What’s Happened To M. Night Shyamalan?

Published 1 year 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.

-

Unbreakable

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…

« 1 2 3»

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:
TAGS: After Earth, devil, the happening, the last airbender, unbreakable 2, Wayward Pines

214 Comments

Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.


If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it.

  1. personally i dont think 6th sense was that gd. i saw the twist from miles away. same with the village. lady in e water was watchable for a fairytale but the happening has got to be the worst movie i have evere watched! nothing happened! after watching it i was like ‘wtf’?!?!

    • Toally Agree About “The Sixth Sense” Good But Not That Good… “Stir Of Echoes” Was Much Better, But Had To Be Put Back From Release, Because The Story Was Of a Similar Genre… & So TSS, Took the Box Office Instead!! Shyamalan’s Films Are Garbage…. There Are Much Better Director’s Out There… Give Him A Rest For A While…

    • he will.he has a hidden talent that noones truly seen yet. You’ll see.

  2. I must respectfully disagree with this article: We do not have to “feel pity” for M. Night. His hubris when he was at the top of his game was unparalleled. (Just look at his laughable [and disturbingly narcissistic] documentary for “Signs” and his character in “Lady in the Water.”) Anyone that thinks that much of themselves deserves to fail just to be put back in their place.

  3. i guess i am alone in liking all his movies bar the happening and i have not see the airbender one.

    i actually liked the lady in the water too. something a bit different. and i enjoyed the village a lot too.

    • Signs and Lady in the Water were good. I also didn’t mind the Happening. The Village was awful though. I will still go see his movies just because they are his.

    • I agree with you. I like alk of his movies. Some are better than others. I espically like the movies that got rated the worst, lady in the water and the village. They need to finish making the last air bender. Rthat movie was great and hs action scenes were good too. I’m tirid of action scenes that change angle ever second.

  4. I love the Village. Yeah its flawed, but it has some truly great moments. The scene where she is standing at the door waiting for Phoenix to come back when the Village is getting attacked,and he runs in and grabs her hand. That is just beautiful. The scene where they are talking on the porch, and the camera is behind them, not moving once. The scene with her in the woods, and the camera zooms out and she is surrounded by the red flowers. All so beautiful. Its like the scene in Unbreakable where he carrys her to bed. Its just the music playing and her looking up at his face. He is a talented director, I don’t know what the hell happened to him though, because his recent movies are painful to watch.

  5. The biggest problem that compounded MNS’s downfall is that there was always someone who would say yes to him. You got the feeling that problems started to arise when he split with Touchstone. However, he always found someone who would bankroll his film. He seems like he’s a good idea guy, but not a great as the hands-on guy, much like Lucas. He shouldn’t write or direct his ideas, basically. He needs a partner, someone he trusts to call BS when he starts going off the rails. I don’t know if his ego can accept that though.
    It’s a shame, though, because as a Philadelphia guy, I admire what he did to raise the area’s profile as a place to make movies. I believe he deserves a lot credit for that, as a lot of movies have started to be filmed in and around Philly since he started.

  6. As a die hard Avatar the Last Air Bender fan I had so many high hopes for the film. So many great moments that could be brought to live action. Once I hear that M.Night was going to direct the film, all my hopes went down the drain. If I would have went to see the film in the theater, I would have walked out before the second act.There was so much wrong with that film it would take way to much time to go over it. M. NIght has a horrible ear for dialog and his choice of actor was just as bad. I myself would love and would topple this sad version if ever given the chance to remake the film.

    • I completely agree with you, I didn’t even know he was doing Will Smith’s movie, but once I looked up IMDB for who directed the movie an immediate hate pulse came about. He completely ruined the potential for Avatar the Last Airbender. I wish we could could try again.

  7. gotta say i loved sixth sense,Unbreakable, and Signs.i thought The Happening was something original and different then what we get year after year so i have to say i enjoyed it for that, but would have changed many things in it.Signs was two movies in one a film of aliens if you look at it one way and a film about Demons if you look at it a different way.I would love to see an Unbreakable 2 and Signs 2 where the Demons return, like they talked about in the first film.

