Adam Sandler has never been a critical darling. This information is practically a cliché; even the movies now regarded as his early, funny ones didn’t exactly receive glowing notices during their original runs, and as the audience that enjoyed his early comedies aged into possible critical-establishment roles, they, too, came to lament the low quality of his vehicles. As a former fifteen-year-old, I think I can attest that this isn’t just grumpiness or nostalgia setting in: I dutifully see Adam Sandler comedies not because they’re usually good, but because they can be good, and I want them to be good. Regardless of what we pointy-headed types may look at as diminished returns, Sandler has remained a popular movie star (in his comedies, at least) for close to twenty years by this point. He may not have hit the same box office or critical highs as fellow SNL players turned movie stars like Will Ferrell or Mike Myers, but in terms of pure numbers, he’s probably the most financially successful (depending on how you count Eddie Murphy’s more erratic mix of massive hits and huge flops).
Though they do vary in quality, it’s his consistency that has come to define his career. The sheer uniformity of his output remains almost unmatched: the vast majority of movies starring Adam Sandler come from his Happy Madison production company, with multiple writing, directing, and/or producing credits from Sandler’s usual gang of buddies, associates, and hangers-on (for these purposes, movies made with Sandler’s usual screenwriters, producers, and/or directors before the official creation of the Happy Madison shingle count towards that total).
This includes the twenty-one movies that I’ve fudged into a top (or bottom) twenty below. This list does not include the more serious movies he has made for other people every two to four years (Punch-Drunk Love; Spanglish; Reign Over Me; Funny People); his voiceover work in Hotel Transylvania (borderline, because it features Sandler’s buddies in supporting roles and a co-writing credit from Robert Smigel, but is also very much of the Sony Animation house style and presumably would have been made without Sandler’s participation); or his sole action-comedy, Bulletproof. Sandler also did supporting roles in a couple of unsuccessful comedies in 1994: Airheads and Mixed Nuts. I have seen them both; let’s leave it at that.
For each Official Adam Sandler Comedy, I’ve included notes on which of Sandler’s team of SNL writers (most often Tim Herlihy; sometimes Fred Wolf, Robert Smigel, or Steve Koren) and journeyman directors (Dennis Dugan, Frank Coraci, Peter Segal, Steve Brill) get credit, along with counts of how many SNL performers he manages to hire. I have not included Allen Covert, Peter Dante, or Jonathan Loughran in these counts; just assume that all of them are in all of these movies and that Covert produces most of them, even if that’s not literally true. I’m also avoiding doing a Nick Swardson tally. He’s been in eight of these. It feels like more. Finally, I’ve noted Sandler’s myriad love interests, not only because they represent a surprisingly and weirdly diverse cross-section of name actresses from the past few decades, but also because it’s worth noting how many of them are significantly younger than he is, even (especially) when he’s playing a total man-child.
Sandler’s consistency makes the task of ranking his films perhaps even more fruitless than the usual list-making; both his best and his worst can be considered toss-ups, especially when you subtract the easy outs of Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People, which are the two best movies he’s actually appeared in. But closer study does reveal not just the way Sandler repeats himself, but the way his repetitions accommodate subtle shifts, occasional jumps in quality or particularly ill-advised detours. (Longer essays or reviews I’ve written about some of these films are linked to their titles, when available.)
Herewith, your intro to those Adam Sandler studies.
Continue reading Every Adam Sandler Comedy, Ranked