Monday Morning Critic – Adam Sandler, Netflix, The Death of the Movie Theater And The Dismantling Of The Modern Movie Star

MMC

The big news this past week occurred towards the end as Adam Sandler, Hollywood’s longest reigning cinematic funnyman currently, has signed a deal with Netflix to do four films under their burgeoning studio. Throw in the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the big story seems to be emerging.

It isn’t that Sandler is acknowledging his mortality as a box office star. It’s not that movie theatres are going to soon be dying, en masse. And it’s not that cinema as a medium is going away. Those are all tales from a down year spun regularly and will disappear once Star Wars Episode 7 and The Avengers 2 both cross $200 million in their first weekend at the box office. If neither cracks $100 million, which is highly unlikely, then the “Whoa is film! Whoa is Hollywood!” tale can properly be spun. Sandler to Netflix isn’t reflective of this tale … but it’s an easy one to tell. Hence why you read articles en masse whenever something like this happens; negative sells better or at least looks better with a question mark in the new SEO led news style of the day.

Sandler is one of Hollywood’s last remaining film stars with the ability to open up movies at the box office on his name alone, which is why the story matters in the first place.

At least he was … Sandler’s position on top of the cinema comedy game is tenuous at best right now. His films are still making money, mainly because they’re not expensive to make and have an ability to draw crowds in foreign countries. His films reflect the current box office reality for America, making 60% of their money overseas fairly consistently. That’s fairly odd for an American comedy actor in comedy films, as American comedies have never drawn substantially well overseas, and it’s the reason why Sandler is still able to get two films a year (on average) into theatres nearly every year.

It’s crazy to think it’s been 20 years since Sandler’s been on top but Billy Madison, his first starring film, but Sandler’s been a headlining comic actor since the first term of the Bill Clinton Presidency. It’s crazy to think but some people only know Adam Sandler as an old comedian, not the guy who had a brief stint on SNL. Even fewer remember the handful of episodes he starred in on The Cosby Show as one of Theo’s friends.

It’s why the Netflix story is such an interesting one. Sandler isn’t just lending his production house and shingle out for a fee, or going to make films with his friends as purely a producer, for the direct streaming video and DVD mailing service. If that was the case they’d be announcing a production only partnership and it would be a non issue. Plenty of production houses have cut deals with various distribution outlets; this would be substantive but not quite Earth shattering as some are making this out to be if it was just Happy Madison making a couple films without a big star in them for Netflix.

If it was a series of sequels, like Dickie Roberts: David Spade’s Behind on his Mortgage … Again or Bucky Larson: You’ll Think Nick Swardson Is Funny Eventually, Right? then this would just be Sandler cashing in on a similar level to the Mean Girls sequel. That would be fairly easy to understand because while Sandler has made a lot of money over the years basic licensing of his catalog could make him a lot more without much work.

Sandler’s acting inclusion makes it worthwhile and this is the shot across the bow for Hollywood in one crucial aspect. Much like Kevin Spacey showed in the American version of House of Cards, and the ensemble cast did for Orange is the New Black, that directly going online first might be the new trend. Sandler is doing nothing more than trying to seize an opportunity before anyone else.

And that’s what his deal with Netflix is really about. Sandler has never been one to command the $200 million budget, mainly because comedy is a fairly inexpensive genre on the whole. It’s why he can whether Blended not breaking $50 million domestically; that film didn’t cost that much and international grosses ($126 million in total) pushed that film into the black. Sandler very rarely loses money with a film; he may not have the monster sized hits but he’s a fairly solid investment in a film. He may not make you those nine figures that Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow do, justifying their substantive paychecks in both roles … but he’ll make you a nice return on your investment.

And making money in Hollywood is as good as being nominated for an Oscar regularly.

Thus this becomes an interesting situation for Sandler, to tone down the budget and his salary for Netflix. He most likely won’t be getting his usual salary or have the same budget as working with a major studio; Orange is the New Black and House of Cards have had large budgets but television shows are different than movies. Movies make their money up front, as back end money from DVDs and television broadcast rights are secondary concerns still. Movie studios make the bulk of their money up front in the same way the NFL makes most of their money on first air broadcasting rights. TV rights for a film to air 2-3 years after theatrical release may make a nice way of helping a theatrical bomb not lose as much money as it could … but television is never about making all its money up front.

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It’s a long game for television, where much more money is made over the long haul. They can make a ton up front but there’s just as much, if not more, money waiting for the years of syndication rights, et al. A good television series with a lot of episodes is a gold mine that a production house can ride for a significant portion of income for many years. Friends may have been insanely expensive to make because they had to pony up $6 million per episode in cast salary alone … but that’s a drop in the bucket for the sheer volume of money to be made from syndication across the globe. Movies are a short game, where you get most of your profit up front. Thus for Sandler he’s going to be looking at smaller everything for Netflix, as theaters are reluctant to show films that are simultaneously released through On Demand services and certainly won’t touch a film that goes to Netflix. So it can’t be for a greater return or more money; movies don’t tend to be more profitable by skipping theaters for someone like Sandler.

