Total Recall: Adam Sandler's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Grown-Ups 2 star.
The critics might not be looking forward to Adam Sandler getting the gang back together for this weekend's Grown-Ups 2, but box office receipts don't lie -- the critics are handily outnumbered by Sandler's many ardent fans, many of whom have been laughing it up over the SNL vet's shtick for more than two decades. With another likely hit under his belt, Sandler seemed like the perfect candidate for this week's list, and the results -- while certainly filled with a few more Rotten films than your average Total Recall candidate -- include some of the biggest comedy hits in recent memory. Watch out for Bob Barker and giant penguins, and let's start the countdown!
After hitting the lower reaches of the Tomatometer with 2002's Eight Crazy Nights, Sandler had almost nowhere to go but up with his next foray into animated fare -- and while it still didn't come anywhere near winning over most critics, 2012's Hotel Transylvania still represented a substantial improvement. Starring Sandler as Dracula, presented here as less of a bloodsucker than a nudnik fretting over his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and preparing to host a major monster mash in honor of her 118th birthday, Transylvania racked up nearly $150 million in domestic grosses thanks to families hungry for all-ages adventure -- and it even earned positive reviews from critics like Alonso Duralde of the Wrap, who said, "Hotel Transylvania may lack the emotional oomph of Pixar's best efforts, but it makes up for it with rapid-fire gags and an unflagging pace that makes this a rare all-ages treat."
It's based around an idea that sounds like it could have started with some executive's napkin scribblings -- "TWO HOURS OF ADAM SANDLER AND JACK NICHOLSON YELLING AT EACH OTHER" -- but as these things go, that's a pretty solid idea for a comedy. Audiences agreed, turning out in droves for this 2003 release about a mild-mannered man (Sandler) who's forced into therapy with a deranged therapist (Nicholson) after being falsely accused of air rage. The results fell flat with most critics, who found Anger Management dispiritingly crass, but there were a few dissenting opinions -- like the one from TIME's Richard Corliss, who wrote, "Even a longtime Adamophobe has to admit that Sandler is an agreeable presence here, and that the film has some funny filigree work to offset the oppressive schematics."
By the early aughts, Sandler's films had become reliably critic-proof, and 50 First Dates was no exception. This 2004 romantic comedy -- which reunited Sandler with his Wedding Singer co-star Drew Barrymore for the tale of a veterinarian who falls for a woman with a unique form of short-term memory loss that makes her forget him every single day -- broke $100 million at the box office in spite of largely negative reviews, spurred on by filmgoers hoping to recapture a little of that Sandler/Barrymore magic. And while it might have been unreasonable to expect a movie that equaled or surpassed their first outing together, for many critics, Dates stood on its own; as Nev Pierce wrote for the BBC, "The spark between the stars and a surprisingly thoughtful screenplay ensures that, despite the odd gross-out misstep, this is a sweet, warm and funny romantic comedy."
Sandler's Saturday Night Live tenure is remembered today as one of the show's golden eras, but at the time, he and his fellow younger cast members -- a group that included David Spade and Chris Farley -- were widely regarded as guilty of dumbing things down with infantile, often scatological humor. All of which is to say that when Sandler made his leading-man debut with 1995's Billy Madison, many critics' worst fears were confirmed; proudly juvenile and often downright nonsensical, the movie stars Sandler as a pampered idiot who agrees to go back to school -- starting with kindergarten -- in order to prove to his father that he's capable of running the old man's company. Many of the reviews were predictably brutal, but Billy quickly became a VHS classic of the '90s, and there's no denying that if you're in the right frame of mind, the movie is -- as Phil Villarreal argued for the Arizona Daily Star -- "A vintage specimen of a master at the apex of his talents."
After winning high marks in the 1980s for Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News -- and continuing his hot streak with 1997's As Good As It Gets -- director James L. Brooks has had a tougher go of it in the 21st century. Spanglish, stars Sandler as a chef whose recent career upswing contrasts with the miserable chaos unfolding at his home, where his unhappy wife (Tea Leoni) has taken on their housekeeper's (Paz Vega) daughter as a sort of project, much to the consternation of the girl's mother. Unwieldy both in terms of running time and story, it was met with critical and commercial indifference during its theatrical release, but for some, the highs were more than worth the lows; as David Edelstein wrote for Slate, "The movie is what in Hollywood they call 'character-driven,' and it does take its sweet time. But much of that time is sweet indeed."