M. Night Shyamalan says reactions to Unbreakable led directly to Signs

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

After the release of 1999's THE SIXTH SENSE, director M. Night Shyamalan because one of Hollywood's hottest filmmakers. Since the release of that film, Shyamalan has released a slew of critically and commercially successful films but he has also seen his share of flops and critical misfires. The main criticism against some of Shyamalan's less successful work is that the films can be too serious and joyless for the general moviegoing public. In a new interview with "The Ringer", the director revealed that his issues with inserting some levity into scripts led to 2000's UNBREAKABLE being a more dour affair than he originally intended.

"I had a complicated reaction to the reaction to Unbreakable. I wanted to make a movie about comic books…and it wasn't a time when anybody was interested in seeing movies about comic books. In fact, it was not seen as a legitimate subject matter. I wanted to do it in a very kind of dramatic way, and I think my somberness at the time of Unbreakable came off in the film. If you see it, it's a very burdened movie." 

Despite UNBREAKABLE being considered by most to be one of Shyamalan's best films, the movie wasn't the same critical and financial hit on the level of THE SIXTH SENSE at the time of its release. UNBREAKABLE sits with a 70% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes while THE SIXTH SENSE carries an 86% fresh rating on the site. In terms of the box office, UNBREAKABLE grossed $95 million at the domestic box office and $248.1 million worldwide while THE SIXTH SENSE spent five weeks at number one, grossed more than $20 million a weekend for five weekends, and went on to ultimately gross $293.5 million at the domestic box office and $672.8 million worldwide. Time has definitely been kind to UNBREAKABLE, especially after its connection with SPLIT was revealed at the end of that film but it definitely wasn't a hit on the level of his debut. In the film, Shyamalan takes the comic book concept of normal people gaining superpowers and becoming superheroes and turned that idea into a character study of the film's central character David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis. After the initial response to UNBREAKABLE, Shymalan made it a conscious attempt to move away from "burdened" narratives and this led him to write the script for SIGNS.

"There was this weird moment where, strangely, I went to Denny's. I was sitting there and seeing a family that was silent, and they were eating. I saw a couple that was quiet, and they were eating. And I was saying to myself: I can make movies that are burdened, and that's honest for me. But I was looking at those people in the Denny's, and I knew they were coming to my movies, and I wanted to make them feel better. So I called Disney and I said, "I want to make a movie that is just joyous and doesn't have that lens of burden on it." It can have a lot of conflict in it, but the voice, the angle, I wanted to be inspired and childlike, almost. And so Signs was born that way."

Shyamalan admits from a professional standpoint, that stepping away from heavy and serious subject matter that he tackled with his previous two films, allowed him to have the most fun filming experience of his career while making SIGNS:

"I wouldn't write unless I was feeling lighthearted. If I started to get tight, I would walk away. And what ended up happening was really interesting. It was a psychological experiment. Because it was the easiest script to write in my career. It's on my shelf over there. …It was just lighthearted and fun. The shoot was the easiest shoot that I've ever been on. And my shoots are tortuous for me. Every day I question whether I should have become a doctor, you know. But wasn't that way on that movie. It was really fun."

SIGNS, which starred Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin, focuses on a former Episcopal priest who discovers a series of crop circles in his cornfield. He slowly discovers that the phenomenon is a result of extraterrestrial life. The film was well-received by critics, scoring a 74% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it became a massive hit with moviegoers, grossing $227.9 million at the domestic box office and $408.2 million worldwide. One might say that Shyamalan's more lighthearted approach with SIGNS really paid off but UNBREAKABLE is still one of his masterpieces for me so I'll take that dour film any day.

Do YOU think UNBREAKABLE was a joyless film? Do YOU prefer the film to SIGNS?

Source: The Ringer

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