Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||M. Night Shyamalan|
|Written by||M. Night Shyamalan|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Dylan Tichenor|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$248.1 million|
Unbreakable is a 2000 American superhero thriller film written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, alongside Robin Wright, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard. It is the first installment in the Eastrail 177 Trilogy. In Unbreakable, a security guard named David Dunn survives a horrific train crash (the Eastrail 177).
Shyamalan organized the narrative of Unbreakable to parallel a comic book's traditional three-part story structure. After settling on the origin story, Shyamalan wrote the screenplay as a speculative screenplay with Bruce Willis already set to star in the film and Jackson in mind to portray Elijah Price. Filming began in April 2000 and was completed in July.
Unbreakable was released on November 22, 2000. It received positive reviews, with critics praising its aesthetics, the performances, and the score by James Newton Howard. The film has subsequently gained a strong cult following. A deconstruction of the superhero genre, many regard it as one of Shyamalan's best films, and one of the best superhero films. In 2011, Time listed it as one of the top ten superhero films of all time, ranking it number four. Quentin Tarantino also included it on his list of the top 20 films released since 1992.
After years of development on a follow-up film, a thematic sequel, Split, with Willis reprising his role as David Dunn in a cameo role, was released in January 2017. After the financial and critical success of Split, Shyamalan immediately began working on a third film, titled Glass, which was released January 18, 2019, thus making Unbreakable the first part of what has been referred to as the "Eastrail 177 Trilogy."
In Philadelphia in 1961, Elijah Price is born with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease that renders sufferers' bones extremely fragile and prone to fracture. Elijah—who grows up to become a comic-book art dealer—develops a theory, based on the comics he has read during his many hospital stays, that if he represents extreme human frailty, there must be someone "unbreakable" at the opposite extreme.
In the present day, another Philadelphia man, security guard David Dunn, is also searching for meaning in his life. He had given up a promising football career during his college days to marry Audrey after they were involved in an auto accident. Now, however, their marriage is dissolving, to the distress of their young son Joseph. As he returns home from a job interview in New York City, David's train, the Eastrail 177, crashes, killing the other 131 passengers. He is the only survivor, sustaining no injuries. At the crash victims' memorial service, he finds a card on his car's windshield, with the logo of Elijah's art gallery, Limited Edition, printed on it, with a message on the back of the card asking if he's ever been ill. David and Joseph meet with Elijah, who proposes to David that he is the kind of person after whom comic book superheroes are modeled and repeatedly pursues the issue with David and Audrey, trying to learn whether or not David has ever been ill or injured. Although Elijah unsettles him, David begins testing himself. While lifting weights with Joseph watching, he bench presses about 350 pounds (160 kg), well above what he could do before. Joseph begins to idolize his father and believe that he is a superhero, although David still maintains that he is just "an ordinary man".
David challenges Elijah's theory with an incident from his childhood when he almost drowned. Elijah suggests that the incident highlights the common trope whereby superheroes often have a weakness. He contends that David's weakness might be water: it is easier for him to drown or choke than regular people. While surveying the stored wreckage of the train crash that he survived, David recalls the car accident that ended his athletics career, remembering that he was unharmed and ripped a door off the car in order to save Audrey. David used the accident as an excuse to quit football because Audrey did not like the violence of the sport.
Under Elijah's influence, David realizes that what he thought was just a natural "instinct" for picking out dangerous people during security checks is actually a form of extrasensory perception. Now consciously honing this ability, David discovers that when he comes into touch contact with other people, he is able to glimpse criminal acts they have committed. At Elijah's suggestion, David stands in the middle of a crowd in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. As various people bump into him, he senses the crimes they perpetrated, such as theft, assault, and rape, and finds one he can act on: a sadistic janitor who has invaded a family home, killed the father, and is now holding the wife and their two children captive. David follows the janitor to the victims' house, frees the children, and finds their mother, but the janitor ambushes him and pushes him off a balcony into a swimming pool. David nearly drowns since he cannot swim, but the children rescue him. He then attacks the janitor from behind and strangles him to death, while he remains uninjured, but discovers the mother is already dead. That night, he and Audrey reconcile. The following morning, he secretly shows Joseph a newspaper article on the anonymous heroic act, featuring a sketch of David in the hooded rain poncho he wore while confronting the janitor. Joseph recognizes the hero as his father and promises to keep his secret.
