While Netflix keeps their viewership numbers and show ratings notoriously close to the vest, they recently revealed that viewers to date have streamed over 500 million hours of Adam Sandler movies. The historic, multi-picture deal that brought Sandler’s movies exclusively to Netflix seems to be paying off.
A recent Slate article lamented that, despite the fact that Sandler movies are considered to be complete garbage by critics, they somehow amazingly continue to find audiences. So much so that Netflix has re-upped their deal with the former SNL comedian to produce four more films.
For those of us who don’t spend our every waking moment in the bubbles of academia, Manhattan, and hipster speakeasies on Sunset Blvd., Sandler’s success isn’t all that surprising. But if Netflix’s streaming claims are to be believed the number of people watching his offerings every day does border on shocking.
Why does America love Adam Sandler movies so much?
TV Has Changed, But Sandler Fans Remain
There are probably a few reasons for Sandler’s success, beyond his natural talent and decades of hard work as a producer and writer. Today, hundreds of cable channels, streaming, and podcasting networks compete for viewers’ loyalties. Many “stars” vie for our attention.
Sandler comes from the waning days of big networks and concentrated celebrity. In his era of SNL, even cable offerings were limited. Most Americans still heavily watched the letter networks (ABC, CBS, NBC). HBO and Showtime were creeping up the ranks in content, but were yet to be recognized on the awards circuit in the way we now take for granted. There was no reality television, no Kardashians, no “Survivor.” The celebrity pool was much smaller, and thus fans were more loyal.
Sandler was a bonafide star in the ‘90s, and those people (like me) have grown up with him over the decades. He has been a part of the lives of so many adults who now have children and careers, and don’t have the time or disposable income to head out to the movies every week. These people sit down to an Adam Sandler movie because it’s easily available, already paid for and familiar. They are often sitting right next to their own children, a whole new generation of Sandler fans being created with little effort or marketing cost right from the comfort of their own couches.
There is also something attractive about Sandler’s “hit or miss” record with films. It’s sort of like watching an M.Night Shyamalan movie: more often than not, they are grossly disappointing. But when he is firing on all cylinders, the experience is pure joy and entertainment. You can never tell with a Sandler movie.
Sometimes they’re just truly awful (“The Do-over”). Sometimes they almost get to where they’re going, but fall a bit short (“The Cobbler”) and sometimes they are surprisingly sweet and poignant (“Click,” “Funny People”). Also, by all accounts, Sandler is widely admired as a good guy, fair businessman, and generous person. As a fan, it’s easy to root for someone like that. At times, that’s exactly why one would turn on an Adam Sandler movie: to root for him to be good.
People Like Adam Sandler’s Political Incorrectness
However, perhaps the greatest reason for Sandler’s surprising popularity was inadvertently uncovered by the Slate article itself when the author noted the general displeasure among critics about his “gender politics” on film: “Nonetheless, the movie has still attracted some especially harsh notices, including from Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, whose review found Sandler’s gender politics approaching ‘Woody Allen levels of ick.’”
And therein lies the real crux of the matter. For all his failures and successes, what Sandler fans appreciate most is his complete lack of concern for playing the “let’s not offend anyone” game that has poisoned the entertainment industry over the last decade. When you sit down to watch a Sandler movie there will be, without exception, jokes about race, sex, gender, gays, fat people, mentally disabled people, children, child abuse, Jews, Christians, Muslims… you name it. Nothing is off limits for him, and for many average Americans like myself, it is refreshing.
He’s an equal opportunity offender, and his movies are blatantly inappropriate. Sandler doesn’t care and that’s nice. He makes what he thinks is funny, what makes him and his friends laugh and he employs thousands of people by doing it.
Everyone Needs to Be Laughed at and Laughed With
If some people start clutching their conflict-free, fair trade, humanely harvested pearls, it is no skin off his back or money out of his pocket. He needn’t worry about protests or boycotts at the theater. The subscriber base is already in place, and by all accounts exceedingly pleased with Sandler’s careless sensibilities.
His movies remind us that it is okay to laugh at ourselves and each other. They remind us that we are all ridiculous in some way and our disabilities, appearances, or “victimhood” are not automatic protections against criticism and ridicule. Everyone deserves to be laughed at and everyone deserves to be laughed with. When you watch a Sandler movie, you are released from the exhausting doublespeak required to navigate media and entertainment these days. You know what you’re getting, and good or bad, the one thing it won’t be is condescending. When you see yourself in his movies, you’ll laugh. If you don’t, you’ll simply turn it off.
Either way, Sandler gets paid… a lot. How can you not love that?