We know how most movies will end before we see them. Boy loses girl, but gets girl back. Killers are captured or shot escaping. Superheroes live to save the universe again. Horror villains survive to return in sequels. A notable exception to audience expectations came with the premiere Aug. 2, 1999 of M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller “THE SIXTH SENSE.”
No one was expecting its now legendary ending, although the filmmakers worried they’d given some visual clues that might reveal too much about those “dead people” Haley Joel Osment famously insisted he could see. As it turned out, the clues went unseen. What was seen were long lines at theatres, where Universal opened “SIXTH” to a then sizable $26.7M. It did $672.8M worldwide, kick-starting Shyamalan’s career. Twenty-two years later, he’s still one of very few directors whose names are well enough known to bring moviegoers into theatres.
When Shyamalan’s latest film, “OLD,” opened #1 last weekend, it was his sixth out of 11 films to do so. Since “SIXTH,” he’s become identified with twist endings that leave audiences wondering how they missed seeing them. Over the years, of course, some films worked better globally than others — like “SIGNS” (2016) with $408.2M, “THE LAST AIRBENDER” (2010) with $319.7M, “SPLIT” (2016) with $278.5M & “UNBREAKABLE” (2000) with $248.1M.
As enviable as Shyamalan’s successes have been, there’s also a long list of high profile projects he turned down along the way. Shyamalan reportedly was offered “HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE,” the franchise’s first episode, recommended by his friend Steven Spielberg, who was originally considering directing it. Post-production conflicts with “UNBREAKABLE” kept Shyamalan from signing on. After Shyamalan’s blockbuster success with his next film, “SIGNS,” he was offered “HP AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN,” but declined in order to do “THE VILLAGE.” He also might have directed “HP AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE,” but proceeded instead with a deal (that ultimately stalled) to adapt and direct “THE LIFE OF PI.” Shyamalan then moved on to direct his own original screenplay “LADY IN THE WATER.”
Other high profile offers followed in the early 2000’s and also were passed on, including writing and directing new takes on “SPIDER-MAN,” “SUPERMAN” or “BATMAN.” Shyamalan felt he’d already done his own superhero film, “UNBREAKABLE,” and didn’t want to repeat himself. And that’s a twist Hollywood didn’t see coming!