Total Recall

Total Recall: Adam Sandler's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Grown-Ups 2 star.

by | July 11, 2013 | Comments

Adam Sandler

The critics might not be looking forward to Adam Sandler getting the gang back together for this weekend’s Grown-Ups 2, but box office receipts don’t lie — the critics are handily outnumbered by Sandler’s many ardent fans, many of whom have been laughing it up over the SNL vet’s shtick for more than two decades. With another likely hit under his belt, Sandler seemed like the perfect candidate for this week’s list, and the results — while certainly filled with a few more Rotten films than your average Total Recall candidate — include some of the biggest comedy hits in recent memory. Watch out for Bob Barker and giant penguins, and let’s start the countdown!


10. Hotel Transylvania

After hitting the lower reaches of the Tomatometer with 2002’s Eight Crazy Nights, Sandler had almost nowhere to go but up with his next foray into animated fare — and while it still didn’t come anywhere near winning over most critics, 2012’s Hotel Transylvania still represented a substantial improvement. Starring Sandler as Dracula, presented here as less of a bloodsucker than a nudnik fretting over his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and preparing to host a major monster mash in honor of her 118th birthday, Transylvania racked up nearly $150 million in domestic grosses thanks to families hungry for all-ages adventure — and it even earned positive reviews from critics like Alonso Duralde of the Wrap, who said, “Hotel Transylvania may lack the emotional oomph of Pixar’s best efforts, but it makes up for it with rapid-fire gags and an unflagging pace that makes this a rare all-ages treat.”


9. Anger Management

It’s based around an idea that sounds like it could have started with some executive’s napkin scribblings — “TWO HOURS OF ADAM SANDLER AND JACK NICHOLSON YELLING AT EACH OTHER” — but as these things go, that’s a pretty solid idea for a comedy. Audiences agreed, turning out in droves for this 2003 release about a mild-mannered man (Sandler) who’s forced into therapy with a deranged therapist (Nicholson) after being falsely accused of air rage. The results fell flat with most critics, who found Anger Management dispiritingly crass, but there were a few dissenting opinions — like the one from TIME’s Richard Corliss, who wrote, “Even a longtime Adamophobe has to admit that Sandler is an agreeable presence here, and that the film has some funny filigree work to offset the oppressive schematics.”


8. 50 First Dates

By the early aughts, Sandler’s films had become reliably critic-proof, and 50 First Dates was no exception. This 2004 romantic comedy — which reunited Sandler with his Wedding Singer co-star Drew Barrymore for the tale of a veterinarian who falls for a woman with a unique form of short-term memory loss that makes her forget him every single day — broke $100 million at the box office in spite of largely negative reviews, spurred on by filmgoers hoping to recapture a little of that Sandler/Barrymore magic. And while it might have been unreasonable to expect a movie that equaled or surpassed their first outing together, for many critics, Dates stood on its own; as Nev Pierce wrote for the BBC, “The spark between the stars and a surprisingly thoughtful screenplay ensures that, despite the odd gross-out misstep, this is a sweet, warm and funny romantic comedy.”


7. Billy Madison

Sandler’s Saturday Night Live tenure is remembered today as one of the show’s golden eras, but at the time, he and his fellow younger cast members — a group that included David Spade and Chris Farley — were widely regarded as guilty of dumbing things down with infantile, often scatological humor. All of which is to say that when Sandler made his leading-man debut with 1995’s Billy Madison, many critics’ worst fears were confirmed; proudly juvenile and often downright nonsensical, the movie stars Sandler as a pampered idiot who agrees to go back to school — starting with kindergarten — in order to prove to his father that he’s capable of running the old man’s company. Many of the reviews were predictably brutal, but Billy quickly became a VHS classic of the ’90s, and there’s no denying that if you’re in the right frame of mind, the movie is — as Phil Villarreal argued for the Arizona Daily Star — “A vintage specimen of a master at the apex of his talents.”


6. Spanglish

After winning high marks in the 1980s for Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News — and continuing his hot streak with 1997’s As Good As It Gets — director James L. Brooks has had a tougher go of it in the 21st century. Spanglish, stars Sandler as a chef whose recent career upswing contrasts with the miserable chaos unfolding at his home, where his unhappy wife (Tea Leoni) has taken on their housekeeper’s (Paz Vega) daughter as a sort of project, much to the consternation of the girl’s mother. Unwieldy both in terms of running time and story, it was met with critical and commercial indifference during its theatrical release, but for some, the highs were more than worth the lows; as David Edelstein wrote for Slate, “The movie is what in Hollywood they call ‘character-driven,’ and it does take its sweet time. But much of that time is sweet indeed.”


