The horror/thriller genre is exciting because it is constantly morphing to fit the new things that scare us. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, slasher flicks were popular because of the uptick in serial killers in the United States. At the dawn of the 21st century, apocalyptic thrillers started trending as many believed the world was coming to an end. However, regardless of your favorite flavor of the genre, one name will always evoke the same gut-wrenching feeling: M. Night Shyamalan. When you see the Philadelphia-raised director’s name flash in the opening credits, you know you’re in for some shit.
Throughout his career spanning more than 20 years, Shyamalan has taken psychological thrillers and shaped them in his own demented image. He came out the gate hot with his first major feature film, The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis, and continued on one of the cleanest directorial streaks to date with Unbreakable and Signs immediately following. Shyamalan’s captivating storytelling method of leading his audience in one direction and then jerking them utterly perpendicular from the original course is what made his movies so enthralling. A twist ending is always promised and trying to figure out how you got there is the fun of a Shyamalan film. Paired with his elite character writing and complex story setup, it made him one of the best directors of the early 2000s. And like the late Stan Lee, Shyamalan always makes a cameo appearance in his films, which are often set in his hometown of Philadelphia. Despite his fall from grace in the early 2010s with a cold streak of films, it always felt like Shyamalan would be able to redeem himself.
Getting back on course in 2016 with Split and closing his Unbreakable trilogy with Glass in 2019, and later Old in 2021, Shyamalan is back to reclaim his spot in the pantheon of psychological thrillers with his latest endeavor, Knock at the Cabin. The feature film is centered around a family being held hostage and both husbands must choose who to sacrifice in order to prevent the apocalypse. With Knock at the Cabin in theaters this week, we decided to rank all M. Night Shyamalan movies, from worst to best. We will see where his latest falls on the list after its release.
13. 'The Last Airbender'
12. 'The Happening'
11. 'Lady in the Water'
10. 'After Earth'
8. 'Wide Awake'
7. 'The Village'
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver,
Box Office: $256.7 Million USD
Release date: July 30, 2004
Rotten Tomatoes: 43% (Critics), 57% (Audience)
Shyamalan is a master of misdirection, and The Village is a perfect example of this. The director makes us think that the film is taking place at the turn of the 19th century, but in reality, it’s all happening in the present day. The monsters in the film weren’t demented creatures, but rather the village elders who were more committed to lies than giving their people free will.
Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquin Phoenix do a masterful job at weaving together a pioneer love story, and Shyamalan cleverly uses Howard’s character’s blindness to his advantage for the village’s secret to stay kept. Shyamalan even makes his patented Stan Lee-like cameo in the movie’s final moments. A somber score meshed with slow, drawn-out frames creates an ominous tone for The Village, leaving viewers convinced that there might actually be something bumping in the night. However, not too dissimilar from A24’s It Comes At Night, the real monster that lies beyond the confines of the village is the insidious dishonesty that it stands upon. The Village is slept on, it comes packed with loads of suspense, endearing characters, and a twist ending to create a film that keeps you both engaged and questioning everything.
6. 'The Visit'
1. 'The Sixth Sense'
Starring: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment
Box Office: $672.8 Million USD
Release date: August 6, 1999
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (Critics), 90% (Audience)
There is a faction of horror fanatics that hail The Sixth Sense as one of the greatest ghost movies of all time. They aren’t wrong.
Unlike his other films, Shyamalan didn’t try to do too much here. He takes his time through the entire film, establishing a stillness that adds to the suspense and dread that he fortifies with a somber storyline. As we follow Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) and young Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a sense of foreboding is established from the very beginning. Set in the fall, a season marked by the death of plant life, Shyamalan uses a tactic that he’d perfect later and lays subtle hints throughout the film to keep the film’s secret hidden in plain sight. The beauty of The Sixth Sense isn’t just in the paranormal, though, but in how the world continues moving around it. Shyamalan substitutes the exhausted diatribes from disgruntled spirits for empathetic examinations of why they can’t cross over to the other side until young Cole shepherds them there. And most ironic of all, Willis grounds the story, despite being a ghost himself. All of these subtleties culminate into Shyamalan’s best twist ending yet, and one of the best horror plot twists of all time.
On the 20th anniversary of the film in 2019, Shyamalan recalled to The Hollywood Reporter how he was ready to shelve The Sixth Sense if a studio wouldn’t buy into his idea and the $1 million budget. “If they don’t want to make it, I will shelve it,’” he said. “You have to not be bluffing when you say stuff like that. I wasn’t bluffing. I’ll do other things, but I won’t make the movie.” Thankfully, several offers rolled in and The Sixth Sense has withstood the test of time. It’s dark, suspenseful, and heart-wrenching all at the same time. The Sixth Sense also kicked off Shyamalan’s impressive run of films that continued with Unbreakable and Signs. The young director struck gold and captured the true essence of horror with his debut. It’s the best film in his catalog, and for the horror genre at large, it’s up there, too.