The lost Adam Sandler blockbuster movie

Adam Sandler
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For his last film as part of his Sony contract, Adam Sandler wants to bring a board game adaptation to the screen, one that would ultimately go through three studios.

Caught in the grey area between Adam Sandler coming to the end of his long relationship with Sony Pictures, and the start of his incredibly rich and fruitful deal with Netflix, one potential movie project found itself as a signifier of the time.

Sandler, in the early 2010s, had a single picture left on his long-running deal with Sony. By this stage, his incredible run of hits – that we chatted about here – was coming to an end. Jack & Jill had made its money back, but not won fresh fans. The subsequent That’s My Boy, however, was a flat-out box office disappointment. As cinema was going more franchise-driven, the Sandler box office machine was taking hits, and not making as many.

It didn’t help, then, that the project Sandler was keen to make next was very much on the expensive side.

There was a snapshot in time where, all of a sudden, boardgame adaptations were bubbling to the top of Hollywood development lists. One studio gambled, too. Universal put an extraordinary $220m budget into the movie of Battleship, backed by Hasbro Studios, and the toy company was very much looking to explore other projects. Buoyed too by the financial success of the Transformers films, Hasbro was enjoying its brushes with the film industry.

Thus, the idea for a film based on a boardgame called Candy Land.

The film was originally part of a four-year deal that Hasbro had with Universal, with the studio having an option back in 2009. But as that came to an end, Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison productions was interested in picking the project up. As such, Sony – where Happy Madison’s offices and long-term development deal were based – entered negotiations with Hasbro on behalf of Happy Madison. The plan at this stage was for Sandler and Robert Smigel to write the script, and that Enchanted helmer Kevin Lima would direct the film.

The Candy Land game isn’t as well known in the UK as it is in the US. But the basics are that you pick your character and try and make it to King Kandy’s Castle to win. Not the most challenging basics to form a narrative outline out of, perhaps, but harder to come up with a compelling script.

The bigger problem, though, was that this wasn’t going to be cheap. The bigger problem, but not the only problem.

On the one hand, Sony wasn’t keen.

It was losing faith in Sandler’s previously-rock solid box office credentials. Tension had crept into the long-standing working relationship. And Sony was racking up red ink on projects, whilst other studios proved far more capable to thrive in a more franchise-driven era.

The other problem was a lawsuit.

In 2014, the company Landmark Entertainment group filed its claim that Sony didn’t have the right to license elements for the film. Landmark had developed features of the game itself, creating artwork stories and characters within it. Hasbro refuted the suit, but it added a complication at a point where Sony had been wobbling anyway.

An uncomfortable conversation took place. The-then boss of Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal, had the job of telling Sandler that Sony was bailing. It was all too big a risk. The movie could have cost around $200m to make, and there was no certainty of a return. Sandler wasn’t happy with the news. He would ultimately end up making Pixels for Sony as his final live action film for the studio.

Candy Land wasn’t entirely dead, though. Other studios were still interested in Sandler even as his Sony time was coming to an end, and Warner Bros was one of them.

In 2015, therefore, the studio looked to pick the film up. This was before Pixels was released that summer, and whilst Sandler was making his first film for Netflix, The Ridiculous Six. He’d also taken on a project at Warner Bros, Blended, that paired him again with Drew Barrymore.

By this time, Kevin Lima had departed Candy Land, and there was sufficient happiness that the legalities were clear. But Warner Bros ultimately decided not to take the gamble either. The game was metaphorically and figuratively over at the point Pixels came out. Theoretically a big, broad family movie, Pixels struggled to find its audience, an uneasy combination of videogame references and not entirely comfortable moments of more older-skewing Sandler comedy.

Pixels, which should have been the broadest family movie of Sandler’s career (perhaps aside from Bedtime Stories, that did less than expected, but still took in a fair amount of change), would ultimately gross $244m. Its budget had been shaved down to just under $90m, but still, Sony was going to struggle to see much profit. Universal too was still stinging from the box office struggles of Battleship a few years before, so there was no chance it wanted to give the whole boardgame movie idea another run in a hurry.

As a consequence, Candy Land got consigned to the pile of projects never to be made. Instead, Sandler pursued a different slate of films for Netflix, and neither Sony, Warner Bros nor Universal has ever had much temptation to resurface the Candy Land movie idea. The game, though, continues to be a good seller for Hasbro…

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