As both M. Night Shyamalan and The Sixth Sense mark their anniversaries, we take a look back at his filmography to see what we think are the best works.
This isn’t some B-movie spooky incident, but rather the return of M. Night Shyamalan to the top of the filmmaking world. He returned to his low-budget beginnings for the 2015 found-footage thriller The Visit, a terrific thriller that will definitely remind moviegoers of his earlier thriller classics, including The Sixth Sense and Signs, which he has directed in the past. Unbreakable filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan has since made Split, a shocking horror picture; and the Unbreakable sequel, Glass, a superhero sequel.
After so many years of enthralling viewers, few filmmakers can boast as many unforgettable screen moments as Shyamalan. 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. In some of these films, supernatural elements are used, while in others, classic sci-fi cliches from the ’50s are updated for today’s audiences. Regardless, if you take a look back at his work, you’ll find some real jewels. What better way of finding out what’s going on than by ranking the films in order of quality?
The director’s first picture, 1992’s Praying with Anger, has been excluded off the list of Shyamalan’s best work. 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. It is therefore unknown to us.
12. The Last Airbender (2010)
The Last Airbender may become a cult masterpiece in the future, but for the time being, it’s Shyamalan’s dreadfulest film. When you’re working with an audience that’s substantially younger than the one Shyamalan is used to, it might be difficult to stay in your comfort zone. Shyamalan’s purpose with this production was clearly to push himself, and the result may be seen as an insult to the original material, Nickelodeon’s popular cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender.
While the plot of Avatar: The Last Airbender is somewhat convoluted, the following is a brief synopsis: Aang, the titular last airbender, is a 12-year-old kid tasked with bringing peace to the land by stopping the Fire Nation from conquering the other nations. Shyamalan makes a mistake by trying to condense the anime’s backstory and plot into a single film. Although the film was initially intended to be a trilogy, it has since been pared down to two. In the first film of this trilogy, it could have been better to spread the story out or skip key details entirely.
The visual effects in this picture are abysmal, despite the fact that Shyamalan collaborated closely with Industrial Light & Magic. After James Cameron’s visually stunning Avatar, it’s possible that The Last Airbender is a victim of its own success. That being said, the film’s lighting is abysmal. Scenes in which the darkness is just too much to bear are common.
Unfortunately, the film’s cast is mostly comprised of obscure young performers you’ve probably never seen before. Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers and The Twilight Saga are a few of his later film credits. Take what you will from that.
Critics and Shyamalan and Avatar fans alike hated The Last Airbender. After grossing over $320 million globally, it has surpassed its $150 million production cost to become Nickelodeon’s third highest grossing film ever. However, the film’s box office success won’t be enough to preserve it.
11. After Earth (2013)
After all, Earth was doomed to failure from the get-go. The Last Airbender was Shyamalan’s first effort at an epic movie, and although though film starred Will Smith and his son Jaden, it was awful enough to place any follow-up in the losers column. The fact that Shyamalan has yet to shown he can handle big-budget projects is still more evidence that After Earth is a failure.
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As a father and son team, Will and Jaden (Cypher and Kitai) crash-land on a quarantined Earth in the future. As a result of Cypher’s injuries, Kitai is left to search for a beacon alone in the forest in order to alert a rescue ship. Shyamalan and Gary Whitta (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) co-wrote the script, which is riddled with contradictions and story problems.
There are additional complications here due to Will Smith’s lack of screen time, which forces Jaden to carry most of the sequences on the strength of his acting chops. Not the best pick for a movie with Will Smith as the star.
10. Wide Awake (1998)
His first two directorial efforts were surprisingly free of spooky or sci-fi elements. A spiritual drama, Praying with Anger, was the director’s first try at a dramedy; Wide Awake is his sole other attempt. And the final outcome is…okay. To put it another way, it’s not a movie by M. Night Shyamalan that you really must see. People may not recall it as well as they used to because the director has subsequently gone on to make far better (and worse) films. Even so, it’s an important film because it’s Shyamalan’s first wide distribution.
