Diffractive optical elements with a large diffraction angle require feature sizes down to sub-wavelength dimensions, which require a rigorous electromagnetic computational model for calculation. However, the computational optimization of these diffractive elements is often limited by the large number of design parameters, making parametric optimization practically impossible due to large computation times. The adjoint method allows calculating the gradient of the target function with respect to all design variables with only two electromagnetic simulations, thus enabling gradient optimization. Here, we present the adjoint method for modeling wide-angle diffractive optical elements like 7x7 beam splitters with a maximum 53 degrees diffraction angle and a non-square 5x7 array generating beam splitter. After optimization we obtained beam splitter designs with a uniformity error of 16.35% (7x7) and 6.98% (5x7), respectively. After reviewing the experimental results obtained from fabricated elements based on our designs, we found that the adjoint optimization method is an excellent and fast method to design wide-angle diffractive fan-out beam-splitters.