Adam Sandler is an acquired taste. This much we know. There is a generation of film fans out there who grew up with Sandler movies in their lives and have had a difficult time letting go of what he once was. His baby voices and slapstick antics still hold a place in their hearts and writing him off as a has-been just isn’t something that comes easy to them. For the rest of the world, Sandler is reviled. Rightly or wrongly, every joke is written off as unfunny and every decision is said to be immature. Despite what some of the numbers suggest, there is no question which actor the critics hate most, and it isn’t even close.
Every movie that Sandler is in these days is hailed as the worst thing ever made. But is he really that bad? Well, that’s a tough question to answer. Yeah, he’s often offensive. Yeah, his shtick is a bit tired. But there is still some good in there. He’s a comedy legend and those that suggest otherwise aren’t facing the facts. That being said, this isn’t a list looking at the good Adam Sandler. We’re looking at the worst of him.
Almost every movie out there contains something offensive if you’re looking hard enough. And let’s face it, a lot of people in today’s world are looking for something offensive to point out. In fact, some of the very best comedies have also been some of the most offensive. Sure, looking back in time is an easy way to find things to shake your head at. On the one hand, many things that are offensive today would have been seen as perfectly acceptable 20 years ago, however ugly that truth is. On the other hand, many things that were seen as offensive 20 years ago would be almost criminal offenses today. Exercising hindsight judgement isn’t productive though, it’s kind of naïve. With that in mind, we’ll try to sidestep that as best as we can here.
Let’s throw out this disclaimer though. Unless we state it directly, the offensive things on this list do not necessarily make the film they’re in terrible, they are just things that are viewed as offensive and need to be mentioned in this list. There’s no doubt that Sandler has had some questionable things in his films. His insistence on dealing with stereotypes, whether it’s with good intentions or not, has made him a magnet for controversy in his career. We’re not throwing a blanketed statement over this list saying these moments aren’t funny, we’re simply pointing out the most glaring examples of offensive Adam Sandler.
15. Mammy Maid – Billy Madison
The Mammy-type maid in Billy Madison, played by Theresa Merritt, is looked with a critical eye today. The character is, as Hattie McDaniel was in Gone with the Wind, a sassy African-American woman who stands up to authority and speaks her mind. This trope has been around for ages, so why is Adam Sandler being criticized for using it? Well, it seems like the character was mistimed and misjudged. In what was probably an attempt to ridicule the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Billy Madison was aimed at the wrong audience to bring any satirical message home. The maid’s Mammyisms might have been funny to kids, but they’re funny without any irony or satire behind it. Is that what Sandler was trying to accomplish? Who knows?
14. Natives – Bedtime Stories
In one of the stories that Adam Sandler tells the kids in Bedtime Stories, he enlists the help of his almost-always co-star, Rob Schneider, to help him out. For this riff on a used car salesman in the days of the frontier, Schneider plays a Native American, fit with a prosthetic nose, brown face and an offensive speech pattern. As Schneider tells Sandler’s cowboy character a story, he uses hand-gestures and a narrative style that mocks the Native storytelling traditions. Since there are many children’s stories that do follow this type of pattern, it’s possible that Sandler was playing on this, or maybe he was just being racist to get some laughs. It’s hard to tell with him sometimes.
13. Chubbs the Magical Minority – Happy Gilmore
This is a trope that’s been around for a long time in narratives, something Spike Lee has also called the “Magical Negro,” but it was largely overlooked when Sandler used it in Happy Gilmore. In this trope, the magical minority helps the (usually white) protagonist get out of trouble, all the while showing that minorities are a helpful people. It’s pretty cringeworthy when you start breaking it down, think Dick Hallorann (The Shining), Oda Mae Brown (Ghost) and Bagger Vance (The Legend of Bagger Vance). So again, the question comes up; did Sandler use this trope knowingly tongue-and-cheek, knowingly racist or ignorantly racist? Since the movie came out a year after the book The Legend of Bagger Vance was published, it’s also possible that Happy Gilmore was simply spoofing the character of Bagger Vance with Chubbs. Are we giving him too much credit?
