It has become quite common for an Adam Sandler film to be derided by critics and sweep the Razzies in the year of its release. He’s been criticized for everything from laziness to relying on cheap gags to simply making terrible movies. But like it or not, he is a funny guy and he has got a lot of talent. Whether or not he uses that talent and puts in the work depends on the movie, but contrary to popular belief, some of his movies are actually great. Here are his 10 finest works, ranging from golden oldies to underrated newbies.
10. The Week Of
Written and directed by Adam Sandler’s old buddy Robert Smigel, this movie was the fourth in the star’s lucrative Netflix development deal. It actually completed the initial four film commitment that Sandler entered into with the streaming service, but last year, he committed to doing another four movies for them, so he won’t be leaving them any time soon. But if this had been his last movie for Netflix, then it would’ve been a great note to end on. It pairs Sandler with his friend and legendary standup comic Chris Rock as two fathers whose kids are about to get married. Unlike most Sandler movies, this one does not have big, loud, extravagant set pieces and silly slapstick gags and brash, outspoken characters. Smigel’s script takes a much more reserved and naturalistic approach than a lot of Sandler movies. It has a simplistic narrative and a lot of the gags arise out of conversations and interactions between the characters. The scene with Sandler and Rock in the car bickering about the air conditioner stands out as a particularly inspired comic moment that gets one of the biggest laughs of Sandler’s career out of a simple social situation. It’s an underrated gem.
Adam Sandler has a knack for making high concept comedy movies work. Sometimes with a high concept thing, it’s not easy to make it work, but Sandler always seems to pull them off. He made a movie about an Israeli commando who moves to New York to become a hairdresser work, for God’s sake! This movie is about a workaholic who can’t properly manage his time who meets an eccentric man played by Christopher Walken in the “Beyond” section of Bed, Bath & Beyond. Walken gives him a remote control that can pause or fast forward time. The first half of this movie is, as expected, a wacky comedy about a guy who can pause or fast forward time. But the second half is much more dramatic and contemplative and, well, sad. It actually becomes a cautionary tale as the remote remembers what he has skipped and then skips that thing every time. So, every time a promotion is mentioned, it skips to when he gets the promotion. Every time he gets into an argument with his wife, it skips to the end of the argument. During the time that he skips, he’s on “auto pilot,” which ends up costing him everything. The film is actually kind of a tearjerker by the end, and it certainly makes you appreciate your loved ones more. It has a wonderful air of Frank Capra about it. It’s a great movie.
8. Hotel Transylvania
By 2012, it was about time that Adam Sandler had his own animated movie franchise. All of his contemporaries had one – Mike Myers had one, Ben Stiller had one, Jack Black had one – so it was about time that he had one, too. The premise was so rich: Sandler plays Count Dracula, the proprietor of a hotel where all of the other Universal Monsters come for their vacations. Plus, it gave Sandler the opportunity to cast every one of his regular co-stars in supporting roles alongside him: Kevin James as Frankenstein’s monster, David Spade as the Invisible Man, Steve Buscemi as the Wolf Man, Jon Lovitz as Quasimodo, the list goes on. Given the fact that it was a Sandler movie, and given the fact that it was a kids’ movie, a lot of pundits were expecting this movie to suck. And you can’t really blame them. Adam Sandler has made a lot of movies that have sucked, and he tends to let his guard down and go for cheaper laughs when his target audience is kids, and kids’ animated movies on the whole are usually more miss than hit, so things didn’t look good for this movie. However, those naysayers were proven wrong by a delightful movie with a lot of laughs and a lot of heart that has since spawned two equally successful sequels.
7. Anger Management
This movie would later be reimagined as a sitcom for the FX network with Charlie Sheen in the lead role – and it totally sucked. TV producers were eager to give Sheen another starring role in a sitcom after he had been fired from his last one, and it showed a lot of promise, but it was just yet another tired, trite, cliched multi camera sitcom. The movie is something special, mostly because of its spectacular leads. Film comedy has a long history of actors being paired up who are worlds apart from one another and end up being perfectly matched: Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy etc. In 2003, Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson joined that list. Marisa Tomei and John Turturro provide hilarious turns in supporting roles, while Woody Harrelson is particularly memorable in his role as a security guard named Gary who moonlights as a prostitute named Galaxia. The movie also ends with a fantastic plot twist similar to that at the end of the Michael Douglas mystery thriller The Game, which you don’t usually get in wacky comedies, so that was a nice touch. This movie isn’t perfect, but it’s funny enough to be worth watching.
6. Sandy Wexler
Released last year, this was Adam Sandler’s third movie made exclusively for Netflix. The streaming service offers him more of a chance for creative freedom, since they don’t have to worry about getting people to actually leave their homes and go to a movie theater and pay money for a ticket. People will watch anything on Netflix, even if it’s a comedy that’s over two hours long and is set in the 1990s and is about a bunch of people who work behind the scenes of show business and has a weird mockumentary talking heads format that interrupts the movie every now and then throughout the plot. That’s what this is. Every now and then, the film cuts to a talking head featuring Judd Apatow or Chris Rock or some other comedy great and it’s unusual. But the core story is a wonderful Hollywood love story, and on top of that, there is a steady stream of gags. The movie is more inspired than a lot of Sandler’s work, since the lead character was created as a homage to Sandler’s own long time manager, Sandy Wernick. The critics weren’t too kind to this movie, but it is sweet and lively and consistently hilarious.
