Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

Adam Sandler's 'Murder Mystery' smashes Netflix opening weekend record. But how?

Critics hate him, audiences are indifferent and yet 'Murder Mystery' has Netflix's biggest opening weekend to date

The words “starring Adam Sandler” are usually enough to strike terror into the hearts of cinephiles the world over. His borderline (and sometimes not even borderline) racism, toilet jokes and wacky antics are not only brain-numbing, but they also seem to be getting even less funny, if that’s possible, as time passes.

Many of his films also appear to be an excuse for Sandler and his showbiz buddies to take short breaks in exotic locations and grab whatever goodies they can from product placement deals — an accusation he as good as owned up to on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2014 when he told Kimmel: “I have done that since 50 First Dates. It was written in another place. I said, ‘Imagine if we did it in Hawaii, how great that movie would be.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, that's a very artistic idea.’ I've been doing that ever since.” Sandler has shot several movies in Hawaii, including Punch Drunk Love and Just Go With It.

Not so Netflix

Netflix, however, can’t get enough of him, and nor can their audiences it seems. Netflix signed Sandler, and his Happy Madison production company, to a four movie deal back in 2014, which kicked off with the turgid, zero per cent Rotten Tomato-rated The Ridiculous Six the following year. In 2017, they signed him up for a further four films.

Critics scratched their heads. The four films that came under the first deal had an average rating of just 16 per cent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences rated the films slightly higher, but not too much — the films averaged out at 40 per cent among viewers. Yet here was Netflix renewing its multi million dollar deal with a man critics hated, and audiences seemed, at best, lukewarm towards.

Lukewarm or not, we can only assume from the decision that audiences were watching in decent numbers, and the first film in Sandler’s new four film deal seems to bear that theory out.

Murder Mystery, a mildly amusing genre spoof, has at least fared slightly better with critics than his previous efforts, amassing a 45 per cent score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film only released last weekend, so audience ratings aren’t available on the site yet, but we know for sure that they’re watching, because Netflix has told us.

Netflix breaking viewing figures silence

This in itself is unusual, as Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped about its viewing figures. There’s one exception to this rule, and that’s when something has done really well. And Murder Mystery had done really well. Netflix has announced that the film has given Netflix its biggest ever opening weekend, with 30.9 million views on different unique accounts worldwide.

Netflix only counts people who watch over 70 per cent of a film as views, so we’re not talking about accidental clicks here. To put that in context, if we assume an average of two people watched on each account (probably a conservative estimate as it’s a fairly family-friendly affair), that would equate to around a $556 million opening weekend in cinemas, behind only the last two Avengers films in the all-time charts.

Netflix’s previous biggest movie was Sandra Bullock's Bird Box. We know that because Netflix told us too. They didn’t release opening weekend figures for that film, but revealed that 42 million accounts viewed the film in its opening week — a figure Murder Mystery seems likely to surpass.

More popular than 'Star Wars'

Those opening weekend cinema comparisons are mind-boggling — by that measurement Murder Mystery is more popular than all the recent Star Wars films, the entire DC universe, and the whole of the Harry Potter saga.

Of course, we can’t really use that measurement. Cinemas require you to leave the house, stump up at least Dh35 from your pocket, and sit in an alien environment for two hours. Netflix is already there in your living room, like a trusted old friend.

Maybe that’s what Sandler is too, and even more so the very literal “Friend” Jennifer Aniston, who co-stars as Sandler’s mystery novel-loving wife in the movie.

You know what you’re getting with this pair, neither of whom have ever really shaken off the typecasting of their early careers. Here’s loveable, slightly needy, but couldn’t you just hug her Rachel, ready to lend you an ear. And Sandler, the brash, can-be-a-bit-annoying bro, who gets on your nerves sometimes, but is usually good for a laugh.

It’s essentially a virtual reunion of old friends, but without having to go to the effort of leaving your home, and that’s got to be better than staring at the wall even if, like most reunions, it’s not actually that much fun when you get there.

Updated: June 23, 2019 08:02 AM

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