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‘Happy Gilmore’ is getting a sequel. How did it become a cult classic?

Netflix announced Adam Sandler, the original film’s star, would write and star in a sequel to the 1996 sports comedy.

A screen capture of Carl Weathers talking to Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore.
Carl Weathers talks to Adam Sandler in a scene from ‘Happy Gilmore.’ Sandler is due to return for a sequel to the 1996 film. Photo by Universal/Getty Images

When the movie “Happy Gilmore” came out, landlines and dial-up were still commonplace in people’s homes. Now, nearly 30 years and many technological advances later, Netflix is finally getting around to creating a sequel for the golf comedy.

In May, Netflix confirmed that Adam Sandler would write and star in a “Happy Gilmore 2.” The film, which follows a failed hockey player with anger management issues as he becomes a golf star, made nearly $40 million at the box office when it came out in 1996 and became one of Sandler’s most popular movies.

But how did it become a “cult classic” that has stuck around so long that it’s still able to get a sequel in a world wholly different from the one it was released in?

Steve Granelli said it’s not just films themselves, but audiences who make a “cult classic.” Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

It’s not simply the film (or show or album) that makes something a cult classic, said Steve Granelli, a pop culture and fandom expert, and associate teaching professor in communications at Northeastern University. It’s also the following behind it.

“What the term means is that a particular film has endured with an audience to the point where calling something classic means we’re not only recognizing the text or the films, but we’re also recognizing the audience that appreciates it,” Granelli added. 

For example, a movie like “We’re the Millers” might play over and over on cable TV, but it’s not considered a cult classic because it doesn’t have a defined audience.

The other hallmark of a cult classic is whether it becomes a generational touchstone, Granelli said. Will people look back and say this film was popular with this generation?

“Happy Gilmore” became part of this because it coincided with the onset of affordable DVDs that people could play at home, meaning many people were able to watch it when they wanted for the first time.

“If I were to look back in the ’90s to college kids, what movie would I think of that’s playing in dorm rooms all the time?” Granelli said. “You would probably think of movies like ‘Tommy Boy’ and ‘Happy Gilmore’ and ‘Billy Madison.’ They coincided with people having personalized devices that you can replay films on whenever you want. … A spate of films in that time period, they endured with a particular audience for a very long period of time.”

Today, those original fans of “Happy Gilmore” are sharing the film with their kids, creating a new generation of fans, Granelli said. What makes the film’s reach go even further is the fact that Sandler himself is still acting and has an extensive catalog of films for new fans to explore, many of which have a similar comedic style to “Happy Gilmore.”

“We’ve seen Adam Sandler grow and be a chameleon,” Granelli said. “He still has his comedic roots, but he’s done so much for so many different audiences over such a long period of time.”

It’s also because of Sandler’s enduring celebrity that “Happy Gilmore” is able to have a sequel. While there is a devoted fan base of the film, Sandler’s continued star power allows him to take the reins in creating this sequel.

In addition to writing and starring in it, Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison Productions, is apparently behind the film. There’s also apparently been conversations for years about when the film would happen, Granelli said, meaning its production has been inevitable. 

“(Sandler) gets to do whatever he wants to do at this point,” Granelli said. “I think Netflix’s trust in Adam Sandler kind of overarches what kind of potential audience there might have been for this film. He’s got that at this point with his production company and that overall deal they have with Netflix. I don’t know if that demand came from audiences, but I do think that the potential audiences that this can hit are very broad because of the nostalgia.”