“Wide Awake,” a film starring Denis Leary and Rosie O’Donnell, is about a ten-year-old boy named Josh who, after losing his grandfather, seeks an explanation for the meaning of life and death. Josh analyzes his spirituality in fifth grade with the help of his closest friend and the baseball-loving nun, played by O’Donnell.
In this case, there isn’t much to write home about. Yes, there is such a thing. We’ve come to expect nothing less from M. Night Shyamalan.
9. Lady in the Water (2006)
A Twilight Zone episode might have been a better fit for this film, like “The Bewitchin’ Pool,” the final episode of the 1959 series. This film’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t actually make any sense whatsoever.
Despite Shyamalan’s best efforts, the film’s modern fairy tale isn’t as charming as the original source material. In an effort to explain what transpired in their swimming pool at night as they slept, Shyamalan came up with the bedtime narrative that later became Lady in the Water.. However, I believe it should have remained a bedtime story.
Even Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard can’t save this film from being a tedious boredom-inducing snooze fest. Story (played by Howard) is an aquatic nymph who is discovered in the apartment complex swimming pool by Cleveland, a handyman in Philadelphia. Story is on the run from a wolf-like beast as she tries to return to her watery home. Story must be rescued by Cleveland and the other residents of the facility, including a character played by Shyamalan himself.
It’s not nearly as exciting as it may sound. Only the most ardent Shyamalan devotees who are willing to follow him to the ends of the earth in search of more of his original supernatural universes would be satisfied with this picture. Lady in the Water, on the other hand, isn’t quite as memorable as the writer Shyamalan portrays — a man destined to transform the world with his work.
8. The Happening (2008)
This film has a special place in our hearts because of its 1950s monster movie style. There is nothing inherently evil about The Happening’s premise: nature has decided to protect itself after enduring years of mistreatment from humanity. 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 aiming for a low-budget film, and he delivers. At the same time terrifying and disturbing, but also shockingly self-aware, this film is a must-watch. He plays a science instructor who applies the scientific method to figure out what the hell is going on in one of his worst parts. Wahlberg’s best friend, played by a self-conscious John Leguizamo, dislikes his wife Zooey Deschanel, played by Zooey Deschanel.
The film has a number of horrific horror moments, including one that takes place in rural Pennsylvania. The film’s gore is also noteworthy: there’s a lot of it. A zoo lion mauls a man, a farmer lies down in front of an industrial lawn mower, and an elderly recluse slams her head through a row of windows. Even while these scenes are utterly depressing, they also serve as an opportunity for M. Night Shyamalan to show off his more free-wheeling side.
We believe Shyamalan’s most underappreciated film is The Happening.
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.
Glass is Shyamalan swinging for the fences and demonstrating that this comic-book-inspired drama deserves to be told, even after Unbreakable’s lackluster reception two decades ago. That the film’s wild third act doesn’t fully land doesn’t undermine the enjoyable psychological thriller that preceded it.
Glass reunites us with David Dunn (Willis), a vigilante known as the Overseer, who protects the streets of Philadelphia. His job now is to apprehend the Horde (an impressive McAvoy), a guy with 24 multiple personalities, including a monster serial murderer known as the Beast. This follows on from the events of the previous film, Split. Mr. Glass, aka Elijah Price (Jackson), is incarcerated in a mental facility alongside Overseer and the Beast when they are apprehended by law enforcement.
An experimental film about madness’s nature and human rights to expand beyond our physical limitations follows.
If Glass is at its best, it asks the spectator to consider whether or not these allegedly superpowered beings are, in fact, who they believe themselves to be.
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.
Covington, a small and secluded community, is constantly harassed by unknown monsters who dwell in the woods beyond. There is no one in the hamlet who has ever seen the outside world since they are too scared of the monsters to travel beyond the town’s limits.
