Every M. Night Shyamalan movie, ranked according to critics

Dave Bautista, Abby Quinn, and Nikki Amuka-Bird in "Knock at the Cabin"
Dave Bautista, Abby Quinn, and Nikki Amuka-Bird in "Knock at the Cabin."Universal
  • M. Night Shyamalan has directed several notable horror films throughout his 30-year career.

  • Shyamalan's films have starred A-list actors, including Bruce Willis and Mark Wahlberg.

  • Here are all 14 of his feature-length movies, ranked by their critics' scores on Rotten Tomatoes.

Note: All scores were current on the date of publication and are subject to change. 

14. Shyamalan's biggest cinematic failure was "The Last Airbender," an adaptation of a beloved animated series.

avatar last airbender
"The Last Airbender."Paramount Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 5%

Synopsis: Based on the popular animated series that ran from 2005 to 2008, "The Last Airbender" revolved around Aang (Noah Ringer), a young boy released from a sphere of ice after 100 years.

While people have divided into tribes, with each tribe having the ability to control one of the elements — fire, wind, water, and earth — Aang learns he has the unique ability to control all four.

Together, with Katara (Nicola Peltz Beckham) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), Aang fends off enemies, including Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), seeking to control and harness his powers.

While the film's source material is generally considered one of the best animated series of the 2000s, M. Night Shyamalan's adaptation was derided as a boring, slow-moving mess that woefully underutilized Patel, a talented performer who had catapulted to stardom two years earlier with "Slumdog Millionaire."

"It is incredible how awful the once feted director M. Night Shyamalan has become and how he is still allowed to make big-budget films," wrote The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "I didn't think it was possible for him to make something worse than his 'Lady in the Water' or 'The Happening.' But he has managed it."

13. "After Earth" was widely panned for being tedious and boring.

after earth
Jaden Smith and Will Smith in "After Earth."Sony Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 12%

Synopsis: After the death of his daughter, seasoned space soldier Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith) leave the colony of Nova Prime and crash land on Earth, which humanity fled nearly a thousand years ago because of an environmental disaster that eventually transformed many of the planet's animals and plants into threats.

As father and son navigate these hazards, hoping to be rescued, the two rely on each other for survival and strengthen their bond in the process.

Like "The Last Airbender" before it, "After Earth" was widely panned for being boring, tedious, and cringe-worthy.

"We're not used to seeing Will Smith shorn of his lightness and humor, but in 'After Earth,' he's solemn and heavy-lidded, and he speaks with grave deliberation, never even using contractions," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman. "He tries to make Cypher a kind of Obi-Wan figure, and Smith is charismatic enough to pull this off, but the father-son mentor/disciple relationship is better than the rest of the film, which is like a plate of sci-fi leftovers."

12. "The Happening" never fully realized its potential, fizzling with a lame twist of an ending.

The Happening
Mark Wahlberg in "The Happening."20th Century Fox

Rotten Tomatoes score: 17%

Synopsis: When people start committing suicide en masse in the northeastern part of the US, Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), Alma (Zooey Deschanel), and Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), the daughter of Elliot's coworker, flee to the countryside.

After learning that the plant life is responsible for releasing an airborne toxin that causes humans to kill themselves, the trio struggles to survive by avoiding populated areas and large groups of people.

But just as they prepare to become infected, Elliot, Alma, and Jess realize the outbreak has stopped — at least in the US.

"There are a few bona-fide scares and unsettling images," wrote Claudia Puig of USA Today. "But for a doomsday thriller, the terror is diluted. The dialogue is wooden, the suspense never really mounts, and the story feels inert."

11. Critics thought "Lady in the Water" was convoluted and absurd.

M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water"
Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti in "Lady in the Water."Warner Bros.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 25%

Synopsis: Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), an apartment-building superintendent, one day discovers a water nymph, or "narf," named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the building's pool.

Her mission? Find the Author, a writer whose book will inspired a future US president to change the world for the better.

But a wolf-like creature, a "scrunt," threatens Story's quest and her life.

Unfortunately, "Lady in the Water" was considered another major misstep by Shyamalan, which critics considered self-indulgent, convoluted, and absurd.

"It pains me, therefore, to call 'Lady in the Water' a failure," wrote Amy Biancolli of The Houston Chronicle. "Calling it a noble failure — or a near-failure rescued from the brink by Shyamalan's consummate cinematic eye and Paul Giamatti's beautiful, anguished performance — might soften the blow, but not enough. The movie simply fails as a story. It fails to show rather than tell."

10. Despite a talented cast, "Glass" was deemed unoriginal.

M. Night Shyamalan's "Glass"
James McAvoy and Bruce Willis in "Glass."Universal

Rotten Tomatoes score: 36%

Synopsis: The second sequel to "Unbreakable," "Glass" brings together Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy,) David Dunn, (Bruce Willis), and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) — all characters from Shyamalan's previous films.

