Fact: Adam Sandler is a funny guy. Here’s another fact: he makes a lot of terrible movies. How can such a talented comedian crank out so many painfully unfunny films? It’s a question that has plagued critics and fans alike for years now. Every once in a while, Sandler comes up with a winner. Sometimes it’s well within his comfort zone (The Wedding Singer), and sometimes it’s because he dares to venture outside it (Punch-Drunk Love). Mostly, though, he turns out great big clunkers. Few, if any, prominent actors have a filmography that’s as garbage-filled as his.
Utilizing their respective Rotten Tomatoes scores as a guide, we decided to take a look at Sandler’s worst movies. Our focus is on those where he’s the lead or co-lead, as opposed to those like Mixed Nuts where he’s a supporting player. This is not meant to take a cheap shot at him. We genuinely like the guy! “The Hanukkah Song” made us laugh. So did the “Opera Man” character. And come on, Happy Gilmore is a favorite comedy for a lot of people. This is why we want to examine the consistent choices that have caused the recent years of his big-screen career to pale in comparison to his work as a stand-up and Saturday Night Live cast member. Our goal is to focus on what went wrong in these movies, and what Sandler needs to avoid going forward.
So, as we try to wrap our heads around the fact that the actor’s Netflix run has been a success of epic proportions, are the 15 Worst Adam Sandler Movies.
15. Little Nicky (22%)
After a fairly strong start with several hit films, including Big Daddy and The Waterboy, it seemed as though Sandler couldn’t do a whole lot wrong. He’d found a niche playing overgrown man-boys — characters who were stuck in some kind of suspended adolescence. Apparently thinking that he needed to put a new twist on that idea, he made his first movie that incorporated a fantasy element. Little Nicky cast him as the screw-up son of the Devil. When his two evil brothers escape Hell, the more innocent Nicky has to venture into the real world to stop them from destroying Earth.
To be fair, Sandler deserves a little credit for trying to do something weird and different with this movie. He was also smart to surround himself with a talented supporting cast that includes Patricia Arquette and Harvey Keitel. The problems, however, are indicative of many Sandler movies. Little Nicky over-relies on tasteless jokes that aren’t especially funny and throws in pointless celebrity cameos that feel more forced than inspired. Even worse, the star talks in an annoying trick voice that might have been okay in a four-minute SNL sketch, but becomes impossibly grating over the course of ninety minutes. Audiences sensed trouble and stayed away, making the film Sandler’s first real flop as a headliner, earning just $39 million back of its (somehow) $85 price tag.
14. Airheads (21%)
Airheads, released in 1994, is slightly different than many Adam Sandler films in that it is more of an ensemble piece, as opposed to a vehicle designed specifically around him. Sandler, Brendan Fraser, and Steve Buscemi play members of a rock band who really want a local radio station to play their demo tape. They think that if they can just get their music on the air, a major record company will sign them and their career will take off. When the DJ (played by Joe Mantegna) refuses to give their tape a spin, they hold everyone in the place hostage until he relents.
Clearly, Airheads is intended to be a satire of the relentless pursuit of fame by the minimally talented. (Keep in mind, this was several years before American Idol audition rounds mocked the delusional wannabes that showed up.) That’s a topic full of potential. Unfortunately, the movie never finds the stinging tone that’s essential for satire. Making all three of the main characters varying degrees of stupid doesn’t help. There are only so many jokes you can make about people not being very bright. Airheads doesn’t reach particularly high for the gags, either. A trio of musicians calling their band The Lone Rangers is about as clever as it gets. A movie of this sort needs to be smart to be funny. Opting to be dumb only ensures that the comic potential falls flat.
13. That’s My Boy (20%)
By 2012, Sandler had presumably gotten used to people saying his movies were all kind of the same. To shake things up, he made That’s My Boy. A couple of things differentiate it from most of his work: it’s rated R, and it was written and directed by people outside his usual camp of colleagues. (In this case, the script was penned by Happy Endings creator David Caspe and the director is Sean Anders, who went on to make Daddy’s Home.) Sandler plays Donny, an absentee father who shows up in time for the wedding of his son Todd, played by Andy Samberg. Todd is not glad to see his beer-swilling, sex-obsessed old man and tries to get rid of him.
That’s My Boy uses its R rating in the wrong way. The movie is filled with pointlessly vulgar humor, and virtually every joke centers around sex or some sort of bodily fluid. Those that don’t tend to be needlessly cruel, making fun of people who are overweight or gay. There’s even an incest gag! Perhaps the most disturbing thing of all is the way the film plays statutory rape for laughs. Donny got his hot high school teacher pregnant, which is how Todd came to be. Rather than condemning the sexual exploitation of a teen by an adult in a position of authority, the movie asks us to think it’s cool that young Donny hooked up with a mature woman. Sandler apparently thought embracing his edgy side would be a good career move. In reality, That’s My Boy is so uncomfortable to watch that laughing isn’t an option.