David attends an exhibition at Limited Edition and meets Elijah's mother, who explains the difference between villains who fight heroes with physical strength versus those who use their intelligence. Elijah brings David to the back room of his studio, extends his hand, and asks David to shake it. Upon doing so, David sees visions of Elijah orchestrating several terrorist disasters, including David's recent train accident, causing hundreds of deaths. David is horrified, but Elijah insists the deaths were justified as a means to find him. Calling himself "Mr. Glass", a nickname children had used to taunt him with when he was growing up, he explains that he now realizes his own purpose in life: To be the villain to David's hero. David walks away in horror and disgust. It is revealed that David eventually reported Elijah's actions to the police, with the result being Elijah convicted of murder and terrorism, and committed to a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.
- Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a former football player who became a security guard and has the ability to see visions of crimes committed by the people he touches while also having unbreakable skin and superhuman strength but has a fear of drowning.
- Davis Duffield plays a 20-year-old David.
- Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price/Mr. Glass, a comic book theorist who has Type I osteogenesis imperfecta and was revealed to be the man behind the Eastrail #177 incident.
- Johnny Hiram Jamison plays a 13-year-old Elijah.
- Robin Wright as Audrey Dunn, David's wife who works as a physical therapist.
- Laura Regan plays a 20-year-old Audrey.
- Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph Dunn, David's son who believes he is a superhero.
- Charlayne Woodard as Mrs. Price, Elijah's mother.
- Eamonn Walker as Dr. Mathison
- Leslie Stefanson as Kelly
- Michaelia Carroll as Babysitter
- Whitney Sugarman as Physical Therapist
- Bostin Christopher as Comic Book Clerk
- Elizabeth Lawrence as School Nurse
- Chance Kelly as Orange Suit Man
- Michael Kelly as Dr. Dubin
- M. Night Shyamalan as Stadium Drug Dealer. The dealer was revealed in Glass to be Jai, the security guard from Dr. Karen Fletcher's apartment building in Split, who hints to David Dunn that he was the same person from the stadium.
In October 2018, M. Night Shyamalan confirmed a popular fan theory stating that the child and mother who bump into David Dunn outside a stadium, credited as "Five-Year-Old Boy" and "Woman Walking By" and portrayed by Joey Hazinsky and Dianne Cotten Murphy, respectively, were younger versions of the characters Kevin Wendell Crumb and Mrs. Crumb from Split. This became true in Glass.
When M. Night Shyamalan conceived the idea for Unbreakable, the outline had a comic book's traditional three-part structure (the superhero's "birth", his struggles against general evil-doers, and the hero's ultimate battle against the "archenemy"). Finding the birth section most interesting, he decided to write Unbreakable as an origin story. During the filming of The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan had already approached Bruce Willis for the lead role of David Dunn. With Willis and Samuel L. Jackson specifically in mind for the two leading characters, Shyamalan began to write Unbreakable as a spec script during post-production on The Sixth Sense. Jackson recalled meeting Willis in a casino in Casablanca while he was on vacation prior to Unbreakable's production; Willis told Jackson that he had just finished filming for Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense and told Jackson about the new script that was written for both of them.
With the financial and critical success of The Sixth Sense in August 1999, Shyamalan gave Walt Disney Studios a first look deal for Unbreakable. In return, Disney purchased Shyamalan's screenplay at a "spec script record" for $5 million. He was also given another $5 million to direct. Disney decided to release Unbreakable under their Touchstone Pictures banner. It also helped Shyamalan establish his own production company, Blinding Edge Pictures. Julianne Moore dropped out of portraying Audrey, David's wife, in favor of her role as Clarice Starling in Hannibal. Robin Wright Penn was cast in her place. Principal photography began on April 25, 2000 and ended that July. The majority of filming took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the film's setting.
