Pulling off perhaps the greatest cinematic twist of modern times, The Sixth Sense yanked the rug from underneath us like no other movie we’ve seen before or since. But there’s far more to this brilliant 90s thriller than simply finding out that Bruce Willis was in fact dead all along.
Introducing us to a talented child star as well as a new visionary filmmaker, The Sixth Sense really did come out of nowhere to hit us for ‘six’, so we thought it about time we looked deeper into this classic ghostly chiller.
20. It’s very similar to an episode of ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’
The Sixth Sense was rated PG-13 for intense and violent imagery when it first came out, which meant it probably wasn’t most kids’ first brush up against horror.
By contrast, Are You Afraid Of The Dark managed to be spooky and creepy while also being completely family-friendly, making it the first piece of media to cause nightmares for a whole generation of kids.
In an even weirder twist, one episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark has a very similar plot and theme to Sixth Sense, building up to a twist where a core character realises that they have been dead the whole time.
The episode in question is called ‘The Tale of the Dream Girl’ and tells the story of a teenager called Johnny who doesn’t realize that he’s dead until the end of the episode.
The episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark actually came out in 1994, five years before the release of the movie in 1999. That led some to believe that the twist was stolen from the show, despite it being a popular reveal in all of media for decades.
Either way, the episode is a good warm up for the movie, especially if you’re worried that the film might be too intense or frightening for you… or you just don’t like Bruce Willis.
19. The Disney executive who purchased the script lost his job because of it
When it comes to film, Disney are the biggest monopoly out there by a significant margin, owning everything from Star Wars to Marvel as well as National Geographic and Pixar.
That means that they have basically unlimited buying power, and they can acquire more and more properties without sparing a thought for the price.
However, the Disney company didn’t always operate with so much confidence, as they used to be very careful about when and where to spend their money.
This got one junior executive at the Walt Disney company in hot water, when he decided to take a chance on an expensive script that he loved – The Sixth Sense.
The then-president of Walt Disney Studios, David Vogel, purchased The Sixth Sense’s script for $3 million.
Unfortunately, Vogel did this without any consultation with his superiors, who later decided to sack him due to what they considered to be his wild spending.
18. A former New Kid on the Block lost 43 pounds for his role
Did you realise that a New Kids on the Block member had an important role in the movie?
Donnie Wahlberg lost 43 pounds in preparation for his role as Vincent Grey, keen to prove that he was serious about pursuing an acting career.
Before the role, Wahlberg was mostly famous for being the founding member of a boyband, and for his bubbly and upbeat persona.
He had been in other movies before The Sixth Sense, namely action movies called Ransom and Bullet, where he acted opposite Tupac and Mel Gibson in two gritty and super 90s roles.
With that said, the attention he got from his portrayal of the mental patient in The Sixth Sense allowed him to move on to bigger and better acting projects, such as the miniseries drama Band Of Brothers.
He also had a role written specifically for him in the show Boomtown, after the director saw and was impressed by his work on The Sixth Sense.
17. Bruce Willis shouted at Haley Joel Osment to make him cry
One of the most common rules of showbusiness is to never work with children or animals, since they create difficulty after difficulty on set and never deliver the best performances.
Haley Joel Osment did actually deliver a stunning performance in the end, one that got him noticed by every major awards commitee and set him up for a lifelong career, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
In particular, Joel Osment ran into trouble when he was required to cry for a scene, but just couldn’t turn on the waterworks on demand.
Thankfully his dad was on set acting as his guardian and chaperone, and knew exactly what to suggest to get Osment to deliver on the tears.
When another take failed to evoke the necessary sadness, his dad Eugene suggested to Bruce Willis that he shout his lines at Osment off camera.
Although it may sound like a slightly cruel thing to suggest, it produced the required effect when Osment’s tears quickly started flowing!
16. Malcolm only wears things he touched the night of his death
The Sixth Sense is a solid horror movie, but one of the best thing it has going for it is it’s twist, which almost nobody in theatres saw coming.
The twist is, of course, that Bruce Willis’ character has been dead for the entirety of the movie. Only eagle-eyed cinema-goers figured it out, because of a very subtle clue in the costuming.
