One of the most anticipated horror films of 2023 is M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin. The film is based on a novel written by Paul G. Tremblay. It stars Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, and Rupert Grint. This recent release has got me thinking about Shyamalan’s career. It has definitely been an interesting one. The man came out so strong with multiple hits and even Newsweek at one point called him “The Next Spielberg”
Shyamalan found success really fast but that success was not sustained. Over time, his films had become not well received by critics and audiences alike. There were complaints about the awkward dialogue, questionable character traits, and hard-to-believe ending twists. Did Shyamalan’s ego get the best of him? No one knows for sure what happened exactly. I remember sitting in a theatre and a trailer for 2010’s Devil was playing. The crowd seemed into it until Shyamalan’s name flashed across the screen. Suddenly all you could hear were groans and laughter.
This is what is so interesting about Shyamalan’s career. It was so high at one point and dropped so very low. Currently, it is somewhere in the middle. He has put out some good stuff as of late but there is still a lot of weird awkward things too. No matter what people think of him, it is obvious the man loves movies and he always swings for the fences. I wanted to look back at all his films and see where they all stand. Here are all of M. Night Shyamalan’s films ranked.
Note- I am only ranking films directed by Shyamalan. So, Devil and Stuart Little will not be on this list…Yes, he wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little. This list will also not count his student film which is rare to find.
13. The Last Airbender
This is easily Shyamalan’s worst film. One of the best-animated shows of all time led to one of the worst adaptations ever made. In the show, people fell in love with the story arcs, the characters, and their development. There is just about nothing to love here.
Shyamalan didn’t seem to understand what people wanted. The acting and direction are atrocious throughout. The world that this is supposed to take in is supposed to be exciting. Instead, the movie is beyond boring and even with a big budget, the effects seem very subpar. All the characters are stripped of any emotion. This was Shyamalan’s most expensive film and it doesn’t seem he will be handed a movie with such a big budget any time soon.
This film upset many people for multiple reasons. The whitewashing also did not do the movie any favors.
12. After Earth
Father and son try to mend their bond in the future as they travel together. Once their craft crashes they have to rely on each other to survive. Sounds interesting? It isn’t.
The worst thing about this film is how boring and uninteresting it is. The action is forgettable. The performances are wooden. The effects are nothing we haven’t seen before. A movie set in the future should have something interesting to say and there is nothing here. Will Smith and his son Jaden truly are wasted here.
The story is about a father leading his son and helping him understand what it’s like to fight and survive. The issue is we don’t care about the journey. Shyamalan was really in a rut during this time.
11. Lady in the Water
Cleveland Heep saves a young woman from danger only to find out she is a character from a bedtime story. He also finds out that the people around him are also works of fiction. Cleveland does what he could to protect the characters around him.
The story sounds interesting enough but the issue really is the lack of suspense and the dull script. The performances are not too bad but the film comes off as really pretentious. Shyamalan at this time was still in high demand but his previous film wasn’t really well received.
Shyamalan doesn’t only write and direct this film but he also acts in it. Not just a cameo but a full-on role. Not just a role but basically the hero. He plays the writer who will one day write a story that will someday change the world for the better. Excuse me? If that isn’t wild enough, there is a character who is a film critic who is the butt of every joke.
The movie all around had potential with some great ideas but it just comes off as a mess.
This movie was the finale of a trilogy and easily the worst part. We get characters David Dunn, Mr. Glass, and The Beast in an all-out battle. Shyamalan brings back characters from two of his more popular films but this time the film comes off as just disappointing.
The performances are good and the comic book angle is welcomed but the pacing is off throughout the movie. This really did not have to be a trilogy and doesn’t even seem like one. James McAvoy is truly fantastic and Sarah Paulson does well with what she’s given but both are wasted in a mediocre script. There are way too many random unnecessary twists and turns instead of telling a good straight story. It is truly a movie that didn’t need to even happen.
A family decides to vacation on a secluded beach. There is something wrong here though as the beach randomly causes the family to rapidly age.
Old is not a good movie. Once again the premise is interesting but the execution is off. I don’t want to give away the twist here because the movie is still kind of new, but I will say it isn’t very satisfying at all. The characters aren’t really interesting here and the writing seems rather lazy.
