Birthdate: August 6, 1970
Birthplace: Mahé, Pondicherry, India
M. Night Shyamalan (birthname: Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan) has become synonymous with horror movies told with unpredictable twists and turns. Though seldom a critics darling (although a certain amount of critical re-evaluation has been ongoing) and with a roller-coaster pattern of box office results, Shyamalan has continued to consistently deliver twisty entertainments, averaging a feature every other year since his professional writer-directing debut in 1998 with Miramax’s Wide Awake, his only comedy starring Denis Leary, Dana Delany, Rosie O’Donnell, and Joseph Cross, but failing at the box office (with under $300,000 return).
Shyamalan had technically debuted as writer-producer-director-actor with the indie drama, Praying with Anger(1992), but the film received no real theatrical distribution after a few festival appearances, including the Toronto and AFI Fest film festivals. Shyamalan made a huge breakthrough as a signature filmmaker with his supernatural thriller, The Sixth Sense(1999), starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, and Haley Joel Osment, and grossing a stunning $673 million on a $40 million budget. Shyamalan (as writer-producer-director) reunited with Willis for Unbreakable (2000), co-starring Samuel L. Jackson and with Robin Wright and Charlayne Woodard, and earning $248 million globally, launching the Unbreakable film series, including Split (2016) and Glass (2019).
An even bigger hit for Shyamalan was the sci-fi horror movie, Signs (2002), starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Cherry Jones, grossing over $408 million worldwide and solidifying Shyamalan’s movies as a kind of brand. Shyamalan’s run of hit movies continued with the thriller, The Village (2004), starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, and Brendan Gleeson, and with a box office return more than quadrupling ($256.7 million) its $60 million budget.
The first failed studio-financed movie from writer-producer-director Shyamalan was Lady in the Water (2006), once again starring Howard, with Paul Giamatti, Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Wright, and Sarita Choudhury, but failing to draw the same kind of audiences as before with only a $72.8 million return. Shyamalan’s disaster movie, The Happening (2008), with Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, and Betty Buckley, performed better commercially with a $163.4 million global return.
Shyamalan’s worst-reviewed movie to date was The Last Airbender (2010), based on the Nickelodeon series, with Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, and Jackson Rathbone (the casting itself the subject of considerable controversy since it lacked East Asian ethnic casting following the original series), and only doubling ($319 million) in box office its $150 million budget. The next lambasted Shyamalan movie was After Earth (2013), co-starring the father-son act of Will and Jaden Smith, but underperformed at the domestic box office until it eked out a $243 global return.
Seen as a return to form, Shyamalan’s low-budget horror movie, The Visit (2015), with Olivia DeJonge and Kathryn Hahn, was well-reviewed and earned a potent $98.5 million on a $5 million budget. Split marked both Shyamalan’s most profitable project (a $278.5 million return on a $9 million budget) and one of the first-ever so-called “stealth sequels,” in which an uncredited cameo appearance by Bruce Willis revealed this to be a sequel to Unbreakable, starring James McEvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley. The finale in the Unbreakable trilogy was Glass, starring McEvoy, Willis, and Samuel L. Jackson, and once again returning a large profit, with a $247 global return on a $20 million budget.
One of Shyamalan’s most striking movies to date was Old (2021), which the writer-producer-director adapted from Pierre Oscar Levy’s graphic novel, Sandcastle, co-starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, and Thomisin McKenzie, grossing over $90 million worldwide on an $18 million budget. Shyamalan returned with a potentially even bigger hit with another book adaptation, the apocalyptic-themed Knock at the Cabin (2023), starring Dave Bautista, Rupert Grint, Jonathan Groff, and Nikki Amuka-Bird, and set to far surpass its $20 million cost at the global box office.
Night Shyamalan was born in the town of Mahé, India, but his parents Dr. Nelliyattu C. Shyamalan (a neurologist) and Dr. Jayalakshmi Shyamalan (an OB-GYN physician) immigrated to Penn Valley, Pennsylvania when he was six weeks old. Although he was raised in the Hindu faith, Shyamalan attended a Catholic grade school and a private Episcopalian high school academy in Merion Station. Shyamalan attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts on a National Merit scholarship. Shyamalan married Bhavna Vaswani in 1993; the couple has three children, including Saleka and Ishana. Shyamalan’s height is 5’ 10”. Shyamalan’s estimated net worth is $80 million.
What’s in a Name?: M. Night Shyamalan adopted the middle name of “Night” while he was studying at New York University.
Born Filmmaker: By age seventeen, Shyamalan had made 45 home movies on Super-8. On nearly every DVD release of his movies, Shyamalan includes a clip in the extra from one of his amateur movies.
Plagiarism Claims: In both The Sixth Sense and The Village, M. Night Shyamalan was the target of accusations of plagiarism, but allegations, in either case, were never proven.