The Surprising Parallels of Christopher Nolan and M. Night Shyamalan

The careers of Christopher Nolan and M. Night Shyamalan are on inverted trajectories. The greater Nolan rises, the lower Shyamalan falls. Their films have a surprising amount in common with each other, in terms of subject matter, but Nolan just seems to have more success at telling those stories than Shyamalan.

Let’s look at how Nolan and Shyamalan compare by going through each of their films and discovering their surprising similarities.

Small Start

In 1997, Nolan made a short film called Doodlebug. The following year, he released the aptly titled Following on a budget of just $7,000. The film earned back several times more than its cost, but it didn’t turn many heads. Shyamalan’s first film was 1992’s Praying with Anger, followed by 1998’s Wide Awake. Neither of these films made much of a dent in the box office.

Sleeper Hit

The Sixth Sense propelled writer/director M. Night Shyamalan to instant stardom.The third film these filmmakers made was the one that really got them noticed. Nolan’s Memento put a whole new spin on psychological thrillers in 2000. The film earned a modest $25 million in the U.S., but it turned a good profit. Shyamalan’s best-known film, The Sixth Sense, amazed audiences with its now-classic twist ending. It became his biggest hit so far and launched his career as the next Rod Serling.

Someone Else’s Work

The only film Christopher Nolan directed that he didn’t also write (so far) is 2002’s Insomnia. I’ve heard the film is excellent, though I haven’t seen it yet. The one film that Shyamalan has made based on anything other than an original story is The Last Airbender. This film suffered from several problems: It couldn’t be called Avatar: The Last Airbender because James Cameron borrowed the name Avatar for his film, which came out shortly before this one. Also, the story and character changes turned off fans of the cartoon show the film is based on. It was a big blow for Shyamalan.

Superhero Reconstruction

The future is bright for Nolan as a filmmaker.Five years after the success of Memento, Nolan directed the big-budget reboot of the popular Batman franchise, Batman Begins. The film was generally liked, but it didn’t really break any records at the box office. The same can be said of Shyamalan’s 2000 film, Unbreakable. It basically rethought the entire structure of a superhero movie and took some bold moves in the process.

It’s rumored that Shyamalan had planned a trilogy of Unbreakable films, but the first film underperformed so he scrapped the idea. Who knows, maybe it would have rivaled Nolan’s amazing Dark Knight Trilogy.

What a Twist

Nolan tried his hand at making a movie with a twist ending with The Prestige in 2006. Personally, I love that film, and I think the nonlinear way in which the story is told heightens the tension to a fever point until the big reveal is made at the end. It’s a perfect magic show.

Signs is Shyamalan’s last fairly undisputed great movie. It, too, employs a nonlinear storytelling technique by flashing back to a pivotal moment in the main character’s life. At the end, everything finally comes together in a surprising and effective way.

Fooled You

The Dark Knight launched Nolan into the same tier as other greats like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg.The Dark Knight is Nolan’s Sixth Sense. It became a runaway success and garnered numerous awards and praise, launching him into the same tier as other greats like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. The film has an incredible ending in which Batman and Commissioner Gordon agree to withhold the truth from the citizens of Gotham City in order to preserve the peace.

The Village is a challenging film that I find quite good, though I understand why others may not agree. Its ending involves a group of leaders agreeing to continue withholding the true nature of their village from their fellow villagers to preserve their peace. Both of these films come to the same morally ambiguous conclusion, giving viewers something to think about.

Bedtime Story

Inception cemented Christopher Nolan's reputation as a visionary director.Nolan’s Inception came out at just the right time in 2010. It was guaranteed to do well as the follow-up to his phenomenal Dark Knight, and it was such a mind-bending film that it prevented him from being pigeonholed as just a comic-book movie director. He has many more ideas and worlds to explore. The film centers on people who invade dreams.

Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water puts people to sleep. The 2006 film was a step backward for the talented filmmaker. Inspired by a bedtime story Shyamalan told his children, the film is uneven and off-putting. The worst part of the movie is the writer/director’s decision to insert himself in the film as a visionary writer whose work is destined to change the world. Nolan, on the other hand, was too busy creating visionary films to bother labeling himself thus.

