The Phenomenon That Is ‘Meet the Parents’

The question buzzing around Hollywood today is: How could a little comedy that’s been out for a while beat out the most anticipated sequel of the year? The surprise hit comedy “Meet the Parents” managed to hold “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” at bay and hold on to the No. 1 spot at the box office for the fourth week in a row. It also passed the $100 million mark at the box office. Could it be “Parents‘” star power? It does, after all, star film veteran Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, who had a big comedic hit with “There’s Something About Mary.”

Highly unlikely say, some industry analysts. Word of mouth seems to be the culprit in this case.

“‘Meet the Parents‘” hit audiences in a good way,” says Daily Variety film critic Todd McCarthy. “They think it’s the funniest film they’ve seen in a long time, and I think word got out about that.”

Such was the case this morning on Los Angeles alternative radio station KROQ/106.7-FM. Several listeners called in to rave about the film and how the story reminded them of the first time they met their in-laws.

In the film, Stiller plays Greg Focker, a young man who asks his girlfriend’s overprotective father (De Niro) for her hand in marriage and is then put through the wringer with exhausting interrogation.

But word of mouth isn’t always good for a film, especially if the film is a stinker, as some have said of “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.”

“It’s a horrible film, and I think the word got out on that,” McCarthy says. “I’m amazed that they screened it in advance it’s so bad. I thought they would have at least played on people’s curiosity until the last possible minute.”

Banking on the popularity and media hype of last year’s “The Blair Witch Project,” the studio quickly went to work on its sequel, but the same formula doesn’t always work twice, says Brian Fuson, box office analyst for The Hollywood Reporter.

“I think the anticipation of the second ‘Blair Witch’ film was due to the success of the first one. The marketing approach with the Internet really captured people’s imagination before it came out. But you can’t use the same approach twice. It wouldn’t work,” he says.

“I think ‘Meet the Parents‘” has been going very strong because it’s had a great word of mouth. It only dropped 6 percent in attendance after its first week. That speaks to its strong word of mouth,” Fuson says. “Word of mouth is what makes or breaks the film, especially after its first week.”