The Sixth Sense

Cole Sear: I see dead people.

Malcolm Crowe: In your dreams? [Cole shakes his head no] While you’re awake?  [Cole nods] Dead people like, in graves? In coffins?

Cole Sear: Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.

Malcolm Crowe: How often do you see them?

Cole Sear: All the time. They’re everywhere.

Funny how times change.  These days people shake their heads sadly when talking of M Night Shyamalan, once a great hope of the film industry but now the maker of a string of movies ridiculed by critics and audiences alike.  It was not always thus.  In 1999 Shyamalan made The Sixth Sense and in 2000 Unbreakable, both slow-burn neo-noir thrillers, one supernatural and the other the flip side of superhero movies.  At that point the director seemed destined for a glittering career, but was let down by his choices and the willingness of studios to throw money at a man apparently with the midas touch.

Whatever else you fault the man for, making two truly iconic movies is beyond the realms of all but a handful of exceptional directors, so for that feat alone Shyamalan deserves to be lauded – and as writer even more than director.  The quotes at the bottom of this review, courtesy of Wikipedia, demonstrate just how the movie took the critics and paying public by storm.

The essence of the success of both films is that they are very simple and slow-moving, and therefore give the cast an opportunity to develop their characters and inter-relationships in a way most thrillers do not.  Characterisation is so widely sacrificed in the name of pace, but the benefits of building with care are clearly evident: you establish credibility and rapport with the audience, such that the twist, when it comes, is all the more shocking – and both The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are movies building up suspense over two hours up to the revelation of a massive plot twist.

TSS is spoken of reverentially as one of the great twists, up there with Citizen Kane, The Usual Suspects, Memento and others, so clearly the director has done something right!  As for twists, this list explains why they are so important:

“Spoiler alert”. A good plot twist can turn a good movie into an excellent one, but an awesome plot twist turn a movie into part of cinema history. This list contains some of the greatest plot twists ever created for a film while others are just awesome and the audience can’t avoid loving them.  This list tries to avoid ambiguous endings. If the directors wanted the interpretation to be left open they deserve to be that way, period.  Finally there is the idea that what the viewer totally didn’t see coming makes the entire film worth watching. From Alfred Hitchcock to M. Night Shyamalan and David Fincher, these directors are all known for twists which turned their movies into some of the most recognized of all time.  Nothing satisfies us more than seeing a story shifting upside down in a blink of an eye.

In recognition that there may still be a few people out there who have not seen TSS, I won’t spoil it for you, but instead focus on the virtues leading up to that moment.  Worth saying that Bruce Willis, an actor best known for his action movies, stars in both this film and Unbreakable, and takes the opportunity to demonstrate his more cerebral acting credentials – and he certainly convinces.  I wish he would do more roles that required less shooting and more thinking.

While the strange and strained relationship with his wife Anna is a key component of the deceit, the key sparring partner for Willis’s Dr Malcolm Crowe (wonder why that name was chosen?!) is Haley Joel Osment, who was at the time just 11 years old but demonstrates maturity in his performance to put many a “star” to shame.  Cole Sear’s overriding emotion is fear, since he is possessed of the “sixth sense” which allows him to see dead people – ghosts – invisible to almost everyone else.

The quote at the top of the page, one which has acquired iconic status along with the movie, is key to everything…. and from hereon in you’re on your own – my lips are sealed!  However, it reveals nothing to mention that Crowe helps Cole to come to terms with his natural asset, and in the process to help some of the dead people he sees but Crowe cannot.

The remaining cast, including the wonderful Toni Collette as Cole’s mother and splendid British actress Olivia Williams as the aforementioned Anna Crowe, give solid support, though their primary roles are to look sad, perplexed and sometimes scared.  Even the director gets a look-in as a doctor.

The greatest praise you can offer TSS is that it is intelligent, endlessly fascinating and draws the viewer into its own elliptical world, though for all that there may well be people out there with strange powers beyond the current grasp of science.  Until they come forward, we must content ourselves with fiction, and in this case good fiction.



Box office

The film had a production budget of approximately $40 million (plus $25 million for prints and advertising). It grossed $26.6 million in its opening weekend and spent five weeks as the No. 1 film at the U.S. box office. It earned $293,506,292 in the United States and a worldwide gross of $672,806,292, ranking it 35th on the list of box-office money earners in the U.S. as of April 2010. In the United Kingdom, it was given at first a limited release at 9 screens, and entered at No. 8 before climbing up to No. 1 the next week with 430 theatres playing the film.

Critical reaction

The Sixth Sense received positive reviews; Osment in particular was singled out for his acting. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 86% of 148 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 7.6/10. The site’s consensus reads: “M Night Shayamalan’s The Sixth Sense is a twisty ghost story with all the style of a classical Hollywood picture, but all the chills of a modern horror flick.” Metacritic rated it 64 out of 100 based on 35 reviews.

By vote of the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of AmericaThe Sixth Sense was awarded the Nebula Award for Best Script during 1999. The film was No. 71 on Bravo‘s 100 Scariest Movie Moments, for the scene where Cole encounters a female ghost in his tent. It was named the 89th Best Film of all time by the American Film Institute in 2007.

The line “I see dead people” from the film became a popular catchphrase after its release, scoring No. 44 on AFI‘s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes. There have been various parodies of this quote.

The Sixth Sense also scored 60th place on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills, honoring America’s most “heart pounding movies”. It also appears on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition), a list of America’s 100 greatest movies of all time.


The Sixth Sense has received numerous awards and nominations, with Academy Award nomination categories ranging from those honoring the film itself (Best Picture), to its writing, editing, and direction (Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Original Screenplay), to its cast’s performance (Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress). Especially lauded was the supporting role of actor Haley Joel Osment, whose nominations include an Academy Award, a Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, and a Golden Globe Award.[17] Overall, The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Academy Awards and four British Academy Film Awards, but won none.[15][18] The film received three nominations from the People’s Choice Awards and won all of them, with lead actor Bruce Willisbeing honored for his role. The Satellite Awards nominated the film in four categories, with awards being received for writing (M. Night Shyamalan) and editing (Andrew Mondshein). Supporting actress Toni Collette was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Satellite award for her role in the film. James Newton Howard was honored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for his composition of the music for the film.

In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked the screenplay #50 on its list of 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written.

Blogs, reviews, novels & stories