Unbreakable (film)


Movie poster showing the head of a man on the top right looking to the left. At the center of the image is a man wearing a raincoat, as the film's title overlaps him. At the bottom of the image is the head of another man looking to the right. Cracks are shown across the image. Text at the top and bottom of the image lists the starring roles, the credits, and tagline.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by
Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Based on Characters created by M. Night Shyamlan
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Eduardo Serra
Edited by Dylan Tichenor
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • November 22, 2000 (2000-11-22) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $75 million[1]
Box office $248.1 million[1]

Unbreakable is a 2000 American superhero thriller film written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, alongside Robin Wright and Spencer Treat Clark. In the film, a security guard named David Dunn survives a horrific train crash. After the incident, he meets an extremely manipulative and malicious half-crippled comic book shop owner named Elijah Price who manipulates him into believing that what his own son is thinking is true, that he is a superhero with powerful superhuman powers and skills. As he reveals he has superhuman powers, he goes out in a war against crime and fights against Price, a man who eventually becomes his archenemy.

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 script with 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. Upon its release, the film received widespread critical acclaim,[2] praising its aesthetics, the acting performances and particularly the musical score by James Newton Howard. The film has subsequently gained a strong cult following.[3] Many regard it as one of Shyamalan's best films, and Time listed the film as one of the top ten superhero movies of all time.[4] and alongside critical acclaim, the film was a huge box office success with grossing over $248 million against production budget of only $75 million.


In Philadelphia in 1961, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is born with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease that renders sufferers' bones extremely fragile and prone to fracture. As revealed later in flashbacks, 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.

Years later, another Philadelphia man, security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis), is also searching for meaning in his life. He had given up a promising football career during his collegiate days to marry Audrey (Robin Wright) after they were involved in an auto accident. Now, however, their marriage is dissolving, to the distress of their young son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark).

As he returns home from a job interview in New York City, David's train crashes, killing the other 131 passengers, while he is the only survivor, sustaining no injuries. At the memorial for the crash's victims, he finds a card on his car's windshield, inviting him to Elijah's store. Elijah 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 if David had ever been ill or injured during childhood. Although Elijah unsettles him, David begins to test himself. While lifting weights with Joseph, he bench presses 350 pounds, well above what he had thought he could do. Joseph begins to idolize his father and believes he is a superhero, although David still maintains he is "an ordinary man."

David challenges Elijah with an incident from his childhood when he almost drowned. Elijah suggests that the incident highlights the common comic trope whereby superheroes often have one weakness; he contends David's might be water. 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 develops what he thought was an unusual insight into human behavior into an extrasensory perception that enables him to glimpse criminal acts committed by the people who make contact with him. 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 and rape, and finds one he can act on: a sadistic janitor who invaded a family home, killed the parents, and is holding the children captive.

David follows the janitor to the victims' house and frees the children, 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 once more remaining uninjured. That night, he and Audrey reconcile. The following morning, he secretly shows a newspaper article on the anonymous heroic act, featuring a sketch of David in his rain poncho, to his son, who recognizes the hero as his father.

David attends an exhibition at Elijah's comic book art gallery and meets Elijah's mother (Charlayne Woodard), 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 his peers had used to taunt him with when he was growing up), he explains that his own purpose in life is to be the villain to David's hero.

Screen captions reveal that David reported Elijah's actions to the police, and that Elijah was convicted of murder and terrorism and committed to an institution for the criminally insane.




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.[5] With Willis and Samuel L. Jackson specifically in mind for the two leading characters, Shyamalan began to write Unbreakable as a spec script[6] during post-production on The Sixth Sense.[7]

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 banner, and also helped Shyamalan establish his own production company, Blinding Edge Pictures.[8] 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.[9] Principal photography began on April 25, 2000 and ended that July. The majority of filming took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the film's setting.[10]

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.[11] Mr. Glass' wig was modeled after Afro-American statesman Frederick Douglass.[5] 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.[12]

Willis and Jackson had previously worked together on Die Hard with a Vengeance, Pulp Fiction and Loaded Weapon 1.


