Surprise! Happy Birthday, M. Night Shyamalan
Here at Nightmare on Film Street, we love to celebrate the most influential creators in the world of genre film. Today is no different as we celebrate the birth of one of the most innovative, and polarizing, directors in modern cinema: M. Night Shyamalan.
Born August 6th 1970, Shyamalan burst on to the scene in 1999 with the success of his third film, the supernatural mystery The Sixth Sense. The film was both a critical and commercial success, earning 6 Oscar nominations and a whopping $672 million at the box office. The Sixth Sense also changed the landscape of genre cinema with it’s mind-scrambling twist. A surprise ending that would eventually become Shyamalan’s signature style. Over the years, Shyamalan’s name has even become a pop culture reference, used as a verb when a movie or life reveals a perspective altering twist. Example: “My best friend is actually my reincarnated Iguana from 4th grade, I just got Shyamalaned!
But M. Night Shyamalan’s career isn’t based solely off twists. The writer/director’s filmography is substantially unique, combining his inventive story premises with a myriad of different film genres from pseudo-superhero to found footage. It would also be an understatement to say M. Night’s career has been unpredictable. Two films on his resumé are often regarded the best in their respective genres, while others have been called “the worst movie of all time”. So as we celebrate M. Night Shyamalan’s birthday, let’s break it down by ranking his filmography! NOTE: I’m not including his first two films since they are so small and not really genre-driven. Also watch out for spoilers, duh. It’s a Shyamalan list.
10. The Last Airbender (2010)
Oof, this thing is bad. I’d say not by coincidence, Shyamalan’s only non-original property ends up at the bottom of the list. Some will say because of the white-washing, some will say the wonky 3D effects, but I say it boils down to not following the source material. Shyamalan claimed to be a big fan of the show, but character and plot inconsistencies in the film seem to say otherwise. Don’t agree? That’s absolutely fine. Let us here all about it in the comments below!
9. After Earth (2013)
Ironically, the word on the street is that Will Smith convinced Shyamalan to do this movie when texting him on his birthday. BE ON ALERT TODAY SHYAMALAN! After Earth is a particular low point because after this, the world was wondering if M. Night had anything left in him. He had a string of underwhelming films leading up to this one and After Earth is the equivalent of a very long sigh. There is just no energy or life in this film, with a twist that doesn’t help since he pretty much recycled it from The Village. BUT! A twist none the less. And who doesn’t like a 3rd act twist??
8. Lady in the Water (2006)
It’s hard to defend a movie involving a “Narf” named Story looking for The Author while trying to get home and avoid being killed by a Scrunt (yes, that is indeed the real plot), but I give this movie a little more slack than others. Some call it Shyamalan’s most pretentious and self-indulgent film, I call it ambition. Which is always respectable, even if it doesn’t fully execute because at least he was definitely trying to tell an interesting story. Also, Paul Giamatti was pretty solid as usual.
7. The Happening (2008)
The Happening isn’t exactly what one would call a “good movie”, however: it’s a very fun movie. Sporting a low 14% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the only critics that seemed to enjoy this film viewed it as a B-Film, almost a “so bad it’s good” movie. So if you think of it that way and buy into the idea of Mark Wahlberg as a scientist trying to survive killer plants, you can easily have a great time watching this movie. Invite some friends and crack open a few beers for optimal viewing!
6. Signs (2002)
At the time of release, Signs was pretty well received. Lately, it’s been the subject of debate to whether it hold up or not, specifically the “twist”. But all in all, Signs is a pretty good movie. I loved the idea of telling a family drama with the added element of aliens. The film is also a masterclass in suspense, with multiple scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat. The scene showing the birthday party footage of the alien still gives me chills just thinking about it.
5. The Village (2004)
I guess this is my controversial ranking for this list. When people complain about The Village, it’s literally only criticism of the twist. The whole time we are invested in the monsters surrounding the woods, it turned out to be The Elders doing it to convince the villagers to stay in and not discover we were in present times the whole time. To me, that’s terrifying in itself and I also commend Shyamalan on convincing the audience we were watching a period piece. The film also features a fantastic score, fun creature designs (even if they were fake), and a supremely eerie trailer.