12. Just Go With It (18%)
At first glance, Just Go With It looked to be a slightly more mature movie from Sandler. It was a romantic comedy in which he played a professional adult, rather than a man-child. His costar was Jennifer Aniston, a longtime personal friend with whom he would presumably share good chemistry. The supporting cast included Oscar winner Nicole Kidman and musician Dave Matthews. Then audiences got a look at it and realized the film was more of the same nonsense, just dressed up in fancier clothing.
Sandler plays Danny, a plastic surgeon who enlists the help of his assistant Katherine (Aniston) to carry out a ruse. He’s told his young girlfriend (Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker) some preposterous lie and needs her to pose as his soon-to-be ex-wife in order to cover up that lie. They all go to Hawaii together, where Danny slowly realizes that it’s Katherine he’s really in love with.
Many of the worst qualities of Sandler’s movies are on display here. The female characters are all sex objects. Considerably less-funny pal Nick Swardson overacts in a sizable supporting role. The “comedy” consists of jokes related to poop and crotch injuries, and there’s no shortage of offensive gay jokes. Just Go With It plays as though someone took an interesting rom-com and Sandler-fied it into something stupid.
11. Pixels (16%)
Pixels is a movie that could have been great with just about any other comedian besides Adam Sandler. The premise is actually pretty amazing. When aliens take the form of classic video game characters and invade Earth, it’s up to a former arcade competition champion to save the world. The film, which admittedly boasts superb 3D effects, features cameos from some of the gaming greats: Donkey Kong, Q-Bert, and Pac-Man. Seeing the video game world and the real world collide sounds like the basis for an all-time blockbuster.
Even though Pixels goes a little lighter on the potty and sex humor than the bulk of Sandler’s cinematic efforts, it still couldn’t find favor with critics or audiences. The general consensus is that the beloved old-school video game characters are trotted out for easy nostalgia value. Nothing especially interesting or creative is done with them. Many of the attempts to earn laughs fall flat, too, unless you consider the thought of Martha Stewart and Serena Williams participating in a threesome is funny. Topping it off, Sandler seems flat-out bored throughout, letting co-stars Kevin James and Josh Gad do the comedic heavy lifting. All in all, Pixels is a magnificent concept done with middling execution.
10. Blended (14%)
Sandler proved to have surprisingly good chemistry with Drew Barrymore in two of his better pictures, Fifty First Dates and The Wedding Singer. They teamed once more for 2014’s Blended, though the third time was most definitely not the charm. In this lazy rom-com, they play two people who go on a disastrous blind date and then — through a contrived series of complications — end up at an African resort together with their respective children. Do you think they learn to stop hating each other and fall in love? You betcha!
At the time of Blended‘s release, Sandler took some heat in the media for going on a talk show and half-jokingly saying that he made movies depending on where he wanted to take a vacation. Audiences took exception, because there’s definitely some truth to that statement. Many of his recent pictures take place in exotic locales. Blended, in particular, is so thin in the story department that it quite literally feels like an excuse to get a major studio to pay for everyone’s African vacation. That alone would make this a dull film. What’s really bad is that Sandler’s low-brow humor is out in full force, and the broad manner in which the native African characters are portrayed more than a few viewers screaming racism. Everything about Blended is carelessly slapped together.
9. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (14%)
Critics have pointed out that Sandler’s movies often contain homophobic humor. Characters who are, or might be gay are often the subject of ridicule. That idea comes to a head in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, a movie that pretends to be progressive when it’s really just hauling out some of the most tired cliches imaginable. Sandler and frequent co-star Kevin James play macho firefighters who have to pretend to be in a same-sex union so that the latter (who has no beneficiary) doesn’t lose his pension. Their fake romance threatens to foil Sandler’s attempts to hook up with Jessica Biel.
The gay characters in Chuck and Larry are walking, talking stereotypes, dancing and squealing when they’re happy about something and/or dressing in the most flamboyant manner possible. Attempts at comedy are wrung from watching James and Sandler attempt to “fit in” by replicating these behaviors. When Sandler’s not grossed out by pretending to love a man, that is. After more than ninety minutes of mining gay paranoia for cheap laughs, the film tries to shoehorn in a pro-tolerance message at the end. It feels utterly phony, especially given that Rob Schneider has a cameo as an Asian minister that’s one of the most racist things ever put on a movie screen.
