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Among the names in Hollywood that many people think of when it comes to twists and turns in films has to be M. Night Shyamalan. The director has been working in the industry for several decades now, and has created movie after movie – some of which have been great, and some have been, well, not so great.
But, regardless, that means that Shyamalan has done enough movies in the industry where we can rank the best ones from the worst ones. We’ve done it with some big twists – but now, let’s take a look at the entire repertoire of M. Night Shyamalan movies that he has done since 1992, ranked from worst to best.
14. The Last Airbender (2010)
This film should have never been made.
I am a hard-core Avatar: The Last Airbender fan. I seen the original series, and have re-watched it over and over and over again. I honestly believe that it’s the reason I got into anime, because it has a lot of the same animation style as seen in anime. So when I heard that the series I loved so much as a child was getting a live-action adaptation, I was excited then.
Now, I look at it and all I feel is disgust. We know M. Night Shyamalan is capable of great movies, as we’ll see down below on the list, but watching The Last Airbender makes me so unbearably sad. It doesn’t stick to the source material, the names are said all weird, the cast was terrible – it was all around just a bad film.
And let’s not even get into the visual effects – this movie came out the same year as James Cameron’s Avatar. You’re telling me the effects couldn’t be slightly better? Get out of here.
13. After Earth (2013)
This movie had such good potential. I loved watching Will Smith and his son, Jaden Smith, act together in The Pursuit of Happyness, but watching them in After Earth was a disappointing experience. The story follows a father and son as they try to survive a new world that is known as After Earth, since it’s all dangerous, but nothing in this film felt life-threatening to the main characters.
Not only that, but their acting was as stiff as a board. We obviously know that the Smiths can act – we saw Will Smith win an Academy Award for King Richard, and Jaden has done his fair share of good acting too, but this film was just…bad. Just bad. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s not as bad as The Last Airbender, but pretty up there.
12. Lady In The Water (2006)
Granted, I hadn’t seen Lady in the Water until recently, but even now, a few months after viewing and re-watching these films, it’s still just as bad. The story centers around a man that rescues a woman from the pool he takes care of, only to discover later on she’s a water nymph and in danger from her fantasy world.
This film could have had something going for it, because I love fantasy films, but it was just so inconsistent throughout that it made me want to fast-forward to just get to the end. Bryce Dallas Howard, who has done some amazing roles, acted so stiffly, and I think the worst offense of them all was Shyamalan’s part in the film – It wasn’t the first or the last time he’d play a role in his own film, but I just wish he’d stick to directing.
It could have been something good but just… no. I’d rather just let it be forgotten about.
11. Praying With Anger (1992)
Most people probably don’t know that this is an M. Night Shyamalan film because it was his directing debut, and honestly, for good reason, because it’s not one of his best films. Praying with Anger is an independent drama and follows an Indian American returning home to India and having culture shock when his American culture values clash with that of India.
Again, I did not like that M. Night Shyamalan cast himself in a role. He’s not the best actor. But the reason why this isn’t at the bottom of the list is that I do like that it explores the differences in culture amongst countries and continents and how that can create a familial divide. It’s not the best film, but it’s certainly not the absolute worst.
10. The Happening (2008)
You know, I feel like The Happening gets a bad rap, and while I don’t think that it’s a good horror film, it’s good for a lot of other things. This thriller film, starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, tells the story of a world where mass suicides are happening because of a natural disaster, with the lingering thought of death in the air.
Look, this movie isn’t the best, I know that. The climax is resolved way too easily and the acting isn’t great, but what The Happening lacks in plot, it makes up for in ironic moments that probably shouldn’t be funny and yet, I find myself laughing my butt off. It’s seriously not a great movie, but I can see why some people – even the movie’s stars – can defend it.
9. Glass (2019)
Glass was the sequel to both Unbreakable and Split, and follows James McAvoy’s character and Bruce Willis’ character from their respective movies in a psychiatric hospital where they are living. They meet a man called “Mr. Glass,” and their lives change forever.
I had such high hopes for this film when I first found out about it, and while it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t really good. The characters that I became so fascinated with felt underused, and the story was bland at best. The acting was pretty good from the cast, but other than that, I could have gone without this film. Maybe see it just to see it once.
