What’s Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

Published 2 years ago by , Updated June 5th, 2013 at 6:57 am,

m night shyamalan after earth career Whats Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

[Now that M. Night Shyamalan is making headlines again for After Earth, we thought it would be an opportune time to revisit this article – most of which was originally written back when The Last Airbender had opened in theaters – Ed.]

You might feel pity for M. Night Shyamalan, now that a string of poorly-received films has left his artistic reputation in shambles (with critics and many general moviegoers, anyway). Case in point: Sony went out of its way to avoid mentioning his involvement – as the co-screenwriter and director – in the marketing campaign for After Earth; though, that didn’t help to prevent Will & Jaden Smith’s sci-fi survival parable from experiencing a smaller-than-expected opening weekend at the box office.

What factors are to blame for the sharp (and painful) turn around in Shyamalan’s artistic standing, over the past decade? We’ll begin to answer that question by going back further in time, to examine the film that he’s (still) best associated with today – the 1999 ghost drama The Sixth Sense.


The Sixth Sense

sixth sense osment willis Whats Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis in ‘The Sixth Sense’

The Sixth Sense is all but the definition of a sleeper hit. It featured Bruce Willis in a non-action role alongside then-unknown child actor Haley Joel Osment and indie actresses Toni Collette and Olivia Williams. Shyamalan had previously written and directed two little-seen films – Praying With Anger and Wide Awake – and had yet to prove that he could deliver a hit at the box office.

How then did The Sixth Sense manage to gross $26.7 million in its first weekend of release? Well, looking back at the film’s original trailer, it was exceptionally well-constructed and made the film appear to be a terse and spooky thriller that is heavy on atmosphere (and well-executed scares):

Besides being well-received critically, The Sixth Sense became a pop sensation that claimed the U.S. box office crown for five consecutive weeks, grossed almost $673 million worldwide, and earned Shyamalan Oscar nods for his writing and directing. However, I remember that there were two things that moviegoers just could not stop discussing: Osment’s performance and – of course – that legendary “twist ending.”

Sixth Sense established some important things about Shyamalan the storyteller, in particular:

  1. He enjoys playing with – then defying - what he believes to be the audience’s expectations.
  2. The stories he tells are very much allegorical in nature, above all else.

Cut to the present, and Sixth Sense holds up as a creepy – if, admittedly, kind of ponderous at times – story about people coming to terms with their painful pasts (e.g. “ghosts”) through open communication with one another.

Unfortunately, because the big twist is so well-known nowadays – or, at the least, most first-time viewers know there’s a surprise ending going in – the film struggles to have as much impact as it did upon its original release.



Sam Jackson in Unbreakable Whats Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Unbreakable’

Shyamalan really began to establish his reputation as a secretive filmmaker with his followup to The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable.  The teaser for the film (which you can watch below) was moody and mysterious – with just some expository dialogue that hinted what the flick was about – and, naturally, moviegoers with the memory of The Sixth Sense fresh on their minds, were intrigued.

Unbreakable was not the same level of hit – critically or financially – as The Sixth Sense; nonetheless, it secured Shyamalan’s place as someone interested in crafting thoughtful, character-oriented allegories through the lens of genre movies. The film has since gained a (semi-)cult following, in part because it is a “superhero movie” that delves deep into the philosophical implications of an inhumanly-powered being (re: destiny, responsibility, etc.) – albeit, fully-grounded in a real-world setting.

There were certain problems that popped up in Unbreakable that began to hint at Shyamalan’s limitations as a filmmaker. Shymalan’s approach remained as personal and deeply-felt as ever, yet his movies were already starting to walk that fine line between compelling storytelling and the cinematic equivalent of a soapbox sermon (which is rarely, if ever, a good thing).

Furthermore, there’s long been disagreement over whether the twist ending is a compelling development – or just an all-too familiar spin on the classic hero/villain dichotomy (one that’s meant to be more profound than it actually is). That debate, of course, is still ongoing today but, moving on…

Continue to the first “Signs” of trouble…

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  1. Any artist will tell you that he needs to go back to his roots. Avoid a big budget project and work on something that had made you successful wehn you first started. I don;t know him to say that he is not using his heart and he is doing it for the money but I think he should start a project from the ground and pour all his heart to it.
    Michael Bay is not afraid of working with a lesser budget like Pain and Gain, yet the movie was (imho) was enjoyable. I hope he succeed because at the end of the day, if he does, we will get to watch good movies like the sixth sense. :)

  2. I think he needs to go back to his roots and see why he was successful then, and why he’s terrible now.

    • Like Kunta Kinte, M Night needs to go back to his roots.

  3. Um M.Night was never good sorry its true though those movies were a fluke

    • I completely agree.

