Universal has announced release dates for a pair of new original thrillers written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It's been quite the roller coaster ride, chronicling the auteur's career since he broke out with The Sixth Sense in 1999. After following up his blockbuster supernatural thriller with a pair of more modest hits in Unbreakable and Signs, Shymalan went through a rough patch, releasing one critical dud after one over the course of a decade (some of which still managed a profit, some of which did not). Admittedly, a few of his movies from that period of time has since been reappraised, particularly The Village.
The Shyamlan comeback tour officially got underway in 2015 with The Visit, a mix of horror-comedy and thriller filmed in the style of a documentary made by two kids. Costing only $5 million to produce, The Visit grossed close to $100 million at the box office and was generally well-received by critics to boot. It also paired Shymalan up with Universal, which went on to release his next two movies (Split and Glass), and is now planning to stay in business with him for at least another two films.
In an announcement (via Deadline), Universal revealed it has scheduled new Shyamalan thrillers to hit theaters on February 26, 2021 and February 17, 2023. Universal President Peter Cramer issued a statement about the news, calling Shyamalan a "master filmmaker working at the height of his powers" and saying the studio is "honored" that he's chosen Universal to be the home for his next two movies. Shyamalan returned the compliment in his own statement:
“There are wonderful studios out there, but Universal has made it a mandate to release original films. They are the best at finding an audience for new stories with unexpected tones. I believe original films are crucial to the longevity of the theatrical experience. I am so excited to be working with them again and bringing new stories to the movie screen for years to come.”
Details on Shymalan's next two projects are under-wraps at the moment, save for something the filmmaker tweeted in May about his 2021 film having a "fun sci-fi bent". Shymalan's last two films, Split and Glass, were continuations of Unbreakable, which itself was a deconstruction of comic book superheroes that predated the genre's renaissance in the late 2000s. Split was especially successful both critically and commercially, whereas Glass was regarded as being more of an ambitious, but muddled conclusion to Shyamalan's so-called Eastrail 177 trilogy by critics (much to the filmmaker's disappointment). Both were hugely profitable for Universal, though, grossing $279 million and $247 million against production budgets of $9 million and $20 million, respectively. Needless to say, there's a good reason Universal has gone ahead and signed up for Shyamalan's next two movies, financially speaking.
From a creative perspective, admittedly, it's a little more complicated. It's possible Shymalan's next two thrillers are related or even take place in the same universe (which would explain why Universal announced their release dates at the same time), but the filmmaker's statement about "original films" would suggest otherwise. Besides, Shyamalan's commitment to writing and directing deeply personal non-franchise movies is a big part of the reason why cinephiles and general audiences still flock to his work after all this time, no matter how disappointing they've found some of his previous efforts to be. In ways both good and bad, one simply never knows exactly what they're going to get from a Shyamalan film.