M. Night Shyamalan’s filmmaking trademark has always been his exceptional talent to surprise the audience; this applies not only to his unexpected plot twists but also to the quality of his movies.
For every The Sixth Sense, there’s a The Last Airbender right around the corner, waiting to catch M. Night Shyamalan fans unaware. Some might call this inconsistency, but we prefer to call it “mastering the art of suspense.”
Most people that have seen M. Night Shyamalan films have some sort of strong opinion of them. Love them or hate them, Shyamalan has a talent for evoking a reaction from his audiences; whether that reaction is favourable or not is something that seems hopelessly beyond his control, however.
His filmmaking style has been heavily criticised for his tendency to deliver some unearned and unconvincing plot twists, but there’s so much more to Night’s style than just pure shock and awe.
Recently, the director has been trying to distance himself from his trademark bait-and-switch style and into a more traditional filmmaking territory with movies like Split and Glass. However, what makes his movies stand out from the rest still remains in these two films, and we’d dare to guess that it will also be present in his upcoming surreal thriller, Old.
Caught in a Loop
There’s some irony to be found in the fact that the only actually surprising twist left in an M. Night Shyamalan movie is when there are no plot twists. As audiences, we’ve come to find his name to be synonymous with “unexpected” plot twists that change the meaning of the whole film. If it worked in The Sixth Sense, why wouldn’t it work in any of his subsequent movies?
The answer is quite simple: a plot twist, by definition, only works when no one can see it coming. Since everyone goes into a Shyamalan film expecting some kind of turn of events at the eleventh hour, the novelty and surprise factors are almost non-existent.
Much like Tim Burton, Shyamalan seems to be trapped by what audiences expect of his directing style. That might be the reason why he’s tried to stray from his usual narrative structure, with some mixed results.
The Shyamalan Cinematic Universe
If you’ve been to a movie theatre in the past decade or so, you’d undoubtedly noticed that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has an iron grip on the international box office. Considering how well superhero films perform with audiences, it’s no surprise that M. Night Shyamalan would try his hand at the genre. Heck, he had directed Unbreakable – one of the finest superhero films there is – eight years before the first Iron Man film kickstarted the whole MCU.
Looking to expand his superhero universe, Shyamalan directed Split, an impressively good horror thriller that aimed at giving the hero from Unbreakable another superpowered villain to fight.
Split is one of Shyamalan’s best films, but he completely dropped the ball with Glass. The lousy conclusion to the Unbreakable saga throws the series’ character development and world-building out the window. It is also guilty of one of Shyamalan’s guilty pleasures: self-insert dialogues.
Normal people simply are not normal in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. His characters are some of the most fascinating examples of a writer speaking through his creations that we’ve ever seen. Granted, we’ve seen some of Hollywood’s most renowned filmmakers who are also guilty of this (we’re looking at you, Tarantino,) but there’s something particularly robotic about the way Shyamalan’s characters talk that is just impossible to understand.
Every character in his movies talks just like a Hollywood screenwriter, even young kids. They’re always ready to deliver a speech, even if all they’re doing is ordering a pizza. While this cheesy approach to dialogue can be entertaining to some, it does wonders to ruin the tension of otherwise suspenseful thrillers.
As we said before: love him or hate him, it’s almost impossible to watch a Shyamalan film and remain entirely neutral. Likewise, it’s impossible to separate the artist from his work in the case of M. Night Shyamalan. So, perhaps the best we can do is just to enjoy his peculiar understanding of the world, and pretend to be surprised the next time he delivers one of his famous plot twists.
In this list, we’ll rank every movie Shyamalan has ever directed, as we aim to discover which of his films is the most enjoyable overall.
15. The Last Airbender (2010)
Anyone who has seen M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action movie adaptation of this beloved animation classic will agree that 2010’s The Last Airbender might be one of the worst films ever conceived.
It’s hard to blame Shyamalan for this one, really: the idea of adapting an entire season of an animated show into a single live-action feature film, let alone a show as plot-heavy as The Last Airbender, was simply doomed to fail. Only watch this one for the laughs – and avoid it like the plague if you’re a fan of the show.
