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For years, Adam Sandler was a veritable Pac-Man and one of Hollywood’s most reliable stars in terms of gobbling up and spitting out solid box-office grosses.
Now, his ability to lure moviegoers is damaged after a string of disappointments, including his latest outing, Pixels, a love letter to the iconic videogames of the 1980s. Over the weekend, Pixels debuted to $23 million in North America, a poor start for an all-audience summer event film featuring an ensemble cast with Sandler at the center.
The movie was a departure for Sandler in terms of being a VFX-laden action-comedy vs. a straight comedy or a romantic comedy. Sony made Pixels for a reported $88 million after rebates; the full cost is said to be $110 million. Sandler’s company, Happy Madison, produced Pixels alongside director Chris Columbus‘ 1492 Pictures.
“Sandler would benefit from going back to basics and giving audiences what made them love him in the first place,” says Rentrak box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “Sandler has made some terrifically funny films like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer and even delved into the indie world with a great, restrained performance in Punch-Drunk Love in 2002.”
To date, Sandler’s films have earned north of $4 billion at the worldwide box office, an enviable showing. Yet outside of the Grown Ups and Hotel Transylvania franchises, he’s had an uneven track record in North America since Reign Over Me in 2007, when accounting for inflation.
Last summer, Blended all-out bombed, opening to $14.3 million and topping out at $46 million domestically and $128 million worldwide. The romantic comedy reunited him with Drew Barrymore for the third time after box office hits The Wedding Singer, which earned north of $80 million domestically and $124 million globally in 1998 ($171 million by today’s standards), and 50 First Dates, grossing $195.2 million in 2004, including $120.8 million domestically.
Other earlier Sandler hits in the U.S. include Big Daddy, which grossed a massive $163.5 million domestically in 1999 ($233 million by today’s terms) and The Waterboy, which grossed $161.5 million in 1998. And in 2005, The Longest Yard took in $158.1 million in North America.
In 2011 and 2012, two of Sandler’s films failed to impress. In summer 2012, That’s My Boy topped out at $36.9 million domestically and $57 million globally. Jack and Jill fared somewhat better in November with $74.2 million domestically and $150.7 million worldwide, but that wasn’t enough factoring in the film’s $80 million budget and marketing spend. Nor did Just Go With It, co-starring Jennifer Aniston, rock the house in summer 2011, barely cracking $200 million worldwide. By way of comparison, Bridesmaids earned $288.4 million worldwide, including $169.1 million domestically.
Not long after Blended, Sandler and Netflix announced an unprecedented deal to make four original movies together at the same budget Sandler commands at a Hollywood studio, generally around $80 million. (Netflix says Sandler’s films have a huge following on the streaming service.)
According to insiders, Sandler is said to be entirely focused on the Netflix titles. His only upcoming appointment with the big screen is Sony’s Hotel Transylvania 2, which debuts Sept. 25.
First up in the Netflix deal is the controversial Western comedy The Ridiculous 6, set for release on the streaming service Dec. 11. Taylor Lautner, Terry Crews, David Spade and Luke Wilson co-star. And Sandler is currently filming The Do Over for Netflix. Also starring David Spade and Paula Patton, the comedy follows two down-on-their-luck guys who decide to fake their own deaths and start over with new identities.
“Netflix could offer a small-screen sanctuary for Sandler who could, if he chooses, reinvent himself and create content that could return him to the glory of his best days and generate renewed goodwill with audiences and critics alike,” notes Dergarabedian.
Sandler’s recent indies also have suffered. Tom McCarthy‘s The Cobbler was a high-profile miss, earning just $24,000 in the U.S. It fared better overseas, taking in $4.6 million. Jason Reitman‘s ensemble dramedy Men, Women & Children also stalled, failing to reach $1 million domestically. Like The Cobbler, it fared better overseas, earning $2.2 million.
Likewise, Pixels hopes to make up ground overseas, where it has earned north of $25 million in its early run. The movie stars Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad as a group of friends battling aliens who have used video games from the 1980s to attack Earth. Pixels has been ravaged by critics, while audiences gave it a mediocre B CinemaScore. The tentpole was co-financed by LStar Capital and China Film Group, guaranteeing a run in China.
All told, Pixels is playing in 42 percent of the international marketplace, where it placed No. 1 in 23 of 56 territories this weekend, many of them smaller. It soared in Latin America, a huge family market, placing No. 1 in Mexico ($3.7 million), Brazil ($3.1 million) and Argentina, where it nabbed Sony’s best debut of all time with $2.3 million. Pixels likewise debuted to No. 1 in Russia ($2.7 million) and in Spain ($1.3 million). It has yet to debut in China (Sept. 15) and the U.K. (Aug. 12), among other major territories.
Sandler’s Happy Madison continues to have a film deal with Sony, although it’s unclear when the pact expires. It’s also unclear whether his relationship with film executives is damaged after leaked emails surfacing in the Sony hack revealed that some executives weren’t unhappy with Sandler’s spending on budgets. On the TV side, Happy Madison’s deal with Sony was renewed for three years in January.
Rebecca Ford contributed to this report.
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