The Unbreakable Ranking List of M. Night Shyamalan Movies

M. Night Shyamalan broke out onto the cinematic scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, his third feature film that gave us an all-time twist ending and garnered Shyamalan awards attention, a massive box office, and tons of clout and hype in Hollywood. But since The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan’s career has had its share of ups and downs, ranging from box office success to some of the most reviled movies of the 21st century.

Shyamalan has usually been an interesting director. He has a unique visual style, utilizes blocking and camera movement effectively, and deals with interesting themes with religion, trauma, family, and finding your purpose in life. With his latest movie, Old, releasing this week, here is my ranking of all of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies.


You’ve been warned.

13. The Last Airbender

Aang's (Noah Ringer) eyes, hands, and forehead shine bright blue as he enters the Avatar State during a big battle.

The Last Airbender is an abysmal experience. Usually, when I see a movie I really do not like, I can find maybe one or two redeeming qualities. Maybe I got a few laughs out of it or there was a surprisingly good performance. But not with The Last Airbender. Nothing is redeeming about this movie. It’s a white-washed, bland, painstakingly boring movie that is overstuffed with ugly CGI, stilted performances, and a confusing plot.

It’s almost incredible that someone gave Shyamalan $150 million to make this movie. Following two critical and financial flops in Lady in the Water and The Happening and being a director whose biggest action set-piece at this time was Joaquin Phoenix swinging a baseball bat at an alien in Signs, why did they decide on Shyamalan to direct a big-budget, CGI-heavy summer blockbuster? Whomever it was made a horrible decision, as The Last Airbender is one of the worst movies I have seen this century.

12. After Earth

Kitai (Jaden Smith) takes a knee of a futuristic Earth after a battle against a vicious creature.

After Earth is a depressing movie to watch. Watching it, you are seeing an auteur lose all of his creative control and mastery right before your eyes. After making The Last Airbender, rather than going back to a smaller-budget horror/thriller Shyamalan had made a career off of, he went to another big-budget, effects-driven film and the result again was terrible. There is nothing in this movie that feels like a Shyamalan movie. This feels like it was made by a no-name looking for a job in the Columbia lot. It also doesn’t help that Will Smith, the star of the film and one of the most charismatic actors to ever be put on screen, is boring, something I didn’t think was possible.

There are rumors of the film being mostly directed by Will Smith and that Shyamalan really only focused on camera placement and blocking but when the film got such bad reviews, rather than put the blame on Smith, Shyamalan took the brunt of it. This is even more depressing to think about. Shyamalan was an auteur who had all the cinematic power and clout and then years later he was reduced to taking a backseat? After Earth is a bad movie and a sad one to watch for anyone who is a fan of Shyamalan’s.

11. Lady in the Water

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giammati) stands in the rain with a magical Narf named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) in an attempt to get her back to her home.

Lady in the Water was a true turning point in Shyamalan’s career as a director. Though his previous film, The Village, was divisive and featured a twist that made people angry, Shyamalan still had enough caché in Hollywood to have complete freedom over any project he wanted to make. This would be the last time for that for a long time, however, as Lady in the Water is Shyamalan at his most pretentious and is the first truly bad film he made that was universally panned. 

Shyamalan tried to make a fairy tale about a magical creature called a “Narf” who appears from the water (which is the pool of an apartment complex), who is trying to make her journey back to her real world while attempting to avoid a vicious creature called a “Scrunt”. Think words like “narf” and “scrunt” are preposterous? Well, that just personifies the entire movie. Nothing in this movie makes sense. The entire movie feels like it was a brief idea Shyamalan had one evening, yet was never fleshed out with a full story, any real characters, or a plot. Everything in this movie seems incomplete, yet also forced. It feels like a once-great filmmaker’s massive ego was trying to rekindle the fire of the films that made him great. But Shyamalan failed to even come close to greatness with Lady in the Water, and instead gave us a preposterous, boring mess.

10. The Happening

Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel) stare confusingly as they don't know how to stop the plants from making them kill themselves.

