Box Office: Can Sony’s ‘Hotel Transylvania 4’ Succeed Without Adam Sandler?

Sony dropped the first theatrical trailer for Hotel Transylvania: Transformania this morning. The two-minute tease offerings a pretty succinct explanation of the plot and the core hook for why fans and general audiences will want to show up for the fourth go-around with the Drac Pack. Johnny (Andy Samberg) thinks his father-in-law (Brian Hull) will never think of him as part of the family since he’s not a monster. In waltzes Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) offering him a formula that makes humans into monsters but also monsters into humans. One big mistake later, and not only is Johnny a giant monster but many of the film’s marquee boogie-men (Drac, Frankenstein Monster, Wayne the Werewolf, etc.) are now human. As elevator pitches go, this is a pretty decent one.

Although I just watched Shrek 2 (it still holds up as a modern animated classic and the best of the Shrek movies) which also turned its marquee star into a human for the film’s back half. This is clearly a different ballgame and Shrek 2 was 17 years ago (the first Shrek turns 20 tomorrow). Anyway, as you’ll notice, Adam Sandler is not voicing Dracula this time out. I don’t know why he didn’t return, which is especially odd since almost everyone else (Katherine Hahn, Selena Gomez, Keegan-Michael Key, Fran Drescher, David Spade, etc.) is reprising. So the big question, Covid-curve notwithstanding, is whether Hotel Transylvania is a viable franchise without what used to be the primary selling point (a kid-friendly animated horror comedy starring Adam Sandler) from the prior trilogy.

The answer to that question is “maybe.” I doubt that today’s kids care that much that the film’s comedic monsters are voiced by popular comic actors from Sandler’s regular stable of “Happy Madison” players. The kids who like Hotel Transylvania like the films because they like the characters and the mad-cap comic energy. However, there’s a case to be made that the films at least somewhat played to older audiences who did view them as PG-rated Adam Sandler-and-friends romps. No, I don’t think the previous three films grossed $1.3 billion on a combined $230 million budget because of nostalgia The Waterboy/Big Daddy fans. However, I do think Sandler’s presence made the films more appealing beyond just taking their kids to the latest kid cartoon and hoping there was something for them too.

I am reminded of how Secret Life of Pets ($875 million on an $75 million budget), The Angry Birds Movie ($352 million/$73 million) and The LEGO Movie ($468 million/$60 million) were successfully sold as “four-quadrant” animated films while the sequels comparatively stumbled ($446 million/$80 million, $152 million/$65 million and $191 million/$99 million) by virtue of being seen as strictly kiddie flicks. Heck, that may be what felled Cars 3 ($383 million compared to Cars 2’s $560 million cume). The notion, that animated sequels would struggle unless kids and adults wanted to see the respective marquee characters (Anna and Elsa > Emmett and Lucy) arguably figured into Universal releasing DreamWorks’ Trolls: World Tour not exclusively in theaters but (right as the pandemic upending the entire world) as a PVOD title alongside its limited theatrical release.

To what extent was Adam Sandler as an animated protagonist, along with his cast of regular co-stars, what made Hotel Transylvania such a consistent animated franchise? What will be lost sans that key variable? Maybe nothing, if Drac and friends are marquee characters regardless of who plays them. It’s not like Frozen II would have grossed much less had Kristen Bell not returned. Hotel Transylvania: Transformania will open July 16. It will be, by default, the summer’s biggest animated franchise title. These movies cost over/under $75 million, so Transformania can earn less than even the first Hotel Transylvania ($358 million in 2012) and still be a modest win. If it stumbles in theaters, plenty of folks will catch up with it in the film’s first pay-tv window, Netflix, right alongside the last half-decade’s worth of Sandler comedies.


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