Unbreakable is a 2000 American superhero thriller film written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, alongside Robin Wright and Spencer Treat Clark. In the film, a security guard named David Dunn survives a horrific train crash. After the incident, with the help of a manipulative disabled comic book shop owner named Elijah Price, he learns that he possesses superhuman powers. As Dunn explores and reluctantly confronts his powers while trying to navigate a difficult family life, he begins to fight crime and learns the true nature of Elijah Price.
Shyamalan organized the narrative of Unbreakable to parallel a comic book's traditional three-part story structure. After settling on the origin story, Shyamalan wrote the screenplay as a speculative screenplay with Bruce Willis already set to star in the film and Jackson in mind to portray Elijah Price. Filming began in April 2000 and was completed in July.
Unbreakable was released on November 22, 2000. It received positive reviews, with critics praising its aesthetics, the performances and particularly the score by James Newton Howard. The film has subsequently gained a strong cult following. Many regard it as one of Shyamalan's best films, and in 2011 Time listed the film as one of the top ten superhero movies of all time.
In Philadelphia in 1961, Elijah Price is born with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease that renders sufferers' bones extremely fragile and prone to fracture. As revealed later in flashbacks, Elijah—who grows up to become a comic-book art dealer—develops a theory, based on the comics he has read during his many hospital stays, that if he represents extreme human frailty, there must be someone "unbreakable" at the opposite extreme.
Years later, another Philadelphia man, security guard David Dunn, is also searching for meaning in his life. He had given up a promising football career during his collegiate days to marry Audrey after they were involved in an auto accident. Now, however, their marriage is dissolving, to the distress of their young son Joseph.
As he returns home from a job interview in New York City, David's train crashes, killing the other 131 passengers, while he is the only survivor, sustaining no injuries. At the memorial for the crash's victims, he finds a card on his car's windshield, inviting him to Elijah's store. Elijah proposes to David that he is the kind of person after whom comic-book superheroes are modeled, and repeatedly pursues the issue with David and Audrey, trying to learn if David had ever been ill or injured during childhood. Although Elijah unsettles him, David begins to test himself. While lifting weights with Joseph, he bench presses about 350 pounds, well above what he had thought he could do. Joseph begins to idolize his father and believes he is a superhero, although David still maintains he is "an ordinary man."
David challenges Elijah with an incident from his childhood when he almost drowned. Elijah suggests that the incident highlights the common comic trope whereby superheroes often have one weakness; he contends David's might be water. While surveying the stored wreckage of the train crash that he survived, David recalls the car accident that ended his athletics career, remembering that he was unharmed and ripped a door off the car in order to save Audrey. David used the accident as an excuse to quit football because Audrey did not like the violence of the sport.
Under Elijah's influence, David develops what he thought was an unusual insight into human behavior into an extrasensory perception that enables him to glimpse criminal acts committed by the people who make contact with him. At Elijah's suggestion, David stands in the middle of a crowd in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. As various people bump into him, he senses the crimes they perpetrated, such as theft and rape, and finds one he can act on: a sadistic janitor who invades a family home, kills the father, and holds the wife and their two children captive.
David follows the janitor to the victims' house and frees the children, but the janitor ambushes him and pushes him off a balcony into a swimming pool. David nearly drowns (since he cannot swim), but the children rescue him. He then attacks the janitor from behind and strangles him to death while once more remaining uninjured. That night, he and Audrey reconcile. The following morning, he secretly shows a newspaper article on the anonymous heroic act, featuring a sketch of David in his hooded rain poncho, to his son, who recognizes the hero as his father.
David attends an exhibition at Elijah's comic book art gallery and meets Elijah's mother, who explains the difference between villains who fight heroes with physical strength versus those who use their intelligence. Elijah brings David to the back room of his studio, extends his hand, and asks David to shake it. Upon doing so, David sees visions of Elijah orchestrating several terrorist disasters, including David's recent train accident, causing hundreds of deaths. David is horrified, but Elijah insists the deaths were justified as a means to find him. Calling himself "Mr. Glass", a nickname his peers had used to taunt him with when he was growing up, he explains that his own purpose in life is to be the villain to David's hero.
Screen captions reveal that David reported Elijah's actions to the police, and that Elijah was convicted of murder and terrorism and committed to an institution for the criminally insane.
- Bruce Willis as David Dunn
- Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price / Mr. Glass
- Robin Wright as Audrey Dunn
- Spencer Treat Clark as Joseph Dunn
- Charlayne Woodard as Mrs. Price
- Eamonn Walker as Dr. Mathison
- Richard E. Council as Noel
- Michael Kelly as Dr. Dubin
- Leslie Stefanson as Kelly
- Davis Duffield as young David Dunn
- Laura Regan as young Audrey Inverso
- M. Night Shyamalan as Stadium drug dealer
When M. Night Shyamalan conceived the idea for Unbreakable, the outline had a comic book's traditional three-part structure (the superhero's "birth", his struggles against general evil-doers, and the hero's ultimate battle against the "archenemy"). Finding the birth section most interesting, he decided to write Unbreakable as an origin story. During the filming of The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan had already approached Bruce Willis for the lead role of David Dunn. With Willis and Samuel L. Jackson specifically in mind for the two leading characters, Shyamalan began to write Unbreakable as a spec script during post-production on The Sixth Sense.
With the financial and critical success of The Sixth Sense in August 1999, Shyamalan gave Walt Disney Studios a first look deal for Unbreakable. In return, Disney purchased Shyamalan's screenplay at a "spec script record" for $5 million. He was also given another $5 million to direct. Disney decided to release Unbreakable under their Touchstone Pictures banner. It also helped Shyamalan establish his own production company, Blinding Edge Pictures. Julianne Moore dropped out of portraying Audrey, David's wife, in favor of her role as Clarice Starling in Hannibal. Robin Wright was cast in her place. Principal photography began on April 25, 2000 and ended that July. The majority of filming took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the film's setting.
Shyamalan and cinematographer Eduardo Serra chose several camera angles to simulate the look of a comic book panel. Various visual narrative motifs were also applied. Several scenes relating to the Mr. Glass character involve glass. As a newborn, he is primarily seen reflected in mirrors, and as a young child, he is seen reflected in a blank TV screen. When he leaves his calling card on the windshield of David Dunn's car, he is reflected in a glass frame in his art gallery. Jackson requested his walking stick be made of glass to make his character more menacing. Using purple as Mr. Glass' color to David Dunn's green was also Jackson's idea. Mr. Glass' wig was modeled after Afro-American statesman Frederick Douglass. As he does in his other films, Shyamalan makes a cameo appearance. He plays a man David suspects of dealing drugs inside the stadium.
- Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan always had Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in mind to play the roles of David Dunn and Elijah Price.
- One of Quentin Tarantino's favorite films.
- The glass cane that Elijah Price uses was Samuel L. Jackson's idea.
- M. Night Shyamalan came up with the idea for the movie while filming The Sixth Sense (1999).