When he’s not indulging in slapstick comedies, Adam Sandler has proven to be quite a capable actor. Men, Women & Children is a case in point, a surprisingly serious film that showcased his acting ability. An unsuccessful hockey player discovers his talent for golf in this hilarious sports comedy. Add in a fistfight with Bob Barker and you’ve got yourself one classic movie.
1. Punch-Drunk Love
While it might not have made back its budget at the box office, Punch-Drunk Love still has a special place in Sandler’s filmography. It’s a dark, singular spin on the shopworn boy-meets-girl narrative, and it also showcases his dramatic chops. It’s no wonder directors like Guillermo del Toro consider it one of their favorite movies.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s idiosyncratic romantic comedy/drama stars Adam Sandler as Barry Egan, a socially awkward novelty plunger salesman with seven damaging sisters. It’s his most layered performance to date, and it transcends many of the usual rom-com cliches. The movie also features a surprisingly touching performance from Emily Watson as Lena Leonard, a woman who enters Barry’s life and turns it upside down. This is a must-see for Sandler fans.
2. Happy Gilmore
Failed hockey player Happy Gilmore finds he has the skills to be a pro golfer when the IRS evicts his grandmother’s house. He hustles at the local driving range and takes one of the pros under his wing, Chubbs Petersen (Carl Weathers). He also attracts the attention of a pretty PR girl.
Despite being a comedy, the movie has some interesting psychological concepts. For example, it shows the frustration-aggression principle as Happy hits golfers and even their cars, it illustrates narcissistic personality disorder in Shooter McGavin, and it proves social facilitation where people perform better when they have a cheering crowd. This is one of the funniest movies from the 1990’s. It’s perfect for older teens and adults. You can watch it online or on DVD or Blu-ray.
3. Billy Madison
Despite some gross and moronic humor, this fish-out-of-water story about a high school dropout who tries to retake his grades in order to impress a girl he likes is a touching vumoo film that showcases Sandler’s ability to deliver serious dramatic moments. It also showcases that he isn’t just a one-dimensional jokester as some critics have claimed.
After a few smaller roles in Airheads and Mixed Nuts, Sandler got his first big movie break with Billy Madison. The movie established him as a comedian in the making and showed that he could actually act beyond slapstick and baby talk.
4. The Wedding Singer
The rom-com may be experiencing something of a renaissance these days, but its true heyday was back in the ’90s when movies like Jerry Maguire, She’s All That and You’ve Got Mail won over viewers. The Wedding Singer was one of those hits, thanks to its ultra-likable leads and irresistible will-they-or-won’t-they plot.
Sandler’s chemistry with Drew Barrymore is off the charts in this story of a washed-up rock star who makes ends meet as New Jersey’s top wedding singer. He’s left at the altar by his fiancee, but finds a waitress with a kind heart who works his gigs and changes his tune. Like Hairspray, this movie cried out to be turned into a musical and composers Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin delivered with a sparkly, crowd-pleasing score. Rent the film on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV or Vudu.
5. The Meyerowitz Stories starring Ben Stiller
In a rare move, Sandler takes on a serious role for director Noah Baumbach in this story about a dysfunctional family. The Cannes Film Festival winner stars Sandler, Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Elizabeth Marvel as the members of a New York family.
Featuring an excellent limping performance from Danny Meyerowitz, this movie is both funny and sad as it shows how his family tries to cope with the way he lives his life. While Big Daddy does have its fair share of Hollywood schmaltz, this is one of the more accessible Sandler films to date.
Sandler often goes through a pendulum swing, making shaggy comedies and then turning in a much-lauded performance in something more serious. This is proof that he can play more than just the funny guy. It’s a shame he doesn’t do it more often.