Since the 90s, M. Night Shyamalan's distinct filmmaking style has kept audiences on their toes. With third-act twists guaranteed to make heads spin, he's mastered the art of crafting psychological thrillers with a dash of melodrama to winning effect. His movies occupy a unique nook of genre cinema, a place where human struggles are explored through a supernatural lens. Fans have come to relish his signature storytelling techniques and that trend continues with his latest offering Knock at the Cabin, now showing at Regal.
With that newest movie riding high at the box office after nudging Avatar: The Way of Water from the top spot, it's the perfect time to get reacquainted with his past hits. Of course, if you're planning a Shyamalan marathon, you need more than snacks and a couch. You need to know how to watch all of M Night Shyamalan's movies in order. As it happens, we're here to help, with our handy rundown of every Shyamalan movie in order of release.
Wide Awake (1998)
No one could have guessed where Shyamalan's career would go based on Wide Awake. His first Hollywood feature is a coming-of-age melodrama that centers on Josh, a young boy grappling with the death of his grandmother. Eager to understand the hows and whys of his mortality he seeks answers about life, in the process befriending a baseball-loving nun played by Rosie O'Donnell. Before he'd finely calibrated his twist techniques and keen visual eye, this laid the foundation for the heart carried through all of his movies. This amiable fable is pleasant, family-friendly fare.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
"I see dead people." Everyone remembers this quote from The Sixth Sense, and that one iconic line nicely sums up the film. Cole (Haley Joel Osment) is a sensitive kid who indeed does see ghosts. His mom Lynn (Toni Collette) sends him to see a therapist, Malcolm (Bruce Willis), for help with his visions and social anxieties, all the while his experiences with the dead continue to grow more violent. This film is the reason everyone pays attention when Shyamalan releases a new movie. The Sixth Sense set the standard high — and that stands even if you were to ignore the twist. It packs in a raft of creepy moments, making it one of the most chilling flicks ever made while also tugging at your heartstrings. Toni Collette's last scene will destroy you.
How do you follow up a critical and financial darling? Easy. Take things down a notch. Less beholden to the shock and novelty of a "sting in the tail" than its predecessor, Unbreakable is a confident, understated film that deepens with every viewing. Willis returns to play David Dunn, a stadium security guard who is also the sole survivor of a train crash, a fact that piques the interest of comic book expert Elijah, played by Samuel L. Jackson. As the two become acquainted it's revealed that superheroes and villains exist in the real world. With dazzling visuals and rounded characters, this is all the proof you need that The Sixth Sense was no fluke.
Cinema has witnessed plenty of alien invasions. In Shyamalan's hands, a global takeover by little green men is spun as a heart-wrenching tale of faith and family. This Spielbergian homage stars Mel Gibson as a widowed priest who learns that the mysterious crop circles on his farm are linked to an extraterrestrial attack. Choosing to focus on one family's experience works thanks to the performances of Joaquin Phoenix as Gibson's brother, and Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin as his children. This is what Shyamalan does best, mixing together quiet moments of desperation with chilling sequences (hello, children's birthday party!) that'll haunt your dreams for weeks. A true sci-fi tearjerker.
The Village (2004)
Despite mixed reviews at time of release from both critics and audiences alike, The Village has since undergone a reappraisal. What cannot be denied, whether you love or hate it, is Shyamalan's ability to conjure distinct moods. With a stacked A-list cast including Bryce Dallas Howard, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix and Wlliam Hurt, the film revolves around a small, isolated village whose elders protect their young from monsters lurking on the outskirts of town in order to maintain their quaint, homesteading ways. While the third-act twist wasn't well received, that shouldn't discount Shyamalan’s confident direction and skill at orchestrating the most ominous of setpieces.
Lady in the Water (2006)
Shyamalan's most self-referential offering takes the form of an ambitious fantasy drama. Lady in the Water takes place in a Philadelphia apartment block where Paul Giamatti's superintendent discovers a water nymph named Story living in the community pool. The residents unite to help her fend off beasties and find her way home in this sprawling family caper. The storytelling and worldbuilding are a little confusing at times, but a couple of scares featuring fantastical wolves carry it forward into the home stretch. Fans of Shyamalan's signature cameos will be delighted by his most extra role to date.