All of the clothes Bruce Willis’ character Malcolm wears as a ghost are items he came into contact with the evening before his death.
These include his overcoat, his blue rowing sweatshirt and the different layers of his suit.
These clothing choices telegraph that he is actually a ghost, and were chosen deliberately to give the audience and opportunity to guess the twist ahead of time.
With that said, it was obvious from test screenings that audiences just weren’t figuring it out, so it became just another fun easter egg.
15. Toni Collette had some strange night time experiences whilst shooting the movie
Working on horror movies is already an uncomfortable environment, since it usually involves working in the cold and the dark, or with monster make-up or fake blood.
With that said, the working conditions get worse if you’re unlucky enough to experience something genuinely supernatural while shooting, which is apparently what happened to one of the actresses involved.
Toni Collette, who played Cole’s mum Lynn, once revealed that she had some extremely strange night time experiences whilst shooting The Sixth Sense.
For example, whilst in her hotel room, Collette would constantly wake up in the middle of the night, but always to a repeating number, ie 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, or 4:44. Spooky!
This obviously could just be a coinscidence, but it was taken by the cast and crew as evidence of the set being haunted by real-life ghosts.
It’s hardly the only movie to have its subject matter apparently come true in real life, as similar things have been said about The Exorcist and even The Omen.
14. It was the highest grossing horror movie for many years
Nowadays, blockbusters are so common that you have to hit a billion dollar gross box office to even make the headlines, but that wasn’t always the case.
There was a time wherein being the highest grossing movie of the year was a huge cause for celebration, especially if that movie was in a genre like horror.
The Sixth Sense was the 2nd highest-grossing movie of 1999, only being beaten by Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
It made $293 million in the US and $379 million in other countries, which made it the highest-grossing horror film of all time until 2017.
The record set by The Sixth Sense actually lasted all the way until 2017, which is how long it took for another horror movie to similarly smash the box office.
As for what movie it was, it was the first half of the movie reboot It, featuring Pennywise the clown, that knocked The Sixth Sense off its pedestal.
13. It earned Haley Joel Osment an Academy Award nomination
Earning an Academy Award nomination is the dream of almost every actor out there, since it’s an official recognition that within the acting world they’re the best of the best.
The trouble is, earning a nomination is almost an impossible task, both because of the limits on the amount of nominees and the incredible amount of hard work involved.
Even for adults, being graced with an academy nomination is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work, or at the very least years.
That’s why it’s so impressive that Haley Joel Osment was nominated at the age of 11, for his first ever major film role.
Haley Joel Osment was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his brilliant performance in the movie, and went on to have leading roles in a number of big Hollywood films, including Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence.
At the time, American film critic Roger Ebert claimed that: “Osment, who is on screen in almost every scene, is one of the best actors now working”. The Sixth Sense also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Original Screenplay.
12. It coined a popular catchphrase
Can you recite the Sixth Sense line that quickly made it into the lexicon of popular culture?
It was of course “I see dead people”, which became a popular catchphrase that is often repeated or parodied on TV shows, as well as being number 44 on the American Film Institute’s list of ‘100 Movie Quotes’.
Oddly enough, a slightly different version of the quote exists in another movie starring Bruce Willis, in this case Twelve Monkeys.
In the film, which actually came out slightly before The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis’ character looks around and states “all I see are dead people”.
As well as being one of the most recognisable and parodied film quotes in all of movie history, the quote also appears on variations of another list.
That list is of iconic horror moments, where the quote often breaks the top ten for most chilling reveals in the genre.
11. Haley Joel Osment was later arrested for driving under the influence
If there’s one cliche statement to make about child stars, especially child actors, it’s that they tend to go off the rails when they get older.
Unfortunately, the cliche turned out to be somewhat true for Haley Joel Osment, who found it difficult to deal with the pressure and success of his early childhood.
Sadly, after a string of Hollywood hits, Haley Joel Osment’s career took something of a nosedive, and he also found himself on the wrong side of the law.
Because six years after starring in The Sixth Sense, Osment was involved in a car accident when he hit a mailbox near his home and overturned his car.
He suffered a number of injuries, admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol and possessing drugs, and was sentenced to three years probation.
He also had to contend with 60 hours in an alcohol rehabilitation education program, a fine of $1500, and a minimum of 26 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
10. Bruce Willis did not want to be in the movie
There’s no denying that Bruce Willis is excellent in The Sixth Sense, and that the movie proved he could do slow and thoughtful character work as well as be an excellent action star.
With that said, despite the film only doing excellent things for Willis’ career in retrospect, he originally wanted no part in the project.
More extreme than that, Willis actually was dead set against doing the movie, but was forced to given a debt he owed the Disney company.
That is because he owed the studio a lot of money after single-handedly shutting down the other Disney project he was working on The Braodway Baller, which he did by taking it upon himself to fire the director.
After the ordeal, Willis came to a deal with Disney where he was forced to be in two projects of their choosing, The Sixth Sense and The Kid.
In addition to that, he was forced to accept the salary they chose for him, which meant he only made ten million dollars for The Sixth Sense, rather than his usual 20.
9. The director was impressed by Haley’s reading skills
There’s no denying that M. Night Shyamalan was impressed by Haley Joel Osment’s acting skills and charisma from the moment the two met, but the story of how he got the part varies significantly depending on who you ask.
However, one of the more persistent versions of events is that Shymalan was actually more impressed with Osment’s reading skills than his acting.
Essentially, Osment made the bold decision to approach Shymalan during his audition, to tell him that he loved the script so much that he read the script through twice.
Shymalan kindly replied with “you read your lines through twice?” to which Osment corrected him “No, I read the whole script through twice”.
Shymalan was blown away that such a young actor would have the fortitude and focus to read the whole screenplay through twice, including the scenes that had nothing to do with him.
It was that concentration he displayed, as well as the confidence he displayed by talking to Shymalan about it, that convinced the director Osment was right for the part.
8. Bruce Willis had to become ambidextrous for filming
The Sixth Sense definitely stands up to rewatching once you know the twist, and can even be a more interesting watch when you can notice all the little moments of foreshadowing that give the twist away.
However, no doubt the best thing about watching it for the first ever time is the shock of realising that Bruce Willis’ character is dead, which is why they worked so hard to protect the twist.
Bruce Willis had to work the hardest, spending months learning to write with his left hand as well as he could write with his right.
All that preperation was just so he could write with his left hand in one shot where he was seen signing his name, just so audiences wouldn’t see his right hand.
That might seem totally arbitrary, but the thinking was that if people saw Willis writing with his right hand, they would notice the lack of a wedding ring on his finger.
That lack of a wedding ring would actually subtley reveal the twist, hence why Willis opted to become ambidextrous instead.
7. One deleted scene was too scary for theatres
It’s obvious from its spot on so many “best of horror” lists that The Sixth Sense is a scary movie, but it’s actually mostly lacking in gore and frightful imagery.
In fact, most of the scares are psychological and suspense-based in nature, rather than being based on jump scares, freaky faces or blood.
That was a deliberate choice on M. Night Shymalan’s part, after he originally included a scene that was much more explicitly frightening in nature.
The scene involved Osment looking out of his car window and into the hospital, and seeing the ghosts of several hospital patients staring back at him.
The patients were all disfigured or frightening in some way, with distorted faces and scary expressions, that clashed with the quiet discomfort of the rest of the movie.
Due to the extreme feel of the scene, it was decided that it was better off deleted, both to keep the tone consistent and to allow the film to keep its PG-13 rating.
6. It was the most rented VHS of the 2000s
Since The Sixth Sense came out in 1999, a lot has changed about the ways in which we choose to consume our media.
Maybe most obviously, video rental stores are a relic of the past, even though they used to be an essential part of any sleepover, movie marathon or pizza night.
With that said, back in the days where video rental stores like Blockbuster were at their peak, The Sixth Sense completely ruled the roost.
That’s because, shortly after its release in 1999, The Sixth Sense became the most rented VHS of the year 2000.
Over eighty million people decided to rent the movie after seeing or hearing about it in theatres, surpassing the other 1999 blockbuster The Phantom Menace.
The Phantom Menace just beat out Sixth Sense at the box office, but was hardly rented at all once the two movies hit stores, showing who the real winner actually was.