What makes Old better than other films on this list is that it is never boring. There are Shyamalan movies that are just dull and not very good. Then there are some that are so wildly insanely bad that they turn out to be a fun time. Old is one of those films. The acting and writing here are so questionable. A trope that is in a lot of Shyamalan films is people not talking like people. Characters in his films tend to speak like aliens from another planet.
No one in this movie is believable. They shout at uncomfortable moments. They act nonchalant in bigger moments and it all makes for an awkward movie. The effects are okay in some places but hilariously bad in others. I would recommend this one but mostly because it’s a weird good time.
8. The Happening
Something in the sky is causing people around the world to kill themselves in disturbing ways. A group of people tries to escape the invisible killer.
I put this one in the same category as Old. Not a good movie, but man this is fun from beginning to end. Yes, we get awkward acting and dialogue. We get weird camera angles and uncomfortable close-ups. We get a poorly written screenplay and a very terrible twist. It really isn’t a twist. People are in danger and then they just randomly aren’t anymore.
Shyamalan somehow directs the characters in this movie as people who seem to have never spoken actual sentences in their life. Mark Wahlberg has played plenty of tough guys in his career and here I have no idea what he’s trying to be. His performance is all over the place. Soft-spoken in one moment and frantic in the next. Zooey Deschanel is always pretty likable. Here, she moves around like a deer in headlights and is not given anything really to do.
We get people talking to plants, weird line deliveries, and even an out-of-nowhere conversation about hot dogs. I would recommend this one because it truly is a mess that needs to be seen to be believed.
7. The Village
An Amish-style community lives cut off from the world. They never go into the woods because that is where unusual creatures live. But when one of the villagers falls ill, another villager must travel through the woods to find medicine.
The Village is a pretty good movie right up until we get to the twist ending. There are plenty of creepy moments throughout the film and the tone for the most part is consistent. Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquin Phoenix give great performances and the movie intrigues you with the story that it is telling.
The fear of the unknown is what works best here. We know monsters are out there and we don’t want our main characters hurt. There is something to be said here about using fear to control others. Unfortunately, this is a movie where the final twist really brings it down.
We discover that the monsters are not monsters at all. They are the elders of the village scaring others into never going outside the village walls. Why? Because the truth is that this village actually exists in modern times. One of the Elders in the 1970s created this village for people who have dealt with grief. Now they could live in peace from the outside world.
Sometimes less is more. This is one of the silliest twists I have ever seen. The creatures not being real is not the problem. The issue is the village existing in modern times for 2 main reasons. One, there is no way in hell a regular guy has enough money to pay off the government, police, etc to live in a secret location and even make it a no-fly zone. No way. Two, in thirty-plus years, no one has gotten sick and needed medicine? Finally, the person who does just so happens to be a blind woman and won’t discover the truth.
It makes it worse that we are told this twist by Shyamalan himself who plays a park ranger. It is a shame because the rest of the movie is really well done. It is just too bad it all leads to an ending that is nowhere near as clever as Shyamalan may think.
6. Wide Awake
A boy in a Catholic school starts to question his faith after his grandfather passes away.
This is a movie that not a lot of people are familiar with. It was Shyamalan’s first studio film and in my opinion, it is an underrated one. The movie was filmed in 1995 but not released until 1998 due to production issues and stars Joseph Cross and Rosie O’Donnell.
I wish Shyamalan made more grounded films like this because it actually has a lot of interesting things to say. Some might disregard this as another family film but it actually is pretty adult. There are a lot of serious conversations about the afterlife and what is real and what isn’t and the performances help this movie a lot.
I feel we don’t always have family films that want to be more adult and I really applaud Shyamalan for taking a risk like this. The movie isn’t perfect. We still get some awkward scenes. A lot of the kids talk like adults here and it doesn’t always feel natural. The ending of the movie also feels like a little bit of a misfire but overall Wide Awake is one that people should check out to see another side of Shyamalan.
A man named Kevin has 23 different personalities inside of him. There is one still inside of him though that wants to dominate the others. He ends up kidnapping three girls and they have to struggle to survive and hopefully escape while Kevin struggles with the other personalities.
Split is a wild thrilling fun film for sure. There is tension throughout and the lack of an over-the-top twist is very welcomed. Just an edge-of-your-seat type style.
