Illustrations by Spencer Olson

Mathematically Parsing Adam Sandler’s Empire of Shit

Or, introducing the Adam Sandler Evil Score Card

Political philosopher Karl Marx, in his 1843 manuscript Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, famously concluded that “religion is the opiate of the masses.” But more than a few things have changed since then, and it is safe to say that the proletariat has largely abandoned God and traded Him in for a sexier model: The Celebrity. People used to escape the misery of their existence by entering a church — now they enter air-conditioned cinemas to consume insipid, unoriginal star-driven blockbusters. So if we can all agree that God is dead and humanity has chosen instead to worship at the altar of the international box office, I put forth the following Marxist update: Adam Sandler is the bath salts of the masses. Sandler’s celluloid shit-fires are driving humanity to mouth-foaming idiocy, convincing everyone they are having a great time. One needs to look no further than the surprising box office success of 2015’s Pixels to realize the human race is doomed.

Many critics have attempted to end Sandler’s reign of terror, but thus far none have succeeded in swaying his fan base. Sandler is still a proven international box office draw, with the ability to push his films past the $200 million dollar mark. Even streaming snob Netflix recently stooped to offer Sandler a lucrative four-picture deal, which is currently two pictures in and bringing Netflix record traffic. Up next is a Netflix rom-com starring Jennifer Hudson as Sandler’s love interest (??!!?!) — a fate that no one (especially someone who knows Beyonce and has an Oscar) deserves.

So how, after innumerable critical crucifixions, is Adam Sandler still a thing? In an attempt to answer this question, I conducted a comprehensive study of Sandler’s film career. My research focused solely on Sandler “vehicles,” excluding films in which Sandler possessed a minor role (i.e., his garbage cameo in The Hot Chick doesn’t count). I was able to track box-office trends, chart his rising global star and identify the factors of his continued success. It is my hope that this research will bring us one step closer to understanding the invincibility of Adam Sandler’s Empire of Shit.

The triumph of evil

In order to best understand his dark victories, I have created a system to quantify the amount evil present in each Sandler film.

For the purposes of the study, evil was qualified in the following ways: the level of a film’s success/failure at the box office, critic/audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes, disparity between critic/audience scores, and the film’s Bechdel Test grade.

Using this metric, I was able to determine the percentage of evil at work in each Sandler film. If a film was over 50 percent evil, it will be considered a “triumph of evil.” Films under 50 percent evil are considered “triumphs of good.” If the film was exactly 50 percent evil, it is deemed “a draw.”

Overall, it was discovered that an overwhelming 64 percent of Sandler’s films were triumphs of evil, while a mere 15 percent were triumphs of good. Additionally, 15 percent were equal parts good and evil. Finally, results for 6 percent of his films were inconclusive. These films were part of Sandler’s recent four-movie Netflix deal (Netflix — you’re better than this)—as Netflix refuses to disclose profits/ratings, evil was incalculable.

Here is an infographic, showing both triumphs and evil.

Birth of a Sandler Nation

But even shit has some integrity. And most Sandler films plod along with the following formulaic certainty:

  1. Fucking idiot gets into kooky situation and behaves shitty.
  2. Sexy cardboard woman chastises fucking idiot for shitty behavior.
  3. Sexy cardboard woman realizes that she actually loves the fucking idiot and his shitty behavior.
  4. Kooky situation solved!

This formula — first discovered in Sandler’s debut film Billy Madison — created a blueprint Sandler would recycle many times. The circumstances of the film’s success would also repeat throughout Sandler’s career: it was a critical flop (46 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), but an audience favorite (79 percent audience score). The film’s profits more than doubled its $10 million budget with a box office of $26 million—and it failed the Bechdel Test (duh). Because of these factors, Billy Madison is deemed 100 percent evil. This pattern of financial success/critical failure/audience enjoyment/degradation of women would come to define Sandler’s odious oeuvre.

Drew Barrymore’s unwitting deal with comedic satan

It is impossible to stay mad at Drew Barrymore — even when she co-stars in Sander’s evil film. There is something preternaturally lovely, fuzzily Drew-y and inherently good about Barrymore’s presence. How then, in the cinematic battle of good vs. evil, did Barrymore get lured to Sandler’s side?

