Ranking M. Night Shyamalan’s Horror/Thriller Movies!

Hi all!

Today I am going to be ranking all of M. Night Shyamalan’s directed horror/thriller movies! I am a huge fan of him. Did you know – just like Alfred Hitchcock – he makes a cameo in many of his films? A quick disclaimer before we get into the post. I will not be covering Praying with Anger, Wide Awake, The Last Airbender and After Earth, because they do not fall under the aforementioned genres. My preferences may be controversial but I’m going to share it anyway! Without further ado, from best to worst, here is my list.

1.) The Sixth Sense 

In first place, we have M. Night’s most famous and beloved masterpiece: The Sixth Sense. This was the first horror movie I ever saw, launching my undying love for the genre. I owe it a lot. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention the iconic line: “I see dead people.” At the time, that twist blew people’s minds, but now I see how obvious everything was. The story follows a boy haunted by spirits. Bruce Willis, a psychologist, befriends the child and tries to help him channel his gift in a positive way. M. Night makes an appearance as a pediatrician who treats Haley Joel Osment’s character, which he said was based on his parents. I don’t know what more to say. This is his best film. Period!

2.) The Visit 

This may be controversial but in second place, we have The Visit. It is one of my favourite found footage movies. The reason I love this film is because it reminds me very strongly of The Folcroft Ghosts by Darcy Coates. Becca and Tyler plan a week-long stay at their grandparents’ place, whom they have never met. Little do they know; their visit will be the most terrifying experience of their lives. The kids are definitely the best part of the story. They are sassy, funny and intelligent. Furthermore, the scares are extremely effective. The scene where their grandmother chases them under the house caused me to have nightmares afterwards. There is a great twist at the end and plenty of suspense to keep you interested. As far I’m aware, M. Night does not appear in this movie.

3.) Old 

In third place, we have Old. This film really had audiences divided. Some found the concept unique and interesting. Others found it ridiculous. I clearly favour the former opinion. The story follows a family on a tropical holiday, who discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly, reducing their entire lives into a single day. I love that M. Night directed a horrifying movie against such a stunning backdrop. You may notice that he makes a cameo as the hotel van driver. The twist wasn’t anything mind-blowing but the story itself is excellent and definitely worth being in my top three.

4.) Signs 

In fourth place, we have the infamous: Signs. The movie follows Father Graham Hess (played by Mel Gibson) and his family, who migrate to a farmhouse that later becomes the site of strange crop circles that suggest the existence of alien life. Fun fact: M. Night doesn’t care for CGI, so the crop circles you see in the film are real. Did you catch his cameo as neighbour Ray ReddySigns is a movie that stayed with me long after it ended. I’ll never forget that bone-chilling scene. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the moment we witness the alien walk across the road during the birthday party. It had such a profound impact on audiences at the time. I daresay most M. Night fans would have this sci-fi thriller in their top five.

5.) The Village

In fifth place, we have The Village. Similar to Old, this movie had people talking. A large number of viewers were dissatisfied with the twist ending but personally, I thought it was clever. An isolated town lives in fear of an unknown monster from the surrounding woods. But when one from the community is badly injured, a blind girl sets out into the woods to find help from beyond. Firstly, I have to commend the stand-out performances from Adrien Brody, Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard. They completely stole the show. Secondly, I want to stress how beautiful this film is. The cinematography and choice of colours is top tier. Not to mention, M. Night makes a cameo as the park ranger. I do wish there had been more horror elements, but I can accept that The Village is more of a slow-burn thriller.

6.) Knock at the Cabin

Knock at the Cabin is the latest M. Night film, released in February of this year. It was based off of Paul Tremblay’s novel: The Cabin at the End of the World. I already posted an entire spoiler-free review for the movie, which you can check out here. I enjoyed it for the most part but found the ending quite lacklustre. It was also devoid of the signature M. Night twist we’ve grown to expect from him. I will say, I loved his cameo in this one. He shows up on the television during an informercial, advertising an air fryer. It adds some levity amidst the dark content. Out of everything, I was most impressed by the casting choices. Every single character played their part to perfection. The standout performances for me were from Kristen Cui, Rupert Grint, Jonathan Groff and Dave Bautista. It was a solid adaptation, but the consensus seems to be that the book was better.

