Unbreakable Was the First Post-Modern Superhero Movie

With M. Night Shyamalan's Glass opening in theaters everywhere next week, the upcoming film looks to cross over the filmmaker's 2000 movie Unbreakable and 2016's Split. A bit of a commercial and critical disappointment when first released, Unbreakable earned only $95 million at the domestic box office on a production budget of $75 million while holding a critics' score of 69 percent on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.

While the film's overseas box office performance saved it from being a flop, it languished in DVD bargain bins for years, like the many comic books the film and its characters draw inspiration from. And that's largely because Unbreakable was released several years too early; the first post-modern superhero movie before the box office-topping genre truly began to rule cinemas around the world.

It's important to remember the context of when Unbreakable was first released, nearly 19 years ago. It was a far cry from 2018, which enjoyed a record-breaking box office for superhero movies and saw the genre honored with several Golden Globe nominations and wins.

RELATED: Glass Features Unseen Footage From Unbreakable

The only major superhero films released before Shyamalan's film still in the general public's memory would have been the first Blade and X-Men films, with the inaugural X-Men film only four months old at the time, not even available on home video. Warner Bros. had not released a superhero film since 1997's Batman and Robin, with Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins considered a bit of a risk by the studio when it was released years later in 2005. Sony's Spider-Man was still in pre-production at the time, with Sam Raimi having just signed on to helm the original film.

The entire genre was still dismissed by studio execs and producers until 2008 brought us the first superhero film to earn $1 billion (The Dark Knight) and the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. To that end, Unbreakable, despite its heavy comic book inspiration and narrative tropes, was marketed by the studio as a psychological thriller rather than a superhero movie against Shyamalan's wishes, the studio looking to distance themselves from the genre while capitalizing on expectations set by the filmmaker's previous success, The Sixth Sense. Ironically, the studio in question was Buena Vista Pictures, a subsidiary of Disney, years before the parent company purchased Marvel Entertainment in 2009.


While there are certainly aspects of suspense films and thrillers in Unbreakable, Shyamalan is clearly informed and influenced by superhero comic books. This is evident from the film's cinematography, with shots framed similarly to comic book panels and characters symbolized vibrantly by different colors, with Bruce Willis' David Dunn often linked to green while Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price is connected to purple.

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