Adam Sandler’s Hubie Halloween (his sixth original feature for Netflix since 2015) is the streamer’s most-watched item today, an arbitrary designation it will likely keep for at least the weekend of Oct. 17. The film, directed by Steven Brill (Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds, Sandy Wexler), is a throwback to the family-friendly comedies that made Sandler into Hollywood’s biggest comic movie star.
Big Daddy, currently at 10th place, is still ($163 million domestic in 1999) his biggest live-action box office hit. Even as someone who wasn’t a diehard fan of his Happy Madison flicks then and now (save for my soft spot for the ambitious and politically aspirational You Don’t Mess with the Zohan), Hubie Halloween is pleasant enough. It works as a mix of old-school Sandler (his character uses a goofy voice and often partakes in physical comedy) and 2000’s-era Sandler (his character reacts to extreme situations occurring around him).
As a newfangled riff on Jim Varney’s Earnest character, Hubie Halloween stars Sandler as the town outcast, ruthlessly bullied by the townsfolk for his obsessive tendency to point out every sign of potential danger. Hubie has to reckon with his Chicken Little reputation when potential “for real” threats emerge in the form of a scary new neighbor (Steve Buscemi), an escaped mental patient (the film visually acknowledges John Carpenter’s Halloween without being obnoxious about it) and several disappearances. How the film resolves I will not say, but it’s mostly a visually busy and comparatively ambitious (this isn’t a Sandler comedy where his pals go on vacation and bum around on the studio dime) Halloween comedy with plenty of earned chuckles from the copious supporting cast. And its eventual commentary on aggressive decency hits harder in 2020 than it might have in 1999 or 2006.
I chuckled at Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph as a long-suffering married couple, I smiled at Keenan Thompson’s reaction shots, and I appreciated that Hubie’s longtime crush (Julie Bowen, in a Billy Madison reunion) is age-appropriate. As a woman who spent her adult life raising foster kids, and having divorced the town’s sheriff (Kevin James, looking like a … well, that’s a punchline I won’t spoil), it makes some sense that she’d be into Hubie’s aggressive niceness and protectiveness. The film isn’t any grand comedy classic, but it’s filled with fun comic actors, doesn’t feel like it was designed to be watched while playing on your phone and, like Will Ferrell’s Eurovision, it’s an aggressively “nice” throwback to the kinds of films that made its top-billed star a butts-in-the-seats draw in the first place (and would have been a theatrical hit a generation ago).
As of Oct. 13, seven of the top 10 Netflix movies and TV shows were not Netflix originals. Today, thanks to Hubie Halloween, it’s just 4/10. It’s also currently the only Netflix original movie (unless you count the true crime doc American Murder: The Family Next Door) in the top 10. That’s good news for CBS’s terrific Evil (which was one of a handful of pretty great new network TV shows last season, and whose renewal didn’t get sandbagged by the pandemic) and forgotten flicks like Colombiana and Yogi Bear or “new to you” acquisitions like Schitt’s Creek. However, it again highlights what may eventually be a problem for the streaming giant, namely that they are as dependent on third-party titles as they are on original content. And that third-party content won’t be around forever, especially as every major studio gets its own streaming platform.
That includes shows like Lucifer, You and Cobra Kai that have to essentially bomb or underperform on their native platform before becoming Netflix sensations. It includes movies that bombed in theaters but now are new-to-you Hollywood flicks, which may not be leased out to Netflix forever as the studios concentrate on their own platforms. Will last week’s Welcome to Sudden Death and this week’s American Pie: Girls Rule (uh … the point of the original American Pie is that girls tend to call the shots in healthy romantic relationships), both of which had a “day and date” release on VOD, DVD and Netflix, continue to arrive on Netflix even as Peacock gets stronger? I honestly don’t know, and if lots of folks are going to watch the fifth direct-to-home American Pie spin-off on Netflix then I imagine Universal will happily accept their money.
This is currently a bemusing curiosity rather than a full-blown “problem.” On the weekend of July 17, nine out of 10 films and TV shows in the Netflix top 10 were Netflix originals. If Netflix can get into a situation where it doesn’t really rely on third-party titles, be it older hit Adam Sandler movies like Big Daddy, crushed-by-streaming Hollywood flops like Patriots Day or day-and-date direct-to-streaming titles like American Pie: Girls Rule, that would be ideal. Yes, it’s great that they can turn an unjustly ignored TV show like Cobra Kai into a pop-culture hit, but other studios and services can’t afford to make shows that fail on their native distribution platform just for Netflix to turn them into buzzy successes. Ditto Hollywood bombs like How Do You Know? which stand out on Netflix partially by being “new to you” big-budget theatrical releases.
I’ve been surprised at the speed in which buzzy Netflix movies (Eurovision) and TV shows (The Babysitters Club) go from a must-watch sensation to yesterday’s news. Even Enola Holmes is out of the American top 10 less than two weeks after its debut. Netflix has perfected the “quick-kill blockbuster,” whereby a hyped and anticipated biggie snags huge viewership but meets almost all of its respective demand within the first 10-to-14 days of release. Will the seasonal value of this latest Adam Sandler film keep it around until November, or will it be another flash-in-the-pan sensation to be replaced by a true-crime doc, an Oscar contender (like Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7) or some long-forgotten box office bomb from a decade ago?
But for now, Hubie Halloween is the hero Netflix needs, as a Netflix original feature currently topping Netflix’s daily charts.
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