While David originally sets out to track down Kevin, the two end up in a mental hospital with Elijah where psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) tries to convince them they are not actually superheroes with special abilities.

"Unfortunately he doesn't have anything new to say about the characters; he just surrounds them with other people who discuss what their stories might mean in long stretches of ponderous, flat-footed dialogue," wrote Ben Sachs of the Chicago Reader.

9. The twist ending in "The Village" either left audiences stunned or unimpressed.

Bryce Dallas Howard in "The Village"
Bryce Dallas Howard in "The Village.Buena Vista Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 43%

Synopsis: Residents in the 19th-century, Amish-style village of Covington, Pennsylvania lead quiet lives constantly in fear of "Those We Don't Speak Of," humanoid creatures living in the surrounding woods.

When Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), the blind daughter of the village's chief, sets out to find medicine for her injured fiance, she encounters dangerous creatures along the way.

Like many of Shyamalan's other films, "The Village" relies on a twist at the end that either leaves viewers stunned or unsurprised.

While "The Village" is considered one of Shyamalan's less successful films, it did help introduce the world to Howard, who would later appear in another Shyamalan film, "Lady in the Water," as well as "Spider-Man 3," "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," "The Help," and "Jurassic World: Dominion."

"With 'The Village,' however, Shyamalan has played the same hand one time too many, and anyone with a passing knowledge of Rod Serling's 'The Twilight Zone' (or even that old also-ran 'Thriller') will likely be able to surmise the film's 'shocking' ending with a modicum of head-scratching," wrote Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle.

8. "Wide Awake," one of Shyamalan's earliest films, was panned for being pretentious and preachy.

Joseph Cross and Julia Stiles in "Wide Awake"
Joseph Cross and Julia Stiles in "Wide Awake."Miramax

Rotten Tomatoes score: 45%

Synopsis: One of Shyamalan's earliest films, the dramedy "Wide Awake," arrived in 1998, a year before "The Sixth Sense" established him as a gifted horror movie director.

The film revolves around young Joshua Beal (Joseph Cross) on his journey to understanding life and death after his grandmother dies.

Along the way, Joshua meets a cardinal, confesses his feelings to his crush, and eventually finds the answers he's looking for.

"The film is loaded with overly cogent 'wisdom' from a kid's point of view that's likely to drive some viewers straight toward the exits," wrote The San Francisco Chronicle's Peter Stack.  "Children, too, will be bored to tears navigating through some of the talky spiritual gunk."

7. "Old" featured awkward dialogue and a plot that made little sense.

Gael García Bernal and Alex Wolff in "Old"
Gael García Bernal and Alex Wolff in "Old."Universal

Rotten Tomatoes score: 50%

Synopsis: Guy (Gael García Bernal) and his wife Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their two kids answer an internet ad for an island paradise that lives up to its reputation on the first day with everything from welcoming cocktails to rolling surf.

But things quickly turn dark when the family joins a group of fellow tourists for a trip to a quiet nearby beach, realizing they're all aging much faster, headed to a certain death.

"Of course, it all comes down to a Shyamalan-style final twist — the most entertaining part of the film, but it comes way, way too late," wrote Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press. "Listen, we're all up for some summer fun on the beach. But by the time we're allowed in on the secret here, we're feeling a bit tired. And maybe for good reason. This film lasts an hour and 48 minutes. So, just a warning: By the end, you'll be four years older."

6. "Knock at the Cabin" is a handsomely made thriller with a solid performance from Dave Bautista.

Dave Bautista stretching his hand out to a little girl
Dave Bautista in "Knock at the Cabin."Universal

Rotten Tomatoes score: 67%

Synopsis: Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), a gay couple, and their young adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) are vacationing in a remote cabin when a group of four strangers, including Leonard (Dave Bautista), barge their way in and take them hostage.

The apocalypse is coming, the group contends, unless the family makes the hard decision to kill and sacrifice one of their own.

"Shyamalan's adoration for the dads and their sweetly introverted daughter is evidenced by scenes of genuine tenderness, and Groff's performance is especially moving," wrote The Atlantic's David Sims. "But those touches also make the film's final act all the more wrenching; it's suffused with disaster and entirely devoid of winks to the camera."

5. Some critics view "The Visit" as a rebound for Shyamalan and a return to form.

Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge, and Kathryn Hahn in "The Visit"
Ed Oxenbould, Olivia DeJonge, and Kathryn Hahn in "The Visit."Universal

Rotten Tomatoes score: 68%

Synopsis: When two young siblings, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) visit their estranged grandparents for a five-day vacation while their mother Loretta (Kathryn Hahn) goes on a cruise, the two slowly realize something is horribly wrong with grandma and grandpa.

