Netflix aims high with Adam Sandler, ‘Crouching Tiger’ deals

Adam Sandler signed a four-movie deal exclusively with Netflix.
Adam Sandler signed a four-movie deal exclusively with Netflix.HANNAH YOON/THE CANADIAN PRESS via ap/FILE

NEW YORK — In its bid to upend the movie business the way it has television, Netflix has secured one of the big screen’s biggest box-office draws and most irreverent comedic talents.

Adam Sandler has signed a four-film deal with Netflix, the streaming service announced on Tuesday. The actor will star in and produce each feature, all of which will premiere exclusively on Netflix.

‘‘When these fine people came to me with an offer to make four movies for them, I immediately said yes for one reason and one reason only: Netflix rhymes with wet chicks,’’ Sandler said in a statement. ‘‘Let the streaming begin!’’


Michelle Yeoh in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel, which will be available on Netflix as well as in theaters when it opens.
Michelle Yeoh in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel, which will be available on Netflix as well as in theaters when it opens.AP Photo/Netflix

Netflix declined to say how much it was paying Sandler. But the streaming
giant has a history of reaching deep into its pocket to lure big-name talent. To land ‘‘House of Cards,’’ with director David Fincher and star Kevin Spacey, Netflix reportedly spent $100 million for the show’s first two seasons.

On Tuesday, Netflix also announced that it will stream a sequel to 2000’s
Oscar-winning ‘‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’’ — one of the most lucrative foreign language releases ever. The sequel, produced by the Weinstein Co., will open in August 2015 simultaneously in IMAX theaters and on Netflix.

Sandler is one of Hollywood’s most reliable draws, with films that have collectively grossed more than $2.4 billion domestically. But his track record has recently been rocky. His last film, the romantic comedy ‘‘Blended,’’ with Drew Barrymore, sputtered with a meager haul of just $46.3 million for Warner Bros.

Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, said Sandler’s films are regularly among the most-viewed by Netflix members.

‘‘People love Adam’s films on Netflix and often watch them again and again,’’ Sarandos said. ‘‘His appeal spans across viewers of all ages. Everybody has a favorite movie, everyone has a favorite line, not just in the US but all over the world.’’


Sandler’s international appeal fits Netflix’s global aspirations. The company has been rapidly expanding overseas, most recently in Europe, and is now available in nearly 50 countries.

The four features, which are currently planned without any theatrical release component, are expected to be comedies. Those are the kind of movies that rate highly on Netflix. Among Netflix’s Sandler titles available for streaming are ‘‘Happy Gilmore’’ and ‘‘Click.’’

The first movie in the deal, to be jointly developed between Netflix and Sander’s Happy Madison Productions, could come as early as late 2015.

Netflix’s plans with ‘‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend’’ have already upset the movie industry’s traditional patterns.

Windowing — the practice of opening a movie first in theaters and then in other stages of home video, streaming, and television release — has been under increasing pressure as smaller screens fight against the prominence of the theatrical big screen. Netflix sounded a blow against windowing when it announced plans to release the ‘‘Crouching Tiger” sequel on the day it hits Imax theaters.

‘‘This is a very unique opportunity for somebody from the outside coming in to shake up what appears to be an increasingly antiquated release strategy,’’ says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst for BTIG Research. ‘‘They had to get into the movie business to reduce windowing, and I think this is an important step 1 for Netflix.’’

Exhibitors, in tandem with the major studios, have long sought to guard the theatrical window. The nation’s three largest exhibitors — AMC, Regal, and Cinemark — quickly refused to carry the film on their screens.


‘‘We will not participate in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to 3 inches wide on a smartphone,’’ Regal spokesman Russ Nunley said.

But many analysts see the disruption caused by Netflix’s entry into original movies, in an era of ever-proliferating screens, as an overdue challenge to Hollywood’s carefully controlled theatrical model.

‘‘This is just the start of what Netflix is going to do,’’ said Greenfield. ‘‘Stay tuned. This is the beginning.’’

The sequel ‘‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend’’ is no sure bet despite the sensation of its 2000 precursor. ‘‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’’ won four Oscars, including best foreign language film, and earned $214 million worldwide. The film’s international appeal surely also motivated the ever-expanding Netflix, which has recently made inroads into Europe.

But sequels released so long after the original often struggle to keep audience interest. And ‘‘The Green Legend’’ will not be helmed by the acclaimed director of ‘‘Crouching Tiger,’’ Ang Lee. Instead, it’s directed by Yuen Wo-Ping, the martial arts choreographer of ‘‘The Matrix’’ and both parts of ‘‘Kill Bill.’’ It’s currently being shot in New Zealand.

Weinstein Co. co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said in a statement, ‘‘The moviegoing experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement.’’

Netflix has dabbled in releasing movies before, including distributing the 2013 documentary about the Egyptian revolution ‘‘The Square,’’ which was nominated for a best documentary Academy Award. And its most celebrated entry into original television, ‘‘House of Cards,’’ too, has had a widespread effect in the movie business, alerting the industry to a new avenue for big-name talents such as Spacey and Fincher.


Netflix’s entry into the movie business comes at a potentially fragile time for the movie industry, following a summer in which the box office was down 15 percent from last year. But one of the summer’s buzziest successes was a smaller science-fiction thriller, ‘‘Snowpiercer,’’ released by the Weinstein Co.’s boutique label, Radius. It made nearly $11 million on VOD, more than double its theatrical revenue.