By Abb Jones
The Reelness

M. Night Shyamalan is one frustrating filmmaker. After his wildly successful, 1999 mystery/thriller juggernaut The Sixth Sense, he was poised to become the next Steven Spielberg. But despite a hit-or-miss record consisting of only one other hit (Signs) and a whopping ELEVEN subsequent misses, there is one recurring theme – all of his major films, even the really awful ones, have managed to squeak out a profit. As long as moviegoers continue to spend money on his crappy films, his crappy films will continue.

M. Night Shyamalan cameo appearance in 2002’s Signs, and right, in 2016.

One other conclusion, based on the data: long gone are Shyamalan’s days of big budget blockbusters. For the past decade, the director famous for his Alfred Hitchcock-type cameo appearances in his films hasn’t spent more than $20 million to make a single film. And while the two installments (Split, Glass) to the Unbreakable trilogy each brought in more than $200 million in profits- largely due to the cult following of the original film – no other Shyamalan movie has done so. In fact, his last two films barely squeezed out a profit amidst terrible reviews. Maybe we are finally (slowly) quitting him, after all.

Below is a ranking of Shyamalan’s 13 major films in profitability, using an admittedly oversimplified, box office minus budget calculation, adding grades (if seen) as well as reviews (hyperlinks in gold) if reviewed at The Reelness.

Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis in Sixth Sense

1. The Sixth Sense (1999) Grade: A

Haul: $633 million
($673 million box office – $40 million budget)

Not only is Shyamalan’s first major film, this twisty mystery/thriller starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, and Toni Collette, universally considered Shyamalan’s best – it also is far and away his most profitable. The Sixth Sense landed Shyamalan two Oscar nominations (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay) as part of the film’s six overall (including one for Best Picture, and Supporting Actor/Actress nods for Osment and Collette), setting Shyamalan up for a VERY profitable filmmaking career.

Mel Gibson and Rory Culkin in Signs

2. Signs (2002) Grade: B+

Haul: $336 million
($408 million box office – $72 million budget)

Just three years after Sixth Sense, this crop circles/alien invasion sci-fi/mystery/thriller starring Mel Gibson, Joachim Phoenix, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin was another box office and critically acclaimed hit, exploring themes of faith and kinship, in addition to extraterrestrials.

Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy in Split

3. Split (2016) Grade: C-

Haul: $270 million
($279 million box office – $9 million budget)

It would take 14 years for Shyamalan to again break the $200 million profit threshold, with this second installment in the trilogy to 2000’s cult favorite Unbreakable, with James McAvoy starring in this psychological thriller as a deranged kidnapper with dissociative identity disorder (more commonly known as split personalities), one of which seemingly has superhero powers. Anya Taylor-Joy stars as one of his kidnap victims.

Lawrence Fishburne, James McAvoy and Bruce Willis in Glass.

4. Glass (2019)

Haul: $227 million
($247 million box office – $20 million budget)

And because fans apparently love even a not-so-great franchise, Shyamalan smartly cranked out this third installment in the Unbreakable trilogy, just three years after Split, with Lawrence Fishburne, Bruce Willis and James McEvoy reprising their roles from the prior films. Fans of the 2000 film ate it up, despite Glass getting dreadful reviews.

Bryce Dallas Howard in The Village

5. The Village (2004) Grade: C

Haul: $197 million
($257 million box office – $60 million budget)

2004’s The Village was probably the first film where Shyamalan’s filmmaking reputation took a serious hit. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody and Sigourney Weaver as Puritans in a 1600s-era community facing mysterious monsters beyond their community’s walled perimeter, the thriller’s big bait-and-switch twist at the end didn’t so much impress moviegoers as it did piss them off. We’d been punked.

Lawrence Fishburne and Bruce Willis in Unbreakable

6. Unbreakable (2000)

Haul: $173 million
($248 million box office – $75 million budget)

This immediate follow up to Sixth Sense rode Bruce Willis’ fame and Shyamalan’s sudden popularity to rake in enough at the box office and later give him the idea for the even more popular trilogy installments a decade and a half later that would, as mentioned above, be box office winners, even if none of these films were as good as this first installment, which starred Bruce Willis as the survivor of a train crash who discovers he has superhero powers.

Noah Ringer in The Last Airbender

7. The Last Airbender (2010) Grade: F

Haul: $169 million
($319 million box office – $150 million budget)

The massive $150 million budget for this action-adventure fantasy film based on the Nickelodeon animation television series Avatar: The Last Airbender did not pay off as had been hoped. The film tells the story of Aang, a young avatar who must master all four elements – air, water, fire and earth – to restore balance to the world. Plans to turn this film into a three-movie franchise were scrapped after it was a box office bomb in the U.S. (it did better elsewhere) and a multitude of publications naming it one of the worst films of all time. Critic Roger Ebert even called it “an agonizing experience.”

Jaden Smith in After Earth

8. After Earth (2013) Grade: D

Haul: $121 million
($251 million box office – $130 million budget)

And the equally poor box office performance of this futuristic sci-fi/action-adventure starring Jaden Smith and actor/father Will Smith, on the heels of The Last Airbender just three years before, marked the end of Shyamalan’s big +$100 million budgets.

Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg in The Happening

9. The Happening (2008) Grade: D

Haul: $115 million
($163 million box office – $48 million budget)

This dull as dishwater film starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, about planet Earth attacking humanity with killer plant spores that cause mass suicides when airborne, was a critical failure, despite a solid box office and a promising premise that was hampered with Shyamalan’s penchant for a lack of coherent storytelling.

Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge and Kathryn Hahn in The Visit

10. The Visit (2015) Grade: C

Haul: $93 million
($98 million box office – $5 million budget)

Of Shyamalan’s films on this list, this cheapest to produce – about two children who visit their estranged grandparents only to discover some increasingly unsettling behavior, was surprisingly one of his more clever, twisty premises in the past decade, playing on children’s inherent unease with elderly strangers. Kathryn Hahn has a brief but pivotal role as the kids’ mother, but like most of his films, it also gets stupid in the third act.

Vicky Krieps, Gael Garcia Bernal and Abbey Lee in Old

11. Old (2021) Grade: D-

Haul: $36 million
($54 million box office – $18 million budget)

Not since 2006’s box office bomb, Lady in the Water, had a Shyamalan film underperformed so poorly at the box office, as this silly 2021 body horror about tourists on a mysterious beach that age a lifetime in a matter of hours. Despite a big name ensemble cast that included Vicky Krieps, Gael Garcia Bernal, Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff, the film ends with an infuriatingly stupid twist that makes 2004’s The Village look like a masterpiece by comparison.

Ben Aldridge, Kristen Cui, Jonathan Groff and Dave Bautista in Knock at the Cabin

12. Knock at the Cabin (2023) Grade: D+

Haul: $34 million
($54 million box office – $20 million budget)

Hold my beer, Old! Shyamalan’s most recent effort, a feeble tale about a group of intruders convinced that a same sex family’s self-sacrifice holds the key to saving the planet from a global apocalypse, has become Shyamalan’s new worst box office performer since 2004’s Lady in the Water…

Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti in Lady in the Water

13. Lady in the Water (2006) Grade: F

Haul: $3 million
($73 million box office – $70 million budget)

…which brings us to this abysmal fantasy/thriller starring Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard, about an apartment building maintenance man who discovers a mysterious woman in the swimming pool after hours. It is Shyamalan’s biggest bomb of the list both critically and financially, its weak box office barely covering the costs of production.

So there you have it. Shyamalan’s films – even the worst of the worst – continue to make money because some of you keeping paying money to see them. Questions or comments? Chime in, in the comments box below:

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  1. John Stercho March 25, 2023

    I was not impressed by 'Knock at the Cabin' - screenplay was too "thin" - plot development too long - resolution felt hectic and rushed. This was a psychological thriller that left me wanting on so many levels; narrative and backstory felt diluted and lukewarm in contrast to The Sixth Sense and Signs ... IMHO