Sandler and Barrymore’s first onscreen pairing was in the The Wedding Singer, a film both audiences and critics loved. It had worldwide box office of $123 million: Barrymore carried Sandler past the $100 million mark for the first time in his career, ushering in a new era of box-office success for Sandler.

But Sandler soon used his Drew-found popularity for evil. Though The Wedding Singer qualified as a “triumph of good” in this study (with matching critical/audience scores of over 60 percent, and a box office that sextupled its $18 million budget), Sandler’s 18 subsequent hits to pass the $100 million mark have all been “triumphs of evil.” This means Barrymore was effectively bamboozled by Sandler in a morality bait-and-switch. Their movie romance would be regurgitated twice more in 50 First Dates and Blended — sadly, both times for pure, 100 percent evil.

A vampiric allergy to goodness

“But what about Punch-Drunk Love?” a Sandler apologist might counter. And certainly, Paul Thomas Anderson effectively spun Sandler’s man-child schtick into something compelling. By my calculations, Punch-Drunk Love is only 40 percent evil, making it one of the few “triumphs of good” in Sandler’s career. But ultimately, the film failed to recoup its $25 million budget, signaling financial failure. Not so good.

This failure marks another recurring Sandler motif: a vampiric allergy to “prestige.” Sandler’s every collaboration with Oscar-winning/nominated directors has led to financial and/or critical failure. The James L. Brooks helmed Spanglish was both a critical bomb (53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and a box office failure ($55 million gross/$80 million production budget). Men, Women and Children, directed by Jason Reitman, experienced similarly dismal returns ($2 million gross/$16 million budget), and a 32 percent critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. Finally The Cobbler — helmed by Tom I-Won-My-Weight-in-Spotlight-Oscars McCarthy — was the biggest flop of Sandler’s career. It was released to a fart of $24,000 at the U.S. box office, amounting to .0024 percent of its $10 million budget. Critics savaged the film (9 percent on Rotten Tomatoes ), and Tom McCarthy thanked Cinema Jesus that Spotlight came out before anyone could throw him in Movie Jail.

Insulting the intelligence of every human on Earth

When the critically flogged Pixels was released in 2015, the media watched with glee as the $110 million tentpole died a merciless death, drawing just $78 million at the domestic box office.

Finally, it seemed the bell had tolled for Sandler, and our national nightmare was over. Netflix chief Ted Sarandos was roasted at the TCAs for giving Sandler a four-picture Netflix deal in the wake of Pixels’ U.S. face-plant. But Sarandos defended his choice, citing Sandler’s bankability as an “enormous international movie star.”

Then, in a shocking twist, Sarandos was proven right: Pixels raked in $166 million at the international box office — bringing the film’s total gross to $244.8 million. What critics counted on to kill Sandler actually turned into the fifth-highest box office showing in his 33-film career.

Affluent zombie, doomed to roam $80 milllion film sets

The Ridiculous 6 — Sandler’s first Netflix film — represented the critical nadir of Sandler’s output. The film scored a 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and was called “bigoted,” “lazy,” “donkey turd,” and “a two-hours-too-long cesspool.” Yet despite critical lashing, The Ridiculous 6 was a massive success. The film became the most-watched movie in Netflix history, occupying the number-one spot in every global territory. (Keep in mind that Netflix chooses to reveal ratings when convenient, or braggy, for them.)

So what of Sandler’s future? Overwhelmingly, critics have noted that Sandler’s recent performances have been those of a depressed, bored and disengaged man. Indeed, he seems to be giving the worst performances this side of a Zoloft prescription. So why continue, Adam Sandler, if you hate the world? Well, because apparently the world still loves you.

In the end, Sandler is trapped in a cinematic prison of his own making, a joyless zombie doomed to wander $80 million film sets. There is no doubt evil has triumphed in the star’s career, but there is a certain karmic justice to Sandler’s predicament: He tricked the masses into buying his bullshit, but he cannot convince them to stop.