Total Recall: Adam Sandler's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Grown-Ups 2 star.
As eminently quotable as it is enthusiastically childish, Happy Gilmore took the (overgrown) boy-meets-world conceit of Sandler's first film, Billy Madison, pumped it up with extra violence and Bob Barker, and emerged with the best movie ever made about a borderline psychotic failed hockey player who uses his latent gift for golf to save his tax-delinquent grandmother's home. A relatively modest $41 million theatrical hit, Gilmore left a not-inconsiderable number of critics either nonplussed or revolted, but it quickly became one of the decade's biggest comedy cult classics -- and for all its flaws, it still has a dark, angry edge missing from many of Sandler's later family-friendly efforts. As James Rocchi advised for Netflix, "Sever those cerebral lobes, sit back, and enjoy a gleeful, energetically stupid comedy."
Casting Sandler as one of the leads in a 9/11-themed drama may have seemed like a questionable decision at best, but Reign Over Me writer-director Mike Binder knew what he was doing; here, Sandler's gift for playing shy, awkward types was an asset for the film's central character, a doctor crippled by the horrific memories of losing his family in the attacks. Bolstered by strong performances from Don Cheadle and Jada Pinkett Smith, Reign ended up suffering the same dismal commercial fate as many other movies inspired by that dark chapter in American history, but it found an appreciative audience with critics like Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News, who marveled, "Cheadle is good, as always, but Sandler's portrayal of a guy on the perennial brink of a psychotic breakdown is amazing."
You've got a prominently featured mullet, a character whose married name will be Julia Gulia, and a Billy Idol cameo, so from the outside, it might look like The Wedding Singer is a movie that somehow ended up being more than the sum of its parts. But in reality, it's one of the sweeter, more graceful romantic comedies of the '90s, with a pair of stars (Sandler and Drew Barrymore) who played off each other with just enough genuine chemistry to make up for the movie's sillier moments. Though they'd go on to reunite for 2004's 50 First Dates -- and they have another movie on the way -- it's doubtful Sandler and Barrymore will ever do better than the film Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called "A sparkling romantic comedy, the kind of picture that glides by so gracefully and unpretentiously that it's only upon reflection that you realize how much skill, caring and good judgment had to have gone into its making."
2. Funny People
Years after they roomed together as young comics with showbiz dreams, Sandler and writer/director/producer Judd Apatow reunited for 2009's Funny People, which stars Sandler as an impossibly wealthy comedian who's lost touch with his muse (and pretty much everyone around him) after filming a series of lowest-common-denominator movies that play to his public image without pushing him to grow. It's a part that might strike a little too close to home for Sandler fans that have stuck with him through his least lovable comedies, but it offered him one of his more successful opportunities to show off his dramatic chops -- and although the movie's 146-minute length turned off a number of critics, it was just right for Ben Lyons of At the Movies, who wrote that "Apatow has always found a balance of heart and humor in his best films, and Funny People is no exception."
After a solid 20 years of playing simple-minded man-children who terrorize everyone around them with unpredictable mood swings, Sandler was given the role he was born to play: Barry Egan, the protagonist of Paul Thomas Anderson's quirky romance Punch-Drunk Love. A sort of real-world version of the cartoonish characters Sandler's known for playing, Barry uses his soft-spoken demeanor to mask a vast cauldron of rage that bursts out at inopportune moments -- which is a very bad thing for the people who decide to blackmail him just as it seems like he might be finding love with his sister's friend (Emily Watson). "Director Paul Thomas Anderson hasn't reinvented Sandler," argued Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press. "He's just allowed those of us who tired very quickly of his innocent naif shtick to see how effectively it can be put in the service of something to care about."
In case you were wondering, here are Sandler's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. Happy Gilmore -- 83%
2. Reign Over Me -- 81%
3. Billy Madison -- 79%
4. Big Daddy -- 77%
5. The Wedding Singer -- 76%
6. The Waterboy -- 74%
7. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry -- 73%
8. Click -- 72%
9. Punch-Drunk Love -- 72%
10. Hotel Transylvania -- 72%
Finally, here's a young Sandler in his cinematic debut -- Going Overboard, from 1989: