In the spring of 1999, M. Night Shyamalan was an unknown writer-director awaiting the release of his late-summer thriller, The Sixth Sense. It was not testing well with preview audiences, and he had disaster on his mind. “I was thinking about a plane crash,” he says. “And about one person surviving and that person being untouched. And then that person realizes that he is a superhero.”
Shyamalan’s idea, of course, became Unbreakable. Starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, the 2000 movie was considered a disappointment in the wake of The Sixth Sense — which had made Shyamalan an oft-mispronounced household name — yet 15 years later it has attained major cult status as a dark, haunting superhero origin story told at street level. An army of Marvel movies has changed the economics of the entire film industry in the intervening years, but none achieved the narrative poetry and dazzling genre acumen as well as Unbreakable.
In recognition of its 15th anniversary and as part of our annual Comic-Con Double Issue, EW spoke to a dozen of the people responsible for bringing Unbreakable to the screen, including Shyamalan, Willis and Jackson. Here are some highlights from our eight-page Oral History, which is available on newsstands now: