With the recent release of Knock at the Cabin, M. Night Shyamalan and his movies are once again thrust into the spotlight, with many wondering which of his works rank the worst and the best. From his independent drama debut to his most recent apocalyptic psychological horror, here is a comprehensive ranking of all of Shyamalan’s works.
Ranking all M. Night Shyamalan movies, from worst to best
Here is a short rundown of all M. Night Shyamalan movies, ranked from worst to best.
- The Last Airbender
- After Earth
- The Happening
- Lady in the Water
- The Village
- Wide Awake
- Knock at the Cabin
- The Visit
- The Sixth Sense
This ranking is based on the movies’ scores on Rotten Tomatoes, ratings that may be subjective due to personal taste differences from person to person. It’s also worth noting that Shyamalan’s debut film, Praying with Anger, is excluded from this list as it does not have ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.
Here is a detailed breakdown of all the Shyamalan films, ranked from worst to best.
14. The Last Airbender
Eschewing even its Rotten Tomatoes score, this 2008-released adaptation of the highly successful Nickelodeon animated series is widely considered by most critics and audiences to be one of the worst films of all time. The Last Airbender sits at an abysmal 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is, to this day, Shyamalan’s worst-rated film. With criticism levied against almost all aspects of the movie, it nearly killed Shyamalan’s career, which has seen a slump in recent years, as well as the planned trilogy that was supposed to follow.
Worth noting: Noah Ringer, who played the main character Aang, would later star in the financial bomb Cowboys & Aliens, his last acting role to date.
13. After Earth
Conceived from an original story idea by Hollywood superstar Will Smith who would go on to star with his then-rising star son Jaden, After Earth is proof that familial relationships do not necessarily translate very well into great acting performances. Critics lambasted Will and Jaden’s performances, along with the story and Shyamalan’s direction. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 13%, After Earth was another major stinker in Shyamalan’s career. What made this release even more unfortunate is that After Earth was the director’s next major outing after The Last Airbender, and it was released three years after the former.
Worth noting: Will and Jaden previously starred together in the autobiographical The Pursuit of Happyness, which was very well received.
12. The Happening
On paper, the plot of The Happening can be quite compelling: an unknown natural disaster is causing mass suicides across the world. However, what filmgoers eventually got was an unintentionally hilarious mess helmed by a poorly casted Mark Wahlberg. Released in 2008, The Happening has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 17% and was just one in a string of poorly reviewed movies from M. Night Shyamalan. All of that said, surprisingly, some critics liked the film, most notably legendary critic Roger Ebert and acclaimed horror fiction author Stephen King.
Worth noting: Shyamalan insists that The Happening was meant to be taken in as a B-movie in the style of The Birds or The Blob.
11. Lady in the Water
For a lot of audiences and critics, this film marked the beginning of Shyamalan’s decline. It is also notable for being one of two films of his (to date) that was a financial failure, grossing $72.8 million against a $70 million budget. Lady in the Water was critically panned for its lack of consistency and its overall characterization. However, the worst criticism levied against it is against Shyamalan himself, who has a major acting role in the film compared to his earlier movies; this is in stark contrast to his earlier works, where his role was only a small cameo.
Worth noting: Cahiers du Cinéma, a notable French film magazine, listed this film as the sixth best of 2006.
The third and final film in the Unbreakable trilogy, Glass received mixed reviews in contrast to its contemporaries, but most still found it entertaining thanks to its great cast of returning characters. Glass has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 37% but is also one of Shyamalan’s most profitable films, grossing $247 million on a $20 million budget. Glass is the conclusion to two of Shyamalan’s most popular films: Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis, and Split, starring James McAvoy.
Worth noting: Shyamalan needed permission to cast the character of Bruce Willis in Glass as the character was originally part of Unbreakable; the latter was a Touchstone/Disney production while Glass was produced under Universal.
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9. The Village
Released in 2004 and fresh off of his success with Signs, Shyamalan’s The Village received noticeably lower reviews than his previous successes, but his status as a fledgling up-and-comer is still prevalent in audiences’ minds. With a 43% score on Rotten Tomatoes and earning $257 million on a $60 million budget, The Village is a moderate success. That said, it was also a turning point for some critics, as one of the criticisms levied at the film was its disappointing twist ending.
Worth noting: Some of the film’s plotlines are like those found in the 1995 young adult book Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
8. Wide Awake
Shyamalan’s first major production was also the last movie you’d expect from him, given what he is best known for today. A comedy-drama family-centric film, Wide Awake was released in 1998 to little fanfare and received mixed reviews. The film has a 45% score on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed $300K on a $6 million budget, making it a box office bomb. The good news is that this all but forgotten movie is nothing but a small footnote in his career, as the very next year after Wide Awake’s debut, he would release what many consider his masterpiece.
