Before I turned my attention to carousing in the early 2000s, I watched a lot of movies, and as a young film buff I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I stumbled upon the Internet Movie Database (IMDB).
Here was a website with a seemingly endless stream of information, reviews and statistics on nearly every movie ever made.
My favourite IMDB feature was the user rating that accompanies each film. Website users could rate films they saw on a scale of one to 10 and IMDB would calculate the votes and display an average score for each flick.
I didn’t always agree with a given rating, but I appreciated its value as a barometer of the zeitgeist.
It was during this era that I saw The Sixth Sense (1999), written and directed M. Night Shyamalan. After a few relatively unseen indie efforts, Shyamalan burst onto the scene with the story of a boy who can see ghosts, and the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who tries to help him. His clever “twist” ending captivated the public. I, too, was captivated.
Today, The Sixth Sense still maintains a solid standing, with a user rating of 8.2. As a rough guideline, any film that scores a seven or higher can be thought of as good, while a film scoring eight or above can be thought of as great. The Sixth Sense is also listed as #143 on IMDB’s list of the 250 greatest movies of all time.
Shyamalan’s next film, Unbreakable (2000) also starred Bruce Willis, this time as a man who begins to suspect he is a superhero. Currently Unbreakable clocks in at 7.2. Next came Signs (2002), a film about aliens who are allergic to water. IMDB rating? 6.7.
Then it was The Village (2004), about an Amish-like town terrorized by “creatures” of the forest — 6.4. In 2006 Shyamalan served us Lady in the Water, about an adorable nymph trying to save the world and get back home — 5.6.
The Happening (2008) is about Mark Wahlberg — and bees (I think). Its IMDB rating is currently 5.1.
Finally, in 2010 Shyamalan directed The Last Airbender. I have no idea what it’s about, but I know IMBD users gave it a score of 4.4.
Notice the trend? Every single movie is ranked lower than the one that preceded it. My point is not so much to smear Shyamalan’s career, but rather to marvel at the mathematical improbability of his slide; its roughly equivalent to flipping a coin six times in a row and getting heads every time. Go ahead, try it at home.
And that’s just half of it.
Recently the IMDB has added a metacritic function to their website, which averages film critics’ scores for a given movie, and gives it a tally out of 100.
Critics and users don’t always see eye-to-eye.
For example, critics hated Dumb & Dumber, giving it a score of 39 out of 100, but since then it has come to be regarded as a classic film of the Stupid Comedy genre. Its IMDB user rating is a thoroughly respectable 7.2. Conversely, critics loved P.T. Anderson’s latest film, The Master, giving it an 86, but users were a bit gun shy, rating it 7.1.
But check out these metacritic ratings: The Sixth Sense: 66. Unbreakable: 64. Signs: 59. The Village: 44. Lady in the Water: 36. The Happening: 34. And The Last Airbender: 20.
The exact same downward trend we witnessed in the user ratings is also evident in the metacritic scores.
Despite their sometimes-tense relationship, critics and the public have found something they agree on. When it comes to M. Night Shyamalan’s career from 1999-2010, they are locked together in a stupifyingly improbable dance of descent.