Ranking The Films of M. Night Shyamalan from Worst to Best

February 3rd, M. Night Shyamalan offers up another potentially great genre film with “Knock at the Cabin.” The film, based on the novel by Paul G. Tremblay, is a thriller that’s been kept mostly a mystery by its studio. There’s not a lot that’s known about it, but with the cast and dire tone, I’m optimistic Shyamalan will deliver. Being a long time Shyamalan fan, I thought I’d rank the list of films that he’s directed, from worst to best. These are, of course, only films he’s directed.

Do you have a favorite M. Night Shyamalan film? Let us know!

The Last Airbender (2010)
This is the very definition of a for-pay job and Shyamalan belly flops in to this soulless adaptation of such a heartfelt series. The film adaptation of “Avatar” is cold, dark, emotionless, lacking in stakes, and tries to squeeze in four seasons worth of storylines in to a two hour movie. Shyamalan is so much better than this, it’s a shame he completely misses the point of what made “Avatar” so epic and special.

After Earth (2013)
Will Smith’s vanity project is about as stale a science fiction film as you can imagine. Smith and his son have zero chemistry on screen, the narrative is dull as all hell, and I never cared about a single person in the universe Smith and Shyamalan establishes. I was also never sure whether or not Smith was sneaking in Scientology overtones in his narrative or not, but often times the plot points are suspect. This is a flat genre entry, and one of Smith’s lesser moments as a film star.

Lady in the Water (2006)
This is the movie that allegedly studio execs were trying to rein Shyalaman in creatively for, and he insisted on fully realizing his vision. What his vision happened to be was a self indulgent, and self congratulatory fantasy picture that wastes such a colorful cast. Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti are pissed away in what is a movie about rejects and fate that all boils down to Shyamalan celebrating how genius Shyamalan is, and what kind of amazing legacy he’s going to leave behind. Gag me.

Glass (2019)
Glass takes “Split” and “Unbreakable,” combines two of Shyamalan’s best original mythologies all for what is a pretty good pay off, all things considered. While not a lot of people loved how the whole resolution of the “Unbreakable” universe was written, I had a blast. “Glass” excels in paying off both fan bases of both of Shyamalan’s films deconstructing the ideas of superheroes in the real world, and the complex shades of good and evil. Shyamalan even constructs an omnipotent force that works to keep society mediocre, which is a subtle bit of biting commentary for how civilization views the gifted.

Old (2021)
Feeling more like a mature “Goosebumps” tale than anything else, “Old” is a flawed, slightly clunky, and a tad silly take on the themes of growing up, old age, and the brevity of life. “Old” in Shyamalan’s tradition is a horror tale first and foremost, with a lot of its characters experiencing an unusual island that not only speeds up the aging process, but also houses a ton of more mysteries beneath its waters. Director Shyamalan keeps a lot of the central setting ambiguous offering an inadvertently eerie villain that we never can quite wrap our heads around, and is sadly still wreaking havoc long after the film has closed.

The Happening (2008)
I’ll die on the hill that “The Happening” is woefully misunderstood. Sure it’s goofy and over the top, but it matches the inherent lunacy of the premise with such a bonkers tone. Approached without the bullshit and memes, “The Happening” is a horrific take on the end of humanity as mother nature has finally thrown down the gauntlet and decided to use plant defense mechanisms to turn humans in to self destructive zombies. I loved the dread filled tone, I thought the prologue was disturbing, and I still think it’s a great take on the apocalypse. Yes it’s flawed, but damn it I love it.

Unbreakable (2000)
This was advertised somewhat in the vein of “The Sixth Sense” upon its release, and never quite got enough love then. Now it’s appreciated as a pretty great deconstruction of superheroes, comic books, and the idea of mythology. It’s way ahead of its time and pretty much foresaw the comic book movie boom that was only a few years away. M. Night has a real fascination with the concept of morality and superheroes, and he breaks it down very well with what is such an intriguing and emotional origin tale of hope and pure evil. It’s a top notch production.

The Village (2004)
“The Village” was very misunderstood when it was initially released. It was deceptively marketed as a creature film, but it ended up being so much more than that. I originally went to see this in theaters and left very satisfied if only because of the social commentary. “The Village” ultimately revolves around a closed off civilization where its government creates a monster to keep its citizens in line. The film arrived during a time where the government and the presidency were inventing menaces outside of America to keep us in line. It’s a perfectly relevant statement about xenophobia, the inevitability of human nature, and the alleged “war on terror.”

The Visit (2015)
Popularly considered M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback to genre cinema, “The Visit” is a fantastic and simple horror gem that utilizes the found footage genre perfectly. The narrative builds in to an explosive finale very well with a lot of suspense, and plot elements thrown out to the audience that lead to a bigger reveal. As is usual with M. Night, “The Visit” packs a gut punch of a surprise twist, all preceded by some excellent moments of pure terror. Plus M. Night never tires of playing around with audience delivering some uncomfortable tension and pure shocks with the found footage platform.

Split (2016)
This is a massive M. Night film, one that is complimented by the immense performances by James McAvoy and Anya Taylor Joy. “Split” deals with a lot of themes about unresolved childhood demons, and personal demons, as well as mental illness; the latter of which manifests in to an actual monster before our very eyes. McAvoy is just a scene stealer here as Kevin, an unhinged individual wrestling with 23 different personalities. The task of portraying 23 different personas would be tough for other actors, but McAvoy is up to the task and does a bang up job here. Plus the stinger in the end of the film is an absolutely dynamite epilogue.

Signs (2002)
One of M. Night’s more religious based films, “Signs” is very much about fate, and belief in fate that gets a jaded reverend through a battle with extraterrestrials. No matter how many times I’ve seen “Signs” I consistently am enamored with the themes of destiny and the idea that sometimes things can happen for a good reason. Mel Gibson is the icing on the cake of a collectively great cast, including Joaquin Phoenix as protective uncle Merril. This is still a remarkable alien invasion picture filled with an emotional core, and some truly horrific moments of terror that are still some of the best shocks to in contemporary filmmaking. Plus, I absolutely love the score.

The Sixth Sense (1999)
This is M. Night’s magnum opus, his masterpiece that stormed the box office and pop culture in 1999. “The Sixth Sense” is masterful storytelling, and a movie packed with scares, heart, and pure sadness from beginning to end. Bruce Willis is powerful in his performance as Malcolm, a child psychiatrist who helps young child Cole come to terms with the fact that he can speak to the dead. Unfortunately the dead have a lot to say and he inevitably has to learn to live with his abilities. The film is absolutely engaging, heartfelt, occasionally creepy, and packs a hell of a surprise ending. The first time I ever saw this, I was absolutely breathless with the surprise climax. Once you put all the pieces together, you’ll have a hard time getting over it.