      I honestly don’t think he is capable of directing. His one direction to his actors has got to be “Just stare blank face, speak slowly and don’t emote with your voice or face.” … “NO, do NOT move your effing eyebrows! That’s too much emoting!”

      Even in Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, everyone acted in this manner (expect Donnie Wahlberg). I think the stories were terrific actually. The quality of the stories rapidly declined and stayed that way, but because he can’t direct, we noticed it more, and it wasn’t new and “moody” anymore like in his previous films. Just a bunch of people who acted like robots speaking lines.

      He really needs to go away as a director.

      • I think that is pretty much it; He has never been a strong director but his first few ‘hits’ were based on good stories that hid his flaws. As the stories declined in quality drastically so too did the quality of his movies.

  4. He ended up being more like the next George Lucas. Great ideas poorly executed and an ego that won’t stop.

    • We can only hope that M Night doesn’t decide to go back and start “fixing” The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable because they weren’t *really* what he wanted them to be. Because that would suck.

      • Haha here’s hoping!

  5. I’m surprised anyone hires this guy to direct a move. His movies suck!

  6. I’m surprised anyone would hire this guy at this point

  7. he needs to more true too story, i did like some parts of air bender, but didn’t get right with casting, nothing like characters, of cartoon version, and after earth have not seen, will waite until comes out on dvd

  8. Nothing “happened” to him. He’s always been a self-absorbed director. He has merely continued that with his latest film

  9. He needs to make something small on an indie budget and prove he still has the “magic” and can make something great. That said, I still enjoyed most of his movies.

  10. M. Night is the new George Lucas whose early work as a director provoked interest, but whose talent exponenially revealed an alarming lack thereof. Could he see this? Arrogance and self-awareness do not go hand-in-hand.

    And like Lucas… Shyamalan strengths seem to lie (of course, to a different degree) in originating stories and producing them as films.

    I recently watched UNBREAKABLE for the second time since the film’s release and marveled at the craftsmanship: the proper beats of the narrative brilliantly accented by James Newton Howard’s magnificent score. The allegorical theme of heroes and villains holds up extremely well. It’s like Lucas with EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. After that….

    • Nice comparison, Unbreakable to Empire.

    • Lucas didn’t direct Empire Strikes Back.

    • I’m with Slayer on this one George Lucas didn’t direct Empire nor Return of The Jedi. He was only around to see the progression of development he didn’t have time to direct since he was busy building his LucasFilms LTD business.

      • No the motion picture racket wouldn’t let him direct. I can’t remember why but they said he couldn’t do it.

  11. He was a one hit wonder.

    Everything other than the sixth sense has been crap.

    He should count his blessing and retire.

    • LOL K.

  12. I still love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and I say Signs is better than it’s recent reputation but The Village, The Lady In The Water and The Happening are truly awful and I can usually find something positive in any movie.
    IMO Night’s his own worst enemy. His reported ego and refusal to budge over issues with his films doesn’t help his reputation either.
    Strangely though I still say there’s hope for the guy. If he got his hands on a thriller (written by someone else) that doesn’t have some sort of twist I’m sure he could put together something decent. He has talent, he just needs to realize that talent alone doesn’t always produce victory.

  13. What happened is he makes terrible movies…he’s even a worse director then Tim Burton.

  14. Still can’t forgive this guy for butchering Avatar (Last Airbender)

  15. What happened to M. Night Shyamalan.???? The Village is what happened. It was hyped up to no end…and then fell below expectations.

  16. Strangely to some, the only M Night movie I haven’t liked so far was The Last Airbender, otherwise, I’ve liked them all and found both Devil and Lady In The Water as equal in my “fave M Night” movies.

    I refuse to see After Earth though purely because Jaden Smith is in it and I find him incredibly annoying.

    • I love Lady in the Water.

      • Truth be told, there are parts of Lady in the Water that I really do like, but I also understand where a lot of the detractors are coming from.

        Actually, that pretty much sums up how I’ve felt about most of Shyamalan’s recent films. Like I said, he really does have a distinct storyteller’s voice that cannot be completely dismissed. If nothing else, it’s impressive that the debates about him as a filmmaker still tend to be so passionate. After all, one of the worst things for an artist is for people to be indifferent about their work (good or bad).

        • Very true!

  17. What happened to me!? My ideas are genius! Like here is an example from my next movie about terrorists.

    “How about we make everyone think that terrorists attacked us? But really, we were all already dead.”

    “But what if Al-Qaeda, it turns out, is the group being terrorized? By aliens?”

    No no wait it’s this.

    “What if… What if it turns out they aren’t terrorists? But they’re actually werewolves? From the future?”

