Happy Gilmore is a 1996 American sports comedy film directed by Dennis Dugan and produced by Robert Simonds. It stars Adam Sandler as the title character, an unsuccessful ice hockey player who discovers a newfound talent for golf. The screenplay was written by Sandler and his writing partner Tim Herlihy, in their second feature collaboration after the previous year's Billy Madison; the film also marks the first of multiple collaborations between Sandler and Dugan. The film was released in theaters on February 16, 1996 by Universal Pictures. Happy Gilmore was a commercial success, earning $39 million on a $12 million budget. The film won an MTV Movie Award for "Best Fight" for Adam Sandler versus Bob Barker.
Happy Gilmore is an unsuccessful ice hockey player who lacks skills, other than fighting and a powerful slapshot. After yet another failed tryout, Happy learns that his grandmother owes the IRS $270,000 in back taxes and that she has 90 days to pay off the past due balance on her mortgage or her house will be auctioned off.
Two movers repossessing Happy's grandmother's furniture challenge him to a long-drive contest using his grandfather's old clubs. With an unorthodox, slapshot-style swing, Happy hits a ball some 400 yards, winning $40 from the movers. As a result, he starts hustling golfers at the driving range. There, he meets Chubbs Peterson, a club pro and former tour star who lost a hand in an alligator attack. Chubbs urges Happy to enter a local tournament and join the professional golf tour; desperate to get back his grandmother's house, Happy accepts after Chubbs informs him of the significant prize money involved.
Happy wins the local tournament and a spot on the tour, quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to his long drives and unorthodox antics, such as asking the crowd to cheer during his swing instead of staying quiet. He also meets arrogant pro Shooter McGavin, who disapproves of his lack of golf etiquette. Though Happy has a powerful drive, his putting is terrible, and his bad behavior draws the ire of tour Commissioner Doug Thompson. Public relations head Virginia Venit convinces Thompson not to kick Happy off the tour, citing higher TV ratings and attendance and new sponsorship offers; she promises to help Happy with his anger issues. With Virginia's help, Happy begins to improve his performance and behavior, and the two form a romantic connection.
During the Pepsi pro-am event, Happy plays poorly when Shooter hires a heckler, Donald, to antagonize him, and he and his celebrity partner, Bob Barker, get into a fistfight. Happy is fined $25,000 and suspended from the tour for one month, jeopardizing his chances to get back his grandmother's house until Virginia secures him an endorsement deal with Subway. However, the house is auctioned off to a spiteful Shooter, who offers it to Happy on the condition that he agrees to quit golf. Happy initially accepts, but Virginia talks him out of it, telling him that his grandmother would rather see Happy be successful. Happy strikes a deal with Shooter for the upcoming Tour Championship: If Happy wins, Shooter will return the house, but if Shooter wins, Happy will quit.
Happy seeks out Chubbs, who helps him improve his short game by practicing at a miniature golf course. As a thank-you, Happy presents Chubbs the head of the alligator that bit off his hand, but a startled Chubbs falls out a window to his death.
Now determined to win the Tour Championship for both Chubbs and his grandmother, Happy plays well and leads at the end of the third round. On the final day, Happy seems unstoppable until Donald hits Happy with a car on Shooter's orders, robbing Happy of his long-drive ability. Shooter takes the lead, but Happy rallies after a surprise visit from his grandmother. On the 18th hole, a TV tower damaged earlier by Donald blocks the green, but Happy sinks a miraculous putt to win. Shooter tries to steal the winner's gold jacket but is beaten up by a mob of fans, led by Happy’s imposing ex-boss Mr. Larson. Happy buys back his grandmother's house; sees a vision of a two-handed Chubbs with Abraham Lincoln and the alligator; and celebrates with his grandmother, Virginia and his caddy, Otto.
Happy Gilmore was directed by Dennis Dugan, and written by Saturday Night Live (SNL) alumni Tim Herlihy and Adam Sandler. Herlihy and Sandler were roommates in college and wrote stand-up comedy together, before moving on to screenplays. After Sandler was fired from SNL in 1995, he moved on to films. He and Herlihy wrote Billy Madison (1995), which proved successful for distributor Universal Pictures. As such, Herlihy and Sandler began a new project. In an office during a brainstorming session, they came up with a high-concept premise for a film about a "hockey player who smacks a 400-foot drive". Judd Apatow performed a script rewrite, although he went uncredited.
The Happy Gilmore character is loosely based on Sandler's childhood friend Kyle McDonough, who played ice hockey and would golf with Sandler as they grew up. Sandler could never hit the ball as far as McDonough, and figured that McDonough's hockey skills gave him an edge. Meanwhile, Chubbs Peterson's missing hand is an in-joke referencing actor Carl Weathers' film Predator (1987), which depicts his character losing his arm. Herlihy and Sandler included any joke that made them laugh and do not remember who came up with which, although Herlihy takes credit for Shooter McGavin's "I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast" line. In a 1994 interview, Sandler cited the golf comedy Caddyshack (1980), a film he and Herlihy bonded over in college, as inspiration.