Film score composer 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."[13] 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,"[13] 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."[13]

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[5]

Filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith felt Unbreakable was briefly similar to a comic book titled Mage: The Hero Discovered. Written and illustrated by Matt Wagner, Mage follows a wizard who convinces an Average Joe to try to find out if he is a superhero. Both Unbreakable and Mage are set in Philadelphia. Elvis Mitchell from The New York Times mentioned the visual similarities between David Dunn on patrol in his poncho and the DC Comics character known as The Spectre.[14]

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.[5] 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.[5]


Box office

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.[15]

Critical response

Unbreakable received mostly positive reviews from critics and has a rating of 68% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 161 reviews with an average score of 6.2 out of 10. The 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."[16] The film also has a score of 62 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 31 critics indicating Generally favorable reviews.[17]

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".[18] Richard Corliss of Time magazine reviewed that Unbreakable continued Shyamalan's writing/direction of "balancing sophistication and horror in all of his movies".[19] 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."[20]

Kenneth Turan, writing in the 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."[21] 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.[22]

Shyamalan admitted he was disappointed by the reaction Unbreakable received from the public and critics.[23] 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.[24]

In 2009, Oscar-winning 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?"[25] 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."[4]

Awards and nominations

Award Subject Nominee Result
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
Sierra Award Best Score James Newton Howard 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.[26] In December 2000, Shyamalan denied rumors he wrote Unbreakable as the first installment of a trilogy, saying he was not even thinking about it.[26] 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 poor box office performance.[27] 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 poor box office. Jackson said he was still interested in a sequel but Shyamalan was non-committal.[28] 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".[29] In September 2010, Shyamalan revealed that the second planned villain from the first film was moved to the planned sequel, but that character has 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,[30] and is slanted for a January 20, 2017 release.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Unbreakable". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-18.
  2. "Unbreakable:Review". Metacritic. CBS. Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  3. "Unbreakable - An Oral History". Entertainment Weekly. 2015-07-10. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  4. 1 2 Cruz, Gilbert (June 3, 2011). "Top 10 Superhero Movies: 4. Unbreakable (2000)". Time. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 M. Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Barry Mendel, Sam Mercer, Eduardo Serra, James Newton Howard, The Making of Unbreakable, 2001, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
  6. Christopher John Farley (2000-11-27). "A New Day Dawns For Night". Time. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  7. "Movie Preview: Nov. 22". Entertainment Weekly. 2000-08-11. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  8. Angelina Chen; Michael Fleming (1999-12-15). "Deal makes 'Sense'". Variety. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  9. Staff (2000-03-02). "Inside Moves". Variety. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  10. Charles Lyons (2000-01-14). "Moore gets 'Break'". Variety. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  11. Unrelated to this movie, Jackson asked George Lucas for a purple lightsaber in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones."Samuel L. Jackson". Inside the Actors Studio. Bravo. 2002-06-02.
  12. Deleted Scenes With M. Night Shyamalan, 2001, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
  13. 1 2 3 Rick Lyman (2000-11-24). "At The Movies: A Full Plate For the Holidays". The New York Times.
  14. Scott Brown (2000-12-06). "Comic Belief". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  15. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=unbreakable.htm
  16. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/unbreakable/
  17. http://www.metacritic.com/movie/unbreakable
  18. Roger Ebert (2000-11-22). "Unbreakable". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  19. Richard Corliss (2004-08-02). "Scary And Smart". Time. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  20. Desson Thomson (2000-11-24). "'Unbreakable': Unrelentingly Gripping". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  21. Kenneth Turan (2000-11-21). "An 'Unbreakable' Sense of Déjà Vu". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-06-22. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  22. Todd McCarthy (2000-11-20). "Unbreakable". Variety. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  23. Daniel Fierman (2002-08-02). "Night of the Living Dread". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  24. Weiner, Allison Hope (2008-06-02). "Shyamalan's Hollywood Horror Story — NYTimes.com". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  25. "Tarantino's Top 20 Movies Since 1992". Spike (TV channel). Retrieved 2009-08-17.
  26. 1 2 Brian Linder (2000-12-05). "Willis' Unbreakable Trilogy Hopes Shattered". IGN. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  27. Olly Richards (2001-08-01). "An Unbreakable Sequel?". Empire Online. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  28. Casey Seijas (2008-09-18). "Samuel L. Jackson, M. Night Shyamalan On The 'Unbreakable' Sequel That Never Was, But Might Be". MTV News. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  29. Marshall, Rick (2010-02-22). "Bruce Willis Says M. Night Shyamalan 'Still Thinking' About 'Unbreakable 2'". MTV News. Viacom. Retrieved 2010-06-12.
    Gibron, Bill (2010-02-24). "'Unbreakable 2' on the Horizon?". PopMatters. Retrieved 2010-06-12.
  30. Britt Hayes (September 26, 2016). "'Split' Review: M. Night Shyamalan's Best Film in Years Is a Surprisingly Poignant Thriller". Retrieved October 27, 2016.

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