Adam Sandler: America's Biggest Movie Star

“Grown Ups” looks likely to continue the comedian's box office sweet streak

Leave the headline generating to others.  The notoriously press-shy Adam Sandler may be the movie business' biggest star.

If tracking holds up, his winning streak looks likely to continue with "Grown Ups," which opens Friday from Sony Pictures and finds the comedian playing to his sophomoric sweet spot.

"There really is an Adam Sandler summer brand — people forget about that," said Jeff Blake, Sony Pictures' chairman of worldwide distribution and marketing. "It's reliable for us almost every time in June, from 'Big Daddy' to 'Mr. Deeds' to 'Click' to 'Zohan.' We’re in very safe territory, because it's the surest of summer bets."

(See related slideshow: Adam Sandler's String of Hits (With a Few Misses))

Despite having entered its second decade, it's a brand that still remains at a premium. While other stars such as Tom Cruise and Jim Carrey — who, like Sandler, burst into the public consciousness in the '80s and '90s — have seen their star power wane in the age of comic-book movies, the comedian has retained his fan base.

"The only sure bets in this industry are Will Smith and Adam Sandler in a comedy," a rival studio marketing executive told TheWrap.

The movie is poised to open in the $30 million to $40 million range, according to Jeff Hartke, an analyst with the Hollywood Stock Exchange. That's roughly in line with Sandler's other summer hits, such as "Big Daddy," "The Longest Yard" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," which all went on to top $100 million domestically.

All told, playing the lovable dunce has paid off handsomely for the former "Saturday Night Live" star, with Sandler's films pulling in more than $1.7 billion collectively.

“He’s Hollywood’s Everyman," Fandango editor Chuck Walton told TheWrap. "With a Sandler comedy, you know what you’re going to get, and with the exception of 'Funny People,' he always delivers."

Indeed, though he will never be critically beloved, the comedian, who specializes in a broad type of humor that is inviting, but never subversive, can be counted on to consistently deliver laughs.

Sandler may never have appeared in a sequel, but his comedies, nearly all of which originate out of his Happy Madison production house, bare more than a passing resemblance to one another.

"He's basically got his own little genre of film," Hartke told TheWrap. "They know what they're getting going into one of his movies and there's a certain style to it."

What precisely is the brand that keeps audiences returning again and again? In essence, after a few fart jokes, Sandler's character, a mumbling, well-meaning man-child, will get the girl (be she Winona Ryder, Drew Barrymore or Kate Beckinsale) and make the smarmy bad guy look ridiculous.

As a dubious bonus, Rob Schneider is almost contractually obligated to make some sort of appearance.

"Grown Ups" wisely doesn't deviate from that formula (Schneider's back as well!).

"it just says summer comedy," Blake said. "You know you're going to have a lot of laughs. It's a little edgy, but not crazy edgy. It's going to appeal to young males, but adults can bring their families and kids."

Not that the Sandler shtick didn't take time to mold.

His early movie ventures such as 1994's "Billy Madison" and 1995's "Happy Gilmore" were cult favorites, earning $25.6 million and $38.8 million, respectively.

But the social misfits that Sandler played in those films were too violent and anarchic to attract more mainstream success. Once, Sandler was able to find the sweet underpinnings of his comic persona — a character trait he first exploited in 1998's "The Wedding Singer," which grossed $80 million — he became a bona fide blockbuster star.

Since that point, the only time Sandler goes astray is when he ventures into more dramatic terrain.

"Punch Drunk Love," Paul Thomas Anderson's offbeat romance, drew critical raves, but grossed just $17.8 million domestically. Neither the critics nor audiences showed up for Sandler's other attempts to stretch, with 2004's "Spanglish" and 2007's "Reign Over Me" earning a paltry $42.7 million and $19.6 million, respectively.

In fact, reaching for a weightier role rendered one of Sandler's few summer misfires last year, with the Judd Apatow dramedy "Funny People" — a kind of comedian-in-winter story with happy themes of terminal illness and marital infidelity — coming up flat with a $51.8 million domestic gross.

The reason for the rare misstep, according to John Singh, a spokesperson for the movie tracking site Flixster, was the spoiled, womanizing stand-up comic Sandler played didn't fit nicely into his established persona.

"Audiences rejected that partly because that's not what we want to see Adam Sandler doing," Singh told TheWrap. "We want him to be a regular guy that mirrors our frustrations."

With its family focus, "Grown Ups" might actually serve to broaden Sandler's base.

True, he'll still play a middle-aged man suffering from a case of arrested development, but he and his cadre of comedian friends — Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade and Schneider — play family men in committed relationships.

Moreover, it's no accident that the film's outdoor ads feature cute pictures of the movie's stars when they were buck-toothed middle-school kids. That could help broaden the film's appeal to women, a demographic that "Grown Ups" is tracking well with, according to Singh.

Even if the boys show up stag to Sandler's latest, that may be enough to ensure the movie pulls in another $100 million-plus gross. In a summer that's seen other safe bets falter, such as Shrek and Russell Crowe, Sandler may be one of the season's safest bets.

"Everyone thinks summer is tentpole franchises. To Sandler's credit, he hasn't done sequels," Blake said. "He pretty much comes up with fresh idea every summer. He has built up enough equity to be a summer brand in and of itself."