With Glass marking M. Night Shyamalan's thirteenth film over the course of his 27-year-long career as a writer, director, and (sometimes) actor, ranking his films from worst to best requires nearly as much precision as the thought he puts into his best twists. Though some of his work hasn't only divided fans, but temporarily estranged them altogether, there's no doubting Shyamalan's mark on cinema over the past few decades.
On the surface, Shyamalan tends to gravitate towards thrillers, twist endings, and the kinds of stories someone might tell around a campfire. A closer look, however, highlights characters at odds with their faith, conspicuous visual symbolism (namely with colors, which stands out especially in Glass), and often micro-level conflicts between nature and man. His career has ebbed and flowed over the years - especially since he made a mainstream name for himself with The Sixth Sense, which earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay - and he is currently in the midst of a kind of comeback tour following the success of his found-footage thriller The Visit in 2015 and Glass's 2017 predecessor Split.
While some fans laud Shyamalan's confidence to brush aside the expected - or even digestible, in some cases - others have casually rallied against the filmmaker after the general tone of his films drastically deviated from the aesthetic groundwork he shaped earlier in his career. Now, with arguably more critical successes than commercial flops, Shyamalan's career is on the up-and-up once again - so let's take a look back at the thirteen films he's released so far.
13. The Last Airbender
When Shyamalan decided to adapt the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, he was doing it for his kids. Considering all but one of his films prior to this one was for a decidedly more mature audience, he tried his hands at something that wasn't just family-friendly, but far out of his general genre wheelhouse. That said, despite his best intentions, The Last Airbender was a considerable misfire. Not only did it disappoint critics, earning a 5 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it frustrated diehard fans of the original series, who disapproved of Shyamalan's uncharismatic interpretation.
12. After Earth
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Shyamalan was digging himself into a creative hole. Fans of his original work were growing more and more alienated by the filmmaker's general storytelling aesthetic, and by 2013's After Earth, their growing skepticism had reached a tipping point. The post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure film had all the makings of a satisfying blockbuster success - especially with Will Smith starring - but the final product turned out to be a mess. For someone who proved himself to have a knack for pacing, one of After Earth's most egregious shortcomings is how tediously it trudges through plot points and set pieces that already aren't nearly as inspired as fans of Shyamalan would hope. What could have been a fascinating first venture into sci-fi blockbusters turned out to be little more than a tired and frustrating effort.
11. The Happening
Shyamalan had already proven his skills with intimately-scaled thrillers around the late '90s and early 2000s, so it seemed like a natural evolution to tackle the genre on a larger scale. On paper, The Happening seems like the perfect recipe for an M. Night Shyamalan success: Philadelphians in peril, an unknown threat testing a character's base-level understanding of natural law, and an actor typically known for action films experimenting in horror. However, the results weren't up to par with most people's expectations. The Happening was released after Shyamalan toyed with the fantasy genre in Lady in the Water, so fans were happy to see him take the reins on his first R-rated thriller; but when they discovered that The Happening was a ham-fisted and tonally bipolar allegory for climate change that somehow turned the act of suicide into a gory comedy routine, fans had just about given up on the once-revered filmmaker.
10. Wide Awake
Wide Awake was Shyamalan's first studio film, and it seems like a mostly harmless foray into the "prep school boy coming-of-age" subgenre. That said, this isn't Shyamalan's Dead Poets Society. Not by a long shot. Wide Awake is about a young Joseph Cross who is desperately trying to get in touch with God after the death of his grandfather. And, while that might seem like an excusable catalyst for a busier, more layered plot, it isn't. Rosie O'Donnell shows up to add some levity to the story, but she's hardly in the film as much as her top billing might suggest. Shyamalan's fascination with faith is laid on especially thick, and the most interesting aspect of this film is that it almost feels like a watered down remake of his debut film Praying with Anger (down to the principal demanding student vandals to fess up for some mysterious mess they made).
This film also incorporates a slight supernatural twist at the end that Shyamalan would later perfect in his follow-up, The Sixth Sense. In fact, as for twists that no one could see coming, this might give The Sixth Sense a run for its money - even if it's not nearly as satisfying.
9. Praying with Anger
Shyamalan's directorial debut, Praying with Anger, is a far cry from the kind of work audiences would later recognize him for, while still being very much a product of his go-to trademarks. In the film, Shyamalan stars as a young man who spends a year in India as part of a college exchange program. Over the span of the film, he suffers some intense culture shock, and must either embrace or reject the values of his home country. And, despite some issues with pacing, preachiness, and an overall lack of subtlety, Praying with Anger's shortcomings can certainly be attributed to the film's low budget, as well as Shyamalan's inexperience. Otherwise, it's an admirable first effort that feels surprisingly polished for a debut feature. And, yes, his first film does include a ghost - or a shadow at the very least.