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Disney Once Feared Superheroes, Told M. Night Shyamalan Not to Market ‘Unbreakable’ as Comic Book Film

Shyamalan's wish to market his 2000 movie as a superhero origin story was rejected by Disney executives.

Bruce Willis & M Night ShyamalanLuminere Awards, Philadelphia, USA - 26 Oct 2017

Bruce Willis and M. Night Shyamalan

Mediapunch/REX/Shutterstock

Superhero films make up the most profitable genre at the box office. In 2018 alone, four of the five highest-grossing films worldwide are superhero movies, three of which earned over one billion at the box office (“Avengers: Infinity War,” “Black Panther,” “Incredibles 2”). Because superhero films are so ubiquitous, it’s odd to think there was a time when studios were fearful about them. Such was the case with M. Night Shyamalan, Disney, and “Unbreakable.”

As Shyamalan recently told Rolling Stone in an interview promoting his upcoming film “Glass,” he was hoping to market the 2000 drama “Unbreakable” as a superhero movie/comic book film. The filmmaker was coming off the blockbuster success of “The Sixth Sense” and did not want to hide the superhero twist in “Unbreakable” nor lean more into his public persona as “the guy who makes the scary movies with a twist.” For this reason, Shyamalan had every intention of making the comic book storyline clear of “Unbreakable” in the marketing, but it turns out Disney was highly against it.

“’This is just a bunch of people that go to that convention,'” Shyamalan recalled Disney executives telling him while rejecting his request. “‘You’re going to alienate everyone in this room if you use those words.'”

“Unbreakable” was marketed and released in 2000, eight years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched with “Iron Man.” Ironically, Disney is now the studio behind the MCU and makes huge profits each year off superhero movies. In an interesting twist, Fox’s “X-Men” opened in July 2000, while “Unbreakable” debuted that November. “X-Men” is credited with ushering in the current era of superhero tentpoles, followed two years later by the release of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.”

Because Disney made the decision to conceal the comic book twist in “Unbreakable,” the film caught everyone by surprise by actually being an original superhero origin story. The film did not set the box office on fire and put Shyamalan’s sequel plans on hold until the 2016 release of “Split.” The director’s new film, “Glass,” is a sequel to both “Unbreakable” and “Split.” The movie opens January 18 from Universal Pictures.

Head to Rolling Stone to read Shyamalan’s profile in its entirety.

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