Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan will soon see how his first attempt at jump-starting a potential blockbuster franchise, The Last Airbender, fares at the U.S. box office when it opens next week.

In the meantime, the filmmaker responsible for hits like The Sixth Sense and Signs is already shopping around a new original screenplay that he wrote – the details of which are being kept thoroughly under wraps for now – in the hopes of finding a potential distributor.

Shyamalan’s output over the past several years has been met with increasingly critical disdain and diminishing financial returns from moviegoers.  His last two films – the modern-day fairy tale Lady in the Water and the paranoia thriller The Happening – are held in such contempt that nowadays he’s more often than not referred to by his demeaning nickname, “M. Night Shamalamadingdong” – even by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, amusingly enough.

Despite all this, Shyamalan has already gotten three major stars – Bradley Cooper (The A-Team), Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man 2), and Bruce Willis (The Expendables) – loosely attached to his new project.  Their relative commitment to Shyamalan’s new script will surely aid the “master of twists” in his quest to convince studio heads to finance his new film. The script is so top-secret that Shyamalan supposedly has his minions standing over actors and studio execs as the read it, ready to snatch it back as soon as the last word is read. The CIA could learn a thing or two from M. Night.

Willis played the lead in Shyamalan’s breakout hit The Sixth Sense and his real-life comic book hero flick (and possibly my personal favorite of the director’s films), Unbreakable.  The action star almost took on the role that was eventually filled by Mel Gibson in Signs as well, as he very much enjoyed his previous experiences working with the director.  Here’s hoping that Willis’ newest joint effort with Shyamalan marks a return to the success of their previous collaborations.

Are Shyamalan’s best days behind him?  Well, I actually enjoyed his 2004 film The Village and I even felt okay about Lady in the Water – though all the complaints you’ve probably heard about that movie (hokey screenplay, Shyamalan’s over-inflated ego) are pretty much true.  We need not talk about the laughable failure of the B-movie/horror/thriller that was The Happening.

The success or failure of The Last Airbender will surely impact Shyamalan’s immediate future and this new project of his.  There’s long been talk that the film (if a hit) could be the first in a trilogy of Airbender movies, each of which would be based off one of the original TV show’s three seasons.  If that were to happen, Shyamalan’s involvement would seem all but assured.

Anticipation for The Last Airbender is sky-high and its PG rating will only broaden its appeal as a family-friendly, albeit action-packed, FX extravaganza.  Whether Airbender will be a big enough hit to justify two sequels and prevent Shyamalan from moving forward with development of his top-secret new project is the question of the moment.  That is, of course, assuming that Shyamalan doesn’t find a distributor in the next few weeks.

What do you think?  Do you want to see Shyamalan go back to working on films of his own creation?  Would you rather see him work on a Last Airbender trilogy instead?  Let us know in the comments section below.

The Last Airbender will arrive in regular and 3D theaters in the U.S. on July 1st, 2010.

Source: THR