Signs (film)

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The Signs movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byM. Night Shyamalan
Produced by
Written byM. Night Shyamalan
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyTak Fujimoto
Edited byBarbara Tulliver
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • August 2, 2002 (2002-08-02)
Running time
106 minutes[1][2][3]
CountryUnited States
Budget$72 million[4]
Box office$408.2 million[4]

Signs is a 2002 American science fiction horror film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and produced by Shyamalan, Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy and Sam Mercer. A joint collective effort to commit to the film's production was made by Blinding Edge Pictures and The Kennedy/Marshall Company. It was commercially distributed by Touchstone Pictures theatrically, and by Touchstone Home Entertainment in home media format. Its story focuses on a former Episcopal priest named Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson, who discovers a series of crop circles in his cornfield. Hess slowly discovers that the phenomenon is a result of extraterrestrial life. It also stars Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin. Signs explores the themes of faith, kinship, and extraterrestrials.[5]

Following its premiere in theatres nationwide on August 2, 2002, the film grossed $227,966,634 in domestic ticket receipts screening at 3,453 theatres during its widest release. It earned an additional $180,281,283 in business through international release, to top out at a combined $408,247,917 in gross revenue. The film was nominated for multiple awards, including those from the Online Film Critics Society and the Empire Awards. The film also won an award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Considering its $72 million budget costs, the film was considered a strong financial success after its theatrical run, and was met with positive reviews from critics, with some praising its atmosphere and story but others criticizing aspects of the script. The high-definition Blu-ray Disc edition of the film featuring the director's audio commentary, the making of the film, and deleted scenes was released in the United States on June 3, 2008. The original motion picture soundtrack, which was composed by James Newton Howard, was released on the opening day by the Hollywood Records label.


Former Episcopal priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) lives on a remote farm with his asthmatic preteen son Morgan (Rory Culkin) and younger daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin). Graham's younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), a failed minor-league baseball player, has been living on the farm to help out since Graham's wife Colleen died in a traffic accident six months earlier, shown in a series of flashbacks. Graham has since lost his religious faith and abandoned the church.

Large crop circles appear in the Hess's cornfield that are initially attributed to vandals. Soon after, other crop circles, eventually determined to be navigational guides, appear globally, and lights from invisible objects hover over Mexico and other cities later on. One night, Graham and Merrill chase a tall dark figure that disappears into the field. Graham later glimpses another one among the corn stalks, and strange clicking noises are heard over Bo's old baby monitor. In Brazil, an alien is filmed during a child's birthday party.

Ray Reddy (M. Night Shyamalan), the man responsible for Colleen's fatal accident, calls the Hess house but hangs up. Graham goes to investigate, finding Reddy sitting inside his car. Reddy expresses remorse for Colleen's death and Graham losing his faith. As he is about to drive to a lake, believing the aliens avoid water, Reddy warns Graham that a creature is locked inside his pantry. Graham investigates but leaves quickly when the trapped alien tries to attack him.

As a worldwide alien invasion begins, the Hesses barricade themselves inside their house. As several aliens break into the house, the family retreats to the basement. Morgan has an asthma attack but survives the night, despite being without his medication. The family emerge the next morning after radio reports say the aliens have abruptly abandoned Earth, stranding some aliens. The alien which had been trapped inside Ray Reddy's pantry enters the house and takes Morgan hostage. Recalling Colleen's dying words, Graham tells Merrill to, "swing away", using his baseball bat. The alien sprays Morgan with a toxic gas from its wrist. Graham recovers his stricken son as Merrill bashes the creature, hitting it into glasses of water left by Bo, the liquid scalding its skin. Merrill continues hitting the creature, eventually killing it. Outside, Morgan revives after Graham administers his medication. Morgan's constricted lungs prevented him inhaling the alien's poisonous gas, an act Graham attributes to God's intervention.

Months later, the Hess family has recovered from the ordeal. In the final scene, Graham is seen as having returned to the church, his faith restored.