    • I agree with you about The Happening. It gets so much hate. But to me, it trumps most “better” movies because it has an original concept. I’d take a clunky ORIGINAL movie over a polished remake any day.

  8. Ok, I’ve always thought this but I’m just going to say it…MNS gets all of the criticism he does, because he’s not White or Jewish. If Ron Howard, Joel Shumaker, Micheal Bay or J.J Abrams had made the same exact slate of films (shot for shot and line for line) the films would have made more money and any of those directors would have only got flack for the ending of the Happening and MAYBE the ending of the Village. Alfred Hitchcock did basically the same type of things, with far less talent. He was considered the best thing since Wonder Bread during his time and most of his films aren’t even considered watchable by most people in 2013…it’s so freakin ridiculous the double standard some people have to endure because of broadly accepted accepted bias. You have to be incredibly bigoted to judge a 2 hour film as harshly as many have on the last 5 minutes.

    From my standpoint all of his films are immensely entertaining and I’m quite sure 20 years from now when people aren’t all that familiar with MNS and watch “Signs” and then watch something like “Rear Window” most will pick “Signs” as the better film if they’re being honest.

    • hahaha… no…

    • nah, i cant see that. 90% of movie goers have no idea about directors anyway.

      the happening, whilst not the worst film ive seen by a long shot (anyone who says this hasnt seen some of the tripe i have) wasnt great and last airbender was a massive disappointment to its fans so thats why he is getting some stick.

      lady in the water was much better than many people gave it credit for though as was the village. both tried something different so i applaud him for that.

    • I concur. I never was a big fan of Hitchcock and feel his films don’t hold up well. I finally saw Vertigo a few weeks ago and it put me to sleep. I don’t understand the vitriol towards Shyamalan either. He has made four very good films that were also extremely financially successful; most directors would love to have that record. Orson Welles said you only need one great film to be considered a great director. The only logical explanation, as you pointed out, is jealousy and xenophobia towards the man based on his ethnic background.

    • Your crazy, I understand the reasoning behind what your saying, but your wrong. Hitchcock wasn’t that well liked for a start, he is now but he wasn’t then. Much like Kubrick he was recognised later in life, need I remind you that the Shining was nominated for two Razzies.

      The film industry has never really welcomed all ethnicities but to say that MNS gets s*** on for his race is ludicrous I mean the Sixth Sense was highly praised as was Unbreakable and IMHO they are the source of the problem here. Two incredibly strong openers perhaps have raised him on to a pedestal he wasn’t ready for, he hasn’t matured as a film-maker fast enough to keep up with his fame. No one is saying that his ideas aren’t refreshing and new, they are saying that his execution is not up to his budget.

  9. I know what happened. He joined the Taliban and they gave him the mission to destroy the American movie industry with one swift blow.”Then the Americans must fall” they shout while the empty their ak-47s in the air.But their planned failed they realized it would take several really bad movies to destroy an industry so mighty and massive. So it’s still a work in progress for m knight

    • Dude, no.

      Not cool.

    • Hahaha that might actually hold up as a theory; when this level of incompetence is involved anything is possible.

  10. I frankly think people and critics are a bit unfair with Shyamalan. Other, less talented directors don’t get such hate as him. Personally, I think none of his films were awfully bad, I mean so bad that he gets labeled as a doomed filmmaker.

  11. Sandy,when y got to ‘The Last Airbender’,I was expected y to write ’nuff said’ & move on to your next movie topic. :D

  12. Personally where I think Shyamalan was the stifling of his style by movie execs. But than, I really like allegorical stories. I am a big fan of both Signs & The Village, Signs for the characters, The Village for the story. I don’t LOVE Lady in the Water, but it was pretty cool. I think the problem with The Last Airbender was the translation of anime into full-length live action, trying to hold on to the anime style seemed like bad acting & dialogue. I know I am in the minority. I am used to it, most of my favorite films have been movies few people ever saw. And I know that film companies want huge blockbusters. But there is merit in making movies for smaller but dedicated fanbases. If Shyamalan can work with smaller budgets I think he can be a successful writer / director for a long time.