Shyamalan and cinematographer Eduardo Serra chose several camera angles to simulate the look of a comic book panel. Various visual narrative motifs were also applied. Several scenes relating to the Mr. Glass character involve glass. As a newborn, he is primarily seen reflected in mirrors, and as a young child, he is seen reflected in a blank TV screen. When he leaves his calling card on the windshield of David Dunn's car, he is reflected in a glass frame in his art gallery. Jackson requested his walking stick be made of glass to make his character more menacing. Using purple as Mr. Glass' color to David Dunn's green was also Jackson's idea. Mr. Glass' wig was modeled after Afro-American statesman Frederick Douglass. As he does in his other films, Shyamalan makes a cameo appearance; he plays a man David suspects of dealing drugs inside the stadium.
More than 15 minutes of footage was deleted during post-production of Unbreakable. These scenes are available on the DVD release.
James Newton Howard was approached by Shyamalan to work on Unbreakable immediately after scoring The Sixth Sense. "He sat there and storyboarded the whole movie for me", Howard said. "I've never had a director do that for me." Shyamalan wanted a "singularity" tone for the music. "He wanted something that was very different, very distinctive, that immediately evoked the movie when people heard it," Howard explained. Howard and Shyamalan chose to simplify the score, and minimized the number of instruments (strings, trumpets and piano), with limited orchestrations. Some compositions were recorded in a converted church in London. "You could have recorded the same music in a studio in Los Angeles, and it would have been great, but there is something about the sound of that church studio," Howard remarked. "It's definitely more misterioso."
|Unbreakable (Original Motion Picture Score)|
|Film score by|
|Released||November 21, 2000|
|2.||"Reflection of Elijah"||4:08|
|12.||"The Orange Man"||2:29|
|14.||"Mr. Glass/End Titles"||7:40|
Comic book references
|Good cannot exist without evil and evil cannot exist without good.|
|— M. Night Shyamalan describing the film's use of superhero archetypes|
As in comic books, the main characters have their identified color schemes and aliases. David's are green and "Security" or "Hero", while Elijah's are purple and "Mr. Glass". The colors show up in their clothes, the wallpaper and bed sheets in their houses, Elijah's note to David, and various personal items. The people whose bad deeds are sensed by David are identified by an article of clothing in a single bright color (red, orange), to contrast them with the dark and dreary color scheme typical of the rest of the movie (but not of most comic books). Several scenes also depict characters through reflections or doorways, as if framing them in a picture similar to comic books.
Unbreakable was released in the United States on November 22, 2000, in 2,708 theaters and grossed $30.3 million in its opening weekend, finishing second at the box office. The film ended up earning $95 million domestically and $153.1 million internationally for a total of $248.1 million, against its $75 million production budget.
Critical response 
Unbreakable received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 69% based on 164 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10. The website's critical consensus states, "With a weaker ending, Unbreakable is not as a good as The Sixth Sense. However, it is a quietly suspenseful film that intrigues and engages, taking the audience through unpredictable twists and turns along the way." On Metacritic the film has a score of 62 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert largely enjoyed the film, but was disappointed with the ending. Ebert believed that Willis' "subtle acting" was positively different from the actor's usual work in "brainless action movies". Richard Corliss of Time opined that Unbreakable continued Shyamalan's previous approach of "balancing sophistication and horror in all of his movies". Desson Thomson from The Washington Post wrote that "just as he did in The Sixth Sense, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan leads you into a fascinating labyrinth, an alternative universe that lurks right under our noses. In this case, it's the mythological world and, in these modern times, the secret design to that labyrinth, the key to the path, is contained in comic books."
Kenneth Turan, writing in Los Angeles Times, gave a negative review, arguing that Unbreakable had no originality. "Whether it means to or not, the shadow of The Sixth Sense hangs over Unbreakable," Turan reasoned. "If The Sixth Sense hadn't been as big a success as it was, this story might have been assigned to oblivion, or at least to rewrite." Todd McCarthy of Variety mostly criticized Shyamalan's writing and the performances given by the actors. He did praise Dylan Tichenor's editing and James Newton Howard's music composition.
Shyamalan admitted he was disappointed by the reaction Unbreakable received from the public and critics. Shyamalan also disliked Touchstone Pictures' marketing campaign. He wanted to promote Unbreakable as a comic book movie, but Touchstone insisted on portraying it as a psychological thriller, similar to The Sixth Sense.