The advertising campaign The Happening focused on one major aspect of the film: it was the first R-rated movie from M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan had been known for his PG-13 thrillers up until this point and following the dud that was Lady in the Water, seeing him turn to a potentially more violent or scarier film sounded like an intriguing thought. And even after the opening scene of the movie, in which several people in Central Park start killing themselves out of nowhere, The Happening was beginning to look like Shyamalan had bounced back from Lady in the Water.

But the following scene—in which high school science teacher Elliot Moore (an iconically bad Mark Wahlberg) starts talking about the death of bees and how humans’ noses and ears are always growing—is when things started to go downhill and in a hurry. The Happening is comedically bad. A laughable, ridiculous movie about plants killing humans. The dialogue is illogical, every performance is over-the-top, every actor is horribly miscast, all of the violence looks fake and stupid and nothing is scary. The only thing The Happening has going for it is that it has the potential to be a great midnight movie someday. This is a movie that might be best enjoyed after a few alcoholic drinks or a hallucinogenic drug with a loaded theater laughing at Mark Wahlberg talking to a plastic plant.

9. Wide Awake

Joshua (Joseph Cross) mourns the death of his grandfather while looking at his old rocking chair with his mother (Dana Delany) looking on.

Shyamalan’s first major studio film is a full-stop kid’s film, a territory Shyamalan has yet to go back to. Shyamalan described Wide Awake as, “a comedy that he hoped would also make people cry.” Unfortunately, the film isn’t funny, emotional, or very good. The overly whimsical, cheesy dramedy is about a precocious child (Joseph Cross, doing his best) who is trying to find God after the death of his grandfather. The 88-minute runtime might sound painless, but is incredibly sluggish, making the film seem twice as long. Wide Awake does deal with themes of religion, death, and purpose in life that we would see in later Shyamalan films and features competent camera work and set designs.

Wide Awake was shot in 1995 but wasn’t released until 1998 due to the ruthless ways of Harvey Weinstein, and though not a complete disaster like some of the films listed above, the film is a real dud, which would only make the next chapter in Shyamalan’s career more surprising.

8. Praying with Anger

Dev (M. Night Shyamalan) and Sanjay (Mike Muthu) talk about a girl who just walked into their classroom at their college university in India.

Many think that The Sixth Sense was Shyamalan’s debut film, as it took the world by storm back in the late summer of 1999. But Praying With Anger, Shyamalan’s $750,000 NYU thesis film, was his very first back in 1992. The film is unavailable to stream anywhere, but you can watch it on YouTube, though the conversion is bad and it looks like somebody recorded a recording of the film using a video camera from the ’80s.

I wouldn’t consider Praying with Anger to be a good film, but it is a pretty impressive one, especially considering it was a thesis film and Shyamalan wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film as the main character, all at the age of 22. The film looks at an Americanized Indian college student (Shyamalan) who goes back to India after getting in trouble at his American university and starts to learn more about his heritage and himself. Boring, cheesy, and a Shyamalan performance that leaves a lot to be desired hamper down this film that looks at loneliness, alienation, family, and crises of faith. Again, not a great movie, but an impressively made film from an aspiring 22-year-old filmmaker.

7. The Visit

Nana (Deanna Dunagan) scarily stands in the middle of her living room looking possessed with her arm raised in the air and her eyes crossed.

After the horrific run of Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth it seemed like M. Night Shyamalan had lost it as a filmmaker. He lost his style as a director, his craft of screenwriting, his confidence, and his trust in studios. Most directors in this situation would become “work-for-hire” directors and take any job offered to them, but Shyamalan did the opposite. He took his director’s fee from After Earth and self-financed the $5 million found-footage horror film The Visit—a bold decision, but one that paid off greatly. 

The Visit is a very creepy and fun horror film that gave Shyamalan the freedom he had during his peak. With the found-footage genre becoming overused and stale, Shyamalan sparked some life back into it by adding a visual style to the film and also making it scary as hell. Shyamalan gave us an interesting maze-like mansion as our setting, built relentless tension, properly utilized jump scares, and wrote two solid characters we were rooting for and two that terrified us.

Can the twist ending be telegraphed from a mile away? Absolutely. Is it cringeworthy that one of our characters is trying to start a rap career and is objectively bad at it? Yes. But, The Visit still works because of the scares, the simple and interesting story, and Shyamalan’s excellent filmmaking.

