Throwback Thursday: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Above: Haley Joel Osment in M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Sixth Sense'

What: The Sixth Sense

When: 1999

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, dead people

Reason for the throwback: Do you remember how freaked out you were when you saw this movie and the twist ending was finally revealed?

Think what you will about the combined works of M. Night Shyamalan, but make no mistake about it—this was a home run and rightfully earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

There hadn’t been a “take your breath away” thriller like this in theatres for quite some time and the combination of what became Shyamalan’s signature swerve, Bruce Willis’ grizzled, gruff performance as Dr. Malcolm Crowe and youngster Haley Joel Osment’s masterful performance made this the second highest grossing film of the year, trailing only Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Just typing the words “I see dead people” in the summary above made me say it like Osment did in the film and it still made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

This was one of those films that as more and more people came away from seeing it, the more you heard how much you had to go to the theate to find out what all the fuss was about. The same had happened with The Blair Witch Project, which came out a couple weeks earlier in the summer of ’99, but while TBWP was getting buzz because people thought it was a real documentary, The Sixth Sense was being heralded for its cinematic awesomeness and the overall chilling effect it had on just about everyone who sat down to watch it.

And a lot of what made this a great film—and it was/is a great film—was the interplay between the hardened Willis and Osment, who was 11-years-old when the film was released.

Willis was in the midst of a really solid middle chapter of his career, coming off films like 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element and Armageddon before moving on to The Whole Nine Yards and his second Shyamalan project, Unbreakable, while The Sixth Sense marked Osment’s first major role. Looking back after seeing this, you realize that he was Forrest Gump Jr. and if you somehow watched The Jeff Foxworthy Show, you’d remember him as one of the Foxworthy children, but for him to come out of nowhere, hold his own opposite Willis and absolutely ace this role was pretty impressive and memorable.

Because of this film’s success, Hollywood did what it always does and started trying to work twists into the as many movies as possible, with Shyamalan doing the same in a series of less success, less appealing follow ups including Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening.

And here we are 15 years later and I can’t think of a movie that has done the “last second reveal” as well as The Sixth Sense since. Maybe that’s because spoilers rule the Internet and everything has been done to the point of exhaustion, but still, when done right, a good surprise twist at the end can make a good movie into a great movie, just like it did here.

As an added bonus, this film really put Donnie Wahlberg on the acting map and as much as it led to a series of New Kids on the Block jokes initially, Wahlberg has gone on to have a pretty respectable career in front of the camera, so who’s laughing now?!

Tags: M Night Shyamalan

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