Potential inlaws and football players again delivered a one-two punch to salvage an otherwise modest mid-fall session at multiplexes, marking the first frame in a dozen in which overall business eclipsed the year-ago numbers.

The second outing of the Universal-DreamWorks pic “Meet the Parents” took in an impressive studio-estimated $21.3 million, marking the second highest October gross ever as the pic declined only 25%. And Buena Vista’s “Remember the Titans” showed solid legs with $13.5 million in its third march down the field, with a weekend-to-weekend fall of only 29%.

The holdover heavyweights, accounting for 39% of the $87.9 million estimated by B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI, pushed the weekend up 5% on the 1999 frame, when the debut of “Fight Club” led with $11 million. “Parents” and “Titans” also easily outperformed the combined total of the freshman quartet of “Lost Souls,” “The Ladies Man,” “The Contender” and “Dr. T and the Women.”

DreamWorks exec Don Harris noted that the $5.5 million take for “The Contender” had matched the pic’s cost and added that the political drama played well across the board in all geographic sectors. An Artisan rep said the studio was “very happy” with the $5.2 million opening for Robert Altman’s “Dr. T and the Women” since it will recoup its investment under its distribution agreement for the ensemble comedy.

“It’s nice to see these two solid hits get us back in synch with last year,” said EDI prexy Tom Borys. “This is a time of year when expectations are pretty modest, so ‘Parents’ and ‘Titans’ are showing a lot of strength.”

For U, the post-Olympic season has turned golden as “Parents” has hit $59 million in 10 days. Distrib chief Nikki Rocco predicted more of the same in coming weeks for the Robert De Niro/Ben Stiller collaboration, with a final domestic take well over $100 million. “It’s crossed over to all quadrants and it’s working tremendously.”

Studio, on the verge of a takeover by French conglom Vivendi, recently noted it had debuted four consecutive films in first place with “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,” “Bring It On,” “The Watcher” and “Meet the Parents.” That makes U the first studio to achieve that distinction since Par in 1989 (“Major League,” “Pet Sematary,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”).

“Titans” also appears headed for the $100 million milestone. “We’re looking rock-solid,” declared BV distrib topper Chuck Viane. “This weekend was a testament to the quality of ‘Titans’ and ‘Meet the Parents.’ ”

Despite the tepid newbie numbers, their performances created few alarms since none arrived with lofty expectations. A New Line rep said the studio was pleased with the $8.4 million opening for “Lost Souls,” and Borys termed the $5.7 million debut for “The Ladies Man” “a little soft.”

“The ‘Saturday Night Live’ spinoffs have been sort of hit and miss,” he added.

Dogged perf

Besides the powerful “Parents” and “Titans,” Warner’s expansion of canine comedy “Best in Show” posted impressive figures as it pawed its way into the top 10, putting the bite on a tasty $2.3 million at 291 kennels as the studio added 238 engagements. Pointing out that the pic lost only 7% at the 53 holdover locations, WB distrib chief Dan Fellman plans to add more sites this weekend.

Warner’s revamping of “The Exorcist” also scared up solid numbers in its fourth session with $5.4 million with 505 new haunts added on Friday the 13th to push its 24-day gross over $30 million. Fellman noted that only the “Star Wars” trilogy has generated better grosses among recent live-action re-releases.

Sophomore session for Warner’s “Get Carter” was far less healthy, thudding into eighth with a 59% drop to $2.7 million. DreamWorks’ “Almost Famous” continued to strike mixed chords with a 39% decline as the rock saga added 177 playdates.

Fox’s second outing of “Digimon: The Movie” fell out of the top 10 with a 57% decline to $1.8 million at 1,821 sites.

‘Billy’ ballyhooed

Universal Focus clicked on the arthouse circuit with Working Title’s Brit hit “Billy Elliot” debuting impressively with $220,000 at 10 playdates. Plans call for adding 40-50 engagements this week as part of a four-week rollout amid hopes of revisiting the successes of imports like “The Full Monty” and “Waking Ned Devine” and delivering a cume north of $20 million.

By comparison, Sony Classics’ opening of coming-of-age drama “Just Looking” found tough going with $5,075 at six engagements. But Artisan’s second session of “Requiem for a Dream” soared again with $50,000 at two sites and New Line’s soph outing of “Bamboozled” grabbed a solid $102,000 at 17 playdates.

“Requiem” expands to Los Angeles on Friday while “Bamboozled” will up its count to about 200.

Fine Line’s “Dancer in the Dark” continued to post respectable returns with $410,000 at 123 engagements to push its total to $1.56 million, while its long-running Brit comedy “Saving Grace” eclipsed $12 million with $134,000 at 213 sites. Fox’s second try for “Tigerland” took in $15,758 at five engagements.

As for the future, Warner’s reported a second consecutive Saturday of strong sneaks for “Pay It Forward” with 90% “definite recommend” among those polled at 700 showings. Drama with Haley Joel Osment, Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt opens Friday.

The weekend brought the year-to-date B.O. to $5.66 billion, down 1% from the same point last year, according to EDI. “We should have a decent level of business next weekend and there’s still a chance that we could beat last year, but the films have to deliver,” Borys said.