14. Wide Awake (1998)
“Wide Awake” is a 1998 comedy-drama film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The movie follows the story of a ten-year-old boy named Joshua (played by Joseph Cross) who tries to come to terms with his grandfather’s death while attending a Catholic school.
The film features a great cast, including Rosie O’Donnell, Dana Delany, Denis Leary, and Julia Stiles. The performances are strong, particularly that of Joseph Cross as the young protagonist, who delivers a touching and believable portrayal of a child struggling with grief.
The movie has its poignant moments and explores themes such as faith, loss, and the search for answers to life’s biggest questions. However, at times, the film feels overly sentimental and somewhat contrived, with the narrative relying heavily on emotional manipulation.
Overall, “Wide Awake” is an enjoyable and heartwarming film that offers a unique perspective on coping with grief through the eyes of a child. While it may not be Shyamalan’s most well-known work, it’s still a worthwhile watch, especially for those who enjoy coming-of-age stories.
13. After Earth (2013)
Will Smith’s 2013 ego trip After Earth received overwhelmingly negative reviews by critics upon its release – and was even more disliked by moviegoers, who found the dull plot as tedious and monotonous as Jaden Smith’s acting range.
There’s little to say about After Earth. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the film is that it was released in 2013, which means that M. Night Shyamalan still had a lot of time to recover from this setback and set his career on the right path again.
12. The Happening (2008)
Almost nothing happens in The Happening. This promising film quickly turns its own plot apart with laughably one-dimensional characters and borderline cartoony dialogues that will make you think you’re watching a comedy that’s just missing a laugh track.
Starring a very confused Mark Wahlberg, The Happening might actually be one of Shyamalan’s most unintentionally funny flicks. Unlike the two previous entries in our list, this one is definitely worth a watch – at least as a comedy rather than the gripping thriller it tries to be.
11. Lady in the Water (2006)
M. Night Shyamalan has always delved into the horror genre, even if most of his horror films tend to rely more on the human side of things rather than the overtly paranormal. However, with 2006’s Lady in the Water, we got a glimpse of what would happen if Shyamalan was left to direct a dark fantasy horror film – and it wasn’t good.
Some critics considered the film to be a bit pretentious, especially considering that Shyamalan appears in a prominent role in the movie. Lady in the Water earned Shyamalan two Golden Raspberry awards for Worst Director and Worst Supporting Actor.
10. Old (2021)
The most recent film on our list is also a rather divisive one. While some critics found Old‘s plot immensely mesmerizing, some less favourable reviewers found issues with the film’s uneven pacing. Still, Old is a great thriller that will keep you hooked until the bitter end and fill you with a unique sense of existential dread that makes the experience all the more unique.
9. Glass (2019)
It’s rather sad that the final chapter in the Shyamalanverse didn’t live up to the standards set by its two outstanding predecessors. To be clear, it would be unfair to think of Glass as a disappointing conclusion to an epic trilogy, as both Split and Unbreakable can be perfectly enjoyable on their own.
With a name like Glass, we would expect the movie to expand further on the motivations and backstory of Samuel L. Jackson’s character, but what we got was M. Night Shyamalan trying to make an indie movie version of The Avengers.
8. The Village (2004)
2004’s The Village is one of those movies that gets a disproportionate amount of flak. Sure, from a narrative point of view, this might not be one of Shyamalan’s strongest – especially because the “big twist” everyone was anticipating happens halfway through the movie.
On the other hand, however, The Village proves to be one of M. Night Shyamalan’s most beautiful films. The impeccable cinematography and mesmerizing mythology he builds throughout the story deserve a second chance, making it a film that should be seen by anyone with a passing interest in thrillers and cinema in general.
7. Wide Awake (1998) and Praying with Anger (1992)
Before Shyamalan’s name became synonymous with psychological thrillers and ingenious plot twists, there was Wide Awake – and even before that, there was Praying with Anger.
These two films, engaging indie dramas as they might be, still show an M. Night Shyamalan that has yet to develop his signature filmmaking style. Wide Awake relates the personal journey of a young boy finding answers to all of life’s most complex matters. On the other hand, Praying with Anger offers an almost self-exploratory look into Shyamalan’s psyche and his experiences as an Indian American losing ties with his culture.
