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Signs (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byM. Night Shyamalan
Written byM. Night Shyamalan
Produced by
CinematographyTak Fujimoto
Edited byBarbara Tulliver
Music byJames Newton Howard
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • August 2, 2002 (2002-08-02) (United States)
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. The film was produced by Blinding Edge Pictures and The Kennedy/Marshall Company. It was distributed by Touchstone Pictures theatrically, and by Touchstone Home Entertainment in home media format. Starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, the story focuses on a former Episcopal priest named Graham Hess who discovers a series of crop circles in his cornfield and that the phenomenon is a result of extraterrestrial life. Signs explores the themes of faith, kinship and extraterrestrials.[5]

Signs premiered in theaters on August 2, 2002. The film was a financial success, grossing $408 million on a $72 million budget, becoming the seventh-highest-grossing film of 2002, and was met with positive reviews from critics, with many praising its atmosphere, cinematography, score and story, but others criticizing aspects of the script. 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. 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 lives on a rural farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with his asthmatic preteen son, Morgan, and young daughter, Bo. Graham's younger brother Merrill, a failed minor league baseball player, has been helping the family since Graham's wife Colleen died in a traffic accident six months earlier. Graham abandoned the church in the aftermath of the incident.

When large crop circles appear in the Hess' cornfield, they are initially attributed to vandals. However, other crop circles begin to appear globally, and lights from invisible objects hover over many of Earth's cities. One night, Graham and Merrill chase a figure into the field. Over the next several days, Graham glimpses another among the corn stalks, followed by strange clicking noises broadcast through Bo's old baby monitor. To the family's continued terror, news footage emerges out of Brazil of what appears to be an alien sighting.

After receiving a phone call from Ray Reddy, the man responsible for his wife's death, Graham travels to Reddy’s home and finds him sitting in his car outside of the house. Reddy expresses remorse for Colleen's death and warns Graham that a creature is locked inside his pantry. Believing that the aliens avoid water, he leaves for a lakeside. Graham enters the house and uses a kitchen knife to peer under the pantry door. A clawed hand emerges and swipes at Graham; he cuts off the fingers in a panic.

As the worldwide alien invasion begins, the family barricades themselves inside their house. When the aliens break-in, the family takes shelter in the basement. Morgan has an asthma attack but survives the night. The family emerges the next morning after the radio reports that the aliens have abruptly abandoned Earth as if something scared them off.

The alien previously trapped inside 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 toxic gas from its wrist. Graham recovers his stricken son as Merrill engages the creature, discovering during the fight that water is toxic to the aliens. Merrill gradually weakens the alien by smashing several glasses of water, left by Bo throughout the house, at the creature, eventually killing it when Merrill smashes the creature in the head with the bat. Outside, Graham administers Morgan's medication, realizing that his son's constricted lungs prevented him from inhaling the toxins; an act that Graham attributes to the intervention from a higher power.

Months later, the Hess family has recovered from the ordeal and Graham returns to the church.


  • 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; mother of Morgan and Bo; and Merrill's sister-in-law; she is seen only in Graham's flashbacks.
  • 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, Carl Nathan’s wife.
  • Michael Showalter as Lionel Prichard, a local troublemaker.
  • Clifford David as a Columbia University professor viewed on television.



M. Night Shyamalan was a fan of the film You Can Count on Me and cast Rory Culkin and Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo required surgery for a tumor behind his ear and was unable to work on the film, so a week before filming the role was recast with Joaquin Phoenix.[8][9] The role of Graham was originally written to be an older man. Shyamalan approached Paul Newman for the role, but he declined due to lack of interest, and he also approached Clint Eastwood, who declined due to scheduling conflicts.[10]

Shyamalan has said that the film's concept is the combination of two ideas – a family finding a crop circle on their property, and an "end of the world" premise.[11]

Signs was filmed in 2001.[12] All scenes shot on location were filmed in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The scenes of the house and cornfield were shot inside the campus of Delaware Valley University, an agricultural college, where they had 40 acres (16 ha) of land to use. The scenes in the bookstore and the pizza shop were filmed in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and the pharmacy scene was shot in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.[13]



All music was composed by James Newton Howard.[14] 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

Track listing

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


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.[15]



Critical response


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 75% based on reviews from 237 critics, with an average rating of 6.80/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "With Signs, Shyamalan proves once again an expert at building suspense and giving audiences the chills."[1] On Metacritic, the film scored 59 out of 100 based on 36 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[16] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[17]

