What a difference a couple decades makes. When M. Night Shyamalan dropped Unbreakable on an unsuspecting world back in 2000, the new Spielberg on the block was told that superhero movies were still a post-Burton/Batman novelty. As the man himself recently admitted, his what-if project about an everyman who discovers he may be a closet Superman was never to be referred to as a “comic-book movie” if he wanted to get it made. Just call it another psychological thriller. Or maybe sell it as a Bruce Willis star vehicle costarring Samuel L. Jackson. Just leave the capes out of this. It’s a niche market.
The irony, one of a dozen here, is that the director’s leap-of-faith follow-up to The Sixth Sense may have helped lay the foundation for the revolution (or devolution, your call) that hit modern multiplex culture. The original X-Men movie had arrived in theaters in July of that year and proved you could tell a straightforward, semi realistic superhero story, one that didn’t rely on bang-kapow camp or Goth-pop art. But Unbreakable — released in November, your prestige movie prime-time month — was the first to suggest you needed to take comic book narratives themselves seriously. The initial reception proved that Shyamalan’s reputation wasn’t bulletproof. Now ask any MCU fanatic or random Comic-Con attendee what they think of the movie. Geek love gets the last laugh.