Praying with Anger (1992)
budget: $800,000worldwide box office: $1,400,000score on Rotten Tomatoes: N/A Contrary to popular belief, The Sixth Sense was not Shyamalan’s first film. His actual debut, made when he was just 22 years old, was this low budget film school project about a young man of Indian ancestry (played by Shyamalan himself) who visits India as part of a college exchange program. The film premiered at the 1992 Toronto film festival, played for a week at a theatre in Woodstock, Illinois, and has been hard to come by since.
Wide Awake (1998)
budget: $6 millionworldwide box office: $282,175score on Rotten Tomatoes: 40% Shyamalan’s first movie with big name actors (Denis Leary, Rosie O’Donnell) was also his first bomb. He’d have plenty more of these in the latter half of his career.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
budget: $40 millionworldwide box office: $672,806,292score on Rotten Tomatoes: 85% The failure of Wide Awake inspired Shyamalan to attempt the greatest screenplay ever written. After sending the finished script off to his agent, his agent immediately sent it out to the major studios and gave them 24 hours to make a decision. The asking price: $1 million. An executive at Disney took the bait, a decision for which he was subsequently fired. But the executive’s instincts proved to be correct. The Sixth Sense was one of the biggest hits of 1999, and for awhile it was all but impossible to go out in public and not hear the phrase “I see dead people.”
budget: $75 millionworldwide box office: $248,118,121score on Rotten Tomatoes: 68% Although it was widely regarded at the time as a bit of a let down compared to The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable now seems like Shyamalan’s masterpiece. In 2011, Time Magazine hailed it as the 4th greatest superhero movie of all time, describing it as "relatively quiet, subtle and realistic look at the pressures that come with being a superhero." Quentin Tarantino placed it on his list of top 20 movies made since 1992, noting that it was “a brilliant retelling of the Superman mythology.”
budget: $72 millionworldwide box office: $408,247,917score on Rotten Tomatoes: 74% It came dangerously close to the edge of self-parody with its ridiculous “Swing away, Merrill” ending, but for the most part, Shyamalan delivered another dark, stylish, and effective thriller.
The Village (2004)
budget: $60 millionworldwide box office: $256,697,520score on Rotten Tomatoes: 43% The turning point in Shyamalan’s career. The first hour represents Shyamalan at the top of his game, but then a twist comes that’s so hilariously misconceived that it’s impossible to take any of it seriously.
Lady in the Water (2006)
budget: $70 millionworldwide box office: $72,785,169score on Rotten Tomatoes: 24% According to Michael Bamberger’s book The Man Who Heard Voices, Shyamalan was absolutely convinced that “narphs” and “scrunts” would capture the popular imagination in the same way that the force and Jedis once did with Star Wars. His prediction, as it turned out, was wildly off base.
The Happening (2008)
budget: $48 millionworldwide box office: $163,403,799score on Rotten Tomatoes: 17% Shyamalan’s first great comedy, although it wasn’t supposed to be. The bit where the guy jumps in front of a lawnmower easily ranks as one of the most funniest moments of the century. Mark Wahlberg, fresh off his Academy Award nominated performance in The Departed, is hilarious miscast as a science teacher.
The Last Airbender (2010)
budget: $150 millionworldwide box office: $319,713,881score on Rotten Tomatoes: 6% Somehow this critically maligned fantasy about children doing tai chi was a hit at the box office.
After Earth (2013)
budget: $130 millionbox office: TBDscore on Rotten Tomatoes: 15% Will After Earth represent a comeback for Shyamalan? The early reviews haven’t been kind, but they mostly blame the movie’s problems on the videogame-like script (which Shyamalan didn’t write) and on Jaden Smith’s wooden performance, not on Shyamalan’s direction, which is supposedly as assured as ever.