  • Mel Gibson as Father Graham Hess, a farmer and former Episcopal[6][7] priest. His wife Colleen died six months prior. He is Merrill's older brother and father to son Morgan and daughter Bo.
  • Joaquin Phoenix as Merrill Hess, Graham's younger brother; Colleen's brother-in-law; and uncle of Morgan and Bo. He has been living with the family since Colleen's death; he is a former minor league baseball player.
  • Rory Culkin as Morgan Hess, the son of Graham and Colleen Hess; older brother to sister Bo; and nephew to Merrill.
  • Abigail Breslin as Bo Hess, the daughter of Graham and Colleen Hess; Morgan's younger sister; and niece to Merrill; she is the youngest of the Hess family.
  • Cherry Jones as Caroline Paski, a local police officer and friend of the Hess family.
  • M. Night Shyamalan as Ray Reddy, a veterinarian; he is responsible for Colleen's accidental death, for which he feels deeply remorseful.
  • Patricia Kalember as Colleen Hess, Graham's deceased wife and mother of Morgan and Bo; she is Merrill's sister-in-law; she is seen only in Graham's flashbacks and a family photo.
  • Ted Sutton as SFC Cunningham, an Army recruiter Merrill speaks to.
  • Merritt Wever as Tracey Abernathy, a pharmacist who makes confession to a discomforted Graham.
  • Lanny Flaherty as Carl Nathan, the crotchety owner of the bookstore in town.
  • Marion McCorry as Mrs. Nathan, his patient wife.
  • Michael Showalter as Lionel Prichard, a local troublemaker.
  • Clifford David as a Columbia University Professor viewed on television.
  • Kevin Pires as the Brazilian birthday boy seen in news footage.


Signs was filmed in 2001.[8] The location of the film is credited as "Bucks County, PA" in the film. All scenes shot on location were actually filmed in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Production shot all scenes of the house and cornfield inside the campus of Delaware Valley University, an agricultural college, where they had 40 acres of land to use. Production filmed the scenes in the bookstore and the pizza shop in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Production shot the pharmacy scene in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.[9]


All music was composed by James Newton Howard.[10] The score was conducted by Pete Anthony and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony.

Film score by
ReleasedJuly 30, 2002 (2002-07-30)
RecordedTodd Scoring Stage (Studio City, Los Angeles)
JHN Studios (Santa Monica, California)
ProducerJames Newton Howard, Thomas Drescher, Tom Drescher
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic3/5 stars[11]
Filmtracks3/5 stars
SoundtrackNet4/5 stars

Track listing[edit]

1."Main Titles"1:45
2."First Crop Circles"3:15
3."Roof Intruder"2:20
4."Brazilian Video"1:56
5."In the Cornfield"5:40
6."Baby Monitor"1:07
7."Recruiting Office"2:07
8."Throwing a Stone"5:47
9."Boarding Up the House"3:00
10."Into the Basement"5:23
11."Asthma Attack"3:42
12."The Hand of Fate (Part 1)"5:32
13."The Hand of Fate (Part 2)"3:47
Total length:45:34

Critical reception for soundtrack[edit]

The soundtrack generally received positive reviews. William Ruhlmann of Allmusic stated in his review that:

With Signs, composer James Newton Howard again joins director M. Night Shyamalan for their third collaboration following The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and clearly the film presents another thrilling encounter with the supernatural. From his opening "Main Theme," Howard ratchets up the tension, and his music thereafter alternates only between the ominous and the suspenseful. He overloads his lower tones, employing eight basses, five percussionists, and even a tuba, but also uses a large string section for short, fast, repetitive figures meant to keep viewers on the edges of their seats. This is not particularly imaginative music, just good old Saturday afternoon scary movie fare, the only distinguishing characteristic about it -- consistent with Shyamalan's style -- that it is so relentless. There's just no let up; dread pervades every moment of the director's films, to the point of emotional exhaustion for some, and the score has to have the same uncompromising approach, which can make it a little hard to take when listened to all the way through.