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. Although the twist may be perceived as a cheap trick by some, it is undeniable.
Overall, the film is enjoyable, and Adrien Brody shines 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)
An fantastic little found footage film, The See tells the story of two teens who are preparing to visit their grandparents for the first time. They soon learn that Nana and Pop Pop are not at all what they had hoped for.
Despite the film’s characteristic Shyamalanian twist, what really stands out in The Visit is the sense of foreboding that permeates the entire picture. Shocking twists and turns keep the audience on their toes, as Shyamalan’s picture alternates between the story of good people slowly losing their wits and something far more evil.
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. When it comes to gross-out sequences, there are several, including a few that include adult diapers, in the film.
Director M. Night Shyamalan’s return to horror after a few years was a success. To ensure Shyamalan’s legacy, the picture was made for just $5 million and made more than $98 million worldwide. Until now, no one has pushed this guy into direct-to-DVD productions.
4. Unbreakable (2000)
If you haven’t seen Shyamalan’s superhero film Unbreakable, you’re missing out, because it’s one of the best of his career. X-Men and Spider-Man were two of the most popular superhero films of the early 2000s, but this film, starring Bruce Willis, is possibly the second-best of the three.
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 only survivor of a catastrophic train catastrophe, gives him a new lease on life. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Elijah becomes persuaded that David is superhuman, perhaps even the first superhero in the world, an idol Elijah had been looking for his entire life.
The rest of the story is going to be really interesting. It’s a terrific and unusual origin narrative, and Shyamalan does an excellent job of deconstructing the superhero concept in the process. If you’re looking for a good superhero movie, you can’t go wrong with Unbreakable.
3. Split (2016)
It’s Shyamalan’s best film since his comeback in 2015 with Split. Unlike most of his earlier films, this one is a character study of a woman who has been subjected to years of domestic abuse. In Split, James McAvoy is given a role that sets him up for one of his most memorable roles.
Split is about Kevin Wendell Crumb, a not-so-traditional slasher who kidnaps three girls in a parking lot, including Anya Taylor-Casey Joy’s Cooke, played with glee by a shape-shifting McAvoy. In spite of the fact that the film is originally presented to spectators as a “house of horrors”-style slasher flick, there is much more going on beneath the surface.
Kevin and Casey’s stories are more complicated than they appear, and director M. Night Shyamalan takes his time to reveal the cycles of abuse that have driven them to this point, the darkest they have ever known. 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)
By far, Shyamalan’s most famous and quotable film is The Sixth Sense. Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment feature in this spooky thriller from director M. Night Shyamalan, one year after his comedy-drama Wide Awake. Shyamalan’s style would be defined by this film for the next decade, as he would frequently dive into the paranormal and use twist endings. The Sixth Sense is unquestionably Shyamalan’s best work in the spooky genre, and it was nominated for an unprecedented six Academy Awards.
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. Thanks to Osment, we’re given to a truly chilling story that also serves as an example of redemption for Willis’ character, who helps the youngster overcome his fear of his tremendous ability and instead utilize it to help the deceased in the process.
For those who have never seen one of M. Night Shyamalan’s original twist endings, this was the movie for you. It’s often considered Shyamalan’s greatest work, but we think his next science fiction film is just a little bit better…
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 the right components.
A hostile extraterrestrial invasion threatens Earth, but the tale centers on the Hess family, whose members are going through a spiritual crisis, which is on a much grander scale than anything we’ve seen from Shyamalan up to this time. Former priest Graham (Mel Gibson) has left the priesthood after the death of his wife. Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) and his two children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), live on a farm with Merrill’s brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). Bo is preoccupied with the quality of her drinking water.
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 land, the Hess family is forced to take cover in an isolated farmhouse, setting the stage for an exciting series of events. Having to wait until morning is a dreadful experience. In the end, faith is more important than aliens and Signs is a much better show because of this shift in focus.