In 2009, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino praised Unbreakable, and included it on his list of the top 20 films released since 1992, the year he became a director. Tarantino praised the film as a "brilliant retelling of the Superman mythology", and said it contains what he considers to be Bruce Willis' best performance. He also criticized the way the film was marketed upon release, stating he felt that it would have been far more effective if the film's advertising simply posed the question of "what if Superman was here on earth, and didn't know he was Superman?" In 2011, Time ranked the film at #4 in its list of top ten superhero movies of all time, describing it as one of the best superhero origin stories and as a "relatively quiet, subtle and realistic look at the pressures that come with being a superhero." In 2018, The Hollywood Reporter called it a "deconstruction of the American superhero/villain complex" that is "more prescient than ever."
The film released on DVD and VHS in 2001. The DVD sold 2.3 million units in the United States, and was the top DVD video rental of 2001. It grossed a total of $123.11 million from DVD sales and DVD/VHS rentals in the United States. The film thus had a combined global box office and US home video revenue of $371,028,653, with a 495% return on investment.
|Saturn Award||Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film||Nominated|||
|Black Reel Award||Best Film Poster||Nominated|||
|Golden Trailer Award||Best Horror/Thriller Film||Won|||
|Blockbuster Entertainment Awards||Favorite Actor - Suspense||Bruce Willis||Nominated|||
|Samuel L. Jackson||Nominated|
|Favorite Supporting Actor - Suspense||Spencer Treat Clark||Nominated|
|Favorite Supporting Actress - Suspense||Robin Wright||Nominated|
|Bram Stoker Award||Best Screenplay||M. Night Shayamalan||Nominated|||
|Nebula Award||Best Script||Nominated|||
|International Horror Guild Award||Best Film||Nominated|||
After the film's release, rumors of possible sequels began circulating in different interviews and in film fansites. In 2000, Bruce Willis was quoted as hoping for an Unbreakable trilogy. In December 2000, Shyamalan denied rumors he wrote Unbreakable as the first installment of a trilogy, saying he was not even thinking about it. In August 2001, Shyamalan stated that, because of successful DVD sales, he had approached Touchstone Pictures about an Unbreakable sequel, an idea Shyamalan said the studio originally turned down because of the film's disappointing box office performance. In a September 2008 article, Shyamalan and Samuel L. Jackson said there was some discussion of a sequel when the film was being made, but that it mostly died with the disappointing box office. Jackson said he was still interested in a sequel but Shyamalan was non-committal. In February 2010, Willis said that Shyamalan was "still thinking about doing the fight movie between me and Sam that we were going to do", and stated that as long as Jackson was able to participate he would be "up for it".
In September 2010, Shyamalan revealed that the second planned villain from the first film was moved to the planned sequel, but that character had now been used for an upcoming film that he will write and produce.
Shyamalan's horror thriller film Split has been described as a thematic sequel to Unbreakable, and was released on January 20, 2017. It is revealed that Split actually takes place in the same fictional storyline, with Bruce Willis's character appearing in a final reveal, directly referencing Mr. Glass when discussing the film's villain, "The Horde".
Unbreakable is the first part of the so-called "Eastrail 177 Trilogy"; the follow-up film Split was made as a "back door sequel". While Split was filmed substantially as a standalone film, Shyamalan included the David Dunn character from Unbreakable in the last portion of the film, thus putting the two films in the same universe. Additionally, Shyamalan has stated the orange suited villain portrayed by Chance Kelly in Unbreakable was initially going to be the character "The Horde". However, features of The Horde were dropped to make the character simpler, for reasons of balance. The fuller character was realized in Split.
Shyamalan expressed hope for a third installment following Split, saying, "I hope [a third Unbreakable film happens]. The answer is yes. I'm just such a wimp sometimes. I don't know what's going to happen when I go off in my room, a week after this film opens, to write the script. But I'm going to start writing. [I have] a really robust outline, which is pretty intricate. But now the standards for my outlines are higher. I need to know I've won already. I'm almost there but I'm not quite there." In April 2017, Shyamalan announced the official title, release date, and returning actors for the third movie. The film, titled Glass, will be released January 18, 2019 and will feature Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy, and James McAvoy returning to their respective roles in the series.
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- List of films featuring home invasions
- Superhero film
- List of sole survivors of airline accidents or incidents
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