The twist: the two people Becca and Tyler have been staying with aren't their grandparents at all but two deranged escapees from a psychiatric hospital.

"There's a lesson to be learned here: With all of Shyamalan's many ponderous, self-serious horror films, he'd become a bit of a cultural joke," wrote Max Weiss of Baltimore magazine. "Here, he loosened up, shed some of his ego, and reminded all of us what a gifted writer and director he truly is."

4. "Unbreakable" helped establish Shyamalan as an auteur with a distinct cinematic vision and style.

Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in "Unbreakable"
Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in "Unbreakable."Buena Vista Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 70%

Synopsis: This superhero film follows David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who survives a train crash unscathed and comes to believe he has superhuman strength.

After the funeral for the train passengers, Dave meets Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), a man who suffers from a lifelong genetic disorder called brittle bone disease.

Working with Elijah, David hones his extrasensory perception, which allows him to touch people and see visions of criminal acts they have committed.

David, however, eventually realizes that Elijah was responsible for several disasters, including the train crash. He reports Elijah's crime to the police, and Elijah is confined to a psychiatric hospital.

"Unbreakable" was largely hailed by many critics as offering a unique twist on the comic-book genre that sets things up well for the two sequels — "Split" and "Glass"— that eventually followed.

"I don't think this movie is perfect, by any means," wrote The Washington Post's Desson Howe. "But it's rare to find a film that makes you even hope for perfection. I was hooked from beginning to end."

3. "Signs" was considered a great suspense movie with hints of Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock.

Mel Gibson, Abigail Breslin, and Joaquin Phoenix in "Signs"
Mel Gibson, Abigail Breslin, and Joaquin Phoenix in "Signs."Buena Vista Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 75%

Synopsis: Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is a former pastor-turned-farmer who lives in rural Pennsylvania with his young son Morgan (Rory Culkin), daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin), and younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix).

When huge crop circles begin appearing in the family's cornfield, they're initially chalked up to vandals.

But when the crop circles show up elsewhere in the world and mysterious lights appear in the sky, the Hess clan realizes aliens are to blame.

As they fend off the alien invasion, Merill realizes the secret weapon to killing off their invaders is something humans have taken for granted for millennia: water.

The aliens halt their invasion and flee the planet after that discovery.

"There are echoes of Spielberg in Shyamalan's notions of Americana and more than a few lessons from Hitchcock (the music under the opening credits is a homage to Bernard Herrmann's Hitchcock scores)," wrote Newsweek's David Ansen. "But Shyamalan has found a spare, taut style that's all his own. Defiantly old-fashioned, he's come up with something new: horror movies that pull on the heartstring, the tear-jerker terror flick."

2. Critics thought "Split" was a thrilling horror movie that once again showed what Shyamalan could do.

James McAvoy in "Split"
James McAvoy in "Split."Universal

Rotten Tomatoes score: 78%

Synopsis: Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) is a man who suffers from a special form of dissociative identity disorder, or multiple personality disorder, which causes his metabolism to change as he cycles through 23 distinct personalities, from Ms. Patricia, an polite elderly woman, to the historian Orwell.

When one of Kevin's personalities abducts three teenage girls and imprisons them underground, Kevin eventually fights for control of his body.

As Shyamalan's second highest-rating film, "Split" serves up a terrific performance from McAvoy, who has a field day shifting between Kevin's wildly different personalities.

"Though there's a crowd-pleasing cameo, it lacks the kind of 'twist' that Shyamalan fans love," wrote The Evening Standard's Charlotte O'Sullivan. "It doesn't even have the gore and big scares that made 2015's 'The Visit' a hit. Who cares? It's far from perfect, but where so many modern horror movies are anonymous, 'Split' has personality and then some."

1. "The Sixth Sense" remains Shyamalan's magnum opus.

Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis in the 1999 film "The Sixth Sense."
Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis in the 1999 film "The Sixth Sense."Buena Vista Pictures

Rotten Tomatoes score: 86%

Synopsis: Child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) starts working with Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who eventually confides to Malcolm that he sees "dead people."

After he realizes Cole is telling the truth, Malcolm convinces Cole to communicate with the ghosts and help them tie up their loose ends.

"The Sixth Sense" remains M. Night Shyamalan's most noteworthy movie, with fine performances from Willis and Osment, a brooding atmosphere, and a twist ending audiences talked about long after the film ended.

Shymalan tried to recreate that cinematic formula in several of his later movies, but none of them ever quite matched "The Sixth Sense" for shock value.

"'The Sixth Sense' teeters on the brink of New Age ludicrousness, but it never goes over: Like Krzysztof Kieślowski and others, Shyamalan knows that what makes for lousy metaphysics can make for powerful metaphor, and in the end he creates a deeply, surprisingly affecting film out of a little bit of smoke and brimstone," wrote Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club.

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