James Mcavoy gives what is possibly his best performance ever really giving depth to a bunch of his personalities. You feel for him but you also are afraid of him. Anya Taylor Joy is also a standout and because of how good she is, it is no surprise that she is in high demand to be in just about everything now.
A tacked-on lazy connection to Unbreakable is the only real sour part here but Split is really a smart, fun thriller.
After a man discovers what appears to be crop circles near his home, they soon change his and his family’s life with the fact that aliens could indeed be real.
Signs is a film that deals with grief and faith throughout and does it in an interestingly intelligent way. There is tension throughout the movie and it has one of the most effective scares ever. This could have easily been a straight sci-fi horror film but Shyamalan gives us emotion, a good story, and a well-paced creepy film.
Shyamalan really takes his time here building suspense and introducing characters that we care about. Mel Gibson is really good here and Joaquin Phoenix is always welcome in any movie. The dialogue written for the children is pretty unbelievable and the alien’s weakness is pretty dumb but overall Signs is a fun engaging sci-fi film.
3. The Visit
Becca and her younger brother Tyler are off to visit their grandparents for the first time ever. Soon they discover there is something strange about grandma and grandpa. Will the siblings ever return home?
This is a fun-as-hell scary movie. Shyamalan takes a shot at the found footage genre as we follow Becca who is making a documentary about visiting her grandparents. Her goal is to possibly reunite her mom and grandmother who had a falling out many years ago.
Some of Shyamalan’s films can be unintentionally hilarious and this one seems like Shyamalan was finally in on the joke. We get many well-shot terrifying scenes that are paired perfectly with awkward humor. The reason it works here is that the grandparents are already acting weird. Something is wrong. Something doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It makes the movie scary because we truly don’t know what is going to happen next.
The acting here is good. Our leads are likable kids and we want to see them make it through. The grandparents are the standouts here. They truly nail every scene they are a part of. There is a family game night scene and it is horrifying and hilarious at the same time.
The movie makes you laugh and wince for all the right reasons. The twist is a good one that makes the movie even scarier and the pace is perfect throughout. This is easily one of Shyamalans most rewatchable films.
When a man becomes the only survivor of a horrific train crash, he starts to question his life of good luck and the fact that he is “unbreakable”. When a man who grows increasingly weaker over time hears of the crash, he sets to find his opposite.
Unbreakable is a great movie that discusses what if superheroes were real? Not only is Unbreakble one of the better superhero films to come out but it is also a tightly written suspenseful thriller. This is not your average comic book movie as this one doesn’t rely on action and flash but more on the emotions of its characters.
Our main character also discovers when he makes contact with certain people he can see the crimes they have committed which leads to plenty of intriguing situations where a choice to act and protect needs to be decided. Shyamalan took an action star like Bruce Willis and instead of leaning towards action, he reminded a lot of people how good an actor Willis truly is.
Every time I watch this one it gets better and better and the twist here is smart, earned, and sad all at the same time. If somehow you let Unbreakable pass you by, definitely check it out.
1. The Sixth Sense
Cole has a secret. He can see dead people. Dr. Malcolm is a child psychologist who is dealing with his own demons. Together, maybe they can help each other.
It is really no surprise that Shyamalan’s best film is the one that made him a household name. Over 20 years later and this is still one of the best supernatural horror thrillers ever made. Bruce Willis is great as a man trying to help a boy get past his fears. Haley Joel Osment is the standout and is truly compelling in this role.
The movie is scary without a doubt. When dead people are around it gets cold. When it gets cold we know something is coming. There is so much memorable imagery in this film. The movie also turns into a sort of mystery as Cole begins to embrace this gift and help those who have died.
What surprises me the most is how sweet the movie can also be. Toni Collete plays Cole’s mom and she is always amazing in all that she is in. There is a scene where Cole is speaking to his mom in the car and it is so well written and so incredibly painful and beautiful. It’s scenes like this that really puts this movie above the rest.
You can watch this movie and get scared. Another time you can watch it and relate to the themes of death and loss. You get something out of it with each repeated viewing. The movie was nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Osment.
The twist is well known but it is still impactful and arguably one of the best twists in a film ever. It is not just a horror film but an amazing achievement for film in general. The Sixth Sense really shows how good of a director Shyamalan can be.
What is your favorite Shyamalan film? Let us know in the comments.