M. Night Shyamalan has a vaired filmography attached to his name. Some of his films are great, some so unbelievably horrible that they are commonly listed as the worst movies ever made. He’s made thrillers, superhero movies, anime adaptations, and alien invasion movies with his signature style of plot twists and edge-of-your-seat suspense.
Whether you enjoy his movies or not, the director might be the closest thing we have today to Alfred Hitchcock’s successor. However, Shyamalan’s filmography isn’t nearly as impressive as old Hitch’s.
Fresh off the success of his latest film, Knock at the Cabin, we thought we’d look at M. Night Shyamalan’s lengthy filmography over the years, ranking his various movies from best to worst.
1. The Sixth Sense
Philadelphia-based child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) reels from a traumatic episode in his life. As Malcolm continues down the path to his recovery, he takes on a new patient who seemingly can communicate with the deceased (Haley Joel Osment).
Shyamalan’s first big-budget Hollywood movie and far and away his most successful, The Sixth Sense, is the director at his absolute best. Famous now for its twist ending (which would later become synonymous with Shyamalan’s career), The Sixth Sense was an overwhelming success, earning several Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
More a character study than a straightforward action film, Unbreakable features Bruce Willis giving perhaps the best performance of his career as David Dunn, a man who miraculously survives a horrific train accident, leading him to believe he possesses superhuman abilities.
Shyamalan’s follow-up to his overwhelmingly successful film The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, was one of its era's most innovative superhero movies. It was released a decade before Marvel and DC movies oversaturated the genre.
Though the movie has a somewhat abrupt ending, critics praised Unbreakable for its screenplay, characters, and performances, including Willis’s and a fantastic portrayal of the comic book-obsessed Mr. Glass, brilliantly played by Samuel L. Jackson. It’s one of Shyamalan’s finest movies and easily the best entry in his Unbreakable trilogy.
Waking up in an underground cell, 17-year-old Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her friends realize they’re being held hostage by a mentally disturbed young man with 24 different personalities (James McAvoy).
The movie responsible for cementing Shyamalan’s grand return as a noteworthy director, Split is an intelligent, well-done psychological thriller that audiences utterly adored. It employs an original concept, and the movie features some incredible performances by McAvoy and co-star Anya Taylor-Joy.
Additionally, Split’s unique ending revealed itself as a spinoff to Unbreakable, making it one of the most out-of-nowhere sequels in movie history. A solid second movie in Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy, this was a true prodigal return for the once-promising director who had fallen on hard times and was very positively received by audiences and critics alike.
Like many of Shyamalan’s movies, Signs takes place in rural Pennsylvania, following a former priest who has lost his faith (Mel Gibson) and his family as they start to suspect malevolent alien creatures are lurking in their cornfield.
Known for its notoriously abrupt, disappointing ending (a trait that many of Shyamalan’s films share), the first two acts of Signs genuinely show just how masterful Shyamalan is at creating suspense, brilliantly using each scene to build up the creepiness levels. As weak as its conclusion is, the first two-thirds of Signs is a fantastic sci-fi horror movie, as well as offering some fairly decent explorations of faith, family, and loss.
5. The Visit
Shyamalan’s return to form, The Visit, helped relaunch interest in his career after over a decade of negatively-received films. The Visit is unique among Shyamalan’s filmography in what would perhaps be the director’s most unconventional movie. The Visit tells the story of two teens who spend the weekend with their estranged grandparents, who begin expressing increasingly disturbing behavior as The Visit progresses.
Blending horror with comedy and using a “found-footage” approach that Shyamalan had never previously tried, The Visit is a great movie that will have you nervously laughing and twisting uncomfortably in your seat from scene to scene. Using a much smaller budget and featuring a cast of lesser-known actors, The Visit can be seen as a highlight of Shyamalan’s later career, showing how well he thrives when no one expects it.
6. Knock at The Cabin
Vacationing at their remote cabin in the woods, a married couple (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) and their seven-year-old daughter (Kristen Cui) are captured by a band of strangers who believe they must sacrifice the family to prevent an upcoming apocalyptic event.
Shyamalan’s film is far from the career heights of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable. But Paul G. Tremblay’s best-selling novel provides Shyamalan with an ideal narrative, playing to all his foremost talents and creative strengths as a director. It may not be frightening altogether, but its main storyline poses enough moral questions to keep audiences’ interest piqued.
Old is a claustrophobic thriller with a very outside-the-box approach, featuring time as the main villain.
Loosely adapted from the graphic novel, “Sandcastle,” Old focuses on a family spending a day on a remote beach, only to discover that they are aging rapidly each hour they spend there.
