After Glass, here’s a definitive ranking of every M Night Shyamalan film
From his stunning breakout film, The Sixth Sense, to his latest, the trilogy capper Glass, here’s a ranking of every film directed by M Night Shyamalan.
The twists and turns that M Night Shyamalan’s career has taken are befitting a man who has made a name for himself for pulling the rug out from under our feet. Once the bright-eyed wunderkind destined to take over his hero, Steven Spielberg’s mantle, Shyamalan was all but written off after a series of critical disasters.
Glass, his trilogy capper almost 20 years in the making, finds him at his most plodding. Instead of transporting his fans back to when they first became admirers of his, Glass feels like an afterthought; a strange superhero movie that is happier listening to its characters talk than watching them do anything, a film whose ‘grand finale’ teases an epic showdown between its three characters, and instead settles for a parking lot brawl.
For years, the excuse Hollywood made for the box office underperformance of Unbreakable, Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense follow-up, was that it was way ahead of its time, offering an insider’s look at a culture that was still very niche. Almost 20 years and 20 Marvel movies later, we are currently in a Golden Age of Superhero Movies, and Shyamalan, unfortunately for him, has fallen behind.
Regardless of the film’s quality, Glass is expected to become the first blockbuster of 2019, but here’s a fun fact: most of his films are box office successes, even the bad ones.
So with all of us up to date on our M Night, here’s a look back at his films, starting from worst to best.
As a fierce Shyamalan apologist – you’ll find out why soon enough – this was the film which made me cut all ties. After Earth is a dull, plodding science-fiction movie that doubles as a prominent reminder that nepotism isn’t a Bollywood thing. Based on a story idea by Will Smith, After Earth is a shameless vehicle for his son, Jaden (who hasn’t starred in a film since). After the disastrous The Last Airbender, the most common advice most people hurled at Shyamalan was that he should perhaps consider directing someone else’s script, which he did. It didn’t work.
Every Shyamalan completist must make it their life’s mission to track down his first film. If nothing else, Wide Awake serves as a serviceable introduction to the aesthetic and themes he will later become famous for, such as faith and spirituality. It is also without doubt, besides Stuart Little (which he wrote), the oddest film in his filmography.
Lady in the Water
While it is commonly acknowledged that Shyamalan’s downfall began with The Village in 2004, it was in fact his 2006 fantasy-drama, Lady in the Water that sank his career (at least for a while). It is a showcase for his worst tendencies as a filmmaker – self-indulgence, poor writing, all riddled with delusions of grandeur.
If you think about it, had Shyamalan maintained a stronger hold on the film’s tone, it could’ve played like a cousin to A Quiet Place, with which it shares many similarities. But thanks to Mark Wahlberg’s asinine performance, and Shyamalan’s mind-numbing self-seriousness, The Happening deserved to be as widely mocked as it was.
Glass is undone by its laughably inept final act, which squanders a solid hour-and-a-half of engrossing, and unexpected drama. Set mostly inside closed spaces - perhaps a refection to its three lead characters, all of whom are trapped within themselves and the mental facility at which they’re kept – Glass is a rather unique superhero movie, one that favours psychology of these characters over flashy action.
Shyamalan was forced to self-finance The Visit, his micro-budged 2015 horror comedy, after his name became poison among audiences. Such was the venom that his one-time fans had for him after The Last Airbender, that his name was removed from any prominent position from the After Earth marketing. It was rumoured that the trailer for Devil, his 2010 production, was met with boos when it announced that it was ‘from the mind of M Night Shyamalan’. The Visit was seen as a welcome step in the right direction for him, despite its telegraphed twist ending.
Signs is pure Shyamalan, a story of epic scope, yet so intimate. But this is what he has always been so good at; tackling wildly ambitious ideas with real human characters. In hindsight, it also works better because as an audience, we weren’t looking out for the twist, and were instead too swept up in Shyamalan’s impeccable filmmaking to worry about what tricks he had up his sleeve.
The Last Airbender
This is going to be difficult, so hang in there. There are many reasons why you might hate The Last Airbender, especially if you’ve been a fan of the cartoon. But while others see disrespect towards the source material, I see a hunger to be independent. The Last Airbender brings Shyamalan’s preoccupations as a filmmaker full circle – it is his most direct film about spirituality, a thinly-veiled parable about Buddhism and a young boy chosen, as the Dalai Lama is, through visions and prophecies. It is a film about being burdened with immense responsibility and learning to live up to it. The action makes no sense, but has the beauty of a ballet performance, and James Newton Howard’s lush score is one of the finest of the decade.
Bogged by years of having to deliver on the promise of solid twist endings, Shyamalan made a resounding return to form with his most inventive twist in years. Like James McAvoy’s central performance as the mentally ill Kevin Wendell Crumb, Split found Shyamalan at his unchained best. Without a reputation to protect anymore, he was fiercely inventive.
The Sixth Sense
A large part of The Sixth Sense’s success is undeniably the era in which it was released. While there would be no debate about its cinematic merits, I doubt it would have been quite the phenomenon that it was had it been released now. But unloaded of all its baggage, The Sixth Sense remains one of the best breakout films of all time, a masterfully directed drama that used the supernatural not as a means to scare, but to introspect.
Breathtakingly shot by the great Roger Deakins, and featuring luxurious, violin-heavy score by James Newton Howard, The Village is perhaps Shyamalan’s most misunderstood movie. Often described as the turning point in his career, where the pressure to deliver a twist overwhelmed his sense of story, The Village sees Shyamalan taking baby steps (like its heroine) into the world of fantasy. It boasts one the strongest ensembles he has ever assembled – Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, Jesse Eisenberg and of course, Bryce Dallas Howard, just to name a few – it can be studied for every individual element, from its wonderful creature design to its subtext-laden costumes.
Literally decades ahead of its time, Unbreakable is essential viewing for anyone who has ever claimed to enjoy superhero cinema. It is a film that balances its love for comic books with unabashed nerdiness. Shyamalan has often described Unbreakable as being the first act in a traditional superhero story – it ends right around the time when the main character embraces his powers. One would assume that Split and Glass are acts two and three. In a world where an Aquaman movie can make over a billion dollars and the Avengers could, seemingly on a whim, unite the world, Unbreakable deserves better than being regarded as the forgotten Shyamalan movie.