How The Wedding Singer Changed Everything for Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler

Can Sandler be a leading man? Would he and Barrymore have any chemistry? These were some of the questions filmmakers asked 20 years ago

By Rebecca Macatee Feb 13, 2018 2:00 PMTags

We don't have a microphone, but you'll still want to listen to this: The Wedding Singer hit theaters 20 years ago today.

This was the movie that established Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore as a rom-com couple for the ages. Set in 1985, it tells the story of Robbie, the titular wedding singer, and Julia, a waitress he meets on the job, who are both engaged to the wrong people.

As in Julia-Guglia-caliber wrong.

Thanks to fate and a hilarious supporting cast, they (spoiler alert!) find their way to each other.

The Wedding Singer, which grossed $80 million in the U.S. and more than $123 million worldwide, is a rom-com favorite to this day (and even got the musical treatment in 2006). But the fact that the 1998 film has "shelf life," as director Frank Coraci calls it, is "like the ultimate compliment." 

The 59 Best Movie Couples of All Time

"A lot of magic happened on the movie," Coraci tells E! News exclusively. "We had no idea, by the way, that it was gonna be a success [when we were making it]. Nothing like that had ever hit that big, and Drew hadn't been in a big movie in a while...she really hadn't gotten to be funny at that point...Adam had some good little movies that did well, but [The Wedding Singer] took us to the next level."

Sandler, who was 31 when the film premiered, had a proven track record in juvenile comedy, but playing a romantic lead was new territory for him. "At the time, everyone was questioning, 'Is Adam a leading man?'" Coraci recalls. "I had no doubt that he would be a great leading man. I knew he was charming and funny—it was definitely the right place for him to go next."

New Line Cinema/Getty Images

The evolution of Sandler from slapstick to sweet wasn't totally intentional. "As we were working on it, I don't even know if we set out to do a romantic comedy, but it just kind of got romantic," writer Tim Herlihy tells E! News with a laugh.

It started, says Herlihy, because Sandler "had an idea to do a story about a wedding singer who's left at the altar...and I wanted to do a movie set in the '80s. So we thought, 'Wait a minute—what if we do this story set in the '80s?' That was kind of the genesis of it."

Herlihy says he initially "didn't have an actress in mind" to play Julia, but as the script took more of a romantic turn, he and Sandler "were starting to realize, 'Hey, we better get somebody good for this'—this is a big part. This could be fantastic with the right person."

Drew Barrymore's Evolution

And everyone seemed to agree that 22-year-old Barrymore, who'd been famous since she was 4 years old, was absolutely the right person. "We were very excited to meet her, and immediately, you just knew Drew was gonna be a person who the world—not just America—but the world was gonna fall in love with," says Coraci, who directed Barrymore and Sandler together again in 2014's Blended

Coraci "saw their chemistry right away," he says. "That's what I think, for me, made the movie really amazing. There were so many moments to it, but the fact that they bonded like friends is what made you believe...that [Robbie and Julia] falling in love is legitimate."

Movie Couples Who Never Dated in Real Life (But Should Have)

But while Sandler and Barrymore's chemistry was instantaneous, developing the final script for The Wedding Singer took a bit more time. Herlihy recalls how the late Carrie Fisher "came in and worked on it for a while" as a script doctor, and Judd Apatow "also did two weeks on it." Eventually, Herlihy says, he and Coraci, now both frequent Sandler collaborators, reconvened with the funnyman to "[take] the best parts of everything and put it all back together and kind of made The Wedding Singer what is was."

New Line Cinema

That final version, of course, includes memorable cameos by Steve Buscemi as a drunken wedding guest and Billy Idol as Robbie's unexpected wingman. Allen Covert, another frequent Sandler collaborator, plays Sammy the limo driver, and Christine Taylor plays Julia's on-trend cousin and confidante. 

New Line Cinema

The late Alexis Arquette plays Robbie's Culture Club-channeling bandmate George and Rosie, the unforgettable rapping grandma who pays for singing lessons with meatballs, was played by the late Ellen Albertini Dow.

New Line Cinema

Angelia Featherstone, meanwhile, plays Linda, Robbie's vapid bride-to-be who leaves him at the altar, and Matthew Glave plays Glenn Guglia, Julia's already philandering fiancé. Featherstone and Glave's characters are both rightfully rejected in the end, but the actors themselves wholeheartedly enjoyed playing them.

"I feel like with Friends and Seinfeld and The Wedding Singer, I was in the midst of really heavy hitters," Featherstone tells E! News exclusively. "Just working with Adam, who is just so funny and so good...it's like going to play at Wimbledon with Serena Williams, and you're a journeyman...It was probably one of the most fortifying experiences of my career." (Featherstone has thrown a wrench into a few onscreen relationships—she was also copy girl Chloe, whom Ross "took a break" with on Friends.)

Glave, who most recently has been on TV in Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce and Angie Tribeca, tells E! News he personally had an "outstanding time" doing the film, even though his character "is a bit of a douche, to be putting it mildly." But as the actor points out, Glenn's jerkiness actually serves to highlight how "Adam's character [is] all the more noble."

New Line Cinema

"Robbie sees it all [Glenn's womanizing, etc.] and he never tells Julia," Glave says. "They find each other without [Glenn] doing anything overt. From Julia's standpoint, I'm just the wrong guy."

Glave suspects Glenn's future post-1985 was bleak. "I don't think we have a sadder but wiser one," he says. "Some people don't get it—and he just seemed to not get it at all." 

Featherstone predicts Linda's later years were also a lot of the same. "I would probably guess that she stayed in her narcissistic bubble," says the actress, "and [she] sort of had like a sub, sub-par life but imagined in her mind, it was really fantastic."

The outlooks for Robbie and Julia are much brighter. "They are definitely together, and they're the greatest parents ever," says Coraci. 


Herlihy agrees Robbie and Julie "stood the test of time," saying, "Having overcome all the obstacles they did [and] being engaged to other people...I think they're still one of those couples that their friends all shake their heads and say, 'How can they still be so much in love after all this time?'"

Time hasn't touched Sandler and Barrymore's onscreen chemistry, and their real-life friendship (nothing more—not even any "church tongue") has also gone the distance. They reunited for 50 First Dates in 2004 and Blended in 2014, and Barrymore even dedicated a chapter of her 2015 book Wildflower to Sandler. 

As the actress, businesswoman and mother of two later explained to Howard Stern on his Sirius XM radio show, the "Adam" chapter of her book is "a little bit of a love letter to him because I have grown with this person."

And, as Barrymore also pointed out on The Tonight Show in 2014, "every 10 years we get to fall in love again."

Sounds like a save the date card for 2024.