9 Milestones in the Evolution of Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler has one of the most frustrating career arcs of any actor working today. Maybe it would have been better if Punch Drunk Love were never made. Then we wouldn't know what Sandler is capable of and movies like this weekend's Just Go With It wouldn't be half as disappointing. On the other hand, audiences seem to just love it when he phones it in... so why even try? You can always trace a direct line through a handful of important roles (if not always the best roles) to illustrate what led to an actor's current success -- and/or give us a clue why something like Just Go With It exists, As such, let's look at eight performances that trace the evolution of one Adam Richard Sandler.

The Cosby Show (1987)

Sandler, in his first role, plays Smitty, a classmate of Theo Huxtable -- not too shabby a debut on one of the most popular television shows in the world at the time. In Sandler's first episode, he asks Theo how things went on a televised dance contest, only to become more enamored with Theo's friend Cockroach who performed better. Sandler would appear on Cosby four times.

Remote Control (1988)

Sandler was a writer and frequent guest star on this MTV game show hosted by the late Ken Ober and Sandler's future fellow SNL cast member, Colin Quinn. Sandler would play a plethora of different characters associated with Ober's questions, including, in this clip, Stud Boy.

Saturday Night Live (1990-95)

In the fall of 1990, SNL started to transition from the Dana Carvey/Jon Lovitz era (Lovitz left the show in the spring of 1990) to the Sandler/Chris Farley era. Added as featured players in 1990, Sandler, Farley and David Spade would dominate the show by 1993. Unfortunately, SNL would later enter one of the worst phases in its history with this cast in place, culminating in Chris Smith's infamous "Saturday Night Dead" exposé for New York Magazine. After the 1994-1995 season, Sandler (along with Farley and pretty much the rest of the cast other than Spade) would be fired. By the end, Sandler's SNL wasn't conducive to a cohesive sketch comedy show, but that doesn't mean he didn't shine in some individual moments -- which would wind up pretty much defining his film career.

Happy Gilmore (1996)

O.K., let's be honest: Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore are pretty much the same movie. If anything, Gilmore (the character) is even less likable than Madison (if that's possible); the best thing Sandler ever did was let Bob Barker beat the piss out of him on screen. For Sandler, he finally had a moment that transcended his own film and became an important piece of popular culture.

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  • Scraps says:

    Whenever I hear Van Halen's 'Beautiful Girls' I wonder if Farley hadn't died if they ever would have made a movie about that Schmitt Gay beer commercial.

  • jimrockford says:

    What, no mention of The Unsinkable Shecky Moskowitz?

  • Smarmy Fierstein says:

    The first time I remember thinking Sandler was maybe a little charming was in a horrible, horrible movie called "Mixed Nuts" that I actually had the misfortune of seeing in a movie theatre. I thought he was the best thing in the movie.
    Nora Ephron, the other hand, wrote some witty, smart pieces for Esquire that are really worth reading, but she has really produced some dreck since she descended on the movies. Why she was allowed to continue to make movies after "Mixed Nuts" is beyond me, because she sure hasn't redeemed herself.
    And yeah, I pretty much hated "Punch Drunk Love."

  • Mike Ryan says:

    I, too, saw Mixed Nuts in a movie theater.

  • The Winchester says:

    It's funny you bring up Funny People, because I feel like the posters for this Just Go With It are leftover designs from the joke movies in that.
    Same way I'm convinced that Gulliver's Travels was just a really great Tropic Thunder viral marketing campaign.

  • Ann MacKenzie says:

    I really loved Adam Sandler in "The Wedding Singer" and "You Don't Mess with the Zohan."

  • Doug Moore says:

    I really thought Spanglish was a great mix. Great actual acting job by Sandler, without being over the top dramatic. I think that's the model for him making films in the future that aren't real life versions of the mock movies in Funny People. (But then again, while Spanglish was more successful than Punch Drunk or Reign, it still only cleared $43 million on an $80 million budget)

  • Paul Lazarro says:

    A no talent hack. Period.

  • Superjesus says:

    Seriously, PDL his best role, while Funny People is one you say is awful? PDL is terrible, its written poorly and makes Spanglish look like a classic. It has no charm and no draw beyond the Sandler takes on a serious role gimmick. Sure he showed his dramatic range but he needs a better director (yes Anderson is highly overrated). Frankly if I had to choose, I'd take the dreck that was Grown Ups over the pretentious garbage that was PDL any day. As for FP it was fantastic. You give credit to Sandler's attempt at a serious role in a shitty movie because its a drama, but hate on arguably his best film in a decade because it wasn't typical Apatow fare.

  • wren says:

    The reference in The Wedding Singer to Urban Cowboy wasn't an anachronism, since Urban Cowboy came out five years BEFORE The Wedding Singer takes place. I don't think you know what "anachronism" means.

  • Mike Ryan says:

    He referenced it like it was still in theaters.

  • It means anything out of its proper time. If it's invoked as a contemporary, then it's an anachronism.

  • Charle says:

    he pretty much always play the same guy even in the snider movie where snider is a werewolf or something and sandler is only in it for 30sec as some angry mob guy he's pretty much the same char as in all his own movies
    but then again same deal with ben stiller

  • Eric says:

    Agree. All his characters are ONE in the same character. Just twist your voice and talk funny. Can you say one trick pony?

  • Nicole says:

    Well, most of his movies are obviously meant for a younger crowd. They do what they do well, though. Happy Gilmore is so classic.
    Price is wrong, bitch.
    You should check out funny people or spanglish. Just because the film industry only lets him do one trick doesn't mean he is only a one trick pony.

  • Stephanie says:

    The Waterboy was a glaring omission, Sandler's funniest movie in my opinion, and it had Henry Winkler to boot!

  • JR says:

    I agree with Stephanie...'The Waterboy' was probably his funniest movie, and I know everyone hates it, but 'Little Nicky' is still one of my favorites!

  • sadini says:

    I wonder why no one ever mentions Spanglish when talking about Sandler - it's one of my favorite movies, and Sandler is terrific in it. I also didn't think Funny People was awful at all, but then, to each his own.

  • ejb says:

    What about Going Overboard? I confronted him with this movie when I met him on the set of SNL, and he turned and walked away.

  • Dora says:

    That is rude. He should not have walked away like this.

  • Cutboy says:

    Even I feel that he could have confronted the situation.