4. The Visit (2015)
May be a bit high for this one, but seeing this in theaters was an absolute blast. Not sure if it was from the low expectations I had going in or the effective use of found footage, but The Visit is just good ol’ creepy fun. We saw M. Night go back to his roots, where he had to get inventive to overcome the small budget. Some theories even speculate that the film was satire of himself and his career to an extent. Loved the premise and the movie is filled with genuinely unsettling moments, including one involving an old person diaper. The Visit was a return to form for Shyamalan, even easing up on his usual twist ending (it’s not even a twist, really).
3. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Probably gonna get some flack for the placement of (debatably) Shyamalan’s best film, but I still appreciate The Sixth Sense immensely. This movie not only blasted off M. Night’s career, it would be the one to make his name synonymous with plot twists. And though it’s almost become a meme, it can’t be understated how monumental this movie was to cinema in the way he pulled off the twist. Only reason it’s at #3 is because past the second or third viewing, you’re not nearly as invested in the film because the twist really did change the scope of the entire film (In my opinion). The Sixth Sense is still fantastic th
ough, held together by a tight script and Oscar-nominated performances from Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette.
2. Unbreakable (2000)
Another film that could be argued as his best, especially for reasons I’ll get to in a second, Unbreakable is one of the most unique of all his films. Coming out the same year as X-Men and 8 years before Iron Man really kicked off the superhero craze, Shyamalan broke into the comic book movie genre with one of his own. Even more fascinating, was disguising it and grounding it in reality. It’s not even til the final 15 minutes that you discover what you’re actually watching. Unbreakable creates an interesting world, with top notch performances from Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, respectively. Shyamalan tapped into what it really means to be a hero and overcoming adversity, something he would have to do himself many years later. Luckily, Shymalan would do just that when he eventually returned to this world…
1. Split (2017)
Are you shocked to see this movie at #1? Just like you were surprised at the end of Split to find out it was a secret sequel to Unbreakable? Probably so! Not the fan favorite for the top spot, but it’s definitely the film that got you back on board with Shyamalan if The Visit didn’t do so already. Even before the twist, I already loved everything about Split. Anchored by a powerhouse performance by James McAvoy, the movie is intense thriller filled to the brim with tension.
The premise behind getting kidnapped by someone with 23 personalities was already horrifying, but then what the hell is The Beast!? Split keeps you guessing the entire film until you figure out what’s going on, but then the reveal just takes it to entirely new level. On top of that, this movie probably has the best production of any of his previous films. The dread-filled score and cinematography complimented Shyamalan’s story nicely. Top to bottom, a great piece of horror. I remember feeling so proud that after years of defending him, M. Night Shyamalan was officially back and created a cinematic universe right under our noses. But it’s still not his best contribution to cinema…
What!? This isn’t the end of the list!!!
In 1999, the same year Shyamalan was soaring to new heights with the success of The Sixth Sense, M. Night was secretly working on another project that would go on to shape a generation…Stuart Little. Before he was a household name, Shyamalan served as a ghostwriter on a few projects in the late 90s. Yes, that’s right, M. Night Shyamalan co-wrote the movie that would spawn 2 sequels, an animated series, and the career of Jonathan Lipnicki. Sure he wasn’t around around for any later installments, but Shyamalan’s contributions laid the foundation to the franchise that would momentarily steal the hearts of America. This was an achievement for Shyamalan, being a ghost and writing a successful family film. It not only broke the stigma around ghostwriters, but reanimated Shyamalan back to life so he could have a successful directing career. Which, if you think about it, makes M. Night Shyamalan a zombie. Boom, you’ve just been Shyamalaned!
There you have it people, my ranking of M. Night Shyamalan’s films. I can’t wait so see where Glass ends up on here. But enough about my list, what about you? How do you rank his filmography? Does the fact that he’s a zombie change your list? Tell us living un-dead folks here at Nightmare on Film Street your rankings on Twitter or our super cool Facebook group!