Former pro golfer Mark Lye served as a consultant on the script, and told Herlihy and Sandler after seeing their initial ideas, "You gotta be crazy. You cannot do a movie like that." According to Lye, the initial drafts featured Happy winning the Masters Tournament: "They had the green jacket. They were desecrating the USGA. Making fun of Augusta National." He suggested that Happy win a fictional tournament, and Herlihy and Sandler changed the jacket's color from green to gold. Lye also disliked the unrealistic nature of early drafts, which depicted Happy repeatedly making 400-yard drives, so he took the crew to a PGA Tour event so they could understand the atmosphere of golf. The final script, the one Lye gave approval, was Herlihy and Sandler's fifth draft.
Dugan became attached to direct through Sandler. Years earlier, Dugan had attempted to cast Sandler in one of his films, but the producers did not let him because Sandler was not well-known. "A couple of years later, [Sandler] is big", Dugan said. "I wanted to be hired to direct Happy Gilmore with him. I walk in the room, and he says: 'You're the guy who wanted to give me that part. I don't need to know anything else, I want to work with you.'" Happy Gilmore was produced on a budget of $12 million and filmed entirely at locations in British Columbia. Most scenes taking place at golf courses were filmed at Pitt Meadows at the Swan-e-set Bay Resort & Country Club, while interior shots, such as those in the broadcast booth, took place in an abandoned Vancouver hospital. Arthur Albert served as cinematographer, while Mark Lane was the set decorator. Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh composed the film's soundtrack.
Christopher McDonald declined the role of Shooter McGavin twice because he was tired of playing villains and wanted to spend more time with his family. Kevin Costner was approached but turned it down in favor of another 1996 golf-themed comedy, Tin Cup, while Bruce Campbell lobbied hard for the part. McDonald became interested in the role after winning a round of golf, and decided to take it after he met with Sandler. According to McDonald, Dugan "didn't want to see the Bad Guy 101 again" and gave McDonald the freedom to improvise on set.
Happy Gilmore features appearances from Richard Kiel, known for playing Jaws in the James Bond film series; Bob Barker, the host of The Price Is Right; and Verne Lundquist, a football sportscaster.
According to Lundquist, he filmed his scenes in the abandoned hospital as production wrapped. Sandler's New York University roommate Jack Giarraputo sat next to Lundquist in every shot, as Sandler wanted him to appear in the film. In 2016, Lundquist stated he still gets a monthly $34 check from the Screen Actors Guild for his appearance in the film.
Filming took place from July 6 to September 1, 1995 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
The film was a commercial success, ranking #2 at the U.S. box office on its debut weekend with $8.5 million in revenue, behind Broken Arrow. The film was made for $12 million and grossed a total of $41.2 million worldwide, with $38.8 million of that at the North American domestic box office.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 62% based on 55 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Those who enjoy Adam Sandler’s schtick will find plenty to love in this gleefully juvenile take on professional golf; those who don’t, however, will find it unfunny and forgettable." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 31 out of 100 based on 14 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews." Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Brian Lowry of Variety stated that "The general tone nevertheless makes it difficult to elevate the gags beyond an occasional chuckle". Lowry only noted a few scenes he found inspired, including the fight scene with Bob Barker and when Happy attempts to find his "Happy Place" which was described as "Felliniesque". Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half stars out of four, stating that Adam Sandler's character "doesn’t have a pleasing personality: He seems angry even when he’s not supposed to be, and his habit of pounding everyone he dislikes is tiring in a PG-13 movie". Ebert also noted the film's product placement stating that he "probably missed a few, but I counted Diet Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Subway, Budweiser (in bottles, cans, and Bud-dispensing helmets), Michelob, Visa cards, Bell Atlantic, AT&T, Sizzler, Red Lobster, Wilson, Golf Digest, the ESPN sports network, and Top-Flite golf balls". Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a grade "D+" calling it "A one-joke Caddyshack for the blitzed and jaded," although he did praise Sandler's confident performance.
The scene with Barker beating up Gilmore increased ratings for The Price Is Right among younger demographics. Barker claimed that someone in the audience asked him about Happy Gilmore almost every day. The show's producers had previously tried, but failed, to appeal to a younger demographic with a syndicated variation of the game hosted by Doug Davidson.
The "Happy Gilmore swing," featuring a walking or running approach, is often imitated or attempted for fun, including by touring golf professionals. Three-time major champion Pádraig Harrington is particularly well known for his impression and even uses the technique in training. The TV series Sport Science has featured Harrington's "Happy Gilmore swing," demonstrating how it can indeed generate additional distance, though at the cost of accuracy.