LOS ANGELES – The horror of meeting the in-laws beat out the fright flick at theaters this weekend. "Meet the Fockers" (search) took in $28.5 million to remain the top movie for the third straight weekend, holding off the horror newcomer "White Noise," which debuted a strong No. 2 with $24 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The two movies paced Hollywood to a healthy start for the year, with the top 12 films grossing $98.3 million, up 8 percent from the same weekend in 2004.
That comes after a holiday surge sparked by "Meet the Fockers" lifted Hollywood to a record $9.4 billion domestic haul in 2004. Though the year's revenues were up, higher admission prices mean movie attendance was off about 1.7 percent, so the solid beginning positions the industry for a healthier 2005.
"The end of the year was stronger than expected, so headed into the first of the year, we have some momentum going," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations (search). "Studios just need to keep the momentum in the market place, because once you lose it, it takes a long time to get back."
Since opening just before Christmas, "Meet the Fockers" has taken in $204.3 million, topping the $166.2 million total of its predecessor, "Meet the Parents."
The comedy sequel reunites Ben Stiller (search) and Robert De Niro (search) as prospective in-laws with a shaky relationship, adding Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand to the cast as Stiller's zany parents.
The superstar cast and the movie's universal theme has made "Meet the Fockers" an easy sell to audiences.
"It hits home, doesn't it? Conflicts between in-laws, everybody's been there," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released "Meet the Fockers" and "White Noise."
Critics hated "White Noise," which stars Michael Keaton as a man convinced his dead wife is trying to communicate with him through his television. Yet scary movies tend to have a built-in audience of horror fans, who turn out in huge numbers over opening weekend.
The box office often plunges for fright flicks in their second weekend, though some manage stronger staying power, such as last year's $100 million hit "The Grudge," which most critics also panned.
"White Noise" producer Paul Brooks said he hopes his movie can defy the critics, too, and hold up well beyond opening weekend.
"It's always fascinated me, the way critics work," said Brooks, who also produced "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." "They have a particular view of a film which sometimes can be significantly at odds with what the man on the street and the lady on the street and the kid on the street want to see."
Two films embraced by critics, Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" and Terry George's "Hotel Rwanda," had strong showings as they expanded from limited release.
"Million Dollar Baby," starring Eastwood as mentor to a strong-willed boxer (Hilary Swank), took in $2 million in 109 theaters, up from nine theaters the previous weekend.
"Hotel Rwanda," featuring Don Cheadle as a real-life hotel manager who sheltered refugees during the 1990s Rwandan genocide, grossed $1.15 million in 105 theaters, up from seven the previous weekend.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Meet the Fockers," $28.5 million.
2. "White Noise," $24 million.
3. "The Aviator," $7.6 million.
4. "Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events," $7.4 million.
5. "Fat Albert," $6 million.
6. "Ocean's Twelve," $5.4 million.
7. "National Treasure," $4.5 million.
8. "Spanglish," $4.4 million.
9. "The Phantom of the Opera," $3.4 million.
10. "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," $2.7 million.