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Several movie reporters spent the weekend writing obituaries for Adam Sandler. Not the actor. Just his career. Pixels, the comedians latest feature, opened to a soft $24 million. This after The Cobbler tanked, and Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children -- co-starring Sandler -- earned $705,908. Total. Also, most Sandler movies not named Grown Ups tend to underperform.
Well, we here at CinemaBlend aren’t quite ready to write Mr. Happy Gilmore off just yet. So we got together as a staff and answered five important questions about Sandler and his career. Starting with:
Will Adam Sandler Ever Have Another Live Action Hit?Eric Eisenberg: Adam Sandler is pretty far gone, but I don’t think it is too late yet for him to pull himself out of the trap that his career has become. It’s really just all about the material that he’s choosing. All it takes is for him to really challenge himself with an interesting, complex comedy, and get a positive buzz from critics. I’m willing to bet that there is a lot of cache in "Adam Sandler finally made a great movie again," and could definitely generate ticket sales.
Brent McKnight: Sure, Adam Sandler isn’t the hit factory he was once upon a time in his career. Yet, while some of his recent movies have tanked, he’s not automatic box office poison. It was only 2013 where he had a big success with Grown Ups 2. While it may have been critically panned, it still made nearly $250 million worldwide. At least as far as movie-going audiences go, there appears to be some gas left in the tank, even if he’s not an instant draw anymore.
Sean O’Connell: Yeah, I have to agree with the guys in saying that there’s never a right time to count Adam Sandler out. He plays to his base very well in the Grown Ups movies and he’s cultivating a younger crowd with movies like Pixels. All he needs to do is wake up and give a damn, just a little, and he could surprise people with a massive hit. It likely would mean shedding his collaborative writers and finding an inspired director, but there’s now way a hit for Adam Sandler is out of the realm of possibility.
Is Netflix The Right Place For Him?Eric Eisenberg: I’m not necessarily sure that it will widen his fan base, but what it will probably do is give his younger (and core) fan base better access to his material. With Netflix, the parent of a Sandler fan is no longer hassled with the bother of driving their child to the local theater and sitting with them for two hours through a movie they have no interest in. This means that kids will have 24/7 access to new Sandler material, and won’t miss it because their parents don’t want to put up with it.
Brent McKnight: Netflix may very well be a good place for Sandler, career wise. He’s still a big enough name and draw that he’ll likely be able to turn in strong numbers for the streaming giant. At the same time, he won’t have the pressure of trying to win the box office race fronting a big-budget studio blockbuster. This move could very well allow him the freedom to get back to what he does best without the expectations that his movies will sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of movie tickets.
Sean O’Connell: Brent hit the nail on the head. Netflix will allow Adam Sandler to fly under the radar and avoid the pressure of performing… something that, I believe, will allow him to get experimental with his humor. Netflix is showing that it can be a proving ground for experimental programming, be it challenging dramas like House of Cards and Bloodline to comic-book series like Daredevil. Now, the controversy surrounding Sandler’s immature-sounding The Ridiculous Six suggest that Sandler isn’t learning ANYTHING from this recent misfires. But I still think Netflix is going to give him just enough rope to help him rediscover his comedic voice. (And yes, I do think he has one.)
Does He Need To Drop His Buddies That He's Made Movies With For Years?Eric Eisenberg: It may not necessarily be about losing buddies, but I definitely think Adam Sandler needs to make some new ones. His collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson proved that he can be an excellent performer when molded by the right filmmaker, and he should discuss those opportunities more often than he has been. It was only a few years ago that Quentin Tarantino was talking about wanting him for Inglorious Basterds, so maybe he could set Sandler up with a gig in the future.
Brent McKnight: In Sandler’s two biggest recent live-action movies, Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, he’s been part of a cast that includes a bunch of his old Saturday Night Live pals and Kevin James. On the other hand, more Sandler-dependent efforts like Jack and Jill and That’s My Boy have failed to find an audience. Perhaps he’s at a stage in his career where he will be best as a repertory player. Pixels was certainly marketed more as an ensemble piece rather than an "Adam Sandler Move."
Sean O’Connell: You know what? Yes. Absolutely. Yes. Dump them all. Stop carrying the dead weight. Do a solo project. Try another action movie. Stretch your acting muscles. I know that hanging out with your friends, and giving them enough money to buys mansions and sports cars, is fun… for a little while. After a while, a performer needs to get back to challenging himself or herself – and, by extension, their audience. By now, we’ve seen just about everything Sandler and his Hotel T pals can provide. It’s time for a total shakeup, a reinvention from the ground up. Does Adam have the energy for that?
Have Audiences Given Up On His Brand Of Humor?Eric Eisenberg: Obviously the guy is still speaking to some people, but if we’re just looking at the numbers it’s pretty clear that a large portion of his audience has dropped off. Ten to 15 years ago, the movies he carried by himself didn’t break a sweat making over $100 million, and now titles like Jack and Jill and Blended are making half that or less. Adam Sandler definitely speaks to younger audiences more than adults, which is why he’s been able to keep hanging around all these years. But it doesn’t seem like that pocket of popularity will sustain him in the industry.
Brent McKnight: I think there is still a market for Sandler’s style of humor, and there likely always will be. At the same time, however, he doesn’t have quite the broad appeal that he did at the peak of his popularity and his audience isn’t as big as it used to be. It’s hard to imagine him ever reclaiming that without doing something drastic, but he could very well keep turning out smaller movies that make a profit and satisfy his core fans. This is why his partnership with Netflix may very well turn out to be an ideal match for both parties.
Sean O’Connell: Right now, yes. They have. Comedy goes in cycles, and right now, the type of laughs that Adam Sandler chases aren’t in style. That doesn’t mean that we won’t cycle back around to the base humor in Sandler’s punchlines. But female-driven vehicles and satirical sketches are the rage now, from Spy and Broad City to Key & Peele and the Ghostbusters reboot. The soft numbers at Sandler box prove audiences are looking for entertainment elsewhere. Right now, the crowds are not on his side, and he has to work to earn them back.
What Is His Last Actual Good Movie?Eric Eisenberg: My personal interpretation of this question is, "What was his last movie you could honestly recommend to people?" – and the sad reality is that the answer is 2002’s Punch Drunk Love (I’d say Funny People if it weren’t for the second half). The Paul Thomas Anderson film is the best work he’s ever done and been a part of, and I can’t say I’ve been entertained by anything that he’s done since. Some – if not most – do have their moments. But I’d have a hard time calling any of them an "actual good movie."
Brent McKnight: He’s tried to branch out and do something different from his bread and butter at various times in his career. Some, like Punch Drunk Love, have turned out great. Others, like The Cobbler, not so much. I have a special place in my heart for his Drew Barrymore team ups (with the exception of Blended), and love 50 First Dates, which I just realized was more than a decade ago. Looking back over his resume, the last Adam Sandler movie I truly enjoyed is 2008’s You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, which I maintain is nearly a masterpiece.
Sean O’Connell: Just to be different, I’m going to go with Hotel Transylvania, a movie that proudly embraced the fact it was an Adam Sandler movie, but one made so much better by the animation stylings of Genndy Tartakovsky. Hotel T is an example of Sandler pairing himself with a talented filmmaker to tell a unique story, His line readings gave Drac a paternal emotion that Sandler should try to tap into in live action. And frequent collaborators like Steve Buscemi and David Spade found funny ways to approach the Universal Horror Movie archetypes of the Wolfman and the Invisible Man. Energetic and funny, it’s a great movie… and a very good Sandler movie.