Sandler is going to have less money to deal with, among other things, but that’s what also makes this so interesting. He has been as much of a product of the modern studio system as his films have. Solidly budgeted films with easy punch lines, and gags, sell easy on the PG-13 market and Sandler has a fan base that still comes out regularly to his films. He aims toward the family market now, as opposed to 13 year old boys, and meets a basic expectation of what his films should be like. You don’t buy a ticket for a film like Jack & Jill expecting a brilliant comedy … you just don’t hope it’s completely rancid.

Fans don’t come out like they did but Sandler still does well enough to keep getting more films in production; he also is fairly steady in the DVD market. People might not be willing to go to a theatre to see him … but they will buy a DVD or go to a DVD rental kiosk for one of his films. Aging stars are more and more going DTV regularly; it’s very rare to see an actor who isn’t immune to this. Sandler isn’t waiting for it to happen. If you would’ve asked me ten years ago if someone with two Oscars like Hilary Swank would go DTV regularly I’d have laughed. She’s done it multiple times since Amelia. She’s not the only one, either, and studios are much more selective on what gets released into theatres and what doesn’t.

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Sandler still has a golden touch … but the foundation of the Happy Madison Empire of profitability is starting to crack. In a couple years he’ll be on that edge of perhaps being unable to get a film into theatres. Eventually, on the path of declining returns, he’ll have a spell where he can’t make budgets back and wind up with more films going to DVD than going to theatres. No one in his spot wants to wind up being Nicolas Cage. So instead of waiting for the inevitable, for Adam Sandler & Drew Barrymore starring in a romantic comedy advertised on late night TV and sold in Wal-Mart discount bins, he’s doing something unexpected.

He’s attacking.

It’s why going to Netflix is such an interesting thing. He doesn’t need the money and he’s been taking interesting roles enough now outside of Happy Madison that a transition into a Bill Murray career path isn’t out of question at this point. Murray’s audience has transferred with him for his dramatic career and Sandler releasing a handful of Netflix originals over the next couple years can balance out what he’s trying to do. There’s a reason why he’s in Jason Reitman’s latest Oscar bait picture, Men, Women and Children, his first true drama role since 2007’s Reign Over Me.

Sandler is pondering his future once the fall happens, when he’s no longer the last man standing in comedy. Netflix is a way to be ahead of the curve.

Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq

I saw Gone Girl and Left Behind in theatres so you didn’t have to.

I also reviewed Night Moves on Blu-Ray.

Brendan Campbell must be smoking something for this review of the latest Transformers sequel.

Mike Noyes tackles zombies.

And on MMC … American Sniper gets a trailer and it looks pretty rad.

If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This week’s DVD – Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game was poised to be the next great science fiction franchise a year ago … but couldn’t find an audience and wound up losing a ton of cash. It’s a great film, and an insanely popular book, but it didn’t quite connect because of Orson Scott Card (among other things). It had a solid box office opening but couldn’t quite find an audience for any number of reasons, winding up damaging any shot a franchise.

We really didn’t need one, as the book series is one brilliant novel (“Ender’s Game”) and a whole lot of terrible ones. Seriously … who talks about the series other than to discuss “Ender’s Game” to be honest? Not too many. We got a great film, at least, so we got that going on.

I’ve written about this film before, and my trepidations in wanting to see it. In the end I opted to and genuinely enjoyed it. It made my Top 10 of 2013 list, actually.

Simple premise. Humanity has united to fight a bunch of bugs who tried to take over the planet. We won … but barely. Now the fight is on to rebuild and prepare for their return. Things are dire and children are now being recruited. And Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield) is a genius at tactics and command. His task is to get ready to become the next great commander through his training at Battle School … but it won’t be easy.

The film is a great adaptation but unfortunately as a fan of the book there’s a ton missing, changed and adapted because the book is borderline unfilmable in many ways. So I understand why changes were made and agree with them. When a huge portion of the book is a character’s thoughts … well … that doesn’t quite translate to the big screen. So I get it. I loved the film in a different way than the book.

Recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

Addicted – A married gal loves taking the ride to pound town with strange dudes.

Skip it – This is a Tyler Perry film without the overt Christianity.

Alexander – Some kid has a crappy day. So does this family.

Skip it – This is a “slit your wrists” kind of film.

Dracula Untold – Discount McNulty makes a deal to save his family, and his kingdom, to become Dracula.

Skip it – This looks DTV terrible.

The Judge – Robert Duvall kills a guy … and his son, Robert Downey Jr, has to defend him.

See it – RDJ’s comeback story is complete with an Oscar win … and this could be the film that does it.

Kill the messenger – The guy who reported on a Reagan era story got his personal life trashed. Turns out he was right all along. This is his story.

See it – Jeremy Renner’s in the lead and this could be an Oscar contender.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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