Adam Sandler’s new films have quite frankly sucked over the past few years. This is an objectively true statement, regardless of whether you choose to evaluate movies by critical consensus or box office returns. His movies are consistently rated in the single digits on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and are taking in less money than ever. They are still profitable, however––this is Adam Sandler. Still, Netflix recently partnered with Sandler’s production company Happy Madison Productions to develop four new films to be released exclusively through the streaming site. This move seems puzzling at first, but the deal has potential to be a career-saver for Sandler and a savvy business strategy for Netflix.
It seems hard to fathom today, but there was a point in history when Sandler was a creative force to be reckoned with. His early albums like the 1993 They’re All Gonna Laugh at You! and the 1996 What the Hell Happened to Me? boldly experimented with the medium. Not only were these records hilarious, they were commercially viable––both went double platinum.
His earlier films contain the same anarchic aesthetic. By taking generic plots wherein the protagonist must overcome some obstacle to save the day while getting the girl—see Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore—and injecting them with downright absurdist diversions, Sandler subverted audience expectations of what a major studio comedy film could be.
Lately, however, Sandler has fallen into a mid-career malaise. His latest offerings, including Blended and Just Go with It, more closely resemble the films that he used to skewer. His only impressive performances of this millennium have come in non-Happy Madison productions such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love and Judd Apatow’s incredible Funny People.
With this move to Netflix, however, Sandler has a new opportunity to focus on the quality of his films rather than their profitability. As Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarando said, “Very uniquely, he [Sandler] stands out for his global appeal to Netflix subscribers. Even movies that were soft in the U.S. [theatrically] outperformed dramatically on Netflix in the U.S. and around the world.”
With a built-in audience ensured, Happy Madison can primarily focus on the quality of films it puts out. This will hopefully signal a return to the spirit of weird experimentation that marked Sandler’s earlier career.
No one should worry about Netflix posing as a creative obstacle. The company’s original programs including “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” are generously supported with big budgets, reflected by the quality of the finished products.
This move could be a career renaissance for Sandler. He’s long overdue for a return to the wild, outlandish humor that initially endeared audiences to him. For Netflix, this is a low-risk, high-return endeavor—as long as Sandler doesn’t put out anything as awful as Jack and Jill.u