The Happening (2008)
A special type of alchemy is required for a movie as wacky as The Happening to emerge. It's no wonder it took a Hollywood decade for Shyamalan to attempt this level of ambition which starts off promisingly as New York City falls under attack from an unseen enemy. Mark Wahlberg and Zoe Deschanel star as a married couple struggling to rekindle their relationship amid the chaotic aftermath. The airborne toxin responsible gives us some of Shyamalan's most startling images to date, as people drop like flies in this cautionary environmental tale.
The Last Airbender (2010)
Not content to stick with original thrillers, Shyamalan next ventured into adaptations with a live-action feature version of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The movie takes place in a world where four nations, Water, Air, Earth, and Fire, are at war and can only be saved by an Avatar named Aang who possesses the ability to control those elements. Considering the Nickelodeon series' devoted fanbase, the decision to follow the same story beats was a risky move– especially as Shyamalan's die-hard fans expected a supernatural thriller and were greeted by a big-budget fantasy extravaganza.
After Earth (2013)
After their turns in The Pursuit of Happyness, real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith reunite once more for Shyamalan's post-apocalyptic blockbuster, After Earth. In this thriller the duo play Cypher and Kitai Raige, a father and son who crash land on Earth only to learn they're not alone. Together they must battle the elements – including terrifying evolved animals – to seek rescue. Without any of Shyamalan's usual supernatural components it feels like a new style for the filmmaker, which should please fans of fast-paced CGI actioners.
The Visit (2015)
Shyamalan bounces back to his former glory with found-footage chiller, The Visit. His first foray into the format, his distinct camerawork translates beautifully to the shaky-cam stylings of sibling duo Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who document a seemingly-ordinary trip to visit their grandparents in the country. Of course, all is not as it seems, with bumps in the night leading to several gasp-inducing jump scares. Shyamalan goes back to the basics with a simple tale that unsettles at every turn – up to and including its bonkers twist. The fact it's telegraphed early on only adds to the fun. Shyamalan's direction means you'll be waiting for its reveal with glee.
Picking up more than a decade after Unbreakable, Split continues in that same world. Superheroes and supervillains are flesh and blood, with the latter taking the spotlight here in the form of James McAvoy’s characters. He doesn’t play one but several split personas led by the dominant Kevin, who, during sessions with his doctor, reveals twenty-three people who co-exist within him. One of those is the cunning Dennis, who abducts three young women, but that’s not the worst part: there’s one other personality yet to emerge who’s far more dangerous. At times funny and other times jump-scare-creepy, Split is a return to form that signals there’s plenty more tricks up Shyamalan's sleeve.
After the huge success of Split, Shyamalan dropped a sequel to cap off the trilogy that started with Unbreakable. The result is a frantic juggle of different genres, plots, and themes that doesn't quite deliver on the promise of its predecessor but nevertheless remains a fun ride. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson reunite on screen as David Dunn and Elijah Price, flung together this time with James McAvoy's Kevin Wendell Crumb. The trio are forced to confront one another in a psychiatric hospital where Sarah Paulson's doctor seeks to disprove their superhero claims. The final action sequences are visually stunning.
You can't accuse Shyamalan of playing it safe. Thanks in large part to self-financing most of his recent outings, he's able to luxuriate in risky concepts and that's beautifully showcased in Old. Go in knowing as little as possible and you'll be pleasantly surprised as the revelations mount. This feels like Shyamalan embracing his quirkier side, delivering an outlandish plot from the outset together with truly squeamish body horror. If this marks the beginning of his next career stage, we say bring it on.
Knock at the Cabin (2023)
His second movie not based on an original script, Shyamalan adapts Paul Tremblay's book to winning effect. He reworks its more shocking elements to tell a stripped-down story about the end of the world. Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge star as a couple vacationing with their daughter who are held captive by four strangers who offer them a bizarre ultimatum. If they refuse to cooperate, the world will end. This tense, claustrophobic thriller is made all the better for its leading performances; Dave Bautista's Leonard is one of the actor's best turns yet.