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When it comes to the work of Adam Sandler, most people are in agreement that he peaked somewhere around the turn of the Millennium. But that doesn’t mean people have stopped watching his new movies. In fact, they're the most popular original films on Netflix, despite being widely panned. We explore the science behind the appeal of guilty pleasures.

Forget Stranger Things, and acclaimed documentary The 13th. Netflix has revealed that recent Sandler comedies The Do-Over and The Ridiculous 6 are the most popular original content on the streaming platform, above the platform’s critically lauded content despite the fact that both comedies were thoroughly trashed by critics, earning 5% and 0% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes. The films fare marginally better with the general public on the same site, with 40% of the audience saying they liked the film. As a result, Netflix has struck a deal with Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions to finance and distribute four more films.

Perceived quality doesn’t always translate to popularity
Netflix US & Canada (2015) ©

What people say they like and what they actually enjoy watching are two different things – and this isn’t the first time Netflix has catered to this subtle, but important, distinction. It's part of the reason it swapped the five-star rating system for a simple thumbs up or down – over time, the streaming giant realised that many people would rate high scores for perceived quality, rather than how much they liked it. “We made ratings less important because the implicit signal of your behaviour is more important,” says Todd Yellin, Netflix's VP of product.

At a time when the zeitgeist smacks of productivity and self-betterment, Sandler’s success may seem contradictory. But the appeal of these movies is arguably fuelled by this universal pressure to be better, smarter and more cultured; after all, research has demonstrated that feeling more guilt can heighten sentiments of pleasure. “The guilty pleasure is a vestige of America’s disappearing middlebrow culture, of that anxious mediation between high and low, which at its best generated a desire to learn, to value cultural literacy and to accept some of the challenges it requires,” confirms journalist Jennifer Szalai in the New Yorker. So maybe it's not such a shameful thing to indulge in your secret Sandler habit. At the very least, you’re clearly not alone.

Katy Young is a behavioural analyst at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She has a degree in American Studies and Film and an MA in Journalism. Her interests include wild swimming, thinking of podcast ideas and singing in an all-female choir.


29 Mar 17
2 min read

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