Worth noting: Wide Awake was made and filmed in 1995 but was not released until 1998.
His previous film before Knock at the Cabin, Old premiered in 2021 to mixed reviews (50% on Rotten Tomatoes) but was a commercial success nonetheless. Old featured an ensemble cast and continued the Shyamalan current directorial trend: lower-budget horror movies that promised huge returns. Produced on a budget of $18 million, it grossed $90 million during its theatrical run. Old is also technically Shyamalan’s first adapted feature, with him conceiving the film’s story based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters.
Worth noting: Shyamalan adapted the graphic novel Sandcastle after receiving it as a Father’s Day present in 2017.
6. Knock at the Cabin
Shyamalan’s most recent outing currently sports a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and, like its predecessor, Old, was also adapted from a book rather than an original screenplay. The film is notable for featuring an LGBT-centered protagonist family and for being the breakout dramatic role for Dave “Batista” Bautista, best known for his career in the WWE as well as his role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Worth noting: The book’s ending differs significantly from the film’s ending.
5. The Visit
Shyamalan’s first and only found footage movie, The Visit was considered by critics and audiences to be a return-to-form for the director after a slew of bombs back in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Released in 2015, The Visit has a 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and started Shyamalan’s current trend of lower-budget releases. Filmed on a paltry $5 million budget, the film would go on to gross almost $100 million at the box office, cementing its place as one of Shyamalan’s most commercially successful movies. The twist at the end is not half bad, either.
Worth noting: The film’s preliminary title, “Sundowning,” is a reference to the increased restlessness of dementia patients during the afternoon and the evening, a dead giveaway to the movie’s plot twist.
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Unbreakable, a landmark film not only in the career of M. Night Shyamalan but also in the superhero genre, is widely considered by many to be one of the best movies in the director’s portfolio. The film has a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score and earned $248 million on a $75 million budget. The film’s success spawned two sequels – Split and Glass – to form the Unbreakable trilogy. The film is frequently seen as one of the best superhero films, making various international publications’ lists. Unbreakable was also notable for being released a good five years before Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, a feature that would arguably bring about the current influx of superhero films.
Worth noting: Bruce Willis was already attached to the role of protagonist David Dunn thanks to his earlier starring role in Shyamalan’s magnum opus.
Starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, two legendary actors, Signs is another great Shyamalan film that explores the themes of faith against the backdrop of an extraterrestrial invasion. Signs boasts a Rotten Tomatoes score of 75% and is Shyamalan’s last film before his supposed decline in the mid-2000s. The film was a commercial success, earning $408 million on a $75 million budget, and is widely considered a classic to this day. One of its scenes involving the reveal of the alien invader is still frequently brought up as one of the best examples of a jump scare done right.
Worth noting: The film was Abigail Breslin’s first breakthrough acting role. She played the character of Mel Gibson’s daughter, Bo Hess.
Released in 2016 as his next major outing after the triumph of The Visit, Split was even more well-received, with critics celebrating Shyamalan’s direction and the absolutely horrifying performance of James McAvoy. The film was also notable due to its secret ending, a conclusion that was not foreseen even by those who were included in the test screenings. Split is a standalone sequel to Unbreakable, with many critics considering it the first ever “stealth sequel” as no one beforehand knew its connections to its predecessor. It is also widely considered the first solo supervillain origin story. Split is the second-highest-rated Shyamalan film, sitting at a 78% Rotten Tomatoes score. It was also a huge commercial success, earning $279 million on a paltry $9 million budget.
Worth noting: Before James McAvoy was brought onboard, the role of Kevin Wendell Crumb was first assigned to Joaquin Phoenix.
1. The Sixth Sense
Widely considered to be the director’s finest work, The Sixth Sense sees Shyamalan telling the story of a child psychologist and his patient as the latter comes to terms with his supernatural ability “to see and hear” dead people. The film was a landmark success and made Shyamalan a household name amongst moviegoers while helping establish his directorial and writing flair for twists and surprise endings in his movies. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 86% and earning a whopping $672.8 million against a $40 million budget, The Sixth Sense is Shyamalan’s best film in terms of both critical and commercial success.
Worth noting: Haley Joel Osment’s line, “I see dead people,” became a popular catchphrase after the film’s success.
- This article was updated on February 14th, 2023