Adam Sandler's lucrative career in entertainment spans nearly three decades, beginning with his lower-profile days as Canteen Boy and Opera Man on Saturday Night Live. But he's best known as the man-child who slogs his way through grades one to 12 in Billy Madison (1995), and as the titular hockey player-turned-golfer who slugs faces in Happy Gilmore (1996), among other roles.
These days, Sandler is still a household name—but not for the right reasons. Instead, the actor and comedian has become the face of scoff-inducing cinematic schlock.
Back in the late 1990s, Sandler’s movie career was skyrocketing, and he continued to remain on top for the first decade of this century. The actor kicked off a seemingly endless stream of hits, starting in 1998 with The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy. Both films had relatively modest budgets by modern standards ($18 million and $23 million, respectively) but collectively grossed more than $240 million at the domestic box office.
Most of Sandler’s films produced by his company, Happy Madison, each grossed at least $100 million in the United States, putting him in the same league as Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, and Will Smith, according to The Telegraph. But like many comedic figures of his ilk (e.g. Rob Schneider and Kevin James), Sandler’s brand of humor does not age well—and his post-2011 domestic box office numbers certainly reflect that.
Sandler has fallen out of favor with American audiences because what worked in the 1990s does not necessarily work in the 2010s, Variety explained. The entertainment trade magazine says comedy has evolved since he first hit the big screen, instead favoring “R-rated bromances” produced by Judd Apatow. Variety added that Sandler’s audience skews under 25, suggesting that former fans outgrew his work.
This year was an especially bad one for Sandler because his most recent feature film, Pixels, flopped. Directed by Chris Columbus (Harry Potter, Home Alone), the action-comedy earned $10 million less than its $88 million budget.
In addition to his streak of flops, the former SNL comedian has gotten a load of bad press lately. Sandler came under fire this year for what some say is a racist portrayal of Native Americans in his upcoming film, The Ridiculous Six, set to debut Dec. 11 on Netflix. Sandler has reportedly signed a four-movie deal with the streaming service, but if he can’t seem to put butts in theater seats, why would Netflix partner up with Happy Madison?
The answer may surprise you: Adam Sandler is a global superstar. When you look at Latin American box offices alone, it’s clear he is a comedy icon for international Latino audiences.
Adam Sandler is a global superstar. when you look at Latin American box offices alone, it’s clear he is a comedy icon for international latino audiences.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos explained why the company, which aims to produce 10 to 14 original feature films per year, went with Sandler.
“[Netflix] licensed Adam’s movies in all of our territories,” including North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Japan, Sarandos said. “Very uniquely, [Sandler] stands out for his global appeal to Netflix subscribers.”
Sarandos added that, like most blockbusters, Sandler’s films make about 40 percent of their overall gross in international markets, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and all of Latin America.
Although Pixels, for instance, was a monumental flop in the U.S., it earned nearly double its budget globally. Sandler’s films perform in Latin America like “nobody’s business on a consistent basis," according to Deadline. The entertainment news magazine reported that Pixels dominated box offices in Mexico and Brazil; that's also the case for Sandler’s other infamously terrible films, Blended (2014) and Jack & Jill (2011), the latter of which earned 20 percent of its gross in Brazil.
So what exactly is it about Adam Sandler that Latin America loves so much?
One defining element of Sandler’s comedy is bawdy, sophomoric humor, and while it may seem like his movies aren’t quite as good as, say, Happy Gilmore, his style of comedy actually hasn't changed much. He often plays the same emotionally stunted characters, which are reminiscent of many of Mexican comedy legend Chespirito's clownish characters.
Chespirito—the stage name of Roberto Gómez Bolaños—debuted on Mexican TV station Televisa in his 1968 sketch-comedy show Los Supergenios de la mesa cuadrada (The Super-Geniuses of the Square Table); this later became, simply, Chespirito. Bolaños’ most notable characters were El Chapulin Colorado (the Red Grasshopper) and El Chavo (The lad); both featured sight gags and slapstick prevalent in classic Latin American comedy, much like Cantinflas (Chespirito’s comedic predecessor) and Guatemalan comedian and president-elect, Jimmy Morales.
El Chapulin and El Chavo later spun off to have their own standalone series. Premiering in 1973, El Chavo del Ocho featured Bolaños as the title character, an 8-year-old orphan who lived in a barrel in a small, close-knit Mexican neighborhood. And in El Chapulin Colorado, Bolaños starred as a grasshopper who was more or less a slapstick Jiminy Cricket, the top hat-clad conscience in Disney’s Pinocchio.
his cachet among movie-going Latinos outside the U.S. suggests that Sandler is here to stay.
Chespirito was a major hit beyond Mexican television. El Chavo, who Forbes refers to as “the world’s most famous (and richest) orphan,” still received Super Bowl-level ratings as of 2012. According to the business magazine, El Chavo del Ocho, which is syndicated all over Latin America (and even dubbed in Portuguese for a Brazilian audience) received 91 million daily viewers. Not bad for a show still airing reruns some four decades after its premiere.
Although Sandler isn't quite at the legendary levels of El Chavo or El Chapulin, they have a lot in common as far as their formulas go. Like Bolaños' shows, Sandler's films are predictable, formulaic, and “very, very repeatable,” according to Netflix’s Sarandos. Their jokes don’t pander to the high-brow crowd, with both comedians’ humor going for low-hanging fruit: funny faces, loud and odd noises, and schoolboy humor. The bottom line is: They are worth a ton of money in Latin American markets. Since El Chavo ended in 1992, it’s reportedly earned Televisa more than $1.7 billion in syndication fees. Similarly, Mexican, Venezuelan, and Brazilian audiences are throwing their money at Sandler and Happy Madison.
American audiences may be tired of Adam Sandler movies, but Latin America remains riveted—at least enough for Netflix to green-light more Happy Madison productions. Sure, Sandler isn’t making El Chavo-level cash, but his cachet among movie-going Latinos outside the U.S. suggests that Sandler is here to stay.