Perhaps Shyamalan wanted to be a 21st-century George A Romero. Instead I'm afraid he is turning into Ed Wood Jr..
M. Night Shyamalan (born Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan in India) was raised in Philadelphia, and most of his movies are set and filmed there. M. Night Shyamalan's first few feature films were Praying With Anger
in 1992 and Wide Awake
in 1998, both with heavy religious themes and were modestly received but not overtly successful.
He ended up writing a screenplay inspired by an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
, a Nickelodeon
show. Shopping this script around, it became famous for a bidding war and being snatched up by a Disney
representative for an obscene amount of money without consulting his executives. This movie became the surprise mega-hit The Sixth Sense
(1999), which featured a well-planned Twist Ending
that was so widely talked-about that everyone knows it now
Oh, and speaking of 1999: Shyamalan also ghostwrote the script for the film She's All That
. (It just took him until 2013 to admit to it.)
His follow-up film, Unbreakable
(2000), is often overlooked as it's not the mega-hit that his first film was, though it was still well-received. Although it likely started the "realistic" comic book films years before Batman Begins
, it was viewed as low-key and "normal", to the point that many people are unaware of him being the director. This film also had a Twist Ending
, and may have started the pattern for his movies to follow, which ended up creating a very negative Hype Backlash
with every movie to follow.Signs
(2002) is the first of his films to receive extensive mockery, centering around the now patented Twist Ending
. Despite this, it was still very popular in cinemas and was his second-most-successful movie at the box-office. It was also the last of his films to get a mostly positive reception from critics.
Then there was The Village
(2004). And Lady in the Water
(2006). And The Happening
(2008). The Village
had a few defenders and was quite profitable, but was still destroyed by critics mainly due the ending being too much of a curveball. Lady in the Water
broke from the Twist Ending
formula (being based on a bedtime story for his children), but became the point where in some circles, he officially changed from "failing director" to "laughingstock". His next film, The Happening
, was supposed to be his Win Back The Crowd
movie, an R-rated horror about an apocalyptic event. It was well marketed, and more successful commercially, but soon became infamous as a So Bad, It's Good
movie than as a straight-up horror due to its plot being about evil plants.
His next film was The Last Airbender
(2010), adapting the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender
(a show Shyamalan stated he was a great fan of) to the big screen. The previews to the movie caused some reservations (being live action
, the stigma against Shyamalan on itself, and Race Lifting
the main characters), but the trailers won over many of the skeptics
. However, less than one week after the release of the film, it garnered a near-universal negative reaction from both fans and critics alike, currently holding at 6% on Rotten Tomatoes
. It's his highest-grossing film since Signs
(simply because of the fans of the original TV series, who are clearly shown to regret spending the money for it) but still not a big success because of its huge budget and marketing costs.
Shyamalan still has an outstanding deal with Media Rights Capital to produce — but not direct — one film a year for the next three years. The first of these, The Night Chronicles: Devil
, was released in September 2010. Trailers initially played up Shyamalan's involvement in the film, but due to negative reaction, his name was not prominently featured in later trailers. His next film was a Will Smith
vehicle called After Earth
; notably, the trailer for After Earth
made absolutely no
mention of Shyamalan's involvement. It wasn't quite as reviled as The Last Airbender
, getting 12% on Rotten Tomatoes
, but it was a commercial flop (and a movie with Will Smith is usually guaranteed to be a success) and has been compared to Battlefield Earth
There are those who wonder why Shyamalan has never made a sequel to Unbreakable
, one of his more well-received hits; at the time, Shyamalan was insisting on his Auteur License
to make only original works, not sequels. What Could Have Been
- Auteur License: The runaway success of The Sixth Sense granted him the ability to make his quirky films without hindrance until his second straight flop resulted in his license being revoked.
- Biography/Mockumentary: Scifi Network made one of him. It was weird. Highlights included a near-death experience from drowning (which may explain why Unbreakable, Lady In The Water, and Signs all have lakes and rivers as a motif), that most of his films are set within a 50 mile radius of each other, and that pictures with him in it had some odd light distortion.
- Blatant Lies: In an interview about the reaction to The Last Airbender he claims that where in America he was viewed as an idiot for his changes, other countries (such as Japan) viewed him as a genius. It is quite clear that everyone hated the changes he did no matter what country.
- Color Motif: His films often use bright colors like red and yellow to emphasize the supernatural or otherwise scary or shocking elements in a scene. This is particularly noticeable in Unbreakable (which also uses the colors green and purple to isolate the characters played by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.
- Creator Cameo: Shyamalan is noteworthy for appearing in his own movies. With the exception of Lady In The Water, he tends to portray either villainous characters or characters who have a negative impact on the protagonist.
- Dull Surprise: In most of his films the goal has been to make the characters low-key and avoid overacting at all costs. His last two films instead went with this trope.
- Fallen Creator: Fast and far. Viewer reaction to him has become so negative that the studio refused to use his name at all in promotions for After Earth.
- I See Dead People: Trope title comes from a line from The Sixth Sense.
- Lampshade Hanging: He lampshades his common theme of twist endings in Unbreakable, where the young Elijah is handed a comic book by his mother who says "I hear this one ends with a twist".
- He does this in Lady In The Water:
- Malicious Misnaming: How often does anyone making fun of him actually say "Shyamalan" or even "Shamalamadingdong" to those not even trying to hide it.
- He did this to The Last Airbender, one of the major changes fans hated. Apparently, his pronunciations are more the way the names would be pronounced by the various Asian cultures that inspired the four nations. This despite the fact that the names were made up by the creators, the series was inspired by more than just one type of culture, and he made the three main characters white which conflicted with the change. The Neo Review puts it best.
However changing details like this after the show has completed a full three season run with a fan base as strong as it was at the time when this was adapted, this does nothing but completely alienate and piss off the fans watching the movie. Which is, you know, the entire target audience.
- Mandatory Twist Ending: Manoj, your movies ARE this trope. At first, they were truly epic, but as time went on, the obligatory twist often made little sense and was just there because it being there is the rule. Also, no matter how good the twist is, the two hours leading up to it kinda have to be about something and make sense.
- Meta Twist: And when they lack a twist, that is the twist!
- One of Us: More or less; he pioneered "realistic" Comic Book films out of his love for comics, at least.
- He certainly claims to be a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and apparently made the movie for his kids. Though the fans who have watched the film seem to fully believe he has never seen an episode. He changed many of the well established characters, plot, names, terminology and how bending itself worked, and openly wonders why everyone hated the film.
- Prima Donna Director: Shyamalan is infamous for casting himself as the creator of a faith in Lady In The Water. This combined with the Straw Critic in the film included just to kill him off (who was ironically one of the most popular characters in the film) are supposedly how he thinks of himself. Much mockery from critics ensued.
- Technically he doesn't cast himself as the messiah, just as a writer whose book will someday inspire the next messiah. Which ironically makes it worse as it is pretty much stating that his "films" are so good they will bring about the messiah.
- Also this interview shows that he really thinks highly of himself.
- Viewers Are Morons: M Night pretty much flat out states this to the viewers' reaction to "The Last Airbender" in an interview. And he continues to wonder why audiences grew to dislike him and his films... But that is nothing compared to is reaction to viewers of Lady In the Water, where he not only insulted the critics for not liking it, he insulted the people who did enjoy the film because they liked it for the wrong reasons.