8. Eight Crazy Nights (12%)
Without a doubt, one of the high points of Adam Sandler’s career is “The Hanukkah Song.” The tune, designed as an antidote for the lack of pop songs centered around the Jewish holiday, is clever and irreverent, with a bit of sweetness hidden inside. In other words, it’s all the things that exemplify Sandler at his best. The song quickly became a perennial favorite. And if there is a lack of Hanukkah music, there is an equal lack of Hanukkah movies. Sandler tried to rectify that with Eight Crazy Nights, an animated film that has him voicing an alcoholic loser named Davey Stone who gets drunk and tears up the town on the first night of Hanukkah. Faced with prison, he works to turn over a new leaf after being court-ordered into community service.
There are so many Christmas movies out there that making one celebrating Hanukkah for a change was an inspired idea. We definitely need some more of those. Eight Crazy Nights regrettably doesn’t try very hard to be a good Hanukkah movie, though. It’s filled with crude humor that, as is often the case with Sandler, usually focuses on bodily functions. Age-old Jewish stereotypes are also used way too much. It’s okay for holiday movies to be on the naughty side (as Bad Santa so eloquently proved) but they absolutely have to be funny in their naughtiness. This one just wears you down with its incessantly juvenile humor. Hanukkah deserves better.
7. Grown Ups (10%)
Grown Ups is one of Sandler’s biggest box office hits to date (it somehow racked up over $270 million). It should have been one of his best movies, too. While there is a contingent of fans who really like the picture, it’s hard to deny that there’s a ton of wasted potential here. This 2010 comedy pairs Sandler with Kevin James once more, while also reuniting him with his old SNL pals Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. Getting the gang back together could have offered an opportunity to bring some of their old TV magic to the big screen. Instead, the film squanders its reunion, failing to put much thought into an actual story.
The five guys portray childhood friends, reunited for the funeral of their beloved basketball coach. Together with their families, they spend a long holiday weekend at a beautiful lakeside cottage, and then…not much happens. Grown Ups is nothing more than an excuse for these actors to be together onscreen again. With no real plot, we just get random hi-jinks: they sit around comically insulting one another, crack sex jokes, and, in the most well-known scene, pee in a community pool. Grown Ups needed to tell a fully-formed story, or at least to have the stars play against type. (Imagine David Spade as something other than the snarky guy for a change!) Instead, the movie almost literally phones it in.
6. The Cobbler (9%)
When Sandler bombs hard, it’s usually for the same reasons. He surrounds himself with the same team of writers, directors, and co-stars, and they tend to crank out movies that all feel identical. The pictures all traffic in the same lowbrow humor, and they all have the same kind of cheesy sentimentality shoved into their finales. The Cobbler is a whole different type of Sandler bomb. He appeared to be trying to make a career advancement this time around, working with writer/director Tom McCarthy, whose The Station Agent and Win Win were major critical hits. (For perspective, McCarthy would follow this stinker up with the Oscar-winning 2015 film, Spotlight.) From the looks of it, Sandler was hoping to stretch his dramatic muscles, as he notably did with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love.
Through no real fault of his own, The Cobbler simply doesn’t work. The film casts him as a shoe repairman who finds a magical heirloom that allows him to literally walk in someone else’s shoes. Whenever he puts on a pair of footwear, he becomes the person to whom they belong. Part of the issue is that the movie can never figure out if it wants to be a comedy, a drama, or a fantasy. The tone is all over the place. Add to that a twist ending that may leave you infuriated, and you’ve got a real mess. An ambitious mess, but a mess all the same. For his part, Sandler is fine in the role. He’s just trapped in someone else’s disaster.
5. Bulletproof (8%)
Buddy action-comedies were a staple of the 1980s. Take two mismatched guys, put them together in an action-packed plot, let them bicker as they gradually become friends, and presto — box office magic. 48 Hrs., Midnight Run, and Running Scared are some of the most notable examples, and Lethal Weapon may have been the best of them all. The 1996 movie Bulletproof attempted to recapture this kind of magic. It failed miserably.
Damon Wayans plays an undercover cop assigned to befriend a wise-acre drug runner (Sandler) in order to get close to the guy’s boss. The plan is thrown into peril when the low-level criminal discovers the ruse. Bulletproof has all the banter and mayhem that you’d expect from a buddy action-comedy. None of it is done with much originality, though. Worse, Sandler and Wayans lack the chemistry that Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte had. (Or Robert DeNiro/Charles Grodin, Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines, and Mel Gibson/Danny Glover, for that matter.) Without that vital chemistry, no movie of this kind can survive.
