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.
The Sixth Sense wound up becoming a box office sensation, ranking just behind Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace on the list of the year's highest-grossing films; landed six Oscar nominations; and became a word-of-mouth sensation thanks to its iconic twist ending. It kickstarted a career for its creator that would run red hot, then freezing cold, and back to pretty warm again thanks to recent films Split and Glass, turning Shyamalan's penchant for twist endings into something of a punchline along the way.
"The Sixth Sense was the movie that didn't have the legacy to deal with. It didn't have my name to deal with. So, it would be interesting if The Sixth Sense was the third movie or the fourth movie and how that would've changed the audience's relationship to the film," Shyamalan told Variety on the film's 20th anniversary in 2019. "Could you even watch the movie? Or would you from the first moment in the movie go, 'Oh, I know what's happening.' It's a really interesting thing. That movie created a relationship with my name and then the name itself now has a framing for all the rest of its cousins. It's the one movie that got to live without my name."
In honor of the film and its shocking ending that no one saw coming, let's take a look at 20 fascinating facts from its production that just might surprise you as much as the reveal that—21-year-old spoiler alert!—Bruce Willis was dead the whole time.
(Originally published August 6, 2019 at 9 a.m. PST.)