6. Signs

Morgan (Rory Culkin), Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), Graham (Mel Gibson), and Bo (Abigail Breslin) stare in shock at their TV set as they watch news of a possible alien invasion.

Following Unbreakable, a movie that is nothing but sadness and quiet for nearly two hours, Shyamalan made a fun, thrilling, popular blockbuster about a family and how they handle an alien invasion. Mel Gibson gives one of the best performances of his career as a former priest and family patriarch who is still haunted by the death of his wife and struggles to keep his family safe during this surprise invasion. Joaquin Phoenix is equally good as his brother and also offers a lot of humor in the film.

Signs doesn’t really feel like a thriller from the guy who made The Sixth Sense but rather somebody trying to impersonate the guy who made The Sixth Sense. Visually it doesn’t look as good and the terror in the film comes more from cheap jump scares, which are scary for only a brief moment, rather than a lingering horror like we got from The Sixth Sense. The finale of the film and the messaging of “there are no coincidences” is also a bit silly and made you really wonder if Shyamalan was a one-hit-wonder in terms of his twist endings. Still, Signs features enough thrills, humor, and good performances to be ranked among Shyamalan’s best.

5. Unbreakable

Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) observes David Dunn (Bruce Willis) as he works as a security guard at a football stadium.

After the monstrous success of The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan now had the caché to make pretty much whatever movie he wanted to. So what did he do with his newfound clout? He used it to make a dark and somber superhero movie that doesn’t feature countless visual effects, capes, or costumes, but one that is about a security guard who’s never been sick and a man with bones like glass. Unbreakable is a slow and muted movie that focuses on a man (Bruce Willis) realizing that he might be a superhero. It’s a challenging movie and can feel like it’s dragging at some points, but it’s original in its approach to superheroes and the genre. Shyamalan deconstructs superheroes and comic books down to their core while also layering in themes of loneliness and understanding your purpose in the world.

Unbreakable showed a more mature side to Shyamalan in both his storytelling and his filmmaking. The cinematography by Eduardo Serra is spectacular and the score by James Newton Howard paints the mood and tone perfectly. Shyamalan showed he was a master in scene blocking and he brilliantly utilized frames (door frames, window frames, etc.) to make the film have more of a comic-book feel to it. Unbreakable didn’t have the same success as The Sixth Sense, but it showed a different side to the filmmaker.

4. The Village

A blind Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) tries to evade a red-cloaked monster in the woods outside of her village.

The Village is M. Night Shyamalan at the peak of his powers and he knew it. Though there are movies that I have ranked higher than this one, watching The Village is watching a master director at work. This is Shyamalan’s biggest and most impressive cast to date, featuring an all-star cast of William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Judy Greer, Cherry Jones, Jane Atkinson, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Pitt, and Bryce Dallas Howard in a stunning breakout turn and one of the best performances in any Shyamalan movie. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is gorgeous, utilizing pops of color throughout the dark, dreary woods and deep focus to give us a bigger picture of what is happening in the village.

The twist, or multiple twists, in this movie is what really turned people off when they saw it back in 2004. Shyamalan tried to rekindle whatever possessed him with The Sixth Sense and tried to give us another twist that changed the entire perspective of the movie. And while he may have failed in that regard, the twist of the village being a farce and the entire thing being set in the real world and created by a group of people who suffered some sort of horrific trauma is kind of great upon rewatch and really makes the movie work better as a whole. The Village is one of the few Shyamalan movies that gets better with multiple viewings.

3. Glass

Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), The Hoard (James McAvoy), and David Dunn (Bruce Willis) are being analyzed in an insane asylum by Dr. Elie Staple (Sarah Paulson)

Glass was the finale to Shyamalan’s surprising Eastrail 177 Trilogy following Unbreakable and Split. Going into Glass, a lot of hype circled around the showdown between the unbreakable man (Bruce Willis) and The Hoard (James McAvoy), with Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) as the brains behind it all. But that was far from the movie that we got. Shyamalan crafted a moody, compelling, thought-provoking superhero film that wasn’t focused on explosive and destructive set-pieces but was about the depths of its characters and what makes them super. These are regular people who used pain and trauma to become something more and exist in the real world. Our heroes don’t wear capes, they wear ponchos and track pants. Many were disappointed by the film, as they were expecting a huge, epic showdown between our heroes and in a cinematic world where we get at least three effects-driven, big-budget superhero movies a year, that’s to be expected. But Shyamalan subverts that and focuses not on our characters fighting, but why they’re fighting and why they are who they are.

