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M. Night Shyamalan Reflects on the Disappointments of The Happening and Lady in the Water

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M. Night Shyamalan’s film career began like a shot out of a canon. Though The Sixth Sense was technically his third movie as a director, it was the first to get a wide released and it was welcomed with critical acclaim and huge box office success. That movie brought in over $870 million and was nominated for six Academy Awards, setting him up for an impressive run that continued with Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village. By this point though, Shyamalan’s popularity, and notoriety for being “the twist guy,” was starting to wain, and 2006’s Lady in the Water would start a new chapter in his career that looked like the inverse of the first four.

Speaking in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Shyamalan reflected on the disappointments that came from Lady in the Water and The Happening, calling those too films “so much a part of” him. “One thing I let go of on (Lady in the Water) was the idea of, ‘How will they sell the movie?,’” Shyamalan said. “Now I tell this story to every filmmaker I work with. I also told it to my daughter [Ishana Night Shyamalan], who’s about to make her first movie. I’ll say, ‘The marketers are the first people to tell your story. They begin the story. That’s part of the art form. 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.”

Shyamalan then went on to talk about his two films that follow, two more notorious bombs, The Last Airbender and After Earth. He adds, “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, this and 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.”

Luckily for Shyamalan, continuing to believe in himself and even betting on himself in a big way, he’s rebounded. 2015’s The Visit catapulted him back into the good graces of both audiences and studios, sending him on a run that has seen him go on to direct the crtiically acclaimed Split, the long-awaited Glass, and 2021’s hit movie Old. He’ll release his next film, Knock at the Cabin, which is already getting rave reviews, this week.

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