12. Women’s Yoga – Grown Ups 2
The yoga scene in Grown Ups 2 caught some fire when it showed a creepy janitor, Jon Lovitz, pretending to be a yoga instructor and getting the women to gyrate and jiggle, as well as slap their bottoms while facing the back of the room. It is, admittedly, pretty offensive for the women involved, though Sandler and his writers were sure to make sure that men, too, are objectified as the women drool over the real yoga instructor. While the scene may not be the funniest thing we’ve seen, it is fairly harmless. If this movie was made 20 years ago, it would have been Lovitz doing the arse smacking. At least Sandler is learning.
11. Homosexuality – I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
It’s hard to really pick one thing in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry that people found offensive because there were many different things that were rallied against. Sandler, bless his heart, has made a career out of trying to speak for the “other” by playing the “other”. This has been his thing for the past 20 years and it doesn’t seem like a habit he’s willing to break any time soon. In Chuck and Larry, he plays a faux gay man with some sincerity, though it wasn’t loved by the public. He tiptoes around many of the gay jokes, but there are still plenty in the film and many people took that as Sandler’s way of being offensive all the while pretending he’s trying to be a voice for the offended.
10. Hawaiian Rob Schneider – 50 First Dates
Rob Schneider makes the list again with his portrayal of a mock-Pidgin-speaking Hawaiian in 50 First Dates. While there were several other portrayals of Hawaiians in the film, Schneider drew the ire of his critics for his use of language and attitudes that misrepresented the islanders’ way of life. Most of the character’s traits are built around a stereotypical view of a person with a casual island lifestyle, including his bodily injuries from the sea, his laziness, his drug use and his lack of intelligence. This isn’t the first time Schneider has dressed up as another race and culture in a Sandler film, and it won’t be the last.
9. The Big, Uneducated Black Man – The Longest Yard
The character of Switowksi, the giant football player played by Bob Sapp in The Longest Yard remake, takes on another trope that’s been around for ages, the gentle but unintelligent giant. Many have interpreted the character of Switowski as a racist portrayal, similar to John Coffey from The Green Mile. These readings may go back to one of the earliest forms of this trope in Frankenstein, where size and “otherness” is combined to make a fearful person. Yet, outside of race, the character of Switowski (and John Coffey for that matter) is probably closer to the character of Lennie from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Though Lennie’s race is not really specified, we can be sure that he is not black. It’s possible that choosing a black man (Sapp) to play the role of Switowski is the only reason it appeared racist on the surface, but really the character was speaking to the gentle giant trope and nothing more.
8. Asian Rob Schneider – Eight Crazy Nights
Because Rob Schneider’s grandmother was a Filipina woman, he has been able to get away with using Asian stereotypes in his comedy for years, and by “get away with,” we mean, has used and has been heavily criticized for it. No matter his background, Schneider usually dresses up to play the racial caricature, but in Sandler’s film Eight Crazy Nights, no dress-up was needed because the film was animated. If bad Asian impressions are your thing, then maybe you’ll like Schneider’s role in this one, but there’s a chance it’ll force you to lose faith in humanity. You know, there’s a serious debate out there about which Adam Sandler movie is the worst of all, but there’s no real debate. Eight Crazy Nights is a tire fire. It seems even the animators had no clue what was going on. By the end of the film, Schneider’s character, Mr. Chang, just smashes his head against a table for like five minutes for no apparent reason.
7. Statutory R*pe – That’s My Boy
To suggest that Sandler has a hard time getting his message across may be the understatement of the century, but it’s true. Either Sandler uses stereotypes to generate humor for everyone who laughs at stereotypes and the majority of people hate it, or he tries to use stereotypes to get a positive message across but misses the mark and the majority of people hate it. The common theme here is that the majority of people hate it. This is how it went with That’s My Boy, a movie that revolves around an illegal relationship between a 13-year-old boy and his teacher. Is the movie making light of the statutory rape of young boys by having it celebrated or is it showing how young boys celebrate the fantasy of a relationship with hot female teachers? No matter what the answer is, the concept is offensive and any attempt at a message missed the mark by a country mile.