  13. I think what rankles a lot of people with Shyamalan is his need to be in *EVERY* one of his films. It suggests narcissicim. It’s a turn-off for a lot of folks and it’s opened him up to attack and vitriol. At least this is my belief.

    I loved Signs and Unbreakable and I enjoyed The Lady in the Water. Great films. I hope he can pull it together one day.

    • What’s the difference between that and Stan Lee appearing in all the Marvel films? No-one calls him narcissistic.

  14. Sandy, what movies have you directed, produced etc.?

  15. god awful he just needs to stop :( like seriously though when will he learn? :/

  16. The Last Airbender was hilarious, but unfortunately not intentionally. The story had so much promise for amazing action scenes yet we end up with choppy, terrifically lame wtf moments where you sit in the theatre gobsmacked thinking to yourself ‘did that really happen?’ A fine example is when the kid (protaganist) gets taken to the earth village and he gives out a thoroughly disturbing & poorly written dialogue to encourage the earth benders to stand up for themselves gave me goosebumps. Total classic bad scene lol

  17. Such a letdown, for such a promising directorial career. I don’t even know what to think, anymore. I mean, MNS started off so well with 6th sense. IMHO, I didn’t really like Unbreakable, especially for its twist and slow paceing atmosphere. But, Signs and, even though he didn’t direct this one, Devil, I considered them as good a come out. I really liked Devil, for it’s dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. And people, why do you even compare MNS to Hitchock? They aren’t even similar, in any way, in directing style. Yeah, twist endings maybe, but seriously, we’re talking about two directors who hadn’t their career in same decade. Meh. Getting back to MSN, wow, just wow. He regresed so drastically, I just can’t imagine what the hell was he thinking of, when he directed The last airbender and After Earth. Well, i’ll just keep hoping, that in some near future, he’ll get his feet back on Earth and direct something that will worth our times. Cheers

  18. Such a letdown, for such a promising directorial career. I don’t even know what to think, anymore. I mean, MNS started off so well with 6th sense. IMHO, I didn’t really like Unbreakable, especially for its twist and slow paceing atmosphere. But, Signs and, even though he didn’t direct this one, Devil, I considered them as good a come out. I really liked Devil, for it’s dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. And people, why do you even compare MNS to Hitchock? They aren’t even similar, in any way, in directing style. Yeah, twist endings maybe, but seriously, we’re talking about two directors who hadn’t their career in same decade. Meh. Getting back to MSN, wow, just wow. He regresed so drastically, I just can’t imagine what the hell was he thinking of, when he directed The last airbender and After Earth. Well, i’ll just keep hoping, that in some near future, he’ll get his feet back on Earth and direct something that will worth our times.

  19. Such a letdown, for such a promising directorial career. I don’t even know what to think, anymore. I mean, MNS started off so well with 6th sense. IMHO, I didn’t really like Unbreakable, especially for its twist and slow paceing atmosphere. But, Signs and, even though he didn’t direct this one, Devil, I considered them as good a come out. I really liked Devil, for it’s dark and claustrophobic atmosphere. And people, why do you even compare MNS to Hitchock? They aren’t even similar, in any way, in directing style. Yeah, twist endings maybe, but seriously, we’re talking about two directors who hadn’t their career in same decade. Getting back to MSN, wow, just wow. He regresed so drastically, I just can’t imagine what the hell was he thinking of, when he directed The last airbender and After Earth. Well, i’ll just keep hoping, that in some near future, he’ll get his feet back on Earth and direct something that will worth our times.

  20. I don’t think the Sixth Sense was THAT good a movie. But I guess one could watch it and know what was going on. I can’t say the same about the Village. That was one nightmare to go through. Needless to say after that it was all downhill from there. Can’t he just direct simple, straight forward horror movies? Like the article mentioned, he needs to go back to school and learn ALOT about making movies. Can’t they just ban this guy from making any more movies and spare the audience from his disastrous “story telling”?