5. Funny People
Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler were once roommates – struggling comedians who were living together. In the years since then, Sandler has become a huge movie star and Apatow has become a massively successful writer, director, and producer of comedy movies. Until 2009, they hadn’t done a movie together, but when the right project came along, they made it happen. Apatow cast Sandler to play George Simmons, a comedian and actor whose life goes into a downward spiral when he is diagnosed with a life threatening disease. With his new lease on life, he takes a young, budding comic played by Seth Rogen under his wing. The movie only starts to go downhill when Apatow brings in his wife Leslie Mann and their two daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow, as he always seems to do. It’s fine if the story is that of a family or that of a woman who gets pregnant and lives in her sister’s guest house, which are two other movies that Apatow has put his family in, but this is a movie about standup comedy and terminal illness. The family is just shoehorned in and it’s where the movie’s failings come from. But other than that, it’s pretty great.
4. The Meyerowitz Stories
Noah Baumbach has been making movies that combine comedy and drama to tell beautiful human stories for years now, and in the most recent years, he has been able to attract some big name talent to these movies. He’s made movies with Jesse Eisenberg, Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, Greta Gerwig, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, and Adam Driver. This one, his latest effort, which Netflix snapped up the rights to when it was generating early Oscar buzz (that eventually turned out to be unfounded), brought in the acting talents of Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and of course, Adam Sandler. Sandler and Stiller have some of the most intriguing and beautifully performed scenes of Sandler’s career (and of Stiller’s career, for that matter) as they play two half brothers with a strained relationship. Stiller always got their father’s attention, while Sandler was sort of neglected by him, and their dynamic and who their characters are have grown from that. the characters are brilliantly drawn in Baumbach’s script, and the actors – particularly Sandler – really bring them to life on the screen. Adam Sandler’s not really an Oscar kind of guy, but if he had any chance at winning an Academy Award, it would be his subtly powerful and revelatory performance in this movie.
3. The Wedding Singer
This was the first of several romantic comedy movies that Adam Sandler would make in which he starred alongside Drew Barrymore, and it still stands as their greatest collaboration. It’s set in 1985 (complete with the haircuts and nightlife) and it’s about a wedding singer played by Sandler who struggles in his romantic relationships, the irony being that he makes a living off of couples who are in love and he can’t find love himself. Barrymore plays a waitress who he falls in love with, only she’s about to marry some other guy. Unlike a lot of early Adam Sandler comedies, this one has some actual emotional engagement. There are plenty of laughs in the movie, but there is also a genuine emotional core. It’s a movie with some serious heart. You do feel bad for Barrymore’s character who is unwittingly entering into a marriage with some philandering jerk, and you do want her and Sandler’s character to get together at the end of the movie. It’s not often that you actually care about the characters in a romantic comedy movie, but in this case, you really do. It’s a lovely movie that isn’t cynical and is a lot of fun.
2. Happy Gilmore
When you think about comedy movies that involve golf, Bill Murray and a Baby Ruth and a gopher usually come to mind. The National Lampoon team’s effort is certainly the first word in golf based comedy movies. But this Adam Sandler vehicle – the one that made him a movie star – is the second word. The story of a hockey player who can’t seem to make it into the NHL who finds his calling when he discovers his knack for golf and uses it to buy his grandma’s house back from the government is a slapstick masterpiece. Everyone loves this movie. It’s not the most masterful or well crafted movie that Adam Sandler has ever made, but it is certainly the funniest. Every gag in this movie lands, no matter how crass or slapstick or gross out it may be. Carl Weathers’ wooden prosthetic arm is hilarious, Happy’s fight with Bob Barker is hilarious (“The price is wrong, bitch!”), everything in this movie is just so goddamn hilarious. It might not have gotten the reception that it deserved when it was first released in the mid ‘90s, but it has since gone on to become a cult hit with a deservingly huge fan base.
1. Punch Drunk Love
When Paul Thomas Anderson told a room full of reporters that he wanted to make a movie starring Adam Sandler, they laughed at him, assuming that it was a joke. But a couple of years later, lo and behold, Anderson made a movie starring Adam Sandler. This movie is a quiet romantic drama in which Sandler plays an actual character. He doesn’t play a two dimensional joke delivery system who suits his usual New Yorker comedic persona. He plays Barry Egan, a lovelorn man who has serious emotional issues. At any moment, he might excuse himself to go and break things. It’s quite heartbreaking to watch and you just feel bad for the guy. Anderson made a smart decision in casting Sandler, not only because he has some serious acting talent that we don’t often get to see, but also because we are used to him playing such warm, affable, unabashedly funny roles, so it’s a shock to us as an audience to see him as a character who is this unstable. Emily Watson, Luis Guzman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and P.T.A. regular Philip Seymour Hoffman all provide stellar support in smaller roles, but this is really Sandler’s movie. He nails it.