7.) The Happening

I’ve watched a lot of M. Night rankings on YouTube and The Happening typically tends to land at the bottom. However, I quite enjoyed it. Unpopular opinion – I know! An apocalyptic threat to humanity arrives out of the clear blue sky with a series of violent, inexplicable deaths spreading across the country. The cause of the terrifying phenomenon remains unknown, prompting science teacher Elliot Moore (played by Mark Wahlberg), his wife Alma (played by Zooey Deschanel) and his colleague Julian (played by John Leguizamo) to elude the invisible killer in Pennsylvania’s farmland. Soon it becomes clear that no one is safe. One thing to note, M. Night sets the majority of his films in Pennsylvania, where he was raised. His cameo as the character Joey, is just a voice over the phone. The reason this movie was so unpopular was because of the twist ending. It has been deemed the worst and most unsatisfying from his filmography. I didn’t hate it but I know for a fact Mark Wahlberg has since expressed his regret at taking on this role. Ouch!

8.) Lady in the Water

Lady in the Water is M. Night’s take on a fantasy thriller. When Cleveland Heep (played by Paul Giamatti) rescues an enigmatic young woman (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) from danger, little does he know she is a mystical being trying to return to her world. As Cleveland falls further in love with her, he begins to realize that he and his fellow tenants are also characters in the fable. They must work together to protect her from those who would prevent her homecoming. This movie is based on a bedtime story M. Night used to read to his children. He actually has a starring role in this film, as opposed to a cameo. Unfortunately, his character of a writer whose words will change the world, earned him a ton of criticism, stating that he was a narcissist for thinking himself so important. The feature on the whole was received negatively as a chaotic mess. Do I agree? Somewhat. However, I thought Paul Giamatti’s acting was superb. If you lean into the strangeness, you just might enjoy it.

9.) Split

The Unbreakable trilogy are my least favourite movies from M. Night’s filmography. Mainly because I’m not a fan of the superhero genre. Never have been, never will be. I do believe however that Split is the best of the three. It possessed horror elements that the other two didn’t have. Though Kevin (played by James McAvoy) has provided evidence of his 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, there remains one still submerged, set to materialise and dominate all the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls, Kevin reaches a war for survival among those contained within him – including everyone around him – as the walls between his compartment’s shatters. James’s phenomenal acting is undeniable but because I had never seen Unbreakable or Glass before Split, the twist ending made no sense to me. I wish I had watched them in order. M. Night makes an appearance as Jai, a security guard. It was good but not great.

10.) Unbreakable

In second last place, we have Unbreakable, the first film in the trilogy. A security guard (played by Bruce Willis), having been the sole survivor of a high-fatality train crash, finds himself at the centre of a mysterious theory that explains his consistent physical good fortune. When news of his survival is made public, a man (played by Samuel L. Jackson) whose own body is excessively weak, tracks him down in an attempt to explain his unique unbreakable nature. This movie had so much potential, but the pacing was far too slow. By the time things began to pick up, I didn’t care anymore. I enjoyed the twist, but the first half let the rest down. M. Night plays a drug-dealer, who ends up becoming Jai in Split (see above).

11.) Glass

In last place, we have Glass. This is the third and final film in the Unbreakable trilogy. David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis) tries to stay one step ahead of the law, while delivering vigilante justice on the streets of Philadelphia. His special talents soon put him on a collision course with the Beast – the psychotic madman (played by James McAvoy) who has superhuman strength and 23 distinct personalities. Their epic showdown leads them to an encounter with the mysterious Elijah Price (played by Samuel L. Jackson), the criminal mastermind who holds critical secrets for both men. This movie was too long and boring. The fight scene at the end could not have been more anticlimactic, taking place in a parking lot. M. Night features once again as Jai, now working at a store that sells security equipment. This is by far his worst directorial feature, and I know I’m not the only one that feels that way.

Thank you so much for reading! How would you rank M. Night’s works? Who else is excited for Trap, coming in 2024?

Peace & Love xoxo

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