Netflix Knows What You Want: Adam Sandler

The glut of content from the Sandman on the streaming platform is head scratching, admirable, and it’s streaming like hotcakes.
Ashwin Rodrigues
Brooklyn, US
Adam Sandler in Hubie Halloween
Screenshot via Netflix

In 2014, Netflix announced a four-picture deal with Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions. "People love Adam’s films on Netflix and often watch them again and again," Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos said at the time. Sandler responded in kind: "I immediately said ‘yes’ for one reason and one reason only… Netflix rhymes with ‘wet chicks.’ Let the streaming begin!” Three years later, Netflix signed a deal with Sandler for another four films. These movies, which include The Do-Over and Sandy Wexler, feel like movies within a movie, where the plot is that Adam Sandler must fulfill his Netflix contract or he will explode like a low-stakes Speed sequel. 


When the actor took the podium to accept Best Male Lead for Uncut Gems at the American Spirit Awards last year, he joked that he'd always tried to "sell my truths with a truly independent spirit, while cashing some truly disturbingly large paychecks." He told Howard Stern last year that he'd make an intentionally awful movie if he didn't win an Oscar for his performance in Uncut Gems, and somehow, he was not even nominated. So the open threat of an intentional stinker looms with every release. 

This promise from Sandler makes every subsequent release more interesting. Netflix, typically secretive about its troves of streaming data, often breaks its silence to tout the success of Sandler's films. The company announced Murder Mystery, starring Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, was the most popular movie of 2019, as 30,869,863 accounts tuned in to watch in the first three days. This year, Hubie Halloween is the most-watched original movie on Netflix, according to Netflix. 

The relationship between Adam Sandler and Netflix is mutually beneficial, and works so well it deserves to be studied as a phenomenon. Netflix gives him a bunch of money, he makes some movies of varying quality, Netflix pushes them on its platform, and then streaming stats justify buying more movies. On the same platform where you can find Uncut Gems, you can also find The Ridiculous 6, a 2015 Netflix original—Sandler's first—which critics widely panned, with a 0% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Netflix original made headlines before it hit the platform, as a dozen Native American actors quit over the portrayal of Native Americans in the movie. Subsequent movies from the Sandler deal have fared better critically. 


Fans can anticipate any Sandler movie as a potentially great film, or an intentional flub for his Oscar snub, in the steady trickle of Sandler movies. Regardless of genre, all of his movies are heist movies. Uncut Gems is a "heist thriller," a memorable cascade of heart palpitations captured on film, written and directed by the Safdie brothers. The 2018 wedding comedy The Week Of is a heist behind the camera, as Netflix funded a reunion between Sandler and his friend and co-star, Chris Rock, critics be damned. (The Sandman himself confirmed to Jimmy Kimmel in 2014 that he uses movies as an excuse for vacations.)

Anyone can recall a time they've turned in a project and expected to receive a litany of edits, or maybe even a suggestion to scrap the idea and try something else, like a new vocation. But in some pleasant instances, not only is the feedback limited, the product is accepted with minimal notes. It's a setup many stubborn creatives would kill for.

Hubie Halloween, starring and co-written by Sandler, feels like a movie created under such conditions. Set in Salem, Massachusetts, and shot largely in the scenic town of Marblehead, the holiday movie, despite the big-budget production, feels extremely laid-back, in both dialogue and delivery. A location manager for Happy Madison Productions told The Marblehead Reporter Sandler wanted to return to the coastal New England town after shooting Grown Ups 2 in 2013.  

In Hubie Halloween, Sandler receives support from a packed cast ranging from Maya Rudolph to Michael Chiklis to Melissa Villaseñor—and those are just the M's—and many other actors from the Happy Madison universe. The protagonist, Hubie Dubois, is a kind community volunteer who seeks to keep children safe on Halloween, despite being prone to getting spooked himself. Using the Sandler "shooby-dooby" accent—which he doesn't consistently commit to in the film—Hubie travels around Salem, investigating mysterious disappearances as hijinks and high-profile cameos ensue. There are a handful of truly hilarious moments, such as when a gang of children on bicycles chase Hubie down the street, in what appears to be an earnest attempt to kill him, and a nun who says, "I might be asexual, but that girl's making me hella horny."

Aside from those bright moments, Hubie Halloween also includes South Asian representation. A mean bully named Mike Mundi, played by Karan Brar, traumatizes Hubie with various pranks throughout the movie. It's a far cry from the math club nerd that Mundi might've been a decade earlier. Somehow, this character inspired fanfiction in which Mundie's softer side is exposed, though Netflix has not yet announced any plans to turn Hubie Halloween into a franchise.

Given the time since his the last movie deal, Netflix may soon re-up on the Sandler movie pipeline, which will then spin the Sandler content production-demand complex. In a story about private air travel during a pandemic, in The Washington Post earlier this year, a handler for Sandler once called an on-call private pilot, Bob Wilson, with a request that Sandler be in the air to Hawaii in ninety minutes. Wilson made it happen, with an estimated roundtrip cost of $170,000. With these types of expenses, and a plug into the Netflix cash reservoir, it's a sensible choice to make any movie. And since the Academy won't give Sandler respect as Howard Ratner, you can't complain when he shows up as Hubie.