The 5 best M. Night Shyamalan movies (and where to stream them)

BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 16: Jury President M. Night Shyamalan is see on stage at the closing ceremony during the 72nd Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Berlinale Palast on February 16, 2022 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 16: Jury President M. Night Shyamalan is see on stage at the closing ceremony during the 72nd Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Berlinale Palast on February 16, 2022 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images) /

The king of the twist is back. Yes, M. Night Shyamalan has a new film premiering soon, titled Knock at the Cabin. The movie is an adaptation of the apocalyptic novel The Cabin at the End of the World about a family who must make a decision that could change the fate of the world. But before we trek once more into the mind of one of the most polarizing directors in Hollywood, let’s revisit a few of Shyamalan’s older movies and why his films are always must-watch events. Did your favorite M. Night Shyamalan movies make the cut?

There’s no doubting Shyamalan’s technical prowess. His distinctly Hitchcockian style is eminent throughout his filmography. He’s a master with his direction, opting for odd, interesting angles and knowing exactly when to focus on a subject or setting, leaving the camera still to build tension. His early work writing and directing even led to a Newsweek cover story that dubbed him the next Steven Spielberg. To say the bar was set high would be an understatement.

While the Spielberg comparison didn’t quite pan out, Shyamalan has carved a niche for himself in film history and his fingerprints can be seen on twists of all kinds. His early storytelling tropes led viewers to desire that moment they “never saw coming,” but it left the director on the back foot. Regardless, whether it be a low angle shot of Samuel L. Jackson being wheeled though a comic store radiating with neon in Unbreakable, his brilliant use of lighting in The Village, or the power of color in Glass, Shyamalan has proven he’s a master behind the camera and still deserves the attention of his viewers.

The 5 best M. Night Shyamalan movies

5. Unbreakable (2000)

If you’re looking for a film that’s aged so gracefully it might be better that you watch it for the first time now than the day it came out, look no further than Unbreakable. Shyamalan’s first attempt at a comic book film defied the conventional superhero arc and opted for a more realistic spin on what it means to be a hero.

Bruce Willis stars as David Dunn, a man who survives an unsurvivable train wreck and learns that he is as close a human can come to being invincible. Opposite him is Elijah Price, appropriately nicknamed Mr. Glass as a result of a condition that makes his bones easily breakable. Glass is played by Samuel L. Jackson, a perfect foil for Willis’ character. He’s a man obsessed with the idea of heroes and comic books, it would actually be a great meta-commentary on where we are with superhero films today.

The film succeeds because of it never relies on its hero in action. Instead it opts to key in on family issues and the idea of finding where you belong in the world. It never cheapens its characters and the vibrant, purple costume design of Glass and his surroundings make his scenes pop and give a bright feel to his character.

Unbreakable is now streaming on Apple TV+

4. Split (2016)

Split was the moment M. Night Shyamalan announced he was back. It’s led by a bone chilling performance from James McAvoy who plays Kevin, a man living with 23 personalities and soon to develop a terrifying 24th. He also casted Anya Taylor-Joy fresh off The Witch just a few years before she hit peak stardom.

While this didn’t start what I like to refer to as the third stage of Shyamalan’s career (The Visit was responsible for that), it brought him back to the commercial eye as a viable director again. Split is simply brutal, with McAvoy tearing and mauling using superhuman strength with just his hands. The psychological aspects of Split proved Shyamalan regained his grasp of storytelling that made viewers love him earlier in his career.

In a left hand turn unlike other left hand turns in his career, Split is a straightforward horror movie without the director’s iconic twist tendencies. This allowed M. Night to show off more of his directing chops without being judged for an ending that may or may not have worked. His focus on the duality of Kevin pays off as you equally feel empathy and absolutely horrified at the same time. The car abduction is one of the best scenes that Shamyalan has ever shot and the look that Anya Taylor-Joy gives McAvoy probably earned her at least five more roles in the following years.

Split is now streaming on FXNOW

3. The Village (2004)

Am I of the opinion that The Village is a masterpiece? No, but I also won’t argue with a person that thinks it is. This film has been panned, reviled, reclaimed, and praised in one of the most vicious take cycles a movie has ever gone through.

To put it in context, if you weren’t around back in 2004 The Village was a phenomenon. Everyone was talking about the twist, from your best friend to your mom’s friend who watches one film per year. People were convinced Shyamalan lost it, others argued that he probably never even had it.

The haters were wrong, The Village is awesome. Shyamalan uses fear as a justification for safety in a theme that’s still ever present today. The costume design of the creatures are chilling and the contrasting yellow hoods is a choice that still sticks with me to this day. The lighting and score are wonderfully done.

The ending wasn’t even bad given the context of the film. The overwhelming majority set their exceptions sky high begging for a twist they wanted, a problem that still persists in pop culture (hello Westworld). The next decade of Shyamalan’s filmography probably didn’t help as many took The Village to be the first step in his downfall (that was actually Lady in the Water). If it’s your first time watching it, keep an open mind. The Village is a classic and definitely deserves a rewatch if you haven’t done so in awhile.

The Village is now streaming on Apple TV+

2. Signs (2002)

Shyamalan is a director with patience. His slow developing storylines allow him to hold his cards close to his chest for a classic M. Night twist ending. Signs gets off and running from the start as we begin with the screams of children discovering a crop circle in their family’s cornfield.

Speaking of the cornfields, Shyamalan opted not to use CGI while making the alien symbols. Instead he and his team actually planted a full cornfield and created the crop circles themselves.

Signs’ twist ending falls flatter then flat Earth theories, but that shouldn’t define its legacy. The first ninety minutes stand up to any of his other films and the screenplay is emotional, funny, and thrilling. It’s one of the best alien invader films of the century and sitting in the basement with the Hess family with only a few flashlights waiting out the night is just as heart pounding the fifth time as the first time you watch it.

Signs is now streaming on HBO Max

1. The Sixth Sense (1999)

If you were coming to this list expecting a twist at number one, I’m sorry to have disappointed, but maybe that’s fitting depending on your feelings of M. Night Shyamalan. It was always going to be The Sixth Sense, if it was anything else I’d be lying. This film changed the course of his career, made M. Night a household name, and altered the way movie goers and critics evaluated thrillers forever. Its legacy is undeniable.

The performances in The Sixth Sense are just as outstanding as the screenplay itself. Bruce Willis plays Malcom the psychiatrist who is tasked with helping Cole, played by Haley Joel Osment, deal with his visions. Toni Collette plays Cole’s mother who heart breakingly can’t help her son. Each of these characters is written wonderfully and the acting is prestige. The shocks and scares in the film are amplified by its heart, having sympathy for the characters as they search for closure.

Shyamalan ushered in a new, modern era of thrillers and horror flicks and its influence can still be felt. Nowadays the line “I see dead people” is right up there with some of the most iconic in film history, people recognize it instantly. That’s what you call movie greatness.

The Sixth Sense is now streaming on Apple TV+

From this list, which M. Night Shyamalan movies are your favorite? bbbMake sure to get to the movies this week to check out Knock at the Cabin for what’s sure to be another wild ride in the career of M. Night Shyamalan.

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