5. Glass (2019)
When Shyamalan returned to his Unbreakable universe with pseudo-sequel Split in 2016, fans of the original 2000 release clamoured for more, noting the filmmaker’s subtlety at not using Unbreakable in any of Split’s marketing campaigns as a reason to have faith that a third movie would more than deliver.
While Glass was good, it was much more divisive than the previous two films in the trilogy, with much of the criticism towards the film taking aim at its twist – a quality of Shyamalan’s writing that is either his greatest asset or his Achilles heel depending on the release. While said twist was entirely in-keeping with the universe Shyamalan had set up, and should be praised for being subversive to the comic book-inspired movies that have dominated cinema since Unbreakable’s release in 2000, the Glass finale wasn’t necessarily divisive because of how it was underwhelming to some and featured very little by the way of typical fantasy-action, but more because it didn’t work to satisfactorily encompass the drama of Unbreakable or the horror elements of Split and instead met somewhere in the middle, turning off fans of both.
Glass ranks above the equally as divisive The Village due to lowered expectations more than as a result of heightened filmmaking prowess – it’s much easier to like a film that follows the lowly Last Airbender and After Earth than it is to like a film that follows a run of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs.
4. Split (2016)
The major narrative twist in Split was that the film took place in the same cinematic universe as Shyamalan’s other super-powered outing Unbreakable, and this proved satisfying in two ways. Firstly, a long-awaited sequel to the much lauded 2000 superhero movie was one that fans of the film had waited over 15 years for. Secondly, it ensured that Split was a well-wrapped narrative in of itself and one of the first original screenplays of Shyamalan’s career that wasn’t entirely reliant upon the narrative device in its third act – the story wrapping up entirely before the big reveal.
These two factors, and the fact that Shyamalan never once even hinted towards Split being connected to Unbreakable in any of the material leading up to the film’s release (including in the marketing, which could have boosted opening weekend ticket sales), made Split one of those very rare occasions in cinema where the art and suspected fan reaction was more valuable to the creator/s than immediate profitability, and it truly felt like Shyamalan was giving back to those who had become such huge fans of his career in the first place.
As a standalone piece, Split was effective enough to draw new fans into his universe ahead of the release of Glass a few years later, Shyamalan revisiting horror tropes and ideas of the supernatural to capture an alternative to horror movies and superhero films of the time while simultaneously managing to cater to both – an aspect he couldn’t mimic for Glass.
Anchored by one of the most recognisable and universally lauded performances of the decade from leading star James McAvoy, and focusing on the kind of story that brought about investment without necessarily proving to be too preachy like much of Shyamalan’s other work, Split truly was like watching lightning in a bottle, its twist reveal at the end of the film proving to be perhaps the most hype-inducing final shot of any film in the 2010s, Marvel post-credit scenes included.
3. Unbreakable (2000)
Focusing on the stories of two men with distinctly opposite backgrounds coming together to discover something extraordinary, Unbreakable was hardly covert about the inspiration it drew from comic books, Shyamalan including direct references to the rules and lore of comic book storytelling to increase the drama and intrigue in his film, ultimately creating his own comic book fantasy that many consider to be among cinema’s most intriguing to date.
Stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson found the same level of chemistry they offered in Die Hard with A Vengeance 5 years prior and worked effectively to ground the fantastical elements of the story, notably improving upon the film’s overall appeal.
While Unbreakable was far from the follow up many critics and industry insiders had expected from Shyamalan after his breakout hit The Sixth Sense, its release was one that garnered a lot of admiring eyes and solidified the thought that Shyamalan was capable of being more than a one hit wonder. Indeed, of all the routes for the filmmaker to take after such a hit as The Sixth Sense, a passion project inspired by comic books was individualistic (to say the least) at the time, but undoubtedly one of his most intriguing and inspired films to date.