When The Sixth Sense arrived in theaters, no one knew what to expect.

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan only had two pictures to his name: one, a semi-autobiographical drama starring himself that only played the festival circuit, and the other, a drama about a Catholic schoolboy’s search for God that only grossed $305,704 against a budget of $6 million. Walt Disney Studios, which bet big on the script, so doubted the film that it sold the production rights and only retained a fraction of the film’s potential box office receipts. (More on that in a minute.) And despite the attachment of a star like Bruce Willis, even the press slept on it. In Entertainment Weekly‘s Summer Movie Preview issue for 1999, the film allegedly didn’t even merit a mention among the 134 movies spotlighted.

But when the picture finally made its way to theaters on Aug. 6, 1999 and audiences took in the terrifying tale—centering on Willis’ child psychologist Malcolm Crowe and the young boy Cole Sear (played by the impossibly talented Haley Joel Osment) who insists (say it with us now) “I see dead people”—where nothing was quite what it seemed, everything changed.


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