    What a twist. It’s pure gold!

    • I wanna watch everyone of those movies……..or is that one movie…..f!! K it i’ll watch it anyways.

  18. I believe the six sense has a great twist but isnt a great movie. It has almost 0 rewatch value
    And of the twist is ruined for you (much like it was for me since i saw it well after its release) then the movie isnt that special.

  19. I don’t care what has happened to MNS or why! What I care is who the f*** keeps giving him money to do these lousy movies!!!?

    • I agree with you. Why keep giving him money? I believe in second chances, third chances even. Most of us have been given second chances. However M. Nite hasn’t picked up the ball & ran w it. The studios should use him as an idea man. Take 3 of his scripts, give them to competent directors, & if there successful, maybe give M. Nite a small budget to do a personnel story of his own. If not……

  20. I place the blame equally on M. Night’s downfall on two factors… His ego and Hollywood marketing. HE believed his own hype, and as a result couldn’t admit when he was in over his head (i.e. directing big budget blockbusters). Execs in Hollyweird STILL decided to pump up everything he did as “Hitchcockian Genius” even though the flaws in his game were already apparent (casting himself in key roles, poor script writing, not being a big budget blockbuster director).

    Like kids in Boy Bands, or Justin Bieber, I can’t fault M. Night for taking the money and opportunities he did when all these people kept pumping up all his films….. Every film was “Going back to his Sixth Sense roots”, every film was “the triumphant return”…. Hell they even talked up Devil in that same “From the Director of Sixth Sense” way, and really didn’t even mention that someone else directed it (quickly without looking it up…. who directed this film?).

    This article is correct, he still does have a cinematic voice that should be listened too, however collaboration is a word he needs to learn….. OR… if he does another film, market the film without all the “From the director of Sixth Sense and Unbreakable”… just promote the film and not who directed it, maybe if people don’t walk into a movie feeling like “oh this is going to suck cause it’s Shamalamadingdong” or even worse “I heard this will be like The Sixth Sense”, than maybe we can enjoy his films again……. Oh and STOP GIVING HIM BIG BUDGET BLOCKBUSTERS!!!!!!

  21. The problem with M. Night is he started to believe the hype about himself right at the beginning. He had no chance to develop. He went straight to auteur. He kept trying to replicate his success with the same formula (twist ending etc.)

  22. The complainers need a reality check cause his films have been brilliant. Its sick how people jump on the bandwagon when it comes to bashing someones work. He doesn’t have to have a twist in every film. The only reason I didn’t watch After Earth was cause of Will Smith and his son.

  23. I could not even finish watching the last airbender it was so bad.

  24. Honestly, I liked everything through The Village. He started losing me with Lady in the Water. And The Happening was him driving off the cliff.

  25. Between ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘The Village’ Shyamalan was a fresh and exciting talent who made personal and refreshingly character-driven films that still had mass commercial appeal… but after the latter film in 2004 (perhaps before that), his ego went supernova, as did his objectivity, and he went on a self-inflicted career suicide run that seemingly has yet to run it’s course!

    He was offered ‘Life of Pi’ on a silver platter by FOX, and was seriously considering doing it after ‘The Village’ even going so far as to say he felt such a strong connection to the material and almost felt it was providence it fell unto his creative lap (how’s that for delusions of grandeur)… but he turned it down in favor of the ill-judged (despite starring the great Paul Giamatti) ‘Lady in the Water’ and the rest is history unfortunately!

    Shyamalan’s monumental ego is what undid his one shining star, and it won’t regain it’s lustre until he puts that ego in a box and gets back to what made him such a fresh and distinct talent to begin with… whether he does or not remains to be seen…

    • Thank God he didn’t touch The Life of Pi!!!!

  26. I feel like he has the heart of a filmmaker, just not the ability. He needs to let other people realize his ideas. I’m wondering if studio or another party’s input was what made his first movies good, and if creative freedom is what’s ruining them now.

  27. i feel bad, but i can’t help but think his career is going to end with him giving a beretta a blow job.

  28. Amateur who got lucky then masturbated by putting himself in his films, but blew his load and everyone started to realize the decreasing value of his films.
    Still smugly smelling his farts he continued to do films until his attempt at the beloved kids show avatar, which he raped and butchered and finally showed he doesnt really know what hes doing.

  29. I’ve always really liked The Village. I understand its detractors, but generally I think it is a really smart and simple film that works if you’re not expecting a thriller. It reads to me like a decent short story, although Shyamalan was certainly struggling with the direction. The narrative is as crowded by paradigmatic shifts as it is barren of detail, which is equal-parts frustrating and intriguing. He doesn’t quite achieve what he’s hoping to, but it works for me.