The Adam Sandler Story

August 05, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

It's unbelievable how upset some people can be made by a simple statement. In the midst of my Bay-bashing yesterday, I snuck in the following two sentences: "Adam Sandler's appeal is on the wane - witness the performance of The Longest Yard. (Since 2000, he has had only two bona fide hits: Anger Management and 50 First Dates.)" And boy did that set off a firestorm.

Okay, I admit I screwed up. Since 2000, Sandler has had three hits. I missed Mr. Deeds. But I stand by my statement about The Longest Yard Yes, it made about $150 million domestic, but the studio was expecting more and it never hit the #1 weekend box office spot. (Production and adverstising costs ran north of $100 million, so that's not as impressive a total as it sounds.) Paramount executives were a little disappointed. Plus, how much of that $150 million came as a result of (1) the nostaglia factor (consider that many men consider the original The Longest Yard to be one of the best sports movies ever made), and (2) Chris Rock fans?

The thrust of my seven-word argument is that Sandler isn't as potent a box office force as he once was. When you look at the facts, that's an indisputable statement. Sandler's first two starring vehicles, Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, were modest successes. They each grossed more than twice what they cost to make, and went on to do booming business on home video. That's where Sandler's career took off. Between 1995 and 1999, the only bump in the road was the Sandler/Damon Wayans pairing in Bulletproof. That was a dud.

Sandler's box office reign peaked in 1998 and 1999, when The Waterboy and Big Daddy made more than $160 million each (against budgets of $23 million and $34 million, respectively - those are huge profits). In 1999, there was arguably no bigger draw than Sandler, but, as happened with Schwarzenegger and Carrey, this kind of momentum cannot be sustained.

Only three of Sandler's next seven films were successful. The four misses (Little Nicky, Punch Drunk Love, Eight Crazy Nights, and Spanglish) were major disappointments. Even if you consider The Longest Yard to be a hit, the actor's success record post-1999 is 50%. That no longer qualifies him to be considered box office gold.

There are reasons why Sandler's popularity is waning. (There's that word again!) His fan base is getting older. He's getting older. And he's trying his hand at more serious films. Punch Drunk Love and Spanglish fall in that category. There are noteworthy similarities between Sandler's career and that of Jim Carrey. Both began their box office ascent by making dumb comedies, rode the wave for a while, then started to slide when they expanded their repertoires. Carrey has done alright since retiring from the role of box office champ, and no doubt the same will be true of Sandler.

Understand this: I do not dispute that Sandler is an A-list star, and probably one of the dozen most bankable actors currently working in Hollywood. But anyone who doubts that his clout is less in 2005 than it was in 1999 isn't paying attention. So I write again: Adam Sandler's appeal is on the wane.