How Adam Sandler Reinforced the Comedy Blockbuster

Adam Sandler's movies were the sleepover films of my youth. And they changed the Hollywood landscape. 

I remember renting Billy Madison as a kid and feeling like I was holding a bar of gold within that VHS cassette case. It was going to be 90 minutes of all-out hilarity. And afterward, I knew I could put on TBS and see Happy Gilmore playing back to back to back.

The 1990s were a wild time when comedy was booming. 

Those comedy blockbusters were enforced by names like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and Adam Sandler. Yes, the Sandman was probably one of the most successful comedians turned movies stars of the 90s, and he churned out certified hits. 

Today, I want to talk about Adam Sandler and the comedy blockbuster. 

Watch this video from Moviebob and let's talk after the jump! 

How Adam Sandler Reinforced the Comedy Blockbuster 

Comedies have always been seen as second class citizens in cinema history. They were the joke reels that played before the main event movies and even as they got their own features, they were never taken as seriously by the studios.

But like most things that make you laugh, that underdog mentality allowed them the freedom to do things differently. Movies like Airplane and Caddyshack certified that comedy could be a hit at the box office, even when given a bigger canvas. 

The blockbuster mentality has transferred to comedy in the 80s. They could do an action-comedy. like Beverly Hills Cop, and make a lot of money. Or even a comedy horror movie, like Ghostbusters

Both those franchises spawned sequels that were also hits. 

In this time, a little show called Saturday Night Live was launching the careers of comedians in cinema. Eddie Murphy had taken that show and his tour and made himself into a huge draw at the box office. 

But as the groundwork was laid in the 80s, no one saw the 90s blockbuster boom coming. But if they had, they would have bet on Adam Sandler. 

Studios spend a lot of time trying to predict what the audience wanted, and how they could make movies that would appeal to the next trend, and not the trend that was currently happening.

Comedy had to learn that spectacle was okay but they were still unsure how urbane and topical humor, as well as blue humor, translated to the big screen. Enter Adam Sandler, the Saturday Night Live star who sang his way into audiences' hearts and knew how to tread a line between making us laugh at gross things and hitting us with something a little more poignant. 

Aside from playing bit roles in movies and having a recurring character on The Cosby Show, Sandler became a star in the 90s by embracing his zany side. He was part of an ensemble in Airheads and really became a leading man in Billy Madison

The guy most people were used to staying up late to watch was suddenly in the multiplexes. 

Long before he was signing multi-movie deals with Netflix, Sandler was transforming the comedy blockbuster. 

He did this by taking in other popular genres and doing them in his own voice. For movies like Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy, he leaned into the sports genre, but instead used his incredible character work to bolster tired tropes

He was also able to straddle the typical romantic comedy, but again focusing more on the comedy. The Wedding Singer and even Big Daddy played on dramatic beats by giving real lessons to his over-the-top guys, grounding them in their humor and earnestness. 

Even outlandish roles like Little Nicky let Sandler be Sandler, and built the narrative around his talents. 

Sure, we were seeing similar things with Jim Carrey and Robin Williams at the time, but Sandler kept doing them. Those guys went and did dramas, Sandler would do that with Punch Drunk Love and come back immediately with Mr. Deeds and Eight Crazy Nights

In fact, Sandler worked so consistently, you could say he paved the way for all the comedy genre mashups we enjoy today. 

Look at the way modern movies use every genre and mash them around one or several comedians to try to get something new out of tropes. That's not something Sandler invented, but something he embraced and made codifiable (and profitable).  

And he's still doing it today on Netflix. Tackling genres like spies, westerns, destination films, and making them into starring vehicles around his character work. 

What are your favorite Sandler movies of the 90s and today? Let us know in the comments.      

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1 Comment

"Happy Gilmore accomplished that feat no more than an hour ago."

October 12, 2020 at 12:32PM, Edited October 12, 12:32PM

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Nick Straub
Wedding Photographer/Videographer
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