The Rise and Fall of Adam Sandler

This article isn’t about my taste, but I’d like to blow off a bit of steam. So let me begin with a clear affirmation: I’m not an Adam Sandler fan.

I grew up in the 90s, a time considered by many the heyday of the actor’s portfolio. His face was a constant appearance both on TV and on movie posters around town. Yet despite his success, at no time had I been able to understand how and why so many people (acquaintances and internauts alike) found his work worth praise.

The habit of not liking Adam Sandler, unlike most of my youngster quirks, kept with me as if it were patched with organic, self-regenerating glue. I jokingly say it became a part of my character and helped me turn into who I am today. But in all fairness, it’s his acclaim that caused my dislike for him. The popularity of his dumbed down approach to comedy made me react in a much more malignant way than he would (probably) deserve. Ultimately, Sandler’s work hasn’t always been unwatchable.

Still, I’ve held the flag of the anti-Sandler revolution ever since I’ve had an opinion with respect to Hollywood. And in light of recent times, it seems I’m no longer a lone voice amongst the crowd.

Just last September, Brett Bodner wrote that as the actor turns 50, we look at how his films have gone from ‘must-see’ to ‘avoid at all costs’. This would naturally imply that at a certain point his work was actually okay – something that I still found disputable. So I crawled the internet to see whether it’s true or not that Adam Sandler’s career is taking a nosedive.

Adam Sandler’s career as an actor
(Incoming methodology talk; for those in search of blood, please scroll down to the first graph)

Let me get through the dull bits first: instead of contextualizing Adam Sandler against other people, I decided to pit him against himself. I chose to look into the overall performance of his movies and score them based on commonly objective measurements. I took review figures for all his movies (where he’s an actor, a producer or a writer) and split them by category:

  • User reviews (IMDb, user scores on Metacritic, audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes)
  • Critic reviews (Metascore and Tomatometer)
  • Gross figures (Box Office Mojo)

I then averaged out the user and critic ratings together into percentages, showing how much his work scored across the three platforms – and I represented movie gross as a percentage of his most successful work. Having averaged out reviews and gross for all of Adam Sandler’s activity, I measured the spread around his overall medians (averages didn’t seem to do this justice). There’s method to this madness, and I’ll get to it in a second.

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What’s immediately observable is that his early years didn’t rake in as much buck as his work from after the year 2000 did. While it’s true that he had been on a steady rise ever since he got into movies, it’s only after the early 2000s that his movies started grossing more, at least when comparing him to himself.

The same thing goes for his ratings: the very early years were really, really bad compared to what he released towards the mid-point of his career – and as the 2000s started closing, his upward slope started stalling.

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And here’s the worth behind all that method talk from a few paragraphs ago. In an attempt to gauge the work of Sandler, I created a metric I deemed the Measure of Sandlerness – an average of user reviews, critic reviews and box office performance – and found that if we’re to look at his career as an actor, it’s very much a story of rise and fall.

From timid beginnings, Adam Sandler managed to reach his zenith (up til nowadays at least) between 1998 and 2010. Big hits that propelled him into stardom include The Waterboy, Big Daddy, Anger Management, 50 First Dates, The Longest Yard and yes – the original Grown Ups movie. While the taste of Sandler made these titles become relative success stories, it’s the same ingredient that made for some considerable flops.

Titles like Funny People from 2009 that didn’t seem all that funny slowly eroded the Sandman’s castle (despite some positive reviews). And the list continues: Jack and Jill, That’s My Boy, The Cobbler and the infamous Ridiculous 6 were comparative disasters that slowly pushed Sandler into taking up more animations.

But as luck would have it, he’s done more than just acting.

Adam Sandler’s career as a producer

Over they years, Sandler’s produced a fair few of the movies he’s starred in – and he’s been surprisingly stable when looking at his work from this perspective.

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The Waterboy was his first production and stands out as one of his best. Relatively little fluctuation around the median followed for a few years, with some big peaks: Click and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry were (numerically, at least) okay, as were Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Grown Ups. Admittedly, it’s revenue that pushed these figures up. As I’ve previously discussed – using revenue as a means of gauging a movie is pretty unreliable, but the fact is that money pushes scripts into studios and actors onto movie sets. As revenue falls, so does studio support.

At any rate, Hotel Transylvania also spikes on this take – but since it’s an animation, it’s disputable whether we should put it in the same barrel.

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Sandlerness-wise, it seems that he’s never really matched the overall success of his early productions. Despite his few accomplishments along the way, following the release of Pixels in 2015 the whole world mobbed around the news that his career was heading towards a painful and lonely end.

Adam Sandler’s career as a writer

Ever since his debut, Sandler has also been actively involved in writing. He scripted his debut movie called Going Overboard, which also happened to be pretty bad. But he’s had a few sensible ups: The Waterboy, Big Daddy, Grown Ups and Hotel Transylvania 2 (the latter of which also happens to be his biggest grossing movie at the time of writing this).

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So considering his shoddy beginning as a scriptwriter, Sandler has been on an ascending path which has only recently started plateauing – despite studios bickering around his cookie-cut way of building characters.

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The career arch of Adam Sandler – and some endnotes

Seeing Adam Sandler portray a role makes me feel as though I’m watching a very long commercial for a product that doesn’t really serve any practical purpose. I’m a harsh critic of things I don’t like, true – and in all fairness, I’m still considering whether it’s possible that his work might be worth something (and by extension that I’m just a pretentious and disagreeable guy on account of my not finding farts and boogers funny by themselves).

But irrespective of my personal taste, the numbers do seem to show that the Sandman’s day has come and gone. Scoring all of his work (so acting, producing and writing – all in one) shows that despite a few peaks that followed the late 2000s, his overall popularity seems to be going down.

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Again, these figures stand as a matter of comparing Adam Sandler to himself: I’ve measured his films’ performance based on what was his best work, at least with respect to reviews and revenue.

Whether Sandler’s movies are part of a superior breed of comedy is ultimately something better left to the critics of tomorrow, as we’ve seen time and again how popular actors eventually shy out of the limelight as new generations brush the fluff and commercialism off of their work and reveal them for what they are: at times masters, other times average artists, and sometimes just memories best left forgotten.

Occasionally we look back and really do cringe at the things we once enjoyed. Whether this will indeed happen to humanity as it looks back at Adam Sandler’s career, I can only say I told you so.

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