5. The most iconic line was nearly cut
We’ve already talked about how “I see dead people” isn’t just the most memorable line of The Sixth Sense, but also one of the most memorable lines in all of horror and even cinema.
However, what we haven’t already discussed is how close the line was to being cut from the movie all together, due to how obviously it signalled the twist.
The actual problem wasn’t the line itself, but how as soon as Haley Joel Osment says it, the camera cuts directly to a shot of Bruce Willis’ character.
That was supposed to subtly signal to the watching audience that Malcolm was actually one of the ghosts that Cole was seeing, but Shymalan concluded that the cut was just far too obvious.
That meant the line was all set to end up on the cutting room floor, but editors decided to leave it in just for test screenings, to see how audiences would react.
As it turned out, nobody in the test screenings understood what the camera cutting was supposed to imply at all, and were all still completely surprised by the twist.
4. The director was worried it would be compared to Casper
Over the years, several movies have been less successful than they could have been due to one specific reason, another movie with a similar theme gaining prominence at the same time.
A Bug’s Life and Antz, Megamind and Despicable Me, even Finding Nemo and Shark Tale – all are examples of two similar films being released at the same time, and one suffering for it.
It’s hard to imagine how this would apply to The Sixth Sense, since there weren’t many horror movies about ghosts in the late nineties, and even fewer still with the same suspensful tone.
However, director M. Night Shymalan was still worried about it being compared to another movie that had been released just a few years prior, and that movie was Casper.
That’s right, Shymalan assumed that his own horror movie would be compared to the antics of the friendly ghost, simply because the two were both ghost movies, broadly speaking.
Thankfully, he decided to continue with the project anyway, and not a single comparison was made between that and Casper.
3. Bruce Willis DJ’d on set parties
Bruce Willis might be one of the most famously difficult people to work with in all of Hollywood, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have a softer side.
In a series of Reddit AMA’s and interviews, Haley Joel Osment admitted that Willis could actually be pretty fun to be around, such as when he DJ’d at the crew’s late night parties.
Though Osment was 11 at the time and thus too young to attend, he said it was a well known fact that Willis was present at most of the parties that the crew and cast threw after hours.
Not only that, but he was famous for putting himself in charge of the music, and DJing until the early hours with a playlist of his own creation.
This whimsical side to Willis was not something either the press or audiences expected to hear, and it is a pretty funny image to imagine Willis behind the DJ decks of the crew’s personal disco.
Still, it’s good that he found enjoyment in the project somehow, since he was forced into the project against his will.
2. Kevin Bacon hates the movie
Though it’s obvious now that M. Night Shymalan had nothing to worry about when stressing over The Sixth Sense’s similarity to Casper, another actor did have to worry about their own movie’s similarity to The Sixth Sense.
That actor was Kevin Bacon, and the movie was Stir Of Echoes – another film starring one A-List actor and an unknown child actor.
Even worse than that, the movie centred around the child’s ability to see dead people and ghosts, and relied on Kevin Bacon’s ability to pull crowds just like The Sixth Sense relied on Bruce Willis.
Rather than becoming a timeless staple of the genre though, Stir Of Echoes failed to make much of an impact with audiences, and barely even made its budget back.
Bacon assumed that the failure of his own movie was entirely down to The Sixth Sense, rather than his own lack of charisma or pull at the box office.
To this day, he has a noticable grudge against the movie, even if he’s mostly tried to forget that Stir Of Echoes existed at all.
1. The soundtrack completely ruined the twist
The Sixth Sense is a movie famous for a lot of different things, from the excellent performances to the detailed Easter eggs to the twist that no-one saw coming.
With that said, one element of the film that is talked about far less often is the excellent score, composed by James Newton Howard.
The score is excellent all the way through the movie, but there are points at which the naming of the songs have a significant impact on the plot.
Basically, if anyone was to watch the movie with a list of the track names next to them, they’d find the twist of the movie was completely ruined before it was revealed.
The reason for that is simple. James Newton Howard might be a genius composer, but he keeps things pretty basic when it comes to naming his songs.
That’s why, whenever Bruce Willis’ character appears on screen, a song plays that simply has the title, “Malcolm Is Dead”.