This isn’t some B-movie spooky incident, but rather the return of M. Night Shyamalan to the top of the filmmaking world. A few big-budget failures later, this cult favorite director returned to his low-budget roots with the 2015 found-footage feature The Visit, a terrific thriller with a twist that will definitely remind moviegoers of his earlier thriller masterpieces, such as The Sixth Sense and Signs. Director M. Night Shyamalan has since followed up with the shocking slasher picture Split and the super hero sequel Glass. Both films display the filmmaker at his most finest and most ambitious.
Few directors can lay claim to as many memorable moments on screen as Shyamalan, and even fewer can say they’ve been churning out consistently good work after so many years of enthralling audiences with their work. There are those who believe that The Sixth Sense was Shyamalan’s best work, but we argue that he has much more to offer.
While there are some problematic entries in Shyamalan’s filmography, there are also a number of excellent ones. The supernatural is a common theme in some of these films, while traditional 1950s science fiction cliches are reimagined for a contemporary audience. Regardless, if you take a look back at his work, you’ll find some real jewels. So we ranked the flicks from worst to greatest to determine what was going on.
The director’s first picture, Praying with Anger, from 1992, has been left off of this list. As a college exchange student in India, a young Indian American (played by Shyamalan) sets out to rediscover his faith and culture. It’s simple: We didn’t include it on the list since it doesn’t meet our criteria. Praying with Anger was only exhibited at a handful of film festivals before it was widely distributed. As a result, we haven’t been able to see it.
10. Wide Awake (1998)
Weirdly, Shyamalan’s first two features didn’t deal with the paranormal or science fiction subgenres. A spiritual drama, Praying with Anger, was the director’s first try at a dramedy; Wide Awake is his sole other attempt. And the end effect is… not bad at all.. To put it another way, you don’t need to see the underappreciated Shyamalan movie. People may not remember it now since the director has since created far better and far worse films. Shyamalan’s first broad distribution still makes this film remarkable.
Josh, a ten-year-old youngster who has lost his grandfather, is searching for answers to life and death in Wide Awake, which features Denis Leary, Joseph Cross, and Rosie O’Donnell. His best friend and the baseball-loving nun, played by O’Donnell, help Josh confront his spirituality throughout fifth grade.
In this case, there isn’t much to write home about. It’s real. We’ve come to expect nothing less from M. Night Shyamalan.
9. Lady in the Water (2006)
It’s possible that this movie might have done better as an episode of The Twilight Zone – “The Bewitchin’ Pool,” the final episode of the 1959 series, comes to mind. This film’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t actually make any sense whatsoever.
Despite his best efforts, M. Night Shyamalan’s attempt at a modern fairy tale falls short of its inspiration. Shyamalan came up with the idea for Lady in the Water while trying to explain to his daughter what happened in their swimming pool while they were sleeping. There’s little doubt that it should have been a bedtime story instead.
Even Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard are unable to save this film from becoming a baffling and tedious mess. Cleveland, a Philadelphia apartment complex handyman, discovers a water nymph named Story (played by Howard) in the residential swimming pool, which is owned by the building’s management company. A wolf-like beast is after Story as she tries to return to her watery kingdom. There are other tenants of the building (including one played by Shyamalan himself) who have to assist Story in her return home from the wolf-like creature.
This is a lot less exciting than it appears. Only the most ardent Shyamalan devotees prepared to follow him to the ends of the known supernatural universe would enjoy this film. Lady in the Water, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as remarkable as the writer M. Night Shyamalan portrays in the film.
8. The Happening (2008)
At the very least, we enjoy this film’s nostalgic nod to classic monster movies from the ’50s. There is nothing inherently evil about The Happening’s premise: nature has decided to protect itself after enduring years of mistreatment from humans. If the writing wasn’t written like a comedy and the acting was better, it would have been a far better ecofiction disaster picture.
Shyamalan, on the other hand, is making a B-movie, and he succeeds admirably. At once terrifying and shocking, this film is also stunning in its level of self-awareness. Mark Wahlberg plays a science instructor who employs the scientific method to figure out what the hell is going on throughout the movie, which is one of his worst performances. Wahlberg’s best friend, played by a self-conscious John Leguizamo, dislikes his wife Zooey Deschanel, played by Zooey Deschanel.
One of the film’s scarier scenes takes place in rural Pennsylvania, and it’s genuinely a little scary. In addition, the picture has a lot of gore. It is not uncommon to see people willingly put themselves in harm’s way for their own entertainment, whether it is by lying in front of an industrial lawn mower or smashing their heads through an entire row of glass panes. These sequences are gruesome, but it’s a treat to see a more unconstrained Shyamalan, who so often shies away from violence and gore.
The Happening is, in our opinion, Shyamalan’s best film.
7. Glass (2019)
Shyamalan’s superhero saga, which spanned over two decades, is finally brought to a close with the release of Glass. The Eastrail 177 Trilogy’s third installment, starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, and James McAvoy, continues the story of what happens when “gifted” people accept who they are and the powers they possess in Unbreakable and Split.
After Unbreakable’s lukewarm reception in 2000, director M. Night Shyamalan takes a swing at the baseball and proves that this comic book-inspired tale still deserves to be told, even after two decades of lukewarm reviews. It doesn’t take away from the enjoyable psychological thriller that preceded it that the film’s wacky third act falls flat.
David Dunn (Willis) returns in Glass as the Overseer, a vigilante who patrols the streets of Philadelphia. Awe-inspiring McAvoy stars as the Horde in Split, a guy who has 24 multiple personalities, among them the monster serial killer called the Beast. Mr. Glass, aka Elijah Price (Jackson), is incarcerated in a mental facility alongside Overseer and the Beast when they are apprehended by law enforcement.
