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M. Night Shyamalan reveals important lesson from his worst movies

M. Night Shyamalan has been discussing what he learned from making some of his worst movies including The Last Airbender and After Earth.

The Last Airbender

M. Night Shyamalan holds a unique position in Hollywood. He broke out when he was only 29 years old with one of the best ghost movies of all time; The Sixth Sense. But, almost every subsequent movie he’s made has been met with ‘marmite’ reactions – pretty much equal levels of love and hate. He followed The Sixth Sense up with Unbreakable, Signs and The Village. Then from 2006-2013 he entered the low-point of his career with a run of four unsuccessful turkeys.

2015’s The Visit began to turn things around for Shyamalan. He followed this up with the Unbreakable spin-offs Split and Glass, both starring James McAvoy. In 2021, he released the moderate hit Old, which has exactly 50% on Rotten Tomatoes – demonstrating that his films are still as divisive as ever. Shyamalan is now back with a new horror movie which is going down well – as can be seen in our Knock at the Cabin review.

In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Shyamalan discusses the lessons he learned from the critically-panned thriller movies Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008); “they are so much a part of me. I love being wicked and getting a rise out of you, [but] being goofy is a part of who I am, as is being earnest. So Lady in the Water was very close to who I am as a person.”

“One thing I let go of on that movie was the idea of, ‘How will they sell the movie?’ I told this to my daughter [Ishana Night Shyamalan], who’s about to make her first movie. I’ll say, ‘The marketeers are the first people to tell your story. They begin the story. So you have to start thinking about that as you’re making the movie.’ And on Lady, I didn’t do that. I just made something that I loved. It was the least seen of all my movies, but to this day, when people come up to me about that movie, they speak with religion about it.”

After The Happening, Shyamalan made two big-budget failures – The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013). “All of us go through moments in our lives where we want to be accepted. We get tired of the fight and having to defend who we are. And tacitly, or sometimes overtly, they’ll say, ‘You are wrong for doing it this way. You’re arrogant. If you just do this, it’ll all work out for you.'”

“And I went, ‘OK, maybe you’re right.’ So I made a genuine effort to join the system, but I learned that the special thing that makes me happy was hard to do within that system. It was so wonderful to have that opportunity, but there are so many people who are so much better at that kind of storytelling than I am.”

Since then, Shyamalan has been self-funding most of his films and making exactly what he wants – and we’re all the better for it. If you’re excited for his latest movie, check out our guide to the Knock at the Cabin cast.