The final scene in 2017’s Split revealed that the movie, thought to be a self-contained M. Night Shyamalan thriller, had been a secret sequel to the writer-director’s own Unbreakable from 17 years earlier. While that twist was a very novel one at the time, it has been recently revealed to me (thanks once again to my hairdresser to the loose-lipped stars, Jean) that Shyamalan had been planning such a reveal for years, and had previously tried unsuccessfully to jump start his “Shyamalanverse” with other characters. What’s more, these attempts were part of his own films as well as movies not even made by him! Here are a few brief descriptions of these would-be crossover twist endings.
Unbreakable (2000): David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has just discovered that he is virtually indestructible and super strong, making him a real-life superhero. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), an expert in the study of comic books, explains to Dunn that he’ll now need a secret identity, something unassuming, that would still allow him to help the common man. Dunn decides to move from Philadelphia to New York City after all, and change his name to John McClane. A final title card reveals that Dunn (now McClane) joins the NYPD, and that the entire film had been a prequel to Die Hard (1988), finally explaining that series’ name! In a wink to the audience, Price calls out cryptically “I’ll see you soon…” (Side note: apparently the makers of the last two Die Hard sequels mistakenly read only this draft of this scene instead of watching the other Die Hard movies, which accounts for McClane’s super heroics in those films.)
Signs (2002): Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a former Reverend, has just had his faith in God reaffirmed thanks to an encounter with an invading force of extraterrestrials. As he leaves his homestead to go attend his priestly duties, he comes across Joshua Beal (Joseph Cross) from Shyamalan’s Wide Awake (1998). Beal explains to Hess that the “alien invasion” had been an elaborate ruse orchestrated by him and his friends to prove the power of faith and bring Hess back to the cloth. “I’m so surprised it worked,” says Beal. “I mean… an alien race allergic to water attempting to invade a planet filled with it? I can’t believe you bought that!” [Editor’s note: For purposes of this joke, please pretend that you’ve both heard of and seen Wide Awake. Thank you.]
I’m Still Here (2010): Joaquin Phoenix’s performance art mockumentary, where the actor publicly pretends to quit his profession and start a rap career, was eventually revealed to be a hoax for the purposes of the film itself. Phoenix originally wanted to take the concept further, however, and in a deleted ending reveals that he’d been playing “Joaquin Phoenix” as Lucius Hunt from Shyamalan’s The Village (2004) the entire time. He then goes and rejoins his 19th-century community.
The Last Airbender (2010): Aang (Noah Ringer) has just embraced his destiny as the Avatar, a being who can “bend” air, water, earth, and fire. His connection with these natural elements has unlocked his power as an Eco Warrior — and it is then that a portal to the future opens and takes him to the planet of Pandora, where he meets the nature loving Na’vi and we realize that the film had been a secret sequel to James Cameron’s Avatar (2009). Not only would this twist have allowed the Last Airbender franchise to retain its Avatar title, but it would’ve allowed Cameron to boast he made an Avatar sequel on schedule. Oh well!
After Earth (2013): Kitai (Jaden Smith) has just fired a rescue beacon, allowing the Ranger Corps to come rescue him and his father from their crash landing on an abandoned Earth. However, just before the rescue team arrives, Kitai finds one last living creature on Earth: a precocious, lovable anthropomorphic mouse named Stuart Little (from the 1999 movie of the same name, co-written by Shyamalan)! Unfortunately for Kitai and his father, Stuart has grown quite feral from his ordeal surviving on a savage Earth, and he kills and eats them both. This was Shyamalan’s dark period, after all.
The Visit (2015): Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) have just escaped the elderly mental patients they’ve been living with by mistake for the past few days, saddened by the fact that they’ll never meet any real biological grandparents they have. Yet in what would’ve been a post-credits sequence, the kids find out that their real grandfather has been found — Richard “Dick” Kelly (Robert De Niro)! Unfortunately, this ending didn’t come to pass, stopping the Dirty Grandpa Cinematic Universe before it got a chance to start.
The Conjuring 2 (2016): In what was supposed to be a mid-credits sequence, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are contacted psychically by a “strong presence” from a time “far in the future” — which turns out to be none other than Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) from The Sixth Sense (1999)! Cole tells Lorraine that now she “can see dead people, too.” An onscreen legend reiterates that “Yes, All This Is Still Based On The Actual, Real Files Of Ed and Lorraine Warren,” so we are reassured that it’s a true story.
Split (2017): The Unbreakable twist was actually a back-up plan, as Shyamalan intended the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) to be connected to a different superhero franchise. Originally, it’s revealed that all those disparate voices Kevin was hearing and being possessed by weren’t Dissociative Identity Disorder, but rather actual voices that he was channeling. That’s right — McAvoy was still playing the psychic Professor Charles Xavier from the X-Men prequel series! How Xavier could be a young man in 2017 when he was previously a young man in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s would not have been mentioned or explained, as per X-Men movie tradition.
The Shape Of Water (2017): After Elisa (Sally Hawkins) absconds into the depths of the ocean with her beau, Amphibian Man (Doug Jones), they’re just getting settled into their new lives when they come across Amphibian Man’s previously unmentioned wife, Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), from Lady In The Water (2006). The situation is awkward. Amphibian Man feebly suggests a threesome. The women shoot him a hateful look. Richard Jenkins narrates, “Sometimes love is kinda terrible, though.” Roll credits!
Avengers: Infinity War (2018): Thanos (Josh Brolin) snaps. The heroes start to crumble away to dust, one by one, agonizingly slow. “Oh, god,” says a defeated Captain America (Chris Evans). No one knows what else to say. Just then, a man wanders out from the field of Wakanda. “You know hot dogs get a bad rap?,” he says. “They got a cool shape, they got protein. You like hot dogs right? By the way, I think I know what caused this.” The Avengers turn to look at Hot Dog Guy from The Happening (2008). To be continued.
Glass (2019): No spoilers for the actual ending to the movie, but when this Unbreakable/Split sequel was in development, there was a moment when producing studio Universal Pictures insisted that Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton from The Mummy (2017) show up at the end, making Glass part of the Dark Universe. Shyamalan may be a filmmaker who does his own weirdo thing, but he’s not an idiot.