In the end, we’re left with a surrealist film about lunacy and the right of mankind to progress past its physical limitations.
Glas questions whether these allegedly superpowered characters are indeed who they seem to be and whether the viewer participates in their fantasy.
6. The Village (2004)
Many viewers and critics agree that Shyamalan’s work veered off course with The Village, with the surprises devolving into gimmicks and the prose becoming overly sentimental. The Village, on the other hand, is a fun world-building exercise, a good dose of horror, and a terrifying experience for its audience. That’s what makes a Shyamalan film successful.
As persistent tormentors are the unknown animals that reside in the forests beyond the remote and lonely Covington. In the village, no one has ever seen the outside world since they are scared of the monsters and don’t dare leave the town’s boundaries.
Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Ivy, has to obtain medicine for her wounded lover, Lucius, in the woods, so we can see what’s there (Joaquin Phoenix). We don’t know what awaits us beyond the jungle. Some may find the twist cheap, but everyone who sees it will remember it forever.
Overall, the picture is enjoyable, and Adrien Brody is a standout performer in this film.
As you can see from this list, you could do a lot worse than The Village in terms of entertainment.
5. The Visit (2015)
Aspiring film director Becca and humorous rapper Tyler, both 18, go to see their grandparents for the first time in a found footage movie called The Visit. They soon realize that Nana and Pop Pop are nothing like they expected them to be.
Despite the film’s characteristic Shyamalanian twist, what really stands out in The Visit is the sense of foreboding that permeates the entire picture. Throughout the film, Shyamalan keeps the audience guessing about Nana and Pop Pop, who are both slowly losing their minds.
Crawlspace chases, something going bump in the night outside the kids’ chamber, and a harrowing fall into the forbidden basement are all featured in Shyamalan’s film. In addition, there is a good bit of gross-out in the picture, including a few sequences utilizing adult diapers…
Director M. Night Shyamalan’s return to horror after a few years was a success. Filmed for $5 million, it generated over $98 million worldwide, cementing Shyamalan’s legacy as an iconic director. This guy hasn’t been pushed into direct-to-DVD productions yet.
4. Unbreakable (2000)
If you liked Shyamalan’s first big hit, The Sixth Sense, you’re going to love his superhero movie, Unbreakable. In between X-Men and Spider-Man, this film quietly made its way, and it’s possibly the best of the three, not only because of Bruce Willis’ protagonist but because of the movie’s villain.
One of his best performances as Elijah Price, a comic book fanatic with a rare illness that causes his bones to break easily, enhances the film. Samuel L. Jackson. Elijah’s illness has left him weak and dejected, but Willis’ David Dunn, the sole survivor of a catastrophic train catastrophe, gives him a fresh lease on life. In the aftermath of the disaster, Elijah becomes persuaded that David is superhuman, perhaps even the world’s first superhero, an idol Elijah has sought his entire life.
There’s a lot to look forward to after that. It’s a terrific and unusual origin narrative, and Shyamalan does an excellent job of deconstructing the superhero concept in the process. Unbreakable, despite its flaws, is still a better superhero movie than most of the current crop.
3. Split (2016)
One of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films since his revival in 2015, Split is an exceptional piece of work. It’s a deeper character piece than most of his earlier films, focusing on the cycle of abuse. Split is a genre-defying, engrossing, and emotionally resonant film that puts James McAvoy up for one of his finest roles.
A shape-shifting McAvoy plays Kevin Wendell Crumb, a slasher who abducts three girls in a parking lot, including Anya Taylor-Casey Joy’s Cooke. In spite of the fact that the film is originally presented as a horror slasher flick, there is more going on beneath the surface.
Shyamalan takes his time to show us the cycles of abuse that have led both Kevin and Casey to this moment, the darkest either of them has ever been in their lives. By the end, you’ll have a hard time not rooting for both the hero and the villain in Shyamalan’s strongest character work to date.
2. The Sixth Sense (1999)
With The Sixth Sense, he has made his name as one of the world’s most recognizable filmmakers. A year after his comedy-drama Wide Awake, M. Night Shyamalan released this spooky thriller starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. Since then, Shyamalan’s approach has been defined by a focus on the supernatural and twist endings. Shyamalan’s best supernatural picture is The Sixth Sense, which was nominated for six Oscars.
To help him deal with his own personal traumas, the doctor agrees to treat a 12-year-old who has the capacity to see deceased people. An outstanding performance by Haley Joel Osment makes this film genuinely frightening while also serving as Willis’ character’s redemption story, as he aids the young guy in facing his dread of having a special ability and in using it to save the dead.
For those who have never seen one of M. Night Shyamalan’s original twist endings, this was the movie for you. A subsequent science fiction film, which many regard to be Shyamalan’s masterpiece, is slightly superior in our opinion.
1. Signs (2002)
“Signs” is a wonderful amalgamation of Shyamalan’s trademarks: otherworldly horror, strong B-movie science fiction, spirituality and family drama. This sequel to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable has all of the right ingredients to make a great movie.
Although the film’s narrative involves a hostile alien invasion of Earth, the tale revolves around the Hess family, whose members are experiencing a crisis of faith. Former priest Mel Gibson portrays Graham, who resigned from the priesthood when his wife died. Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin) live with their brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), a former local baseball hero. Merrill is also the father of Morgan’s two children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin).
Their paranoia about aliens increases when crop circles appear on their land and elsewhere in the world. Things get out of hand as the alien menace is confirmed in one of the most terrifying scenes of any extraterrestrial film ever created.
When the aliens eventually touch down, the Hess family takes sanctuary in an isolated farmhouse. It’s unbearable to wait until the next day. In the end, faith is more important than aliens and Signs is a much better show because of this shift in focus.