Not quite as great as some of Shyamalan’s previous movies, but definitely not as terrible as some of his others. Old features an entertaining enough exploration of linear progression, hinging on the idea that time is ticking by before the protagonist’s very eyes.
8. The Village
The first in what would become an eleven-year-long slump in Shyamalan’s career, The Village marked the director’s first critical failure. Featuring a fantastic cast that includes actors like Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, and Sigourney Weaver, The Village tells the story of a small, isolationist farming community in what is believed to be 19th-century Pennsylvania terrorized by strange, folkloric creatures who live in the surrounding woods. The film received mixed reviews upon its release, notably its controversial twist ending. However, it has grown favorably in recent years after critical re-evaluations.
The third and final entry in Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy, Glass spelled a potential career resurgence for Shyamalan after the success of Split. Fans and critics expressed enthusiasm about a crossover between Split and Unbreakable – two of Shyamalan’s most popular movies – but unfortunately, Glass itself didn’t live up to the hype.
Captured by a secretive government organization, David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) endure an experimental psychiatric procedure that asserts their superhuman abilities are manifestations of mental illness.
Packing perhaps too much content into one movie, critics complained about Glass’s unnecessary twist ending and its significant reduction of Unbreakable’s David Dunn and Split’s Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). While not the worst movie in Shyamalan’s canon, it still reveals that Shyamalan might make his best movies without the burden of expectation, as the director buckles under pressure when his work gets hyped.
10. Lady in The Water
Another of Shyamalan’s films that was nominated in several categories at the 2006 Golden Raspberry Award (with Shyamalan winning for Worst Director and Worst Supporting Actor), Lady in the Water marked Shyamalan's biggest flop up to that time.
Apartment complex superintendent Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) discovers a young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) swimming in his pool is, in fact, a mythical fairy tale creature. Working with his tenants, the man tries to return the woman to her world while an evil animal from the woman’s realm tries to stop them.
It’s a promising premise that would probably make for a great children’s story, but the problem with Lady in the Water is that it doesn’t seem to know what audience to target. Serious, dark, and humorless, Lady in the Water bombed at the box office, only grossing $72.8 million on a $70 million budget, with critics equally panning the movie.
11. The Happening
As a mysterious viral infection sweeps across the world – causing those infected to take their own lives – a New York science teacher (Mark Wahlberg) and his family flee to Philadelphia to escape this strange new plague.
Shyamalan’s first big-budget R-rated movie, starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, earned him multiple Golden Raspberry Award nominations (an accolade he’d either be nominated for or win numerous times throughout his career) and came in eighth on Empire magazine’s “50 Worst Movies of All Time.”
Panned for its story and horrendous performances from the cast, The Happening was yet another career low for Shyamalan. Wahlberg labeled it “a really bad movie” while promoting The Fighter. More recently, the movie has been gaining traction as a parody of 1950s’ B-movies designed to be “intentionally bad” – but with how downright poorly made this movie is, it’s doubtful that even Shyamalan planned it to be this bad (although if he had, he is a much better director than we give him credit for).
12. After Earth
In the distant future, a high-ranking peacekeeping officer (Will Smith) and his son (Jaden Smith) crash land on Earth centuries after the planet has been abandoned, doing their best to establish a rudimentary colony on humanity’s former homeworld.
It’s hard to pick Shyamalan’s absolute worst movie, but After Earth is a close runner-up. Lambasted by critics, the film suffered from accusations of nepotism regarding Jaden Smith’s role in the movie and criticism for a subliminal message supposedly advocating for Scientology. Even Will Smith called the film “the most painful failure” of his career.
13. The Last Airbender
As the invasion of the Fire Nation escalates, a pair of siblings (Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone) discover the mythical Avatar Aang (Noah Ringer) frozen in a block of ice. Unfreezing him, Aang assumes his responsibilities as Avatar, mastering the four elements to bring balance to the world once again.
Fans of the incredibly popular American-made anime series Avatar: The Last Airbender weren’t just disappointed with Shyamalan’s 2010 adaptation of the show – they were crushed. Boiling an entire television series into an hour and forty-five-minute movie is never easy. Still, longtime Avatar fans rightfully believed Shyamalan butchered their beloved series when it came to his film adaptation.
Upon its release, Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender earned a reputation as one of the worst movies ever made. Fans and critics blasted the movie for its screenplay, CGI, acting, and the numerous liberties it took in adapting the series from its source material. The movie even faced allegations of racism for its whitewashed casting, making it an uncomfortable movie to watch as well. Considering its universally hostile reception, it’s a miracle Shyamalan’s career survived at all.
Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.
Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).