There seems to be no middle ground regarding M. Night Shyamalan movies. You either love them, or you hate them. While he has taken some questionable creative liberties with certain films, he’s best known for his mind-blowing twists. So as the anticipation builds for his upcoming film Knock at the Cabin, starring Dave Bautista and Rupert Grint, let’s look back at some of his best and worst films.
Proceed with caution; this list will contain spoilers.
5th Best – The Sixth Sense
I know what you’re thinking. How could I put The Sixth Sense at the bottom of the best?
Hear me out, it’s a fantastic movie, but as far as unique storytelling goes, it’s not up to par with the films higher up on this list. However, with a famous ending that became a cultural benchmark, Shyamalan’s place as a master of a good twist was solidified.
I envy people who have not seen the film and have avoided spoilers their entire lives. Out of all the M. Night Shyamalan Movies, this is the one I’d love to be able to watch again with fresh eyes.
5th Worst – The Visit
While I don’t hate The Visit, it ranks low for me compared to many of his other works. Yes, the twist was stomach-turning, but I still feel it falls short. The setting was a tad stale, and the plot had a few holes, but I think it’s worth a watch and might resonate more deeply with others than it did with me.
4th Best – Lady in the Water
If you’re rolling your eyes at my ranking for Lady in the Water, you’re with most critics and audiences who first saw this movie in 2006 and absolutely hated it.
However, I had an entirely different experience while watching; the story enchanted me. The idea for this movie was derived from a bedtime story Shyamalan used to tell his daughters. This is an aspect that made the film even more endearing to me. With a star-studded cast including Shyamalan himself, the eclectic group of characters feels like one big family by the end.
I highly recommend Lady in the Water if you love a good fairytale full of childlike wonder,
4th Worst – Devil
Does an M. Night Shyamalan movie that mainly takes place in a 4’x6′ box sound appealing to you? Look no further; Devil is the movie for you!
As someone who has a pretty intense fear of elevators, the scares in this movie left much to be desired. It was predictable. By the end of the film, when it was revealed that the old woman was the one the Devil possessed, I was bored.
Legion was released in January of 2010, eight months before Devil, showcasing a similar, possessed older woman. Ultimately this “twist” felt recycled and anticlimactic.
3rd Best – The Village
The Village was the movie that introduced Bryce Dallas Howard to the world.
The second she appeared on the screen, I was captivated. Her performance as Ivy Walker, the blind daughter of the village leader, had so much heart and sincerity. Her on-screen romance with Joaquin Phoenix and learning about how these people lived and why they lived in fear of creatures in the forest drew me in immediately.
While the twist wasn’t as popular among audiences, I was stunned. The story, cast, incredible soundtrack, and striking visuals made this movie one of my favorite M. Night Shyamalan movies.
3rd Worst – The Happening
Admittedly, I actually like the concept of The Happening.
But before you gather up your tomatoes to throw at me, I think the movie was executed horribly. The casting choices were some of the most bizarre and incompatible actors in recent memory. Am I supposed to believe Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel work as a couple? Am I a joke to you?
Anyway, the only cool parts of the movie are watching people get creative with how they killed themselves. Laying down in front of a lawnmower? Gnarly. Letting lions at the zoo rip you to shreds? Metal. But even all of the gore wasn’t enough to save this movie. It’s just bad.
2nd Best – Signs
As someone who saw Signs in the theater and went back home to a house next to cornfields, this movie traumatized me in the best way. Parts of it are seared into my 11-year-old mind and haven’t left me for over 20 years.
This is an example of a perfect movie; It successfully made me feel every emotion possible in a short 106 minutes. I remember people screaming in the theater at several scenes and being afraid to look out of my window at night for months. But all of that aside, the story is engaging and solid from start to finish—one of the best alien movies to date.
2nd Worst – After Earth
After Earth sticks out in my mind as one of Shyamalan’s weirdest creations. Nothing about it screamed Shyamalan, especially considering there wasn’t even a twist ending.
Will Smith’s performance was flat, and Jaden Smith could not carry this movie alone. The constant theme around Scientology also made this a rough watch.
Finally, I’m not sure Shyamalan should delve further into space-central sci-fi films. It’s not his strong suit.
1st Best – Unbreakable
Here it is, the pièce de résistance of M. Night Shyamalan movies: Unbreakable.
Not only do I feel this is Shyamalan’s most outstanding work, but I feel it’s one of the best superhero films ever made. Bruce Willis’ performance of David Dunn was exhilarating. David is a seemingly ordinary security guard who we later find out has super strength and a set of gifts that allow him to sense the crimes of those around him. Watching this character slowly realize why he’s survived horrible accidents or why he’s never been sick a day in his life is thrilling. Just by chance, I rewatched Unbreakable a few days before I went to see Split, Unbreakable’s unofficial sequel.
I can’t describe the feeling of realizing at the end of Split that it was the sequel to Unbreakable. I would never have guessed 17 years later, we would get Split and then Glass to finish the trilogy of M. Night Shyamalan movies.
1st Worst – The Last Airbender
I’m willing to bet you knew we’d end up here.
The Last Airbender was the movie that really set off the hate and vitriol towards Shyamalan. He took a beloved series and butchered it. The story was all over the place, and the last-minute conversion to 3D was atrocious. Worst of all, the diversity of the main characters is gone.
It was easy to see that Shyamalan’s heart was not in this project at all. In a 2015 interview with Metro UK, Shyamalan spoke of his disinterest in working with source material that wasn’t his own. Instead, he prefers to tell his own stories. His desire to make things his own was apparent when I heard the goofy way the characters’ names were pronounced. It was for the best that he didn’t finish this series.
Wrapping up the Best and Worst M. Night Shyamalan Movies
Bad films aside, I still adore M. Night Shyamalan movies. He’s a visionary and a pioneer in a league of his own. I’m a lifelong fan of his due to his incredible storytelling skills and his ability to capture what it means to be human. His newest project, Knock at the Cabin, will release in theaters on February 3rd. I can’t wait to see which side of the list it ends up on. I’m hoping for the best!