Unbreakable is a 2000 American superhero thriller film written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. Unbreakable tells the story of Philadelphia security guard, David Dunn, who slowly discovers that he is a superhero. The film is a study on the dimensions of comic books; it explores the analogies between the real world and the mythology of superheroes.
Shyamalan conceived the idea for Unbreakable to parallel a comic book's traditional three-part story structure. After he decided to settle on the origin story aspect of his outline, Shyamalan began to write the screenplay as a spec script with Bruce Willis already set to star in the film and Samuel L. Jackson in mind to portray Elijah Price. Filming for Unbreakable began in April 2000 and finished that following July. Unbreakable received generally positive reviews with critics noting its weaker ending compared with Shyamalan's previous film, The Sixth Sense. The film has grossed approximately $250 million in ticket sales, in addition to $95 million in DVD sales and later gained a strong cult following. Time listed the film as one of the top ten superhero movies of all time.
Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is born with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease in which bones break easily. Drawing on what he has read in comic books during his many hospital stays, Price theorizes that if he is frail at one extreme, then perhaps there is someone strong at the opposite extreme.
Years later, security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is also searching for meaning in his life. He gave up a promising football career to marry his love Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) after they were involved in an auto accident. However, their marriage is dissolving, to the distress of their young son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). Returning from a job interview in New York, David is the sole survivor of a horrific train wreck that killed 131 passengers, sustaining no injuries himself. He is contacted by the adult Elijah, who proposes to a disbelieving David that he is a real instance of the kind of person after whom comic-book superheroes are modeled. David tries to ignore him, but Elijah stalks him and his wife, trying to get his attention. To relieve his family from further distress, David finally agrees to hear Elijah out, and begins to test himself. While lifting weights with Joseph, they discover that his physical strength is far beyond what he previously thought and Joseph begins to idolize his father and believe he is a superhero.
Joseph confronts some bullies at school thinking he might share his dad's abilities, but is injured instead. David tries to console his son by saying that Elijah is wrong and that he's just as normal as everyone else. This encourages Joseph to take David's loaded pistol and point it at him saying that if shot, his father would not die. David manages to talk him out of the deed, not by saying he would die, but by threatening to pack up and leave for New York.
Under Elijah's influence, David develops his security guard hunches into extra-sensory perception, with which he can glimpse immoral acts committed by people he touches. In a flashback of the car accident he and Audrey were in, it is revealed not only that he was unharmed, but that he had ripped a door off the car in order to save Audrey, a memory he had long repressed. It transpires that David used the excuse of the accident to quit football, because Audrey had a hatred of the sport and David knew that the only way their relationship could ever flourish would be to get football out of the picture.
David's faith in Elijah is shaken when he remembers an incident from his childhood in which he almost drowned. However, Elijah suggests that the incident highlights his one weakness, water. At Elijah's suggestion, he walks through a crowd in a Philadelphia train station and senses crimes perpetrated by strangers who brush past him: a jewel thief, a racist hate crime perpetrator, and a rapist. The worst offender is a sadistic janitor holding a family hostage and torturing them inside their home. On a rainy night, David follows the janitor back to the victims' house. After freeing the children, he is ambushed by the lurking janitor who throws him off a balcony into a pool below, where he nearly drowns but is rescued by the children. He then strangles the janitor. That night, he is reconciled with Audrey and the following morning, secretly shows the newspaper article of his anonymous heroic act to his son.
David attends an exhibition at Elijah's comic book art gallery and meets Elijah's mother (Charlayne Woodard). After talking with Elijah in the back room of his studio, David shakes his hand and discovers to his horror that Elijah had orchestrated many of the fatal disasters he had mentioned, causing hundreds of deaths, the last being David's train accident. Elijah insists the deaths were justified as a means to find David. He explains that his purpose in life is to be the archvillain to David's hero, even going so far as to suggest that his childhood moniker, "Mr. Glass," should have alerted him to the fact that he was always a villain. (The final captions reveal that David led police to Elijah, who was committed to an institution for the criminally insane.)
- Bruce Willis as David Dunn
- Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price / Mr. Glass
- Robin Wright Penn as Audrey Dunn
- Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph Dunn
- Charlayne Woodard as Mrs. Price
- Eamonn Walker as Dr. Mathison
- M. Night Shyamalan as Stadium drug dealer
- Richard E. Council as Noel
When M. Night Shyamalan first conceived the idea for Unbreakable, the outline originally had a comic book's traditional three-part structure (the superhero's "birth", his or her 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.
With the financial and critical success of The Sixth Sense in August 1999, Shyamalan gave the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group 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, and 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 following 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.
Willis and Jackson had previously worked together on Die Hard with a Vengeance and Pulp Fiction.
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." 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 of the 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."
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|
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 and 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.
As in comic books, the main characters have their identified color schemes. David's is green and Elijah's is purple. 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.
Box office and home media
Unbreakable was released in the United States on November 22, 2000 in 2,708 theaters, earning $30.33 million in its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $248.12 million, of which $95.01 million was from the United States.Unbreakable faced early competition from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but managed to set opening weekend box office records in Brazil. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released Unbreakable as a two-disc special edition DVD in June 2001. The film made an additional $95 million in DVD sales.
The reviews were positive with a majority of reviews listed as "favorable" at movie review websites. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 68% of critics gave the film positive write-ups, based on a sample of 155, with an average score of 6.2/10 saying, "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". M tacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 62, based on 31 reviews. Critics generally noted the weaker ending, as compared to Shyamalan's previous film The Sixth Sense.
Roger Ebert largely enjoyed the film, but was disappointed with the ending. Ebert believed that Willis' "subtle acting" was positively different from Willis' usual work in "brainless action movies". Richard Corliss of Time magazine reviewed that Unbreakablecontinued Shyamalan's writing/direction 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 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 Sensehadn'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 general 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, Oscar-winning filmmaker Quentin Tarantino included Unbreakable on his list of the top 20 films to be released since 1992, the year he became a director. Tarantino praised the film as a "brilliant retelling of the Superman mythology." He noted that he considers it to contain Bruce Willis' best performance and that the film would have been better marketed with the question "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."
After the film's release, rumors of possible sequels began circulating on different interview 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 poor 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 poor 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 has now been used for an upcoming film he will write the story for and produce.
- Unbreakable at the Internet Movie Database
- Unbreakable at AllRovi
- Unbreakable at Box Office Mojo
- Unbreakable at Rotten Tomatoes
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