  21. MNS needs to realise people actually want to be entertained, he tries too hard to be thoughtful and clever that the out come is stupid movies 6th sense was great, signs was okay then he did the village… Then I started to get worried.., after the happening that was it for me no more. I was interested in see AE Jayden smith put me off, Combo that with MNS and the movie is doomed. MNS reminds me of Oliver stone it seems the harder he tries the worse it gets … Except with Oliver stone has many more great movies under his belt, MNS has 1.

  22. I personally admire and enjoy M. Night’s unique vision as an auteur. The movies he wrote and directed are original, thought-provoking, full-of-meaning, suspenseful, and are well-crafted.

    The reason people argue that racism is at play is because NO OTHER Hollywood director is pariah’ed and outcasted the M.Night has been by film critics and the film elite ever since Lady in the Water (a beautiful film with a remarkable and diverse cast). Oliver Stone has had terrible films, but his name, like all white directors, has not become an anathema in the industry. Furthermore, M.Night is one of the ONLY filmmakers to cast diverse casts. I don’t know about you, but I VERY rarely see blockbuster films that contain 5 lead black actors the way After Earth does (the exception being Tyler Perry). Last Airbender had a pan-asian cast, and Lady in the Water had two Korean women, 7 Latino people, 2 African American men, and 2 Indian siblings (M.Night playing Vick)–this was perhaps the most DIVERSE cast I have ever witnessed in a Hollywood film without the subject of the film being race itself (Crash).

    It is pathetic the racism at play with M.Night. It’s embarrassing how namely WHITE MALE critics were/are insecure about a darker skinned person being labelled the next Steven Spielberg.

    I support M. Night. And I hope his vision isn’t too disillusioned by unfair negative criticisms he gets. I believe Last Airbender and After Earth are worse films because he wasn’t the main writer and was insecure by his terrible reputation from the film industry’s nouveau “elite.”

    After having read “The Man Who Heard Voices,” I can actively say that this article is pathetic and needs to spend time criticizing the majority of misogynistic, pseudo, and deadening content that’s in our theaters now.

  23. Could you seriously use the word “allegorical” more in this article? Talk about tedious!

  24. I actually thought Signs was his best film. I wasn’t interested in seeing Unbreakable, or in Lady in the Water, but I’ve seen most of his other “horror”. I really liked M. Night’s work. It was scary and mind blowing, and just what more horror movies should be like. High on the creep factor and low on the blood. I remember there was a time when I could count on him to deliver the good, and bring B grade cult thrills to the mainstream respectability. But gone are those days. It’s hard to be a film maker and always hit home runs, but instead of betting on if he’ll ever get good again, let’s just hope that he does.

  25. I find his work creative, suspenseful and spiritual. As far as placing himself in his films, that is a trick that Hitchcock used, so I think he does it not because he is narcissistic, but because he is expressing himself.
    I loved signs…I hope to see more of his work soon.

  26. i may have your answer

    sixth sense was taken from an episode of are you afraid of the dark titled The Tale of the Dream Girl

    i think he said it himself

  27. Shyamalan gets a bad rap. His worst movies are still superior to the video-gamish dreck that Michael Bay makes. In fact I could probably come up with 2 dozen Hollywood directors who are far worse…Rob Zombie, Uwe Boll, the Scary Movie guys, etc.

  28. Shyamalan’s problem is that he’s basically a one trick pony. The Sixth Sense worked because it was a good movie even without considering the twist ending and no one expected the twist. Now Shyamalan focuses primarily on the twist and the setup is either so obvious that anyone with more than two brain cells sees it coming a mile off (Village) or the twist tells logic to go f*ck itself (Unbreakable, Signs, and nearly every other Shyamalan movie since TSS).

  29. I think The Sixth Sense is one of the best terrifying movies — not horror, but great. It keep a person on the edge of the seat. And I disagree with the idea Unbreakable was a major slipping point. It upholds a truth – for everything good, there must be an opposite.

    The major slippage? The Village. I was so disappointed. After Signs, it was over for me.

    But I did see and liked The Last Airbender. My son was aghast that I hauled him to it. But I like fantasy, And I don’t know The Airbender series.

    Perhaps MNS was a flash in the pan. It happens. But I hope not

Be Social, Follow Us!!