His new comedy, “Pixels,” opened over the weekend to a mediocre $24 million, a disappointing result for the $88 million project. Sandler’s latest box office lemon comes on the heels of “The Cobbler” (Sandler’s lowest-grossing title ever, which opened to just $24,000 from 20 theaters in March), 2014’s “Blended” (the Drew Barrymore reteaming that mustered $46 million), “That’s My Boy” (a pairing with Andy Samberg that eked out $37 million) and “Jack and Jill” (the cross-dressing comedy that landed some of the worst reviews of his career). His only recent hits have been the 2013 sequel to “Grown Ups” (which netted $133 million) and “Hotel Transylvania,” an animated film that didn’t require him to be onscreen.
Here’s how Sandler’s box office career went from $4 billion in ticket sales to ice cold.
1) He aged out of his material
Sandler, 48, spent the ’90s playing the eternal teenage boy in his breakout-from-“SNL” vehicle “Billy Madison,” as well as box office hits “The Waterboy,” “Big Daddy,” “Mr. Deeds” and “Click.” But as his audience grew up, Sandler stayed the same — despite the title of “Grown Ups,” he rarely successfully played one in a movie. When he tried more mature roles, like in the Jason Reitman indie “Men, Women & Children” or Judd Apatow’s “Funny People,” he veered so far away from his brand that his fans didn’t know what to make of it. This isn’t entirely Sandler’s fault. A slapstick comedian’s career is shorter than a dramatic actor’s — just ask Jim Carrey. And Sandler had a longer run than arguably anybody in the juvenile comedy business: Since 1998, 14 of his films have cracked $100 million at the U.S. box office.
2) He’s not edgy
As comedic tentpoles changed — thanks, ironically, to his college roommate Apatow — with R-rated bromances, Sandler didn’t adapt. In fact, when Sandler appears in an R-rated film (“That’s My Boy,” “Funny People”), his box office rapidly drops. That might explain why his latest onscreen partner is Pac-Man. The opening weekend audience for “Pixels” skewed younger (62 percent under 25), which could indicate Sandler’s ex-fans are no longer interested in his films.
3) He needs new friends
Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions operates with a small clique of recidivists. There’s nothing wrong with repeat bigscreen collaborations — see David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence, or Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. But there’s something invariably Clinton era about the Sandler posse, and not just because it includes Vanilla Ice. There’s also Rob Schneider, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Norm MacDonald, Kevin James, etc. It gives the impression that he’s making the same movie over and over again. One of his better-performing recent titles was 2011’s underrated “Just Go With It,” which starred Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman, who upped Sandler’s game. The actor-comedian recently signed a deal with Netflix, which had the potential to launch a new chapter for the funnyman. Instead, his first movie under the four-movie pact features his old buddies Spade, Schneider and MacDonald and has already managed to offend Native Americans during filming.
4) He hates the press
Many A-list movie stars keep their distance from reporters, but Sandler takes it to another level. Feeling burned by critics who trashed his movies, he instituted a no-print-interview policy, because Sandler believes he didn’t need press to open a movie. That may have been true in 1999. Yet our 24-hour celebrity news cycle demands for actors to be more media-friendly. If you refuse to talk to journalists, you should at least tweet or use Instagram.
5) Is he even trying?
Sandler seemed more open to experimenting as an actor in the aughts when he made “Punch-Drunk Love” (with P.T. Anderson) followed by “Spanglish” (James L. Brooks). In the last decade, he hasn’t stepped out of his comfort zone. The good news for Sandler is that there won’t be any box office dollars to tally for “The Ridiculous Six,” which premieres in December. But the bad news for the rest of us is that Adam Sandler might never change, even though he’s overdue for a reinvention.