There are some movies that become part of pop culture forever. There are some that are a big deal for about 10 minutes, and then people forget about them. There are some, that never even get the recognition they deserve.
This is how I feel about the films of M. Night Shyamalan. Not only his first major film nominated for two Academy Awards, but it was ingrained into pop culture for the rest of time.
The Sixth Sense (1999) has possibly one of the most famous and unexpected twists in movie history, all because of a line that was written by Shyamalan. “I see dead people” has become a running joke, being featured in television shows and quoted an uncountable amount of times.
But, a lot of people see Shyamalan’s success with his first movie as him peaking too soon. I can’t help but disagree. No other filmmaker has come up with such unusual, riveting and shocking stories and now trademark Shyamalan twists – yet still get so much flack for it.
Obviously, Shyamalan has his low points, and not all of his movies live up to how good we know he can be. Lady in the Water (2006) is an example of this – it’s a nice idea, but poorly executed and, compared to his previous releases, it really is sub-par.
However, what can be appreciated is the sheer amount of imagination that is put into even Shyamalan’s worst films. It’s not often that the versatility of a director, who can flit between genres with little effort, is so under appreciated.
With this in mind, it’s worth looking into M. Night Shyamalan’s filmography. As someone who has seen every film he has ever released, it’s easy to see the true scale of his talent when you understand how different his movies are.
This isn’t just me trying to suck up to him, either – some of his movies are genuinely good. His horrors, like The Visit (2015) and Split (2016), you know, that multiple personality disorder movie, did really well at the cinema, entertaining audiences around the world. However, they garnered mediocre reviews from critics, which begs the question – does M. Night Shyamalan satisfy audiences, despite his bad reviews?
I would argue that this is true. Even though he is generally regarded as peaking early in in his career, cinema-goers still see his movies in droves. Split grossed almost $280,000,000 worldwide, and The Visit grossed almost $100,000,000, despite it’s mediocre reviews.
The point I’m trying to make, is that Shyamalan makes movies as good as any other blockbuster filmmaker – he just receives a lot more flack for it. This could be down to a variety of reasons, his notorious twists being one, but I think that it all comes back to his Oscar nominations.
The Sixth Sense (1999) was a huge hit. It has grossed $672,806,292 worldwide, and is rated as #160 on IMDb’s Top Rated Movies list. It was nominated for six Oscars, but failed to take home a single one – something that, in my opinion, was a robbery.
Despite all of the accolades and the rave reviews, the Academy snubbed Shyamalan and his first blockbuster for movies like American Beauty and directors such as Sam Mendes. Although both Mendes and American Beauty have stood the test of time, so has The Sixth Sense – a very different movie, but also a very good one.
By no means am I saying that Shyamalan deserves to win all awards ever – this is not true by any stretch of the imagination. I just think that he deserves the recognition that he rightly deserves by the people at the top.
His movies are loved by audiences, quoted by the world, and yet, he is undermined by anyone who actually has a say in anything in the movie business. Take Shyamalan’s 2004 release, The Village.
This movie has an all-star cast, an intriguing plot and a completely unexpected twist; critics, however, described it as “his weakest story”. Shyamalan often throws people off in his trailers and such like, painting The Village as a horror, rather than what it actually is: a political parable that pulls apart society as a whole.
The debacle of Shyamalan’s unrealised and undermined talent, however, made me realise something. His talent, his passion and his ability to view movies as something other than a way to satisfy those who have the power over the masses, is recognition in itself.
He doesn’t mind that he is not noticed by those with the power. His platform is, instead, used to highlight the topics that affect the masses – the environment, unfair governance, the idea of having the wool pulled over our eyes. This unique talent is what separates him from all other filmmakers for me, and really demonstrates why he is brilliant at what he does.
With this is mind, it brings a whole new meaning to his journey. Instead of M. Night Shyamalan ‘peaking early’, he captured lightning in a bottle, and created something he could never quite live up to.
But he didn’t want to live up to it – he wanted to explore the areas of humanity through ways that we don’t realise – through horror, drama, comedy and pure imagination.
For that very reason, M. Night Shyamalan shouldn’t have to live in the shadow of his past achievements. They should be celebrated, along with his more recent works, as a story of a man who’s brain works in a way that’s different to a lot of other peoples.