After a few years in the wilderness, Adam Sandler is back on top. His newest film, Murder Mystery, just set a Netflix record. Despite mediocre reviews, 30,869,863 accounts watched the film in its first three days on the service. By comparison, other Netflix hits have taken weeks to do those kinds of numbers. But why?
What made Murder Mystery successful wasn’t its premise or sensibility — both are pretty damn conventional. It also wasn’t Jennifer Aniston’s presence, though her starpower certainly didn’t hurt things. The secret to the film’s success is the fact that it was conveniently available to an audience already fond of Sandler’s work: Netflix parents.
Sandler appeared in his first starring role in a film in 1995’s Billy Madison when he was 29 years old. It created the juvenile comedy template that worked well for him for decades, one that appealed to an audience 10 to 15 years younger than the man himself with memorable gags — a skill Sandler honed doing sketch comedy for six years on SNL — and characters who grew into themselves as the plot progressed.
But unlike fellow toilet humor merchants (and frequent collaborators) like Kevin James and Rob Schneider, Sandler has also tackled more sophisticated, character-driven work. Punch-Drunk Love is probably his best performance as an actor, with The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) his most recent effort with any sort of dramatic — and watchable — dimension.
These aren’t the kind of movies that the typical 15-year-old laughing hysterically at Big Daddy would appreciate. But that 15-year-old doesn’t exist anymore. Like Sandler, who’s now 52, his audience has grown up. They’re in their 30s and 40s. They have kids. And given the difficulty and expense of arranging childcare (not to mention the omnipresent fatigue of parenting), they love Netflix.
After years in which Sandler reliably shaped their expectations for comedy, his stand-up specials, and features for Netflix are appealing titles that stick out while scrolling through Netflix’s library.
Meanwhile, after becoming adults and having kids, his more dramatic fare appeals to them as well. They still have a fondness for the classic Sandler oeuvre, but they have also matured a lot over the years and grown to appreciate movies that aren’t chock full of dick jokes.
Sandler’s smartest moves were staying consistent in making the kinds of movies he knew his audience wanted to watch and migrating to streaming, where his fans are watching movies now. This savvy is the reason Murder Mystery broke records and the reason that Adam Sandler is back on top of the comedy world.