Box Office: Old Proves That M. Night Shyamalan Remains A Bankable Horror Director – Forbes

M. Night Shyamalan on the set of Old.

M. Night Shyamalans Old opened with a chart-topping $16.5 million this weekend (and $6.5 million overseas). Thats his lowest opening weekend ever, below the $18.2 million launch of Lady in the Water in summer 2006. That Paul Giamatti/Bryce Dallas Howard fairy tale (M. Nights first absolute flop) cost $75 million to produce. Old, the fourth of Shyamalans recent self-financed chillers, cost $18 million. Moreover, yes, were still dealing with Covid and its various variables. In an ideal time, Old might have flirted with a debut closer to the $25 million debut The Visit. Had Old, with mixed reviews, no stars and a C+ Cinemascore grade, disappointed in regular times, it likely would have opened with around, well, $16.5 million. So, yeah, successful disappointment.

Old is loosely based on the French graphic novel Sand Castle but was frankly sold as an M. Night Shyamalan-directed new to you original. The reviews werent as good as for The Visit (his glorious return to form, which remains his best film since Signs). There wasnt anywhere near the level of buzz as for Split. That blow-out smash ($276 million worldwide) had good reviews, a well-liked star in James McAvoy, a primal teen girls in peril plot, and whispery buzz from both a Fantastic Fest debut and at the 2016 LA Film Festival showing). And it wasnt Glass, a hybrid flick that was a sequel to both Split and Unbreakable. Old was entirely about folks showing up to a new M. Night Shyamalan movie.

A $16 million opening isnt a barn-burner, not for the guy whose The Village opened with $50 million back in July of 2004 almost entirely on the hook of Shyamalan does a monsters-in-the-woods story. But this is 2021, where (even before Covid) getting folks to show up for non-IP flicks, let alone non-IP movies without any major stars (there are many fine actors in Old, but none of them are butts-in-seats draws), is almost impossible. The only star in Old, a grim and nasty little black comedy/horror flicks about folks trapped on a beach which makes them age a lifetime in a day), is Shyamalan himself. So, yes, even after years of punch lines and some infamous artistic misses, M. Night Shyamalan remains a marquee filmmaker.

Even during an arguable decade-long slump after the triple whammy of Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, Shyamalans drawing power mostly remained unblemished. The Village (a grim metaphor for post-9/11 paranoia) opened with $50 million and grossed $257 million worldwide on a $72 million budget. Lady in the Water (which infamously saw him ditching Disney over script revisions) was his first absolute flop ($72 million on a $75 million budget). The Happening was his first R-rated flick, which Fox hilariously sold as Brace yourself, wimps, M. Nights got an R-rating! The What if Ed Wood had $60 million and an R-rating? black comedy has aged well, but it was a critical laughingstock. It still opened with $30 million and ended with $162 million on a $60 million budget.

Alas, Shyamalan would follow it up with his first R-rated movie with his first PG-rated movie, along with his first adaptation of prior source material. On paper, at least optimistically speaking, bringing in Shyamalan to helm a live-action version of Nickelodeons The Last Airbender seemed not unlike getting Tim Burton to direct a Batman movie. The infamously whitewashed adaptation was, despite lovely visuals and a solid Dev Patel turn, a miserable failure for audiences and critics alike. It did, however, open with a boffo $69 million Thurs-Mon July 4 weekend and grossed $300 million on a $150 million budget. That wasnt good enough, even if Stephen Summers (much superior) $175 million G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra got a sequel on a $300 million gross.

It also wasnt a horror movie, so The Last Airbender did minor damage to his rep as a crafter of (intentional) cinematic nightmares. You can argue that The Last Airbender was rock-bottom for the filmmaker, and his next flick would be a comparative paycheck gig. After Earth, starring Jaden Smith as a not tough or strong enough young man trying to overcome fear and help his injured father (Will Smith) survive an alien planet, is essentially the His Fathers Son episode ofLittle House on the Prairie with a $130 million budget and multimedia franchise aspirations. The perfectly solid three-star entertainment was a big disappointment, earning just $60 million domestic and $251 million worldwide and counts alongside the bedtime story Lady In the Water as one of Shyamalans actual outright flops.

I argued at the time that Sony erred in not promoting Shyamalans name in the marketing as an added-value element, but cest la vie. The artistic comeback came when he used the $5 million fee for directingAfter Earthto self-finance a black comedy chiller found-footage flick about kids meeting their grandparents for the first time. BlumhousesThe Visitwas the best M. Night flick sinceSigns. It provided a way forward for the man who had helped popularize the modern tearjerker horror flick.The Visitgrossed $98 million on a $5 million budget.Split(a psychological horror flick with an epilogue connecting it toUnbreakable) opened with $40 million and legged out to $137 million domestic and $276 million worldwide on a $9 million budget.

Glass, a sequel toSplitandUnbreakable, earned $251 million on a $20 million budget. Id argue theUnbreakabletrilogy, especiallyGlass, was something he needed to get out of his system. He seems to have found a sweet spot of self-financing low-budget (but not ridiculously cheap) horror movies that allows him to do whatever the hell he wants on a budget and with a PG-13.Id argue he can afford to buy himself an R-rating or two, as Old arguably needed one to reach its true potential, but alas. Amid all the highs and lows, his drawing power barely dwindled, at least not in terms of making original, high-concept, often star-driven chillers that made folks show up to see what ghoulish tricks he had up his sleeve.

The irony is that most of his most significant artistic and/or commercial whiffs (Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, After Earth) werent horror movies. Heck, the only thing scary about Glass is how bad it turned out to be, but $247 million on a $20 million budget is still a hit. When youre looking at straight-up supernatural chillers, only The Village (which almost quadrupled its budget despite poor reviews and no butts-in-seats stars) and The Happening (which nearly tripled its budget partially thanks to Mark Wahlbergs relative drawing power) qualify as artistic misses. Heck, they both have aged well with their share of defenders, but I digress. And now Old, with mixed reviews, no stars and a new-to-you source material, opened with $16 million on an $18 million budget.

M. Night Shyamalan remains a bankable horror filmmaker partially because most of his least successful films werent horror movies. Even as his earliest hits inspired a generation of eventual tearjerker horror filmmakers (think Searching, A Quiet Place, Haunting of Hill House, etc.), some of the very oddities and eccentricities that turned off folks expecting a more mainstream mentality from the next Spielberg are now somewhat embraced as a counter to the world of homogenized, nostalgia-targeted IP cash-ins. Twenty-two years after The Sixth Sense, he remains a genuine household name and a butts in seats draw mostly divorced from brand, IP or franchise. His specific brand of quirky, macabre, and moving supernatural thrillers, which offer grand metaphors for the value of open communication, *is* the franchise.

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Box Office: Old Proves That M. Night Shyamalan Remains A Bankable Horror Director - Forbes

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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero
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