By George Bate and Josh Reilly B.
Ever since The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan has remained one of the most accomplished (and divisive) working directors. As his films often feature hallmark, wild final act twists, expectations have always ran high for what the Hitchcock of this generation could deliver. With his latest film, Knock at the Cabin, in theaters now, it’s a perfect time to look back at Shyamalan’s filmography and rank its installments.
Below is a ranking of M. Night Shyamalan’s films, from worst to best.
15. Wide Awake
Before The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan started out with a duo of films that are frequently forgotten about nowadays. Wide Awake follows a ten-year-old boy in a Catholic school who, following the death of his beloved grandfather, embarks on a quest for the meaning of life. At its core, Wide Awake is a spiritual film with plenty of humor, some of which lands and some of which doesn’t. It’s clear at this point Shyamalan had yet to find his niche.
14. Praying with Anger
Shyamalan’s debut film is difficult to get a hold of. It is nowhere to be seen on popular streaming services and doesn’t seem to have a physical release. Shyamalan’s hard core base will have to search the depths of YouTube and the broader internet in order to find this one. Praying with Anger is a semi-autobiographical tale about a young man, played by Shyamalan himself, who travels to India in order to learn about his heritage. There is an admittedly endearing quality to this raw tale, although it is hampered by an awkward lead performance and rather stuttering pacing.
13. The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender marked a stark change for the filmmaker who became known for his sci-fi/thriller/horror flicks. Based on the first season of the iconic Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, this Shyamalan flick is a misfire from start to finish. Horribly butchering its source material, The Last Airbender is a near incomprehensible film at times. The plotting is meandering, while Shyamalan is clearly out of his comfort zone with the big budget, 3D-heavy effects.
12. After Earth
After Earth marks another departure from the classic Shyamalan formula. Taking place thousands of years in the future, After Earth follows a father and son who are hunted by aliens who can detect humans by sensing their fear. Will Smith and his son Jaden star as the father-son duo in question and, unlike their powerhouse performances in The Pursuit of Happyness, are some of the most dull characters to ever feature in a Shyamalan film. It’s not quite as bad as the likes of Battlefield Earth, but suffers from such significant issues with its dialogue and plotting that After Earth is unintentionally funny far too often.
11. Lady in the Water
Lady in the Water is, at times, a beautiful film. Leaning more into fairy tale mythos than his previous efforts, Shyamalan’s efforts are ambitious and unfortunately simply don’t come off well. Lady in the Water is a difficult film to get into and its lack of true suspense means a potentially visionary film is ultimately a chore. Perhaps most strikingly of all, the film is self-indulgent, with Shyamalan casting himself as a God-like writer whose writings are profound and affect the entire world.
10. The Happening
The Happening is a misfire, that’s for sure. But it’s also an extremely entertaining misfire. Unintentionally hilarious from beginning to end, The Happening’s fleeting sense of tension and suspense are offset by hilariously over-the-top acting and eye-rolling dialogue. The goofiness here does make for a somewhat endearing, B-movie film however, and its environmental message is commendable, although lacking in all subtly.
Based on the Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederick Peeters, Old follows a group of people who suddenly find themselves aging rapidly while trapped on a beach. Old is an existentially terrifying film, made all the more impressive by the fact that the film is almost entirely shot in daylight and in an idyllic location. The acting is stronger than most Shyamalan efforts, with the likes of Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, and Rufus Sewell all putting in top-notch performances. Rather than ending abstractly or in a satisfying manner however, Shyamalan over-explains what’s really going on in Old, which makes for a stumbling ending that detracts from the film’s overall quality.
8. The Visit
For many considered to be Shyamalan’s comeback film, The Visit seems the writer/director return to his roots. The found-footage horror flick follows two siblings who go to stay with their estranged grandparents, whose behavior is as menacing as it is mysterious. The dialogue and acting are often cringe-worthy, with failed attempts at humor landing awkwardly and the found-footage medium not always working out perfectly. However, The Visit is an undoubtedly creepy film and plays like a modern-day Hansel and Gretel.
Following the incredible twist that Split and Unbreakable were set in the same universe, Glass was M. Night Shyamalan’s concluding chapter in his superhero trilogy, in many ways the type of superhero team-up film that Marvel and DC are known for. Glass is wildly entertaining and manages to fuse the stories of Split and Unbreakable into a cohesive tale about superpowered beings. Bruce Willis is sadly underused, however, and the final act, while ambitious, devolves into sheer ridiculousness.
6. Knock at the Cabin
Signs does for aliens what The Sixth Sense did for ghosts. The film follows Graham Hess, a former priest played by Mel Gibson who discovers crop circles in his cornfield and soon comes to believe they are a result of alien life. A film that is as frightening as it is touching, Shyamalan proves he knows how to take audiences on a thrill ride they will never forget. Shyamalan provides a profound examination of faith and family, while also delivering one of the scariest movie moments of all time…
4. The Village
The Village is as atmospheric as Shyamalan’s films get. The film follows the residents of a small, isolated 19th-century village, whose population are told not to leave the village as there are dangerous creatures inhabiting the surrounding woods. Again, Shyamalan proves there are few directors who can craft scares as well as he can. While some claim the ending is anticlimactic, it surprisingly works as one that changes the film’s sense of horror entirely.
3. The Sixth Sense
The film that put Shyamalan on the map, The Sixth Sense is simply a remarkable film. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist, who begins to see a patient (played by Haley Joel Osment) who claims he can speak to and see the dead. Far more than its iconic twist ending, The Sixth Sense is masterfully directed, with seemingly every scene featuring an iconic horror movie moment. Toni Collette delivers an extraordinary supporting performance, while Willis and Osment carry the film brilliantly.
Vastly underappreciated at the time of its release, Unbreakable was always destined to be a cult film. The Sixth Sense was such a success that any subsequent effort of Shyamalan’s would inevitably draw comparisons, especially given the fact that Bruce Willis starred in both movies. Unbreakable follows a man, played by Bruce Willis, who survives a train crash and soon comes to believe he has superhuman strength and abilities. Unbreakable is arguably the most grounded superhero film of all time and yet, unfortunately, is one that is not spoken of in conversations of the best superhero movies.
Split is simply put Shyamalan at his finest. Confidently showing he had overcome his mid-career slump, this horror/thriller is tightly scripted, claustrophobically directed, and features James McAvoy in the performance of his career and the best performance of any Shyamalan film. The film follows three teenage girls who are kidnapped by a man with dissociative identity disorder, characterized by the presence of multiple personalities or identities. Anya Taylor Joy is fantastic as the lead character, with intelligently constructed flashbacks conveying a traumatic horror unlike the film’s more heightened scares. Split also features a truly unexpected Shyamalan twist, one for deeper cut fans of his filmography. Needless to say, Split is the ultimate Shyamalan film.