20 Things You Didn’t Know About The Sixth Sense

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20 years ago today, The Sixth Sense arrived in theatres with a minimum of fanfare, quickly exceeding expectations on the road to becoming the second biggest blockbuster of 1999 (after Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace). Two decades later, there’s probably no need for spoiler warnings, but you may want to stop reading now if you still haven’t discovered the biggest plot twist of 1999. For everyone else, here are 20 things you probably didn’t know about The Sixth Sense.

1. I See Canadian TV

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Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has said that the film was inspired by a 1994 episode of Canadian TV series Are You Afraid of the Dark? In this episode (The Tale of the Dream Girl), a boy comes to realize that he’s dead and only his sister can see him.

2. Too Many Ghosts

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When Casper arrived in theatres in 1995, Shyamalan briefly considered scrapping his plan for The Sixth Sense, as he feared audiences might end up with a bad case of ghost fatigue. Fortunately, he changed his mind.

3. Career Change

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In The Sixth Sense, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) comes into contact with Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) because he’s a child psychologist. However, in an early draft of the script, he had a very different profession: crime scene photographer.

4. An Unlikely Marriage

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When M. Night Shyamalan was pitching the film, he described it as a cross between two very different Best Picture nominees: The Exorcist and Ordinary People. Like those films, The Sixth Sense went on to earn a nod for the most coveted Academy Award.

5. A Profitable “Mistake”

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Walt Disney Studios’ president David Vogel spent $2.25 million buying the script for The Sixth Sense. Rumour has it he eventually lost his job for this “mistake,” which ultimately earned the studio hundreds of millions of dollars.

6. Making Amends

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Bruce Willis ended up in The Sixth Sense as a kind of punishment for his role in the collapse of Broadway Brawler, an abandoned 1997 movie he co-produced. As a result of this fiasco, Willis was also forced to appear in Armageddon and Disney’s The Kid.

7. Missed Opportunity

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Actor Liam Aiken (Road to Perdition) was offered the role of Cole, but his mother insisted he turn it down, as she felt the film was too dark and morbid for her 9-year-old son.

8. Upbeat Audition

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The first audition of Michael Cera’s career was for the role of Cole in The Sixth Sense. Given his limited knowledge of the film and this character, he chose an upbeat delivery that clashed with Shyamalan’s bleak vision.

9. Preparation Meets Opportunity

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When Shyamalan met Haley Joel Osment, he was impressed by the young actor’s exhaustive preparation. According to the director, Osment read the entire script three times the night before his audition.

10. Insufficient Excitement

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When Toni Collette landed the role of Lynn Sear, she had mixed feelings, as she was hoping to be cast in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead. However, it all worked out in the end, as she earned her one and only Oscar nomination for the film.

11. The Sixth Sense Diet

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Donnie Wahlberg’s performance as Vincent Gray is limited to the film’s opening sequence. However, he went to the trouble of losing 43 pounds for the role.

12. Premature Grey

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Vincent Gray and Cole Sear have one important trait in common: a patch of prematurely grey hair. Shyamalan wanted this to unite all the characters who can see dead people.

13. Making Cole Cry

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When Haley Joel Osment had trouble crying in a crucial scene, his father told Bruce Willis to yell at him. The actor complied, helping his co-star reach the desired emotion.

14. Seeing Dead People (Again)

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“I see dead people” is The Sixth Sense’s signature line, but a similar line was used in another Bruce Willis movie four years earlier. In 12 Monkeys, Willis’ time-travelling James Cole visits the past and says, “All I see are dead people.”

15. Cutting Room Gore

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Haley Joel Osment once recalled shooting a scene in The Sixth Sense where he looked out a window and saw a group of “horribly disfigured and mutilated people.” Shyamalan ultimately cut this sequence, which may have helped secure the film a PG-13 rating.

16. Mixed Reviews

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While the film received a number of rave reviews, The New York Times was extremely harsh in its assessment. Critic Stephen Holden called The Sixth Sense “gaggingly mawkish supernatural kitsch” and “a garish hybrid of Simon Birch and What Dreams May Come, with some horror-movie touches thrown in to keep us from nodding off.”

17. Soundtrack Spoiler

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In 1999, viewers did everything possible to avoid spoiling the film’s twist ending. However, the track listing on the soundtrack included three words that said it all: “Malcolm is Dead.”

18. Return On Investment

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The Sixth Sense was made for a relatively modest (by Disney standards) $40 million, When all was said and done, the film grossed $672 million worldwide.

19. The End Of An Era

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Remember VHS and DVD rentals? With video stores still thriving and stocking both formats, The Sixth Sense was rented 80 million times in 2000.

20. Oscar Fright

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The Sixth Sense didn’t win any Academy Awards, but it earned six nominations. To date, it is one of only five horror movies to earn a nomination for Best Picture, sharing this distinction with The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, and Black Swan.