Every M. Night Shyamalan Twist Ranked
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Timothy MacAusland
Some of these twists shocked the world. Others simply left viewers shaking their heads. For this list, we'll be looking at the films from this prolific director and ranking each of his signature twists based on shock factor, and how much they recontextualize the plots. Our countdown includes "Split", "The Visit", "The Sixth Sense", and more!
Every M. Night Shyamalan Twist Ranked
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re ranking Every M. Night Shyamalan Plot Twist.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the films from this prolific director and ranking each of his signature twists based on shock factor, and how much they recontextualize the plots. Contrary to popular belief, not all his movies have twists, so you won’t see them all here. However, we will be including those from which he only received a “story by” credit, as that’s enough of a contribution to qualify. Obviously, BIG TIME spoiler alert, so fair warning.
Which of these twists prompted a rewatch for you? Tell us about it in the comments!
#10: The Trees Released the Toxin
“The Happening” (2008)
Not every twist on this list comes at the end of the movie, but none are quite as underwhelming as the one in “The Happening.” When countless people in the Northeastern United States die under mysterious circumstances, those unaffected are left to presume it’s the work of a biological weapon. While they’re sort of right, the chemical is later deduced to be…. a toxin released by plants, specifically trees. No, we’re not kidding. Trees are the villains of “The Happening.” Even as an ecological PSA this feels tenuous, much in the way that at the end, the Happening just kind of stops happening. We still want to know what happened to those honeybees!
#9: M. Night Shyamalan’s Writing Saves the World
“Lady in the Water” (2006)
If you thought “The Happening” was on-the-nose, just wait until you get a load of this one. In “Lady in the Water,” a mystical being called a Narf arrives at an apartment complex to find and protect a writer whose future works will be the foundation for humanity. When the protagonists find the writer, he’s played by none other than... M. Night Shyamalan! Shyamalan has inserted himself in a director’s cameo’s plenty of times, but playing a pivotal character whose writing is so good it’s destined to change the course of history, is pretty bold. Oh well, at least that no-good film critic character got what he deserved. Oh, wait...
#8: A Secret Society
We were stoked for this “Unbreakable” sequel. After our three superhuman characters are apprehended, they’re placed in an institution where Dr. Ellie Staple seeks to convince them that their abilities are purely psychoses. Eventually, of course, things go wrong, and it's ultimately revealed that Staple is part of a clandestine organization that seeks to conceal the existence of superhumans. Pretty good twist! Granted, the way it’s executed, particularly in the literal uh, execution of the protagonists, isn’t quite what it could have been. Thankfully, people learn the truth anyway in the form of… viral videos? In 2019? Is the twist actually that everything on the Internet really is true? Now there’s a fantasy film.
#7: The Aliens Are Allergic to Water
This film follows the Hess family, whose farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania seems to be an epicenter for alien activity when a mysterious crop circle appears in their cornfield. The eerie happenings build tension until it becomes evident that an invasion is underway. One of the aliens threatens the family inside their house, that is, until a glass of water turns it into the Wicked Witch of the West. The aliens promptly evacuate, as water proves deathly allergic to them.You’d think the aliens would’ve done research on 71% of the Earth’s surface before putting down roots. But hey, we’ve all had the experience of best-laid plans going awry, right?
#6: The Old Woman Is the Devil
Even though M. Night only served as the story developer on this one, his fingerprints are all over it. The basic premise follows five strangers as they find themselves trapped in an elevator. When strange goings-on occur and the occupants start dying one-by-one, it starts to seem as if one of them is actually - you guessed it - the Devil. Though we had our suspicions, the elderly Jane Kowski was nowhere on our radar, especially since she had seemingly met her violent end earlier on. Though kind of a fast one, the image of her rising with demonic eyes is a truly chilling one, in a moment that really takes this movie to the next level of fright.
#5: It’s Set in the Present Day
“The Village” (2004)
In what seems like a 19th-century village, the residents of Covington (cuvvington) live in fear of the monsters that lurk in the surrounding woods. After her fiancé is mortally wounded, the blind Ivy Walker sets out to retrieve life-saving medicine in the nearest community. Upon her exiting the woods, we learn that Covington is actually inside a wildlife preserve in the modern day. The elders founded the village thirty years prior, in the hopes that they might protect their loved ones from the tragedies of society, and feigned the existence of the creatures as a way to dissuade anyone from venturing outside their borders.
#4: The Grandparents Are Not the Grandparents
“The Visit” (2015)
This film has Shyamalan dipping his toe into the found footage subgenre, as he derives the bulk of his thrills from… shall we say… elderly eccentricities. Teenagers Becca and Tyler go to stay with their grandparents, whom they have never met, and things get weird pretty quickly. After a week of increasingly disturbing antics, the siblings reach out to their mother, who provides them a startling revelation. That’s right, the people who they’ve been calling “Nana” and “Pop Pop” are not who they say they are. They’re actually escapees who murdered the real Nana and Pop Pop and took their places. We’ll be honest, we didn’t see this coming at all, and it’s one seriously disturbing twist.
#3: The Movie Is Set in the “Unbreakable” Universe
While the final scene in “Split” doesn’t really affect the rest of the movie, it’s such a cool moment that we can’t help but love it. The majority of the plot sees three friends trying to escape the clutches of serial killer Kevin Wendell Crumb. Kevin suffers from dissociative identity disorder with twenty-three distinct personalities. The twenty-fourth, known as The Beast, allows Kevin to change his biological structure on a whim and give him superhuman abilities. In the aftermath, the media gets wind of the story and dubs Kevin “The Horde.” The story plays on a diner television, and guess who’s there: David Dunn from “Unbreakable,” meaning “Split” is a secret backdoor sequel. This sequel tease definitely got us psyched.
#2: Glass Is a Supervillain
Speaking of “Unbreakable,”when David Dunn survives an otherwise deadly train crash with nary a scratch, he slowly learns he possesses superhuman abilities: strength, invulnerability and psychometry. He finds a friend in Elijah Price, a man with brittle bone disease, who helps David realize his potential as a superhero. In a shocking twist, David sees for himself that Elijah caused the train crash, specifically searching for someone like David who could give his life meaning. The superintelligent Elijah takes on the persona of Mr. Glass, assuming the role of David’s archenemy. In an age when superhero movies weren’t taken very seriously, “Unbreakable” gave them serious nuance with this twist.
#1: Malcolm Is Dead
“The Sixth Sense” (1999)
This entry being number one... isn’t a twist. Shyamalan cast Bruse Willis to play Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who seemingly survives an incident with a former patient. He then counsels the young Cole Sear, who can see ghosts who are unaware of their own passing. After some superb storytelling that shows Malcolm encouraging Cole to help these departed spirits, Malcolm comes to the realization that he’s one of them, having actually died from his gunshot wound earlier on. It’s with this knowledge that Malcolm is able to complete his business and pass on himself. This changed everything that came before, and made rewatching the film a must. Let’s face it: when M. Night is on, he is freaking on.