5. Happy Gilmore

As eminently quotable as it is enthusiastically childish, Happy Gilmore took the (overgrown) boy-meets-world conceit of Sandler’s first film, Billy Madison, pumped it up with extra violence and Bob Barker, and emerged with the best movie ever made about a borderline psychotic failed hockey player who uses his latent gift for golf to save his tax-delinquent grandmother’s home. A relatively modest $41 million theatrical hit, Gilmore left a not-inconsiderable number of critics either nonplussed or revolted, but it quickly became one of the decade’s biggest comedy cult classics — and for all its flaws, it still has a dark, angry edge missing from many of Sandler’s later family-friendly efforts. As James Rocchi advised for Netflix, “Sever those cerebral lobes, sit back, and enjoy a gleeful, energetically stupid comedy.”


4. Reign Over Me

Casting Sandler as one of the leads in a 9/11-themed drama may have seemed like a questionable decision at best, but Reign Over Me writer-director Mike Binder knew what he was doing; here, Sandler’s gift for playing shy, awkward types was an asset for the film’s central character, a doctor crippled by the horrific memories of losing his family in the attacks. Bolstered by strong performances from Don Cheadle and Jada Pinkett Smith, Reign ended up suffering the same dismal commercial fate as many other movies inspired by that dark chapter in American history, but it found an appreciative audience with critics like Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News, who marveled, “Cheadle is good, as always, but Sandler’s portrayal of a guy on the perennial brink of a psychotic breakdown is amazing.”


3. The Wedding Singer

You’ve got a prominently featured mullet, a character whose married name will be Julia Gulia, and a Billy Idol cameo, so from the outside, it might look like The Wedding Singer is a movie that somehow ended up being more than the sum of its parts. But in reality, it’s one of the sweeter, more graceful romantic comedies of the ’90s, with a pair of stars (Sandler and Drew Barrymore) who played off each other with just enough genuine chemistry to make up for the movie’s sillier moments. Though they’d go on to reunite for 2004’s 50 First Dates — and they have another movie on the way — it’s doubtful Sandler and Barrymore will ever do better than the film Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called “A sparkling romantic comedy, the kind of picture that glides by so gracefully and unpretentiously that it’s only upon reflection that you realize how much skill, caring and good judgment had to have gone into its making.”


2. Funny People

Years after they roomed together as young comics with showbiz dreams, Sandler and writer/director/producer Judd Apatow reunited for 2009’s Funny People, which stars Sandler as an impossibly wealthy comedian who’s lost touch with his muse (and pretty much everyone around him) after filming a series of lowest-common-denominator movies that play to his public image without pushing him to grow. It’s a part that might strike a little too close to home for Sandler fans that have stuck with him through his least lovable comedies, but it offered him one of his more successful opportunities to show off his dramatic chops — and although the movie’s 146-minute length turned off a number of critics, it was just right for Ben Lyons of At the Movies, who wrote that “Apatow has always found a balance of heart and humor in his best films, and Funny People is no exception.”


1. Punch-Drunk Love

After a solid 20 years of playing simple-minded man-children who terrorize everyone around them with unpredictable mood swings, Sandler was given the role he was born to play: Barry Egan, the protagonist of Paul Thomas Anderson’s quirky romance Punch-Drunk Love. A sort of real-world version of the cartoonish characters Sandler’s known for playing, Barry uses his soft-spoken demeanor to mask a vast cauldron of rage that bursts out at inopportune moments — which is a very bad thing for the people who decide to blackmail him just as it seems like he might be finding love with his sister’s friend (Emily Watson). “Director Paul Thomas Anderson hasn’t reinvented Sandler,” argued Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press. “He’s just allowed those of us who tired very quickly of his innocent naif shtick to see how effectively it can be put in the service of something to care about.”

In case you were wondering, here are Sandler’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Happy Gilmore — 83%
2. Reign Over Me — 81%
3. Billy Madison — 79%
4. Big Daddy — 77%
5. The Wedding Singer — 76%
6. The Waterboy — 74%
7. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry — 73%
8. Click — 72%
9. Punch-Drunk Love — 72%
10. Hotel Transylvania — 72%

Take a look through Sandler’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Grown-Ups 2.

Finally, here’s a young Sandler in his cinematic debut — Going Overboard, from 1989: