Adam Sandler's confoundingly persistent popularity: 4 theories

The Week

The SNL vet's critically ravaged That's My Boy is just the latest in a long string of excruciating comedies. Why is Sandler still a box-office star?

Derided as "a new low" and "as bad as you can get," Adam Sandler's latest turkey, That's My Boy, is slumming it with a 20 percent approval score on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Such condemnation is hardly new for Sandler. The actor recently broke records at the Razzie Awards, which "honor" the year's worst films, and four of his last five movies failed to pass the 20 percent mark on Rotten Tomatoes. And yet, somehow his films still reliably gross more than $100 million apiece at the box office. (He's pulled off the feat 12 times in total.) Why do audiences continue to turn out for his terrible movies? Here, four theories:

1. Sandler surrounds himself with popular co-stars...
Sandler's films reliably showcase the "growing number of clowns" on his payroll, including fellow Saturday Night Live alumni David Spade and Rob Schneider, says Roger Moore at McClatchy-Tribune News Service. Grown Ups featured box-office juggernauts Chris Rock and Kevin James. Just Go With It co-starred Jennifer Aniston. In That's My Boy, Sandler brings on Andy Samberg, says Gabe Toro at Indie Wire, "one of the few breakout stars of the recent Saturday Night Live era." It's a smart move, says Mary Pols at TIME. "I'm not sure I could ever truly hate a movie that features so much of the adorable" Samberg.

2. ...And absurd celebrity cameos
Sandler has a notorious penchant for "loading his movies with significant non-actors," to the delight of typically shocked audiences, says Toro. In That's My Boy, audiences get to see bombastic New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, schmaltzy singer Tony Orlando, New York Knick Baron Davis, and Vanilla Ice. And don't forget Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore, Billy Idol in The Wedding Singer, and Derek Jeter and Rudy Giuliani in Anger Management. These celebrity cameos are consistently a draw, says Matt Patches at Hollywood, even if they're often grafted awkwardly into the plot.

3. Sandler caters to America's "manchild" fantasy
Though Sandler has made scattered attempts at fully-realized adult characters, he clearly prefers the "slacker manchild," says Toro. Indeed, his entire "comedy empire" is built on the "dumbest, most juvenile, foul-mouthed and vulgar oafs in modern film history," says James Verniere at The Boston Heraldsuggesting that this notion of the manchild-as-hero resonates with audiences.

4. Sandler brainwashed a generation of moviegoers who find his inanity nostalgic

Sandler executes a "firmly entrenched comedy formula that can claim a global fanbase prepared to follow wherever the laughs may lead," says Justin Lowe at The Hollywood Reporter. He has "effectively raised a generation" on his brand of "sophomoric absurdity," says Toro at Indie Wire. Those fans are loyal, and Sandler rarely strays. In That's My Boy, Sandler simply "double[s] down on his commitment to pandering to his audience's crudest instincts," says Nathan Rabin at The A.V. Club.

SEE ALSO: The shocking Game of Thrones finale: Better than season one?

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