The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

Night Shyamalan's Rotten Tomatoes scores are going in one direction: Straight down

July 21, 2010 | 12:34 pm

Night_shyamalan How bad are things going for Night Shyamalan, who was once such a celebrated young filmmaker that Time magazine put him on the cover, knighting him as the next Steven Spielberg? If you made a graph of the Rotten Tomatoes scores for all his films, as the website Marginal Revolution has done, the graph shows his scores (with one exception) going in only one direction--down, down, down.

Shyamalan started out as a critics' darling, earning an 86 for "The Sixth Sense," a still respectable 67 for "Unbreakable, then an uptick to 74 for "Signs."  But then the downward curve accelerated. "The Village" got a 43. "Lady in the Water" ended up with a lowly 24. "The Happening" had a paltry 18 while Shyamalan's new film, "The Last Airbender," hit the bottom of the barrel, scoring an 8 with critics (although it has already made more than $100 million at the box office, something his last couple of films couldn't do).

Marginal Revolution asks a provocative question: "Has any recent director begun with greater promise or had a worse trajectory of achievement?" Can anyone out there offer some names that fit that bill? Guy Ritchie looked like he was going in the same direction until he rebounded with "Sherlock Holmes." Would Kevin Smith be a worthy candidate? Or how about Sam Mendes?

This seems to happen in every walk of life, where early success and stardom ends up trailing off into hackdom. If you look away from the multiplexes and toward Dodger Stadium, you could put a similar spotlight on Manny Ramirez, the underperforming Dodgers left fielder who put up Hall of Fame numbers with the Red Sox but has been in a tailspin in recent years. If you knock out his brief resurgence in 2008 (a resurgence that may well have been fueled by illegal substances, which eventually earned him a drug-related suspension), Ramirez's home run numbers, starting with 2005, have been 45, 35, 20, 19 and 8 so far this year. Since he's on the DL again, I'm betting Manny doesn't beat last year's power numbers, which would give him a Shyamalan-esque downward trajectory.

Of course, Manny may simply be getting old. Shyamalan is still in his directing prime, so age is no excuse. He could still make a comeback--after all, when you've earned an 8 at Rotten Tomatoes for your last film, you have nowhere to go but up. But it's hard to think of any filmmaker who, in terms of the quality of his films, has traveled any faster from the cinematic penthouse to the outhouse. (A tip of the cap to my colleague Ben Fritz for steering the graph my way.)

Photo: Night Shyamalan at an opening of "The Last Airbender" in Berlin earlier this month. Credit: Britta Pederson / European Pressphoto Agency