6. Arab Rob Schneider – You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
If you’re starting to see this as a list of offensive Rob Schneider characters in Adam Sandler movies, you’re noticing the same trend that Schneider haters saw a while back. What if all of Sandler’s misfortune stems from Schneider’s insistence on playing racial stereotypes in all of his movies? Arab Rob Schneider mocks the Arabic language, the look (wearing brown face and prosthetics), the terrorist stigma and the stereotypical careers of Arabic people. There is nothing sacred in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. The film was really a product of its time, the right distance temporally for jokes about post-9/11 attitudes. Truthfully, this movie was more acceptable 10 years ago than it would be today. Racial sensitivity was not at an all time high in 2008, but it has come a long way since.
5. Everything – The Cobbler
The premise of The Cobbler is simple. It’s basically a “walk in someone else’s shoes” tale, except in this case, rather than learn and appreciate the “other,” Sandler’s character uses his ability to play up stereotypes. From black thugs to transgendered people to bisexual people, Sandler gets a dose of many different lifestyles and he learns almost nothing, but maybe that’s the point. To choose just one offensive thing in this movie is offensive, so we will just say everything. Everything is offensive.
4. African Culture – Blended
There seems to be a consensus that Blended is one of Adam Sandler’s most offensive movies because of the way it portrays gender and race. While we will agree that there are some issues here, we will also look at some problems with the complaints. The primary complaint is that the film looks at South Africa in the most stereotypical way possible. There are elephants and wildlife just walking about, the black hotel staff are all jumping and singing and dancing, and everyone is ready to please the white hotel guests. But wait a second. Doesn’t the real-life resort that they’re at (Sun City) actually border on a wildlife reserve? Isn’t the vast majority of the South African population black? Wouldn’t the hotel workers in a “family blending” event be expected to be singing and dancing and pleasing their paying guests? This movie isn’t portraying African culture. It’s portraying life at the Sun City resort during a family blending event. Sandler’s character not being able to connect with his daughter’s femininity isn’t because he’s a male. It’s because his character has grown up within a shell. This film is about realizing that people aren’t as one-dimensional as you first thought. Offensive? Yeah, about as offensive as every blanket portrayal in any film from any age.
3. Asian Rob Schneider – I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Asian Rob Schneider from I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is the worst of all the Rob Schneiders. Maybe it’s the makeup and the eye prosthetics, or maybe it’s the accent and the dialogue, but there’s something about it that just looks and sounds like nails on a chalkboard for the socially and racially sensitive. Yeah, Schneider has some Filipino blood in him, but he does take it overboard as the minister who marries Chuck and Larry. It’ll go down as one of both Sandler’s and Schneider’s worst moments in a very long list.
2. Latino Jalapenos – Jack and Jill
When people saw a Latino actor (Eugenio Derbez) playing a gardener in Jack and Jill, there was going to be hell to pay for Adam Sandler, but it wasn’t the character Juan, who was the big problem, it was his grandmother. In one of the scenes, the Latina grandmother is shown to be just scarfing down jalapeno pepper after jalapeno pepper. Later, after she’s knocked unconscious, she is revived by sticking jalapeno peppers in her mouth and under her nose. Terribly offensive, probably. At least it wasn’t Rob Schneider playing the grandmother. It seems that he, too, is learning.
1. Native American Culture – The Ridiculous 6
Adam Sandler’s Netflix bomb, The Ridiculous 6, has gotten a lot of airtime for the controversy it had on set. The story goes that the native people working on the film took offense to many of the jokes at their people’s expense and walked off. While many stayed on to complete the filming, there were a lot of people who weren’t happy. So what’s the worst of it? Names like “No Bra” and “Beaver’s Breath,” improper clothing and Tonto speak took the brunt of the criticism. Hordes of people watched it on Netflix though, so whatever the plan was seemed to work.
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