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All M. Night Shyamalan Movies Ranked from Signs to Unbreakable
Jan 21, 2019
M. Night Shyamalan’s body of directorial work is a bit of an M. Night Shyamalan film in itself. There are twists (like a comedy starring Rosie O’Donnell?) and aliens (see: Signs) and absolutely terrible films (we could call out Glass, but it’s not the worst). All of that is to say that you never quite know what you’re going to get from the cupboard that is Shyamalan’s twisted mind. But we took the dozen films he’s directed (excluding his first, Praying with Anger) and ranked them from worst to best. And you’re lucky that he didn’t direct Devil, because otherwise that would clearly be number one. If you don’t love a demonic grandmother trying to kill you in a stalled elevator, then why the hell are you watching this man’s films in the first place?
12. The Last Airbender (2010)
The Last Airbender is an indisputable disaster. Based on the Nickelodeon Avatar series of the same name, the live-action remake has everything and nothing at the same time. You want white people cast in East Asian roles? We got you. You want bad acting? Sure. Do you want any kind of directorial vision or a ironclad plot? You’re just going to have to find that elsewhere.
11. After Earth (2013)
After Earth’s reputation is saved by two things: a story written by cool guy Will Smith, and the fact that The Last Airbender is so comically bad. With that being said, the Jaden Smith star vehicle about a 31st century war between humans and aliens fell flat in a lot of the ways that The Last Airbender didn’t. After Earth appropriately reads like a writer’s first venture in the sci-fi genre and lands itself at the bottom because it’s not even particularly good at being bad. It’s just… dull.
10. The Happening (2008)
I am wildly biased because The Happening is officially my brand of garbage. With that being said, it was received horribly by critics. The sci-fi tale follows an attack from plants that makes humans want to kill themselves. It gets bonus points for assuming that there would ever be chemistry between Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg, but that’s where the buck stops. What the plants didn’t kill, the poor writing did.
9. Lady in the Water (2006)
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what happened in Lady in the Water. It’s that weird. The film has the same “us vs. them” war-torn vibes like many of Shyamalan’s films, but then it pivots too hard to this foreign Blue World. Points for casting Bryce Dallas Howard, who is always great. Subtract the same amount of points away for failing to do what The Shape of Water did better.
8. Glass (2019)
Of all Shyamalan’s disappointments, Glass might be the biggest of his career. Both Unbreakable and Split marked some of the most unexpected and impressive work of the director’s career. Of all his twists, an anti-superhero trilogy that was never marketed as such is his greatest yet. The first two movies avoided all the cliches of the comic book genre, but Shaymalan couldn’t pull off his landing in the final entry, and instead delivered a stunning disappointment—the likes of which was bad enough to bring down the legacy of the first two films in this series.
7. The Village (2004)
The superior Bryce Dallas Howard/Shyamalan collaboration is The Village, but not by too much. Set in what appears to be a 19th century Amish settlement (your headstones don’t fool me, M. Night!), the big twist is that the whole thing is actually set in the modern day. The plot twist doesn’t feel so shocking, and there’s a lot of filler between big moments. Shout out to the monsters looking like pissed off skeletal handmaids, though.
6. Wide Awake (1998)
The only directorial offering that M. Night Shyamalan gives us outside of the thriller or horror genre comes in the form of a comedy/drama called Wide Awake. The Rosie O’Donnell film is a charming enough tale about a kid whose faith in God is shaken after his grandfather dies. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, and thus it lands in the middle of the road.
5. The Visit (2015)
A found-footage film sounds a little cliché, right? But a found-footage film where grandma has a big pile of old diapers and tries to eat you after a game of Yahtzee? I have your attention now. The Visit is nothing short of a bananas spin on a weekend with your grandparents, but when your grandparents turn out to not be who you thought they were (cue: eating your grandkids), then we’re willing to sign off on the craziness.
4. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Amateurs will say that The Sixth Sense should be in one of the very top spots, but those people clearly didn’t watch Bruce Willis get shot minutes before getting introduced to a child who can see DEAD PEOPLE. It’s honestly basic arithmetic. That bit of a spoiler, however, is made up by very good performances, just enough horror, and otherwise good writing.
3. Unbreakable (2000)
Starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson, Unbreakable is one of M. Night’s career bests. Centered around a man who discovers his super-sensory ability to see who has committed crimes (along with some other insane superhuman abilities) after a train crash, Unbreakable is an excellent start to a trilogy that includes Split (which is good) and Glass (which is decidedly not).
2. Split (2016)
It’s rare that a sequel edges out its predecessor, but then again, Split isn’t particularly a sequel. While Unbreakable is a good movie on its own merits, Split takes it up a notch with James McAvoy’s 23 personalities. (There’s a “23 and Beast” joke to be made here, but we’ll leave it be.) In a career known for twist endings, the finale of Split—connecting it to Unbreakable—is of the best in M. Night’s filmography.
Signs is not a film that I thought would steal the top spot. It’s M. Night candy. And yet, here we are, with Signs at the top. How can you ignore the cinematic masterpiece that involves, but is not limited to: pastoral America, Joaquin Phoenix with a bat, aluminum foil hats, baby Abigail Breslin’s fascination with water and its contaminants, and, of course, a pre-bonkers Mel Gibson? Signs is the pinnacle of what happens when M Night Shyamalan gets insane storytelling correct.