Adam Sandler is a comedy brand. As his latest film Jack And Jill gears up for its international release, Ian Sandwell analyses how well he translates outside North America

Propelled by his five-year stint on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s, comedy star Adam Sandler has always been a popular figure at the US box office. His films, which from 2002 (Mr Deeds) have mostly been released worldwide by Sony Pictures, have grossed more than $100m fairly consistently since The Waterboy, which notched up $161.5m in 1998.

Internationally Sandler is a far tougher sell to audiences. Click (2006), co-starring Kate Beckinsale, was the first film to break the $100m mark. 50 First Dates, a romantic comedy in which Sandler fell in love with an amnesiac Drew Barrymore, was the closest previously with $75.6m in 2004. But recent releases suggest Sandler’s films may be gaining traction overseas.

Earlier this year, Just Go With It became the first Sandler film to gross more internationally than in North America, where it took $103m. It represents his strongest international performance to date at $111.9m, including territory-best performances for Sandler in Brazil ($11.7m) and Russia ($13m), with a further $7.5m in Mexico.

However, a huge part of the audience appeal of Just Go With It lay with co-star Jennifer Aniston. She played Sandler’s assistant who poses as his wife on a trip to Hawaii. Aniston put in thousands of air miles to promote the film worldwide and secured hundreds of column inches in global press coverage. The film was directed by Dennis Dugan, who has made seven Sandler titles including Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy and his newest release Jack And Jill.

Jack And Jill was released in North America on November 11, ahead of the US Thanksgiving weekend. Sandler plays both Jack and his sister Jill who comes to stay with Sandler and his family, including his wife played by Katie Holmes, for the November turkey fest. The reviewers were not particularly kind and the film took just $25m on its first weekend, one of the softest openings for a Sandler film in North America.

However, Jack And Jill has also opened in Mexico where it has grossed $7.9m after four weeks, only $800,000 shy of his strongest performer in the territory, 2008’s Bedtime Stories ($8.7m).

Jack And Jill will roll out across the rest of the world in early 2012. Sandler’s comedies have an impressive record in the UK in particular, regularly opening on more than $1m and going on to record $8m-plus. 

Germany is Sandler’s strongest non-English speaking market. Grown Ups ($18.3m), You Don’t Mess With The Zohan ($16.9m) and Big Daddy ($11.3m) all saw their strongest international performances in the territory. However his films have rarely performed well in either France or Italy.

And when Sandler steps out of his comedy comfort zone, box-office numbers drop around the world. To an extent the UK and Australia defied this pattern with Funny People, directed by Judd Apatow, which grossed $5.9m and $5.7m in those territories respectively. The film was marketed as much as an Adam Sandler comedy as a Judd Apatow film starring Sandler.

But mainstream UK and Australian audiences did not warm to Sandler’s other dramatic roles in Paul Thomas Anderson’s whimsical love story Punch-Drunk Love in 2002, James L Brooks’ Spanglish or Mike Binder’s post-9/11 soul-searcher Reign Over Me in 2007.

They may have garnered Sandler the best reviews of his career — Punch-Drunk Love played in Competition at Cannes in 2002 — but did not appeal to Sandler’s core audience.

It is possible to suggest it is not Sandler’s presence that sells his movies internationally, but rather the style of his comedy. However, the performances of films from his production company, Happy Madison Productions, that do not feature Sandler in a lead role — though are still his brand of comedy — have not fared any better internationally.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop made $146.3m domestically, but scraped just $37m internationally, while most of the company’s output, such as The House Bunny ($70.4m worldwide, with $22.2m coming from international markets), has proved equally challenging to market on both sides of the Atlantic.

If anything, what the softer returns of Sandler’s serious output showcases is that, when it comes to a Sandler movie, his audience does not look for reviews. This critic-proof quality has started to be consistently showcased internationally, with his last three comedies all breaking the $100m mark — Zohan came within a whisker at $99.9m — despite less-than-sterling critical response.