In Knock at the Cabin, Shyamalan demonstrates that sometimes, keeping things simple is the way to go. The film is an adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay’s novel, The Cabin at the End of the World, and is set in one location with a cast of seven characters. The implication is that what happens in the cabin will have significant consequences for the rest of the world, giving Shyamalan the high stakes he enjoys exploring in films such as The Happening and Signs. However, the restraint of the film’s smaller scale allows him to focus on the characters and their dynamics, an area where he has proven to excel in the past.
Shyamalan delves into some of his favourite topics, such as faith and climate change, but with a focus on horror within a confined space and dynamic performances that keep the audience on edge. Dave Bautista steals the show with his portrayal of Leonard, who, along with his associates, must force a family to decide which member they will sacrifice to save the world. Bautista delivers one of his best performances, conveying the internal struggle of his character as he performs horrible acts while regretting each action he takes.
While Shyamalan is often known for his reliance on twists, Knock at the Cabin shows that he can make a solid, tense, and engaging thriller without resorting to any tricks. By simplifying the story and honing in on character development, Shyamalan proves that he can produce a gripping film that keeps the audience engaged without relying on gimmicks.
5. The Visit (2015)
For many Shyamalan fans, 2015’s The Visit was a proper return to form for their favourite filmmaker. While The Visit might not have some of the more enduring Shyamalan trademarks – like any amount of psychological discourse – the movie proved an intense horror flick that revitalized the decaying found-footage horror genre – and Shyamalan’s career with it.
4. Unbreakable (2000)
Unbreakable proved that M. Night Shyamalan could step outside his comfort zone if he wanted, delivering one of the most emotionally touching superhero stories ever filmed. Starring Bruce Willis as a man that appears to be, well, unbreakable. Samuel L. Jackson also plays the role of Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass – the perfect foil to an indestructible man. An all-around great film that should be seen by anyone – especially Marvel and DC fans.
3. Signs (2002)
Beyond the aliens’ disappointing weakness (why would they invade the only planet in the solar system with oceans if water can kill them?) Signs is a solid psychological thriller that explores all the things that make us humans – and how they all shatter once we come face to face with a threat that defies the very notion of humanity.
If The Visit revitalized Shyamalan’s career after a series of blunders, then Split cemented his reputation as a modern master of the psychological thriller. As the second part of the Shyamalanverse, Split is widely considered superior to its peers (Unbreakable and Glass,) a feat that also comes thanks to James McAvoy’s brilliant performance as a man with multiple personalities.
1. The Sixth Sense (1999)
It’s hard to describe just how strong of a cultural impact The Sixth Sense had when it was released. This unconventional ghost story brought Shyamalan’s name into the limelight and elevated him to the position where he is today.
For a filmmaker to strike gold with his first widely-released film is something that happens once every generation, it seems. The fact that The Sixth Sense remains M. Night Shyamalan’s most influential movie to date says a lot about the enduring quality of its narrative – and why so many horror buffs still consider it the best ghost film ever produced.
Rewatch The Village & You’ll Realise It’s M Night Shyamalan’s Best Film
Let’s be honest, we were all really hard on M Night Shyamalan’s The Village. With so much hype and everyone looking for a shocking twist, we forgot to pay attention to the film’s beautiful cinematography, the brilliant performances and, of course, the actual story being told.
Every filmmaker who has produced more than one movie has developed a signature style – a trademark that can be found in each of their works. Just consider Tim Burton and his fascination with monochrome landscapes, or Wes Anderson and his keen eye for detail and symmetry.
Then, we have directors like M. Night Shyamalan. These creators, while lacking a distinctive visual style, hide their trademarks in how they tell their stories. In Shyamalan’s case, everyone knows that the man just loves his plot twists. This is all fine and all, but there can be some issues when a filmmaker falls victim to their own limitations, or even worse, to what audiences expect from their works. That’s more or less what happened with The Village, one of M Night Shyamalan’s most disproportionately vilified films.
For context, The Village was released at a challenging moment for Shyamalan’s career. Hot of the successes of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, it seemed like the filmmaker could do no wrong – until Signs came around. That movie was mocked for its weak plot and strange characters, not to mention the unsatisfactory plot twist of the aliens’ weakness.
