The Career Analyst: Adam Sandler

This week we’re going for one of the Big Guns and an actor who for thirteen years has been one of the most reliable comedy stars at the box office. If you look at Adam Sandler by The Numbers, you’ll see that his movies (including ones in which he cameo’d) have grossed over $2 billion domestically which is up there with some of the biggest actors in the business.

Before we get to his lengthy career, let’s look at how the critics have treated Sandler over the years by looking at Rotten Tomatoes. Yikes! Yeah, obviously the critics don’t like Sandler. Out of the 36 movies listed that he’s been involved with in some capacity or another, only five have scored positive ratings and they were generally some of his movies that didn’t perform nearly as well at the box office. Things are getting worse, too, as his barometer has gone from being in the 20-30% fresh category to not making any movies that get more than 20% of positive reviews. His company also produced Nick Swardon’s Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star, which is one of the worst rated movies of the year with 0% i.e. NOT ONE POSITIVE REVIEW. Again… yikes.

After cutting his teeth at stand-up and improv, Sandler would turn up from time to time on the MTV game show “Remote Control” before he was cast for the 25th season of “Saturday Night Live” by Lorne Michaels where he worked regularly with the likes of Rob Schneider, David Spade, Chris Rock, Tim Meadows and Chris Farley, all of whom would benefit from that relationship later. Sandler certainly had some fun characters and bits, but he more often played part of the ensemble and didn’t leap out like a Will Ferrrell or an Eddie Murphy so his jump to movies may have been more surprising.

Sandler’s transition to movie star begin slowly with small roles in a number of SNL-related comedies and his first three solo movies in ’95 and ’96–Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and Bulletproof–did moderate business but nothing special, although the middle one of those three would become the name of Sandler’s successful production company, a veritable cottage industry for making the type of comedy Sandler excels at.

Then in 1998 came The Wedding Singer, a romantic comedy that paired Sandler with Drew Barrymore that was released quite fortuitously over Valentine’s Day weekend and had a solid $22 million opening on its way to $80 million. Sandler had arrived but that wouldn’t prepare anyone for his two back-to-back hits, The Waterboy later that year in November and Big Daddy the following summer, which opened with $39 and 41 million, respectively, each going on to gross $160 million. Very few comedians had that sort of success, but those were two very different movies that showed the two sides of Sandler’s comic personality – doing character-related schtick and playing an everyman making light of everyday situations.

It was the former incarnation of Sandler that led to Little Nicky, which was considered a huge bomb when it opened in early November 2000 with just a $16 million opening on its way to make less in total than his previous two movies their opening weekend. It was a fairly big stumble in Sandler’s career, one that few expected him to recover from but recover he did.

He took a year off and bounced back with Mr. Deeds, which also began Sandler’s desire to become a respected actor by appearing in P.T. Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love a few months later. The $17 million it grossed (compared to the $126 million made by “Deeds”) made it painfully obvious where Sandler’s bread and butter lied and he began a string of hits, which were always tempered by smaller scale dramas.

The first of the former was Anger Management, which teamed him with Jack Nicholson, a high concept comedy that scored $135 million. That was followed by his reunion with Barrymore for 50 First Dates, which again opened over Valentine’s Day weekend and nearly doubled the opening of The Wedding Singer and grossed $120 million. Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard, which teamed him with Chris Rock, was a huge hit over Memorial Day, scoring $158 million in the summer, followed a year later by Click, which made its way to $137 million with its draw for family audiences.

That was followed by three very different movies: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, his first teaming with Kevin James, the character comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and the Disney family movie Bedtime Stories, all of which made between $100 and 120 million. Not quite on par with his bigger hits but still showing strong support for Sandler’s different brands of humor.

Many thought that Sandler’s teaming with superstar comedy filmmaker Judd Apatow for Funny People would be both of their biggest hits, so when it faltered with just $51 million after a $22 million opening, it was once again thought that maybe Sandler wouldn’t be able to bounce back for a second time. Then again, that movie was more in line with Sandler’s dramatic work than his own high concept comedies.

Just when most people thought that Sandler’s star was on the descend, he reteamed with Kevin James and Chris Rock as well as long-time friends Spade and Schneider for the ensemble piece Grown Ups, which was basically one bit after another and their fans ate it up and showed up in droves to put it up amongst Sandler’s biggest earlier hits. Earlier this year, Sandler was paired with Jennifer Aniston for the romantic comedy Just Go With It, which fell short both opening and in total with just $103 million, although again, making $100 million in February is never anything to scoff it.

Looking through all those hits, that’s still a fairly illustrious career in just thirteen years and that brings us to Sandler’s latest comedy Jack and Jill, which seems like a step back for Sandler as well as a movie with the potential to be another Little Nicky-level bomb. It continues Sandler’s attempt to reach a new and younger audience, something that’s lead him to doing more voicework in family movies like Kevin James’ The Zookeeper and the upcoming Hotel Transylvania. This decision won’t do much to help sate his older male fans who would probably like to see him do more movies that appeal to them like The Longest Yard.

So where does that leave things?

Don’t get us wrong. Sandler still has a lot of potential to bring people into theaters with the right concept and vehicle, but as actors like Will Ferrell and Jack Black have seen, you can only do the same thing for so long before people tire of you. We’re actually quite excited to see Sandler appear in a movie like next year’s I Hate You, Dad, which is written by Ken Marino and David Wain of “The State” and Role Models, which will probably be far more intelligent and edgier than Sandler’s normal schtick. It teams Sandler with the current “SNL” cast member who is most often compared to him, Andy Samberg, and it’s also directed by Sean Anders and John Morris, the writers of Sex Drive andHot Tub Time Machine, both very funny movies, all things that might force Sandler to do something different and step up his game. It’s too early to tell if this will prove successful, but releasing a movie with that title on Father’s Day literally guarantees it to be a hit.

Even though they don’t make as much money, Sandler needs to do more serious drama and try to work with directors who push him and get away from the likes of Dennis Dugan and Frank Coraci and start working with comedy directors who aren’t just his “yes men” friends and part of his entourage, because the well certainly seems to be running dry when it comes to his usual schtick if he has to resort to crossdressing. He should be using his lucrative Happy Madison Productions to foster new talent, both directing and comic talent, rather than using it just to finance his friends’ comedy vehicles that inevitably bomb. Sandler also should continue to foster his career as a romantic lead by being paired with actresses who can hold their own against him (like Aniston and Barrymore) rather than continually being paired with hot supermodels no one would ever expect to go for a guy who looks like Adam Sandler.

Of course, these would all be tough and risky choices to make but at this point, it may be the only way he’s going to get past being “that guy who put on a dress for ‘Jack and Jill.’”

The Career Analyst’s Rating for Adam Sandler:

B-

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