8. Wide Awake (1998)
Moving on to a comedy-drama, take a look at Wide Awake. The film follows a young boy as he starts to search for the meaning of life and death after his grandfather passes away, going on a self-reflection journey.
Wide Awake is sort of the forgotten M. Night Shyamalan film and I don’t really understand why. It’s not his best movie, but it is a film that dares to dive deeper into the meaning of life and offers a valid lesson on life and death. And Rosie O’Donnell gives a great performance as Sister Terry.
7. The Village (2004)
Bryce Dallas Howard stars in this thriller called The Village, which follows the residents of a village that are fearful of the creatures that live in the woods surrounding their otherwise peaceful, remote village.
This movie really had everything going for it. The Village cast was great, with the likes of Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Brendan Gleeson, heck, even Sigourney Weaver. The idea was really cool. The set pieces were done well. Even the plot was decent. But you want to know what makes it so low for me? That twist, man. It’s just not that good and I am so disappointed by it. I won’t say what it is if you’ve never seen it, but it sours this whole movie for me.
6. Old (2021)
Old came out in 2021 and followed a family that visited a strange beach that suddenly made everyone age up drastically without any sort of explanation, and now, they have to figure out why before time runs out. Old certainly had a lot of great ideas, which is why I rank it so high. The fact that getting old is the main thing that instills fear into the viewer is pretty creative.
But what makes it number six on this list is that the execution of the story feels way too fast and very unorganized, as if the characters didn’t even know what they were saying and it confused the heck out of me. Also, I left with too many questions than answers.
5. The Visit (2015)
Now we’re getting into the top five. The Visit is all about two children who go away to their grandparents for a week but, for some reason, grandma and grandpa aren’t acting the same.
The Visit was arguably what really put M. Night Shyamalan back on the map after a series of not so great films, and for good reason. The story was well put together, and the acting was great, but I think what really did it for me is that while the movie was thrilling, there were also a lot of great laughs in it as well, and a good twist. Definitely one of the best Blumhouse horror films, and one of Shyamalan’s best.
4. Signs (2002)
Signs is freaking terrifying to me. This movie follows the story of a former priest who finds crop circles in his cornfield, suggesting that aliens are real – and might just be here on Earth.
Signs is the perfect example of what a horror sci-fi movie should look like where you want to infuse fear but not make anything too gory. The atmosphere is perfectly set, the score is brilliantly done, and the cinematography is fantastic. The cast was also great as well, giving believable performances all around, especially from a standout performance from Mel Gibson. I like sci-fi horror a lot, and this is one of my favorites.
3. Unbreakable (2000)
Starring Bruce Willis, Unbreakable is a superhero thriller film that follows David Dunn, who finds out that he has superhero-like abilities when he doesn’t die from a fatal train crash, but as he starts to accept who he is, the rest of the outside world starts to find ways to use him.
I think what I like the most about Unbreakable is that it’s so realistic in its portrayal of superheroes. I think it’s why I like The Boys on Amazon Prime, or even Invincible, because it doesn’t hold back from showing you the gruesome realities of being a superhero and the horror that can come from it. Unbreakable isn’t your average superhero film – it’s one of the best.
2. Split (2016)
Oh, Split. This film made me feel a type of fear I didn’t think I was capable of. This movie, starring James McAvoy, tells the story of a man that has twenty-three different personalities, and one of them likes to kidnap teenage girls and imprison them, and now, one of them is trying to bust her way out.
There is so much I could say about Split. The brilliant performances from James McAvoy or the lovely Anya Taylor-Joy, the setting, the script, but overall, it was just a great film, and a brilliant way to tie in both Unbreakable and this film into the same universe – which is why I was so disappointed with Glass in 2019. Even so, Split is one of Shyamalan’s best – but not the best.
1. The Sixth Sense (1999)
You knew it was coming. Of course The Sixth Sense is number one, the story of the child psychologist whose patient claims they can talk to dead people. It was what made Shyamalan famous, and was nominated for six Academy Awards. The Sixth Sense cast was outstanding from start to finish, and delivered a brilliant story.
I mean, the twist alone is something all of us remember well, more than twenty years later. That’s how you know it’s iconic – and M. Night Shyamalan’s best film.
There are so many great films to watch out there, but hopefully now, you might have a glance at some of Shyamalan’s best movies – just please, don’t watch The Last Airbender. Check out the show it’s based on instead.