It was clear that The Village needed to be a success, which is why Shyamalan went above and beyond with the production design of his sixth major film. In terms of presentation and costume design, none of Shyamalan’s films, before or after, has come close to what we saw in The Village.
Once you look past the plot’s shortcomings – because no movie is without its flaws – you’ll find that M. Night Shyamalan has managed to craft a breathtaking society of fascinating characters and complex social structures. Perhaps, the best way to describe The Village would be to call it a modern fairytale. Had the movie been released a few years later, maybe under A24’s banner, we’d be seeing raving reviews for it left and right.
Ironically, The Village falls victim to M Night Shyamalan himself. People wanted to see the movie not because of its spectacular cinematography, or for its fascinating production design, but because they wanted to see what sort of plot twist Shyamalan was going to conjure up next.
Generally speaking, Shyamalan does a great work of hiding what the twist is going to be in most of his movies. Some of the weaker ones, like The Happening or Signs, don’t rely excessively on their twists, just because they have almost no bearing on the plot whatsoever. However, in The Village, the twist changes everything for the characters involved in the story. This only makes it even worse when Shyamalan gives it away early on in the film.
Spoiler alert: there are no creatures living in the woods surrounding the village. The whole thing was a ploy by the elders, who are aware that they live in a secluded society that’s set to resemble a 19th-century town, but it’s actually deep in the woods in modern times.
This all sounds great and all, but Shyamalan reveals the twist midway through the plot, answering the questions of those in the audience that went to see the flick only because they wanted to see Shyamalan’s next twist ending. Even the marketing for The Village promised a similar unexpected conclusion to that of The Sixth Sense, paying little to no attention to some of the more praiseworthy elements of the film.
If you’re in the mood for one of the most finely crafted period thrillers ever made, and you’ve already seen The Witch, then definitely consider giving The Village a watch. It’s nowhere near as bad as some people say, even if it doesn’t have the killer trees from M. Night Shyamalan’s best comedy movie, The Happening.
One of Shyamalan’s most famous movies is The Sixth Sense, which stars Haley Joel Osment as a young boy who can see and communicate with dead people. This movie was a huge success and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Another popular movie by Shyamalan is Signs, which stars Mel Gibson as a former priest who discovers mysterious crop circles in his field. These movies were well-received by audiences and critics alike.
Shyamalan’s The Village stars Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard as residents of a secluded village that lives in fear of the creatures that surround them. Another popular movie by Shyamalan is Lady in the Water, which stars Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard as a man who discovers a mysterious woman in his apartment complex swimming pool. These movies were both successful at the box office and were praised for their unique storytelling and twists.
Shyamalan’s Unbreakable stars Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a man who discovers he has superhuman strength after surviving a train crash. Samuel L. Jackson also stars in the movie as Elijah Price, a man with a rare bone disorder who believes he is a supervillain. This movie was well-received by audiences and critics and is considered a cult classic.
Another popular Shyamalan movie is Split, which stars James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with 23 distinct personalities. Anya Taylor-Joy and Haley Lu Richardson also star in the movie as two of Crumb’s captives. This movie was praised for its performances and unique storytelling and was successful at the box office.
One of Shyamalan’s latest movies is Old, which stars Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, and Alex Wolff. The movie is about a group of vacationers who discover a secluded beach that causes them to age rapidly. This movie was well-received by audiences and critics and is considered a return to form for Shyamalan.
Shyamalan has worked with many talented actors throughout his career, including William Hurt, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Sigourney Weaver, Zooey Deschanel, Ben Aldridge, Jonathan Groff, and Dave Bautista. Shyamalan’s movies are known for their unique storytelling and twist endings, and his films often explore themes of identity, trauma, and the supernatural.
In conclusion, M. Night Shyamalan is a talented filmmaker who has produced many successful movies throughout his career. Shyamalan’s unique storytelling style and twist endings have made him a beloved and respected figure in the film industry. Whether you’re a fan of anime series, superhero origin stories, or just a good thriller, there’s a Shyamalan movie out there for everyone.