the Parents” passed the test with the fall’s tough moviegoing audiences as it claimed the No. 1 spot at the box office this weekend. The comedy about a benighted beau (Ben Stiller) who meets his future father in law from hell (Robert De Niro) brought home a record $29.1 million for an October opener — surpassing the mark set by 1998’s ”Antz” ($17.2 million). The film also marked a record debut for both actors, outselling De Niro’s ”Analyze This” ($18.4 million) and Stiller’s ”The Cable Guy”($19.8 million). While the duo certainly have the star power to make their farce a hit, the film’s laugh quotient was no doubt raised by director Jay Roach, who helmed Mike Myers’ ”Austin Powers” hits.

Two other newcomers made the top five, but neither could beat last week’s No. 1, ”Remember the Titans,” which slipped to second place. The Denzel Washington team spirit flick scored a healthy $19.6 million, almost three times the $6.7 million debut for the Sylvestor Stallone remake of ”Get Carter” (No. 3). Execs at distributor Warner Bros. (who opted not to screen the movie in advance for critics) didn’t appear shot down by the unimpressive bow for Stallone’s latest comeback attempt. The film ”performed within its boundaries,” Dan Fellman, WB’s distribution prez, mysteriously told Reuters.

The newly revamped version of ”The Exorcist” (No. 4) managed to cough up another $4.6 million worth of green stuff, while this week’s third newcomer, Japanese animation film ”Digimon: The Movie,” rounded out the top five with a $4.1 million debut. Meanwhile, the critically adored Cameron Crowe rock flick, ”Almost Famous” (No. 6), suffered a blow. Though the film expanded its theater count by 28 percent, it lost some 32 percent of its audience, earning a disappointing $3.8 million. In its first 26 days of release, the movie has grossed just $23.3 million.

CRITICAL MASS Robert De Niro may be best known for gritty dramas like ”Taxi Driver” and ”Raging Bull,” but as far as EW.com’s readers are concerned his comic forays are equally winning. ”Meet the Parents” earned a solid grade of B+, slightly higher than the critics’ average of B-. And it appears as though ”Parents” is due for a long run. Some 62 percent of EW.com voters said the film was far better than expected, while a whopping 73 percent said they would recommend the movie to friends.

The new ”Get Carter,” meanwhile, might as well get lost. The Stallone remake of Michael Caine’s 1970s gangbuster classic scored a lowly average grade of C- from voters. (Critics have yet to weigh in with their opinions because they weren’t able to see advance screenings of the film.) Moreover, a dismal 67 percent of readers said they were unlikely to recommend the hitman flick to friends. No doubt that’s because some 33 percent agreed that the movie — with its altered, Hollywood happy ending — was far worse than expected. Stallone, nevertheless, can still claim some star power: 67 percent of voters indicated that they were lured into the unfortunate experience by the film’s actors. We assume they were including Sly in that definition.

To vote on these and other current movies, visit our Critical Mass Movie Poll.