Every well-known director has a trademark (ex. Quentin Tarantino loves feet). Sometimes it feels like M. Night Shyamalan writes his movies around those trademark plot twists. So, if one takes on the gargantuan task of ranking his movies, you’re actually ranking his twists and how they work within those movies…often they don’t even make sense within the narrative and almost always warrant an eye roll, but you never know what you’re going to get. Hell, that’s the fun. Shyamalan’s latest flick is Old , which follows a family that goes on a tropical vacation only to find that the beach where they are relaxing is somehow causing them to age rapidly. Despite the film’s best attempts at subverting Syamalanian expectations (whatever that means), it does not. In fact, the more you think about Old ’s twist, well, it gets old very quickly. However, it’s certainly not his worst film. In fact, it’s among his best—let’s take rank them. Obviously, beware of spoilers!
Cover Photo: Universal Pictures
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9. 'The Happening' (2008)
The Last Airbender , After Earth , Wide Awake , any of those three could be here at number nine. This spot on Shyamalan's list is straight doodoo water. So, what puts The Happening above those? A heavy-handed climate change metaphor and Mark Walhberg weird high-pitched voice, because no one’s going to believe this tough guy is a science teacher unless he talks like Elmo.
The Happening follows Wahlberg’s Elliot Moore and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) as they try to outrun a pandemic (and the wind...) as it causes people to randomly commit suicide. The twist here is that the plants are causing people to harm themselves in self defense? At the end of the movie, Elliot and Alma surrender to the plants, only to realize the happening is over...for whatever reason. One really has to wonder and respect how Shyamalan pitched this movie.
8. 'The Village' (2004)
The Village is grade-A Shyamalan cheese. After watching a movie seemingly about an Amish community living x amount of years who are haunted by monsters, we come to find out (at the very end of the film) that the village elders turned a modern-day park into “the village” to preserve their values. The "monsters" are just dressed-up elders sheep-dogging citizens. Unfortunately, that’s the entire film.
7. 'Old' (2021)
As previously mentioned, Old’ s plot takes place on a very inconvenient beach. It’s actually based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Frederik Peeters and, after further review, the graphic novel is better. At one point in the movie, hormonal teenagers (who are mentally five/six years old) have sex, get pregnant, and have a baby...sort of. Why? Who knows. It doesn’t matter to the plot whatsoever. There are a lot of interesting ideas in Old; however, the execution just isn’t there. Old is at its best when everyone is having an extreme existential crisis. It’s at its worst when it’s revealed the beach’s resort is a front for a research team conducting clinical trials of new medical drugs—the beach’s magic allowing them to complete lifetime trails within a single day. Okay. I don't care.
6. 'Glass' (2019)
Unbreakable and Split were sooo good. Unfortunately, Glass , doesn’t land as a conclusion to Shyamalan’s trilogy. It just feels anticlimactic. On top of that, it’s twist—that Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Staple, a psychiatrist who specializes in patients who believe they’re superheroes/villains, actually works for a secret organization determined to eliminate people with superpowers—comes out of nowhere. He didn’t write his movie around this twist, he just threw it in. Twist. Check.
6. 'The Visit' (2015)
Before Split , The Visit was Shyamalan’s return to form. This indie horror saw the writer/director, for the first time, making fun of his own tropes. The film follows a pair of teenagers who go to visit their grandparents, who they’ve never met (due to an ongoing family feud). Long synopsis short, the wrinkles are weird. Turns out, these old folks aren’t their grandparents at all but lunatics who escaped from a mental asylum and killed the real grandma and grandpa.
4. 'Signs' (2002)
Signs is mostly a great thriller, following a jaded preacher who encounters extraterrestrial life on his farm following the death of his wife. Then, we find out the aliens’ weakness is water—which sets up the most lackluster finale act in Shyamalanian history. Why would the aliens invade a planet made almost entirely of water?
3. 'Split' (2016)
Split didn’t actually need a twist. The film follows Kevin and his 23 personalities as they kidnap three girls to feed the final personality, The Beast. James McAvoy does some serious acting in this film as it explores abuse and the subsequent mental scaring. Shyamalan spends the entire film convincing the audience they’re watching an original story, and then we see Bruce Willis’ David Dunn watching TV. Oh, nice, an Unbreakable sequel.
2. 'Unbreakable' (2000)
Unbreakable is Shyamalan’s masterpiece, exploring “superheroes in the real world” long before Amazon’s The Boys . Willis plays security guard David Dunn who discovers he’s, well, unbreakable. Also, he can see if someone is going to/did commit a crime just by touching them. David’s origin story is facilitated by fragile comic book obsessive Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who is ultimately revealed he’s Mr. Glass: the man responsible for a handful of disasters and/accidents, killing people to someone indestructible like David.
1. 'The Sixth Sense' (1999)
The Sixth Sense is the film that made Shyamalan a household name. It follows Bruce Willis as a child psychologist, Malcolm Crowe, who treats a young boy named Cole (Hayley Joel Osment), who, obviously, sees dead people . Dead people who don’t know they’re dead. Ghosts Jerry, ghosts! At first, Crowe doesn’t believe the kid but then he eventually he does, giving Cole the idea to help ghosts with their unfinished business…Then it’s revealed that Crowe was killed by a patient and has been dead for most of the film—Shyamalan’s most iconic plot twist.