Of all the major stars today, not many cause such a divisive "love him or hate him" argument like Adam Sandler. Though if one can make it through the outstretched arms of his rabid fan base, and before you reach the angry mobs of critics and "haters" there is a very fascinating middle ground of people who are "intrigued" to say the least with Sandler's acting ability (in full disclosure the author of this piece falls into that "intrigued middle ground"). When given the right script Sander has proven time after time that he has true acting ability (see numbers 1, 3 and 5), and the intrigue come from people in disbelief that this is the same actor that starred in the atrocious "Little Nicky" and the almost as bad "The Longest Yard" remake. With the release this Friday of "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" (fingers crossed) it is a good time to remember the movies that made Sandler great.

Punch Drunk Love - 2002

Paul Thomas Anderson's look inside the dark world of Barry Egan divided the Sandler fan base like no other film. Reports were abound of die-hard Sandler fans walking out in the middle of the movie befuddled and confused at Sandler's performance. What they missed was Adam Sandler's greatest triumph yet as an actor on film. What made this movie great is that Sandler's character does not act a lot different than his characters in his more popular movies do. What changed is how the people around him act in response to his preposterous antics. Instead of being funny or being rewarded, Eagan is often shunned by society. In any other film involving Sandler destroying a restaurant bathroom after his temper explodes he would confront the maitre'de, say something borderline incoherent, threaten violence, then return to his meal. In this case, such as in real life, Egan is quickly escorted out of the restaurant under the threat the police will be called and humiliated in front of his date. Put Barry Egan in "Billy Madison" or "The Waterboy" and his character is hilarious, leave him in the realistic world of "Punch Drunk Love" and he is pathetic and quite sad.

The Wedding Singer - 1998

Perhaps Sandler's first "grown-up" film, at least in the sense his character does not constantly act like a buffoon. Sandler plays circa 1985 wedding singer Robbie Hart whose bride-to-be leaves him at the alter. Instead of solely relying on sophomoric humor Sandler threads the needle with a perfect combination of character driven plot with a touch of said sophomoric humor. Of course one has to get past all of the inaccuracies of the movie's references to the 1980s (The movie is set in 1985 yet a character announces someone "just shot JR". Perhaps they were watching a re-run but that event happened on "Dallas" in 1981. This is just one of many examples.) Regardless, the result is Sandler's all around best pure comedy exposing him for the first time to a much wider audience.

Reign Over Me - 2007

Sandler plays Charlie Fineman, a former dentist disconnected from the realities of the world after his family was killed in the September 11th attacks. A flawed movie in some ways (a side story involving a sexual harassment suit and Don Cheadle's character was an unnecessary distraction) but Sandler gives his most powerful and emotionally charged performance to date. Fineman gives up everything resembling his former life in an effort to forget what he has lost. He spends his days riding a scooter around Manhattan and playing a video game in which the hero must fight monsters the size of, well, skyscrapers (an obvious metaphor to the Twin Towers). This is until he runs into his old college roommate (Cheadle) who forces Fineman to slowly confront his past through jamming to the Bruce Springsteen album "The River" to eventually confronting the daemons of his murdered family, which eventually leads to tragic consequences. Sandler not only makes us believe he is a man that has lost everything, he also makes us believe that he has lost everything and perhaps is better off not remembering.

Happy Gilmore - 1996

"The price is wrong, Bitch." With little question the five most famous words in any Adam Sandler movie. Inspired after Sandler, playing the title character Happy Gilmore, and "The Price is Right" host Bob Barker exchange blows during a Pro-Am golf tournament. Sandler pretty much plays the same character from his role in Billy Madison only Gilmore provides more memorable moments as a former hockey player turned golf pro. Eleven years later Sandler would reunite with Barker to celebrate Barker's retirement on a prime time "The Price is Right" special in which this famous scene was shown to the audience.

Spanglish - 2004

In "Spanglish" Sandler is an important cog in what really is an ensemble piece. Another movie with many flaws, Sandler makes the most of his role as the normal person for once while everyone else around him glows with erratic quirkiness. In fact the case can be made Sandler saves this film from being a complete disaster. A less gifted, or for that matter a less interesting actor would have regulated this entire movie to the scrapheap. This proves again that he has picked some good roles, but he needs that role to be in a movie deserving of the talent that he does have.

Big Daddy - 1999

Remember when Jon Stewart used to act in movies? Stewart played the unsuspecting father to a child named Julian only to be in China when Julian arrived on his doorstep. His roommate Sonny Koufax, pretending to be his father, decides to take the child in and raise him himself, for no other reason to prove to everyone he is maturing as a human being. Taking a cue from the superior "Wedding Singer", this is another Sandler movie that finds the correct balance of juvenile humor and heart. Bonus points for the big kiss scene between the two love interests to occur while a Styx song is playing.

Billy Madison - 1995

Not technically Sandler's first movie, but in reality it might of well been. Crass and juvenile, yet also edgy because this was the first movie to feature the now common theme of the trials and tribulations of the man-boy. As far as cinematic excellence there is very little to say about "Billy Madison", yet this film remains more popular today than it was in the theaters in 1995. "Billy Madison" only took in a little more than $25 million at the box office (good for the budget but a far cry from what future Sandler films would make), but the cult following that would soon develop made Sandler the star he is today. It goes without saying (but we will anyway) that without Mr. Madison there would be a very different Mr. Sandler today.

Story by Mike Ryan

Starpulse contributing writer



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