Critical response[edit]

Signs has received positive reviews from film critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 74% gave positive appraisals based on 236 reviews, with an average rating of 6.79/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "With Signs, Shyamalan proves once again an expert at building suspense and giving audiences the chills."[1] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film scored a 59 based on 36 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[12]

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, writing "M. Night Shyamalan's Signs is the work of a born filmmaker, able to summon apprehension out of thin air. When it is over, we think not how little has been decided, but how much has been experienced ... At the end of the film, I had to smile, recognizing how Shyamalan has essentially ditched a payoff. He knows, as we all sense, that payoffs have grown boring."[13] Nell Minow of Common Sense Media gave the film four out of five stars; she praised the casting and Shyamalan's direction, saying his "only flaw was not leaving anything to the audience's imagination".[14]

Mike LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film one star out of four, thinking that the film had "few thoughts and no thrills."[15] Variety's Todd McCarthy criticised the film for its lack of originality, writing "After the overwrought Unbreakable and now the meager Signs, it's fair to speculate whether Shyamalan's persistence in replicating the otherworldly formula of The Sixth Sense might not be a futile and self-defeating exercise."[16]

In 2004, the film was listed as No. 77 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments for the Brazilian birthday party scene.

Box office[edit]

Signs grossed $227,966,634 domestically and $180,281,283 internationally, which would total up to $408,247,917 worldwide[4] at the box office, ranking only behind The Sixth Sense in Shyamalan's box office success and grossing more than The Village and Split.

Home media[edit]

Signs was released on VHS and DVD on January 7, 2003.

On the DVD, there are some deleted scenes:

  • Flashbacks 1 and 2: Two scenes with Graham's wife, Colleen. In the first, she sits with a toddler Morgan and baby Bo in a rocking chair while Graham watches. In the second, she dances with him. She hums the same tune in both scenes.
  • The dead bird: With no sound, this scene shows Graham going back home from Ray's, and after a short time, a dead bird near the road (after supposedly hitting an invisible forcefield) is shown.
  • The attic door and the third story: The longest one, it starts with Merrill finding out about the not-boarded attic door. Despite Graham's efforts to call him back, Merrill goes up the stairs and manages to hold the door by climbing up a chair and putting his hands at the door. Trying to help, Graham looks for a way to hold the door. He gets a tall shelf and places it under the door. Knowing this is only a temporary solution, Graham gets his family and takes them to the kitchen and puts some chairs at the door to hold the aliens out of the room. There, he tells the "third story", about Merrill, in which he dislocated his arm. While Graham is telling the story, the shelf is destroyed from the attic door slamming on top of it repeatedly and the aliens gain access to the house. Everyone goes down to the basement, the only safe room available, as the aliens begin forcing the kitchen door open.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Signs (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  2. ^ "Signs (2002) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  3. ^ Kennedy, Colin (December 9, 2015). "Signs Review". Empire. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "Signs (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 1, 2011.
  5. ^ Shyamalan, M. Night (Director). (2002). Signs [Motion picture]. United States: Touchstone Pictures.
  6. ^ "'Signs' Offers Plenty to Think About". Los Angeles Times. August 24, 2002. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  7. ^ Cobb, Kelton (April 15, 2008). The Blackwell Guide to Theology and Popular Culture. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-77770-1.
  8. ^ Elijah, Andy (July 17, 2018). "Signs was the re-assuring escapism we needed after 9/11". Retrieved August 5, 2018.
  9. ^ "Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Film Office". Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  10. ^ Bloody Disgusting Staff (May 3, 2010). "10 of the Most Underrated Horror Scores!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  11. ^ Ruhlmann, William. James Newton Howard: Signs [Original Motion Picture Score] at AllMusic. Retrieved 1 March 2012.
  12. ^ "Signs Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 2, 2002). "Signs Movie Review & Film Summary (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  14. ^ Minow, Nell (May 18, 2003). "Signs - Movie Review". Common Sense Media. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  15. ^ Lasalle, Mick (August 2, 2002). "'Signs' of distress / Shyamalan's puzzling plot circles go flat quickly". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  16. ^ McCarthy, Todd (July 29, 2002). "Signs Movie Review". Variety. Retrieved February 21, 2011.

External links[edit]