1 Year, 100 Movies #89 The Sixth Sense (1999)

by Trey Hock on July 25, 2010

in 1 Year, 100 Movies,Columns

For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock is watching all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film are recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!

“The Sixth Sense?” Really? Hmm, I’m not so sure about this one. This is the first film that I truly don’t believe belongs on this list. I was underwhelmed with “The French Connection” but at least it had some historical context that gave it weight. I can’t think of a compelling reason to put “The Sixth Sense” on the AFI 100 movies list, and I have a few reasons why it shouldn’t be on it.

Let me start by saying that I actually really liked “The Sixth Sense” when it came out. It is an enjoyable, well constructed, thriller and after having re-watched it, I can say that it still is pretty good. Bruce Willis’ performance is solid. Haley Joel Osment must be from another planet in order to give so compelling a performance at so young an age. Even M. Night Shyamalan’s direction is not the heavy-handed, wretch-inducing, train wreck became in subsequent films. Pretty good, but the AFI 100 years, 100 movies list shouldn’t make room for pretty good.

I do have difficulty separating Shyamalan’s later work from his debut effort. Since I liked “The Sixth Sense” enough, I tried to stick with M. Night through his later works. I sat through “Unbreakable,” “Signs,” “The Village,” and “Lady in the Water.”

Each was a little worse than the last, yet each still showed some spark or potential that was always squandered. Still that tiny bit of potential kept me returning like a battered co-dependent to Shyamalan’s films. That is until “The Happening.” This stupid, overwrought, death-porn snuff film was so awful that I think I’m done with Shyamalan, and maybe Philadelphia in general.

This brings me to why ‘The Sixth Sense” should not be on the list. I will try to remain calm and clear headed.

Reason One

This film is not just homage, but a straight hijacking of Alfred Hitchcock’s style. The compelling camera angles and progression of events ring with an amateur’s imitation of a master.

One could argue that Hitchcock is already well represented with four films on the list, but if it’s between a fifth Hitchcock film or “The Sixth Sense,” we could make room for “Psycho” or “The Birds.”

Reason Two

Once the gimmick is revealed the movie loses impact on successive viewings. Once I know that Cole (Osment) can see dead people, and Malcolm (Willis) is dead, I become more fascinated by the ways Shyamalan tricked us the first time than the story, which is simple and okay, but nothing special.

Reason Three

The way Shyamalan tricks the viewer starts to show through with each viewing. How the trick is performed becomes clearer and clearer, until you no longer see a magician, but some odd motions that no longer have an effect on the viewer.

“The Sixth Sense” employs an accepted film technique, the compression of time, to trick the viewer into believing that Malcolm exists in real space. In much the same way that we don’t typically see characters enter every room, drive to their next destination, or go to the bathroom, yet we accept that all of these things happen outside the lines of the story, “The Sixth Sense” never shows Malcolm enter a room or interact with any character other than Cole once he gets shot. Once you start noticing this aspect of the film, it becomes a bit of a distraction. I apologize ahead of time to anyone who’s  viewing enjoyment has been ruined by this last paragraph.

Since “The Sixth Sense” is another of the more contemporary films on the list, I would be interested to hear from anyone who was affected by this film.

This is a film that my wife, Jaime, owns. She got it free with the purchase of her computer.

If there is anyone who is still defending Shyamalan’s work, or anyone with a particularly compelling argument as to why “The Sixth Sense” has a place on AFI’s 100 years, 100 movies list, even if you just have a great story of the first time you saw the movie, lets hear it.

Next up #88 “Bringing Up Baby” (1938)

1 Year, 100 Movies #90 Swing Time (1936)

1 Year, 100 Movies #91 Sophie’s Choice (1982)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #92 Goodfellas (1990)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #93 The French Connection (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #94 Pulp Fiction (1994)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #95 The Last Picture Show (1971)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #96 Do the Right Thing (1989)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #97 Blade Runner (1982)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #98 Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #99 Toy Story (1995)

1 Year, 100 Movies: #100 Ben-Hur (1959)

1 Year, 100 Movies: An Introduction

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reed July 25, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I have to say I think that this film is defensibly in the list. It’s not #1 with a bullet or anything, but there’s enough good stuff in here to merit the high involvement.

I realize that at this point in time it is hard to separate this film from the Shyamalan legacy. But to be fair, we must do that. We all know his blatant flaws as a director by now, and they are certainly present throughout this film (most notably gruesome bloodiness for gruesome bloodiness’ sake). But there’s enough good stuff here, and enough historical importance, that the movie warrants attention.

You mentioned the otherwordly acting of Osment. It is also worth noting that Toni Collette is superb as well. When the movie comes on TV, I find myself hanging on just so I can get to their final scene together in the car. Yes, there is that ridiculous looking dazed new ghost just outside, but the acting in that scene alone makes the film worthwhile.

I’m not trying to say that it’s Citizen Kane. Just that I loved the movie the first time I saw it (well before we got to the twist), and have enjoyed it several times after that. I often wonder what happened to Shyamalan after this – if it was simply having such tremendous success (672 MM USD gross worldwide) on such an early effort that broke him

Plus, when you get to Bringing Up Baby, one of the most overrated films I’ve ever seen, you’re going to wonder how this one didn’t beat it.


2 Trey July 25, 2010 at 8:19 pm


You make some good points, and I did mean to go back and give Toni Collette a mention. She is great, and I agree that she is pretty powerful in that car scene, which is a good thing because the writing there borders on melodramatic to corny. But Collette and Osment pull it off.

Though I agree with you on the acting, I’m still unsure of any real historical importance that would give this film any additional weight. Maybe it could squeak in lower on the list. Maybe. I just don’t think it will make any future revisions. There are just too many better movies out there.

I am with you though as far as early viewings. I really enjoyed The Sixth Sense when it first came out, and every time a new Shyamalan film is released, I wonder what happened to him.

You may be surprised about my review of Bringing Up Baby. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.


3 Colin July 28, 2010 at 8:35 am

If we’re going to make a case for Best-Hitchcock-Movie-Not-Actually-Directed-By-Hitchcock, then I’m stumping for Stanley Donen’s 1963 “Charade.” Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Paris, and James Coburn.


4 Tony July 28, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I think we are being a little too harsh on ‘ol Night. You have to remember that this movie was a National/International sensation earning $661,500,000. Movies don’t make this type of money because they suck. People were shocked by the twist ending and the marketing strategy was to remind people that had seen this movie not to tell anyone else about the big payoff. Do we give Hitchcock too much credit because he is Hitchcock? Perhaps. I will say that comparing him to a hack who is trying to be Hitchcock is still mentioning the two in the same sentence and still a compliment.


5 Xavier July 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Well I’d say there are a lot of movies that make that sort of money that aren’t very good. Sure at the time a lot of people liked the movie, but it hasn’t aged well, it certainly hasn’t got any historical importance, isn’t very innovative, comes out just being an ok movie from a director who has subsequently shown he is hardly a powerhouse, and is losing steam as the years go by, something that the AFI top 100 really isn’t and shouldn’t be about. I’m not trying to beat up on the movie at all its just that this is the 100 best films of all time, I just think we can aim for more.


6 You know who I am. July 28, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I never want to see the 6th Sense or any film by anyone whose middle name is Night. I can’t even read your review because I am so opposed.


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