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of 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."[18] 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".[19]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film one star out of four, thinking that the film had "few thoughts and no thrills."[20] 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."[21] A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote that "Mr. Shyamalan is undone by his pretensions" and that the theme of paternal grief "is articulated here with a heavy-handed, incoherent sentimentality that smothers real emotion." On the theme of faith, he concludes: "Mr. Shyamalan never gives us anything to believe in, other than his own power to solve problems of his own posing, and his command of a narrative logic is as circular – and as empty – as those bare patches out in the cornfield."[22]

In 2004, the Brazilian birthday party scene was ranked at No. 77 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[23]

Box office


Signs grossed $60,117,080 from 3,264 theaters in its opening weekend.[24] At the time of its release, the film had the second-highest August opening weekend, behind Rush Hour 2.[25] It was the biggest opening weekend of Mel Gibson's career and earned more than Disney's previous best for a live-action non-sequel, not based on existing popular source material, held by Pearl Harbor.[26] The film went on to gross $227,966,634 domestically and $180,281,283 internationally, for a total of $408,247,917 worldwide.[4] It ranked only behind The Sixth Sense in Shyamalan's box office success and grossing more than The Village and Split.

Home media


Signs was released on VHS and DVD on January 7, 2003.[2]

The DVD release includes 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 deleted scene, 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.

It was the second top DVD video rental in the United States during the first quarter of 2003, earning $34,700,000 (equivalent to $57,000,000 in 2023) in US DVD rental revenue by March 2003.[27]

See also



  1. ^ a b "Signs (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "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. ^ Ted Parks (August 24, 2002). "'Signs' Offers Plenty to Think About". Los Angeles Times. 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. ^ "Signs". Entertainment Weekly. April 19, 2002.
  9. ^ "Actor Ruffalo Signs-Off". IGN. August 31, 2001.
  10. ^ "More on M Night Shyamalan and an UNBREAKABLE 2". Ain’t It Cool News. July 30, 2001.
  11. ^ Greiving, Tim (July 30, 2020). "M. Night Shyamalan Talks 'Signs,' Twists, and Crop-Circle Tattoos". The Ringer.
  12. ^ Elijah, Andy (July 17, 2018). "Signs was the re-assuring escapism we needed after 9/11". cinedelphia.com. Archived from the original on August 5, 2018. Retrieved August 5, 2018.
  13. ^ "Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Film Office". www.visitbuckscounty.com. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  14. ^ Bloody Disgusting Staff (May 3, 2010). "10 of the Most Underrated Horror Scores!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  15. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. James Newton Howard: Signs [Original Motion Picture Score] at AllMusic. Retrieved 1 March 2012.
  16. ^ "Signs Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  17. ^ "SIGNS (2002) B". CinemaScore. Archived from the original on December 20, 2018.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 2, 2002). "Signs Movie Review & Film Summary (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  19. ^ Minow, Nell (May 18, 2003). "Signs - Movie Review". Common Sense Media. Retrieved November 15, 2012.
  20. ^ Lasalle, Mick (August 2, 2002). "'Signs' of distress / Shyamalan's puzzling plot circles go flat quickly". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  21. ^ McCarthy, Todd (July 29, 2002). "Signs Movie Review". Variety. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  22. ^ Scott, A. O. (August 2, 2002). "FILM REVIEW; Finding Faith, or Something, in a Cornfield (Published 2002)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on January 28, 2018. Retrieved September 10, 2021.
  23. ^ "100 Scariest Movie Moments No. 77: Signs". YouTube. March 8, 2011. Retrieved July 30, 2022.
  24. ^ Linder, Brian (August 5, 2002). "Weekend Box Office: All Signs Point to Yes". IGN. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  25. ^ "'Signs' dominates US box office". United Press International. August 4, 2002. Archived from the original on April 26, 2022. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  26. ^ Ray Subers (August 5, 2002). "America Sees 'Signs' in Record Numbers". Box Office Mojo. played equally well among genders and was "consistent from 10 to 60" among the ages of moviegoers
  27. ^ Kipnis, Jill (April 26, 2003). "Home Video: Rental Spending Up 8% In Q1". Billboard. Vol. 115, no. 17. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. p. 44. ISSN 0006-2510.