Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions comedy brand continues to reap healthy profits (despite consistently poor critical receptions for its film releases), but there have been signs in recent years that consumer fatigue is starting to set in. The Sandler-headlined movies That's My Boy (2012) and Blended (2014) both performed below expectations during their domestic box office runs, as did the Sandler-led Pixels (2015) in its opening weekend - even though the latter had the added pull of 1980s arcade game nostalgia and better production values than your average Happy Madison film.
However, despite the diminishing returns for recent Sandler projects, the actor/writer/producer's work is still part of mainstream pop culture and continues to aim for broad appeal. Sandler likewise remains as business-savvy as ever with his career choices, having jumped aboard the Netflix bandwagon with a deal to develop four original movies exclusively for the entertainment-streaming service.
Sandler is one of multiple high-profile actors/filmmakers who have reached a deal to produce original film "content" for Netflix. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are currently working on movies for the company (War Machine and First They Killed My Father, respectively), while The Weinstein Company is going to release the long-awaited sequel Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend through Netflix in 2016 - the same year that Paul Reubens is going to be returning to his Pee-wee Herman role, with the Netflix exclusive project, Pee-wee's Big Holiday.
The upcoming Netflix original film slate spans from niche material to franchise installments, in terms of each individual project's immediate appeal. Netflix's original series offerings encompass a similar range of demographic appeal (see: Daredevil, Bloodline, and so forth) and are known for generally being of a higher caliber (or they usually have higher creative ambitions, at the least), so it stands to reason that the majority of the company's upcoming exclusive movies will be aiming to clear a similar high bar. So, the question is, where does Adam Sandler and the Happy Madison brand fit in all this?
The first of these Sandler/Netflix collaborations, the western spoof/comedy The Ridiculous Six, has already courted controversy for its script's portrayal of the Apache tribe, which prompted several of the film's Native American actors, along with its Native cultural consultant, to walk off set. Both Netflix and Sandler have since issued statements in defense of the movie, where they refer to Ridiculous Six as a "broad satire" and "pro-Indian" feature. Whether or not you find the descriptions of the movie's Apache scenes (which include bathroom humor and sex puns that involve characters' names) to be personally offensive and/or culturally insensitive, it's fair to say: this sounds like business as usual, for the Happy Madison Productions brand.
Meanwhile, the second planned Sandler/Netflix film, The Do Over, reunites Sandler with David Spade and director Steve Brill (Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds), for a story about (per Deadline), "two down-on-their-luck guys who decide to fake their own deaths and start over with new identities, only to find the people they’re pretending to be are in even deeper trouble." The movie, which will costar Paula Patton, reads as a typical "high-concept" Sandler comedy that in recent years has been made on the (relative) cheap and released in theaters, only to turn a healthy profit.
Point being, neither Ridiculous Six nor The Do Over read as being outside Happy Madison's wheelhouse (when it comes to subject matter or tone), nor are they taking unusually large creative risks for your average Sandler comedy. It therefore seems the union between Sandler and Netflix reflects an effort by the latter to court a larger consumer base, by providing entertainment that's a change of pace from its more subversive established series (see Orange is the New Black).
Netflix has a clear interest in becoming a home for independent feature films that could have an easier time finding an audience by way of the streaming service, rather than a traditional limited theatrical roll-out; one example being director Cary Fukunaga's African child soldier drama, Beasts of No Nation, which is set to debut on Netflix in October 2015. However, with its Sandler deal, the company appears intent to avoid being pigeon-holed as a home for auteur-driven movies, much like its deal with Marvel Studios or companies like Scholastic (on the series Magic School Bus 360 degrees) make it clear that Netflix wants to have as wide-reaching and varied a menu of exclusive material as it does non-original content.
Nonetheless, Netflix's four-picture commitment from Sandler does read as being more of a bargain with the devil than its other current deals. Happy Madison Productions has long had a fanbase willing to turn out for most every one of its film releases, but increasingly in recent years (with movies like Jack and Jill, Grown Ups 2, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2) the studio has been loudly criticized for failing to produce comedies that provide even the easy laughs and low-level humor of its previous output. It is certainly possible that movies like Ridiculous Six will ultimately prove to be more creatively inspired than recent Sandler vehicles released theatrically, though early descriptions of these Sandler Netflix films suggest otherwise.
Frequent Sandler collaborator and director Dennis Dugan recently offered his (blunt) thoughts about such criticisms to THR, and they likewise suggest that Happy Madison Productions won't be changing its ways anytime soon (even with the move to Netflix):
"I don't give a f— what [critics] think. I give a f— that almost every one of my movies opens up number one and makes a giant profit for the studio, and people buy them, rent them, quote them and have a good time seeing them. How f—ing dare anybody say that [Sandler's] a sh**ty [entertainer]."
Netflix's decisions to pick up cult televisions shows (Arrested Development) and/or back certain indie filmmaker ventures (Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray's upcoming A Very Murray Christmas special) are, of course, calculated business moves in their own way - much like the company's union with Sandler and Happy Madison Productions. Still, when so many upcoming Netflix exclusive films or TV shows have at least the appearance of loftier standards and ambitions, the upcoming Sandler comedies stick out like a sort thumb, by comparison.
The Sandler/Netflix films almost certainly won't uphold the standard established by past original Netflix fare, but that's not to say the latter's brand will be hurt by them. Remember, even HBO has released its share of original movies and TV shows that turned out to be critical duds (most recently, The Brink), and yet it keeps on pushing the envelope for original material, for both small-screen films and series alike.
If nothing else, more Sandler movies being released on Netflix directly means there will be extra room for other films at your local theater and that Happy Madison film fans won't even have to leave home to get their fix of Sandler and Friends' hijinks (nor will they have to pay the full price of theater ticket admission). So, in that sense, maybe this is a win-win situation for everyone.
Pixels is now playing in theaters. The Ridiculous Six will be released on Netflix (and in limited theaters) on December 11th, 2015, followed by The Do Over sometime in 2016.