The Rise and Fall of M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan has become synonymous with twist endings. And he also produced and directed some really great movies along the years. But this has changed. This is the story of Shyamalan’s rise and fall.

Certainly the movie that made him famous in the world of Hollywood is The Sixth Sense – a movie written and directed by him. The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis, earned over 600 million dollars against a budget of 40 million dollars. It was also a critical success, being nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, best director and best original script.

The Sixth Sense was followed by Unbreakable (2000), starring the same Bruce Willis – an insight into the genesis of superhero, heavily inspired by comic books. Unbreakable enjoyed critical and commercial success, and this one is my personal favorite among Shyamalan’s movies. Maybe because the story is simple, maybe because we have clear characters, perfectly outlined, maybe it is because we have Samuel L. Jackson as the villain, or simply for the fantastic scene in which David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is lifting weights in his basement.

Two years later Shyamalan wrote, produced, and directed Signs, a SF thriller starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Once again, both critical and commercial success for Shyamalan. We can, to some extent, consider Signs as being the last really good movie made by the American producer.

What happened after that, I’m not really sure.

The Village, even though it was successful at the box office, failed to impress the critics.

But I think that Lady in the Water (2006) broke any links between Shyamalan and movie critics. The movie, in which Shyamalan himself appears — he does make cameo appearances in most of his movies, but this one was a bitter attempt at ridiculing those who don’t like his movies, was the first of his movies to fail at the box office.

Over the years, Shyamalan’s arrogance grew to such an extent that in 2004 he was involved in a scandal, when Sci-Fi Channel made a documentary about a childhood accident in which the producer was involved, giving him the capability to communicate with ghosts. Of course, it was eventually proven to be just a hoax, a marketing technique used for The Village.

What’s really startling is that Shyamalan always received financing for his movies, hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, even when the movies he was producing failed to obtain any profits. And we’re talking about the same industry in which great directors/producers struggle to find the financing needed for their projects – Darren Aronofsky comes to mind.

In 2008, The Happening is released. A SF thriller about a mysterious toxin, which drives people to suicide, the movie was universally paned by critics ( the movie holds a 18% rating on RottenTomatoes, very small compare to 85%, the rating for The Sixth Sense). At the box office, The Happening obtained 160 million dollars worldwide, compared to a budget of 60 million.

I honestly can’t explain what happened with Shyamalan, the young producer who awed both critics and fans with one of the best twist endings ever made (The Sixth Sense), that he actually received a rating of 6% for The Last Airbender, a movie who benefited from a 150 million dollar production budget, 130 million dollar marketing budget, and grossed roughly 319 million dollars worldwide —  and you should consider that out of this gross revenue, approximately 20-25% to 45-55% go to the cinemas.

Devil, launched in 2010, only produced by M. Night Shyamalan, and based on one of his stories ( even though the script was written by Brian Nelson), grossed 60 million dollars, a good sum compared to the 10 million dollar budget. The movie received mixed reviews from the critics, but I’m hoping that this might actually motivate Shyamalan to produce better films.

After all, we’re talking about a man, who at the peak of his carrer, rejected Spielberg’s offer to write the script for the fourth Indiana Jones movie, a producer who received huge amounts of money to produce his movies.

We can only wait and see if his next movies will be better, but I strongly believe that he should leave the acting to those who, probably, are better at it than he is.

Disclaimer: This article originally appeared on, a website dedicated to movie reviews and news about the world of cinema, a website which died abruptly a few months after its launch.


5 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of M. Night Shyamalan

  1. I am someone who is very easily impressed and it doesn't take a lot for me to like a movie. Even movies that critics panned can be liked by me. But Shyamalan is a curious case. Even though I am easily impressed, I still think that The Happening and The Last Airbender sucked, big time. But I loved Devil though. Very scary with that classic Shyamalan twist.


  2. Well from The Sixth Sense to Devil, the director has indeed come a long way… and downs of the journey (well mostly downs only), made his journey a bumpy one for sure….for both him and his audiences, that were eagerly taken in by his talent right from his directorial venture.

    But I liked the last thought that, at least after the minor success that Devil was able to garner (which was indeed an interesting film) he might return with the idea of making another success story…. the falls and one ray of hope might motivate him to push for better work.


  3. I was sad for Shyamalan, until he ruined The Last Airbender. Now I'm just pissed at him, and the people who decided to place him in charge of such an amazing story.


  4. I never was into Shymalan, largely because when you get past the fact that Sixth Sense is pretty sweet in its underlying message, or that Unbreakable has a fine theme, they're really just both hackneyed scenarios: Last Airbender blew hard, my brain just stopped processing it at one point, i think. So, nice post, reminds me of Tim Brayton, vaguely.


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