Glass is one of Shyamalan’s best-looking movies. The production design is stunning, with striking uses of color and space and the cinematography is great. West Dylan Thordson’s haunting, stringy score adds to the tone perfectly and we got a trio of spectacular performances from Willis, McAvoy, and Jackson, Glass is a powerhouse finale to one of cinema’s most unique trilogies.

2. Split

Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) tries to trick Hedwig (James McAvoy, one of Kevin Wendell Crumb's personalities, into letting them free of as Claire (Hayley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) watch on from their bed.

Split marked the return of the auteur that we had not seen for over a decade. This was the first movie since Lady in the Water where you could see Shyamalan being fully creative and the first time since The Village where his film had a distinct look, style, and vibe to it while also being very good. James McAvoy gives the best performance in any Shyamalan movie as a man who has 23 personalities, with a 24th brewing. McAvoy gives an incredible performance that is perfectly over-the-top and captivating. With its themes of trauma and finding your place in the world, Split seemed like Shyamalan had returned to form.

And then the surprise twist that this movie is a sequel to Unbreakable happened and it was not only a great twist but completely changed what the movie was. This now wasn’t just a thriller about a man with 23 personalities, it was a villain origin story seventeen years after the hero origin story. Shyamalan always said that he wanted to make a sequel to Unbreakable and he had an idea in mind for it. But nobody thought that it would come in the form of Split. This mind-blowing revelation is one of the most surprising turns in a movie I have seen in a long time. This twist elevated Split from being a very good Shyamalan movie to one of his very best. 

1. The Sixth Sense

Malcolm (Bruce Willis) is comforting a terrified Cole (Haley Joel Osment) after Cole just saw the ghosts in his school hallway.

Shyamalan has yet to make a better movie than The Sixth Sense and I doubt he ever will. Upon release, all anyone could talk about was the iconic twist ending, but it’s the rewatches that solidify the movie’s greatness. The twist still plays very well, but it’s everything else Shyamalan does that makes the movie truly special. His tight, detailed screenplay, his brilliant use of blocking and cinematography, the perfectly placed scares, the lingering terror, the empathy towards his characters, the strong themes of purpose, forgiveness, and faith, and the performances he gets from Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, and Toni Collette (who is secretly the movie’s MVP and the emotional center of it)—it is masterful filmmaking all around, all from a 29-year-old with only one studio film under his belt.

The Sixth Sense will forever be the movie Shyamalan is known for. He could make twenty other movies in his career and everyone would still know him as “the Sixth Sense guy”. This is the movie that made Shyamalan’s career and made him a household name, for better or for worse. He was always chasing the success of this movie. From the booming box office to the Oscar nominations, to its place in cinematic history as one of the greatest movies ever made to trying to replicate another twist as surprising and great as this one, Shyamalan has always tried to repeat the magic of The Sixth Sense and he’s never quite captured it. The Sixth Sense is an iconic, game-changer of a movie and the best M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Bingeing all of Shyamalan’s movies was an interesting experience. When his movies are good, they are great, but when they are bad, they are painful to sit through. But, regardless of the film’s quality, watching all of his movies really made me appreciate him as a director. He may not always make the best movies, but he has a singular voice and vision that is something to behold in today’s cinematic landscape.

That’s my ranking, but I would love to hear from you guys. What would your ranking of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies be? What is your favorite Shyamalan movie? Let me know in the comments!

Written by Kevin Wozniak

Kevin is a film critic and writer from the suburbs of Chicago. He is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics, Online Film & Television Association, and Internet Film Critics Society. He usually writes movie reviews and lists of Film Obsessive.

You can find more of Kevin's work at

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