4. Grown Ups 2 (7%)
Grown Ups 2 opens with a deer peeing on Adam Sandler. That tells you everything you need to know. (We can only assume the deer has paid money to see the other movies on this list.) This sequel brings everyone back together again, except for Rob Schneider, who either was too busy to return or wasn’t asked to, depending on which version of the story you choose to believe. If the first Grown Ups was light on plot, the follow-up is determined to be even lighter. One gets the impression from this sorry sequel that someone turned the cameras on and the actors just went about their day.
Grown Ups 2 really exemplifies something that makes so many of Sandler’s movies excruciating. All the characters who are in some way “different” are mocked. People who are too tall or too short, overweight, gay, androgynous, foreign, or less than conventionally attractive become subject to excessive ridicule. At the same time, the “heroes” are the schlubby man-boys who are left-of-center themselves. Grown Ups 2 is riddled with this sort of “It’s bad for you to be different, but it’s fine for us” hypocrisy. That mean-spiritedness pops up time and again in Sandler’s filmography, and it’s a real turn-off.
3. The Do-Over (5%)
If Sandler and Damon Wayans lacked chemistry in Bulletproof, surely a buddy action-comedy that re-teams him with good friend David Spade would fare better, right? Nope! The Do-Over proves as much. The guys play pals who find themselves unhappy in life. Consequently, they decide to fake their own deaths and start over by assuming brand new identities. Regrettably for them, the identities they steal belonged to two now-deceased criminals. They soon find themselves being hunted by some very bad dudes.
The Do-Over has all the requisites of Sandler-ian badness. The women are sex objects. There are gay-panic jokes. There are elderly people behaving in an overly sexual manner. More impressively (or maybe we should say less impressively), the movie finds some new ways for an Adam Sandler movie to rot. The back half becomes bewilderingly complicated, as the guys find themselves in the middle of a scheme involving a pharmaceutical cure for cancer. Aside from being too serious to be funny, the story becomes hard to follow. Whoever thought Sandler would make a film with too much plot?
2. Jack and Jill (3%)
Jack and Jill is arguably one of the most disliked movies of modern times. It marks the point where Sandler’s popularity with the public noticeably started to wane. Even some of his most devoted fans were becoming tired of the same old shtick. The movie, which he co-wrote, casts him in two roles: advertising agent Jack and his obnoxious twin sister, Jill. (It’s even less funny than it sounds.) When Jill shows up for Thanksgiving dinner, old tensions with Jack reignite, much to the dismay of his wife, played by Katie Holmes. Perhaps needless to say, the two siblings learn to love each other by the end.
Despite the milder PG rating, Jack and Jill still contains a fair amount of crude humor, which reaches a low point when Jill eats too much Mexican food and develops a scorching case of diarrhea. The overweight character is repeatedly made the butt of the joke, because way too often in Sandler’s cinematic world, women are deserving of mockery. Nick Swardson and Allen Covert, meanwhile, are given their requisite F.O.S. (Friends of Sandler) supporting roles. Worst of all, the shameless product placement that proves distracting in so many of the actor’s films kicks into high gear, thanks to a subplot involving Jack convincing legendary actor Al Pacino to film a Dunkin Donuts commercial. Basically, everything that can be terrible in Sandler’s overall body work is accounted for here.
1. The Ridiculous 6 (0%)
After a string of box office underwhelmers like Jack and Jill, Pixels, and That’s My Boy, Adam Sandler re-evaluated his career. His juvenile comedies simply weren’t performing as well anymore. Whereas at one point he was cranking out hit after hit, regardless of the onscreen product, the box office takes of his more recent efforts were not what they used to be. A change-of-pace dramatic turn in Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children didn’t pan out when the film failed to gain critical support. Then Netflix came calling, signing Sandler to a four-picture deal. His first effort under this new arrangement was the Western spoof The Ridiculous 6, a movie so bad that it has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The release strategy may have been different, but the content was just the same: lots of lowbrow gags. Sandler plays a white man raised by Native Americans. Upon discovering that he has five half-brothers, he leads an expedition to find their absentee father. Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Nick Swardson have roles of varying size, while rapper Vanilla Ice plays author Mark Twain. (We wish we were making that up.) The Ridiculous 6 is notable for being completely insulting to Native Americans, many of whom were quite vocal in their opposition to the film. That includes some of the actors and extras, who walked off the set in protest. It’s no wonder why. Giving Native American characters names like “Never Wears Bra” and “Beaver’s Breath” is no way to endear yourself to a culture of people. The stereotyping is shameless throughout, which only serves to emphasize just how desperate the movie is for laughs.
Blazing Saddles it ain’t. Heck, it’s not even A Million Ways to Die in the West.
What are you thoughts on Adam Sandler’s career? What do you think he needs to do in order to turn it around? Give us your opinions in the comments.
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