Things Fall Apart

Nolan completed his Dark Knight Trilogy in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises. It shows how an entire city falls apart when a group of terrorists take over and spread anarchy in their wake. I’ve heard some people call it an allegory about the dangers of the Occupy Wall Street movement. If that’s the case then it’s Nolan’s most political movie.

In 2008, Shyamalan released The Happening, a cautionary tale about the deadly consequences of destroying the environment. Unfortunately, the movie was laughably bad so its environmental message was about as effective as the one in The Day After Tomorrow.

Looking to the Stars

M. Night Shyamalan is a gifted writer director who has many similarities to Christopher Nolan.Nolan is currently working on his next film, called Interstellar. This is his first science-fiction film. No one knows anything about its plot or if it will be as great as his other films, so I’ll reserve judgment for now.

Shyamalan came out with his first sci-fi film this year. It’s called After Earth and I’ve heard mixed things about it. Apparently, it’s better than critics gave it credit for, but it’s not as good as his earlier work. He aimed for the stars but still managed to crash and burn.


The future is bright for Nolan, but Shyamalan’s future as a filmmaker is in limbo right now. He’ll have to reinvent himself or do something really special next time in order to save his career. I hope he does. He’s definitely got talent. There’s room enough for two creative writer/directors in Hollywood.

This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.

All images are the copyright of their respective owners.

About Robert Lockard, the Deja Reviewer

Robert Lockard has been a lover of writing since he was very young. He studied public relations in college, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 2006. His skills and knowledge have helped him to become a sought-after copywriter in the business world. He has written blogs, articles, and Web content on subjects such as real estate, online marketing and inventory management. His talent for making even boring topics interesting to read about has come in handy. But what he really loves to write about is movies. His favorite movies include: Fiddler on the Roof, Superman: The Movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future, Beauty and the Beast, The Fugitive, The Incredibles, and The Dark Knight. Check out his website: Deja Reviewer. Robert lives in Utah with his wife and four children. He loves running, biking, reading, and watching movies with his family.
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10 Responses to The Surprising Parallels of Christopher Nolan and M. Night Shyamalan

  1. Issy R. says:

    Great post. Hopefully Shaymalan can pull himself out of the gutter.


  2. Marc says:

    Ooh fascinating comparison. Can’t wait for Interstellar. Despite the backlash The Village really hits the spot for me, it’s a beautiful film.


    • Thank you very much. I know what you mean about The Village. Some friends of mine showed it to me years back and they prefaced it by saying it’s a movie about ideas and choices more than actions. So that’s how I approached it. It took me more than one viewing to really understand the depth of the characters and appreciate how the story unfolds. Definitely a misunderstood film. I’m loving your series on bad movies, by the way. Very creative.


      • Marc says:

        Thanks for the encouragement!

        I really love the Village for the main characters, their old-fashioned purity and genuineness. Not that I want to live in a world like that though.


      • I agree. Completely rejecting modern society is really extreme, no matter what bad things happened to them to make them think there was no other choice. I’m happy living in the present.

        You’re an excellent writer, from what I’ve seen so far, and you know your stuff about films. Definitely keep going. 🙂


  3. carl okunubi says:

    Lovely blog post. I’m a big fan of nolan, the only film im yet to see is insomia as well, something is telling me that i wont like it. Ever since M night ruined avatar for me, i don’t go anywhere near his stuff. Interstellar was fantastic, although a slow burner as our expection for nolan’s work is at a rediculous point atm.

    P.s The Nolan, Zimmer combo is immense.


  4. Bobby says:

    Yet all that really makes nolan’s original films “better” than MNS’s is the elaboration of plots and special effects that mask the pseudo intellectual, pseudoscientific, and supernatural nonsense that they have in common at the heart of each film.


  5. Blaine Inagaki says:

    May wanna update that Superhero Trilogy section now that M Night finally completed it.

    Liked by 1 person

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