Or is it???
M. Night became a household name back in 1999, when The Sixth Sense’s twist ending proved so sensational that it earned the movie a Best Picture nod at the Oscars and spawned countless copycat thrillers, each trying to one-up the last (with diminishing returns).
But no one has ripped off The Sixth Sense more than M. Night himself, who has constantly had a “gotcha!” somewhere in his movies ever since. For a while, this was a neat trick… but then it got to the point where the only possible plot twist we wouldn’t see coming in an M. Night movie was no plot twist at all.
In honor of the Will Smith and Jaden Smith-starring After Earth, hitting theaters today, here are all of M. Night Shyamalan’s plot twists, ranked from mind-blowing to face-palming.
The Story: Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a child psychologist assigned to help Cole Sear, a misfit boy who sees dead people. He’s also having problems at home with a wife who seems to be ignoring him…
But Then… Twist!: It turns out, Malcolm himself dead! No wonder his wife has been giving him the cold shoulder…
Verdict: No twist here ― the most obvious choice ranks at #1. Pretty much an instant classic (and always the first movie that comes up when we’re talking about twist endings), The Sixth Sense is filled with great performances and more attention to character than we’re used to in a supernatural thriller, helping it become the highest-grossing supernatural thriller of all time. Basically, it’s the movie that allowed every other film on this list to get made…
The Story: Bruce Willis (again) stars as David Dunn, who survives a deadly train wreck without a scratch on him. After a visit from Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), David realizes he’s never been sick, never been injured, and has more strength than he ever knew.
But Then… Twist!: After his first superheroic act saving a captive family from a sadistic janitor, David discovers that Elijah has been a criminal mastermind all along, searching for the unbreakable superhero to match his supervillainy.
Verdict: The marketing for Unbreakable actually did a remarkable job at hiding any notion that this was comic book- type movie, making it one of M. Night’s most consistently surprising. A story about an unbreakable man could have gone in several ways ― we’ve rarely seen a superhero movie where the hero and villain weren’t obvious all along. With this film, M. Night was 2 for 2 in Bruce Willis thrillers, even though this one was a more modest success at the box office.
The Story: In a classic Twilight Zone-style setup, five strangers are trapped in an elevator… and as the lights go out, are attacked one by one. Their worst aspects come out as they try to decide which of them is doing the dirty work, with Jane (an old lady), Vince (a sleazy salesman), Ben (a violent security guard), and Sarah (a gold digger) all picked off leaving Tony as the last survivor.
But Then… Twist!: In case the title didn’t give it away, one of these people is the Devil! It’s Jane, who is not so dead after all. She rises up and attacks as Tony reveals that he was involved in a hit and run that killed a cop’s family years earlier. Apparently this is all the Devil’s setup, since that detective has been watching this play out the whole time.
Verdict: M. Night didn’t direct this film, he just wrote the story ― but his twisty little fingerprints are all over it. As in many of his films, there are religious overtones and a fatalistic sense that everything was “meant to be,” but the Devil’s identity is truly surprising and it all kind of works, in a hokey B-movie way. Devil never pretends to be more than what it is.
The Story: Aliens invade Earth, as they so often do. We focus on the Hess family, led by former priest Graham (played by Mel Gibson ― heh), still grieving for his deceased wife as their family farm comes under attack. Along the way we learn that Graham’s brother Merrill is a former baseball player and daughter Bo likes to leave glasses full of water around the house.
But Then… Twist!: Just when all is lost, Graham remembers his wife’s dying words: “Tell Merrill to swing away.” Merrill grabs his baseball bat and smashes the stray water glasses, and ― twist! ― we learn the aliens are averse to water.
Verdict: Why aliens who can be killed by touching water came to invade a planet that is 71% water is a bit suspicious, and all this seems a little too cute and convenient to be believed. (Though the whole point is that it’s part of God’s plan… to survive an alien attack.) Signs has its strengths and weaknesses, but the twist at the end can definitely induce some eyerolls as this marked the turning point for when we started losing patience with M. Night’s gotchas.
5. The Village (2004)
The Story: Sometime in the 19th century, an isolated village lives in fear of “Those We Don’t Speak Of,” monsters who roam the surrounding woods. When one of the villagers is injured, a young blind woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) is sent out to get medicine, encountering one of the beasts along the way.
But Then… Twist!: The beast is just developmentally disabled villager who found a stray costume, since the “Elders” have been making up the monsters all along, hoping to keep the villagers at home. Why? Because the movie is actually set in modern day, and the “Elders” just want to maintain a 19th century lifestyle, for some reason.
Verdict: Oof. Yes, M. Night “got us” with this one, but the twist rendered any suspense from earlier in the film totally pointless. Why send a blind girl out to get medicine? The movie doesn’t really hold up to logic, and earned M. Night a lot of ill will from those growing tired of his “gotchas” for “gotchas” sake.
The Story: People in the northeast U.S. suddenly begin killing themselves en masse. A high school science teacher named Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) go on the run from what appears to be an airborne toxin.
But Then… Twist!: A nurseryman reveals that plants are the culprit ― they’re sending out a toxin in the wind trying to eliminate humans because they deem mankind’s disregard for the planet to be a threat to their own survival.
Verdict: Oof. While the idea of mass suicides is chilling, it’s hard to make an airborne toxin carried by the wind cinematic. (The wind is your villain, M. Night? Seriously?) We get unintentionally funny scenes of Marky Mark trying to reason with a plant and a crazy old woman going even crazier, which at least makes this fun on a camp level. Still, the very idea behind this movie is enough to make audiences say, “What?!? Nooooo!!”
7. Lady In The Water (2006)
The Story: Based on a bedtime story M. Night made up for his kids (and it shows), Lady in the Water follows a Philadelphia man (Paul Giamatti) who discovers a charming “Narf” (Bryce Dallas Howard) being hunted by a deadly “Scrunt” but being protected by the “Tartutic,” then sets off to find her Guardian, Symbolist, Guild, and Healer… (no, this doesn’t make any more sense when you’re watching it).
But Then… Twist!: M. Night casts himself as a writer neighbor whose stories are destined to change the world (gag). There’s also a film critic named Farber who comes to a grisly end at the jaws of the Scrunt, a not-so-subtle metaphor for how M. Night feels about his many detractors. Paul Giamatti’s son also finds crucial clues written on, um, a cereal box.
Verdict: After some highly publicized behind-the-scenes drama with executives who grew tired of M. Night’s massive ego, Lady in the Water really had to deliver to get M. Night back on track as a respectable filmmaker. And it sure didn’t! This may have worked as a cute fairy tale for very young children, but anyone older than that needs more than bedtime story logic. It’s basically M. Night at his worst, completely serving himself without much regard for the audience. Sometimes the critics are right…
8. The Last Airbender (2010)
The Story: Teen siblings team up with an Airbender (the last one, natch) to stop the Fire Nation from consuming the Air, Water, and Earth Nations.
But Then… Twist!: Being based on a popular animated series and aimed at families, there isn’t a typical M. Night Shyamalan “gotcha!” ― except for how terrible the story is and how wooden the actors are.
Verdict: M. Night was also criticized for casting a lot of white actors in a story that is mostly Asian-influenced. Earning five Razzies including Worst Picture, The Last Airbender is considered his worst film ― and given how ridiculed Lady in the Water and The Happening are, that’s saying a lot. This one recent M. Night movie that actually might have benefitted from a big twist ― because whoever was in charge of making sure this was A) a good movie and B) faithful to the original show was clearly dead the whole time.
Did you enjoy this?
Well, too bad… it was all a dream.