It’s been 22 years since movie-goers rushed to theatres to see dead people in The Sixth Sense.
Not only was the ending of the M Night Shyamalan film a surprise, so was the success of the movie which was released under-the-radar by Disney on August 2, 1999.
The Sixth Sense became a box office phenomenon thanks to the twist ending and the performance of an adorable young actor.
As discussed on Episode #22 of History of the 90s, M Night Shyamalan has admitted when he first started writing the script for The Sixth Sense it was basically a rip-off of The Silence of The Lambs, but the more he worked on it the more he realized it wasn’t going to work.
So he dropped the serial killer angle and focused on a child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, whose 9-year-old patient claims to have the ability to see dead people.
When it was done, Shyamalan’s creepy script, created a bidding war between studios. Disney won, purchasing The Sixth Sense for $3 million and they agreed to let the young Shyamalan direct the movie himself.
A big part of the movie’s success has to do with the freakishly amazing performance by 11-year-old Hayley Joel Osment.
Shyamalan has said that during Osment’s audition both he and the young actor were moved to tears. Shyamalan immediately called the casting director and said I don’t want to do this movie if it isn’t this kid.
Amazingly the surprise ending (Spoiler Alert!) that Bruce Willis’s character had been dead all along was mostly kept a secret by movie-goers, much like the big reveal in the 1992 movie The Crying Game.
Because the internet was still new, spoiler culture did not really exist the way it does today so the majority of people went into the movie not knowing the twist. As a result, the audience could participate in the shared community experience of learning that Willis’s character was actually a ghost. It was the twist that everyone was talking about without revealing what it was.
The Chicago Tribune in 2019 called it one of the great word-of-mouth movies of the pre-marvel, pre-blockbuster era. Because of all the buzz about the big twist The Sixth Sense stayed in theatres for 9 months earning $672 million worldwide.
It was certainly ahead of its time, launching the career of Shyamalan who was compared to Spielberg and Hitchcock and the film was nominated for 6 academy awards including best picture, best supporting actress for Toni Collette and best supporting actor for young acting savant Osment.
It has also influenced a generation of suspense and horror movies that came after it. It is no surprise the current king of psychological terror, Jordan Peel, is a fan.
For more stories from the 1990s make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.