Here’s a story about Unbreakable, which Disney didn’t want you to know was a comic book film.
Photo: Touchstone

Comic book films are so prevalent these days it’s easy to forget how different things were only a few years ago.

The year was 2000, and director M. Night Shyamalan was about to release his highly anticipated follow-up to the mega hit The Sixth Sense. The movie, called Unbreakable, reunited the director with star Bruce Willis and took a realistic, grounded approach to a topic Shyamalan held near and dear to his heart: comic books.

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However, the company releasing the film, Touchstone Pictures (a division of the Walt Disney Company), did not want to make that obvious. Here’s an excerpt from a Rolling Stone profile on Shyamalan, recounting a story that has been told many times in the past but, in case you you haven’t heard it, is worth sharing again:

[Shyamalan] wanted to market the follow-up, Unbreakable, as the comic-book movie it actually was, only to be told that superhero movies had only niche appeal — instead, it was pushed as another spooky thriller. “‘This is just a bunch of people that go to that convention,’ ” he recalls being told — by execs at Disney, of all places, still years away from buying Marvel, “‘and you’re going to alienate everyone in this room if you use those words.’”

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Those words being “comic book.” Which is so crazy coming from the company that released this year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which stars almost two dozen comic book heroes and comes as a culmination of almost two dozen highly successful comic book movies released over 10 years.

But times change—this happened almost 20 years ago. Most likely, Bryan Singer’s X-Men (released in July of 2000) had just, or was about to, come out when Shyamalan had that meeting. That’s a film which (like Unbreakable, which was released a few months after X-Men) doesn’t get the credit it deserves in proving to film studios that audiences were ready for comic books to come to the mainstream. Then, in 2002, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man really changed everything, and it was off to the races with Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, The Avengers, and so on.

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And it’s now come full circle, because in a few weeks, Shyamalan gets to conclude the comic book saga he started with Unbreakable in Glass. It’s a film that probably never would have happened if the world hadn’t become so comfortable with the words Hollywood once saw as poison: “comic book.”

Read much, much more about Shyamalan, Glass, and Unbreakable in that great Rolling Stone profile. Glass opens January 18.

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