90s Movie Challenge Week 41: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Hello again, 90s loving pals! Welcome to another #90sMC. Now it goes without saying that, this year especially, that we see 90s movies… all the time. So we’ve asked Paul Childs to use his sight, as well as touch, smell, hearing and taste to look the second-biggest film of 1999 (and the seventh biggest of the decade). In fact, he has a strange feeling about this one, something that the other senses can’t define. Something that can only be explained through…

The Sixth Sense!

We are aware that there’s a massive twist in this film and, while we do briefly talk about it, with respect for the three people who haven’t seen it – there are NO SPOILERS in this piece.

The seventh biggest film of the 1990s – that’s quite a feat, given that some of the films it beat include Armageddon, Ghost, Terminator 2 and Pretty Woman. It’s even more impressive when you realise that it was written and directed by an unknown, new up-and-coming filmmaker and its star was being forced to act in it.

Yep, that’s right. What’s often regarded as one of Bruce Willis’s finest performances was initially one that he was reluctant to appear in. You see, Willis had upset Disney. It all started with a big-budget romantic comedy called Broadway Brawler.

“Broadway Brawler? What’s that?” you say? And well you might.

Set for release in 1997, this sports rom-com starring Willis was expected to be one of the big hits of the year. So why haven’t you heard of it?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Already a notorious actor to work with after the debacle surrounding Hudson Hawk, Willis proved no less difficult on the set of Broadway Brawler. Original director Lee Grant complained that Willis often over-ruled her directions set, telling the other members of the cast how he would like scenes to be played. After three weeks of filming, Willis had Grant and many of her crew fired, bringing in Problem Child director Dennis Dugan to pick up the pieces and complete the project. Dugan however decided that the film could not be saved and they’d probably have to start from scratch to get something coherent together. So Bruce Willis – not the director, the producers, the studio – declared the project dead in the water and called for a halt to filming.

The problem is, twenty days of filming doesn’t come cheap. It was estimated that the shoot had already cost Disney around $15 million, and they wanted their money back. This could have resulted in a career-ending $20 million lawsuit for Willis. However, the head of Disney Joe Roth came up with a solution that would be mutually beneficial to the studio and the actor.

He proposed that Willis be contractually obliged to make three movies for Disney – he could still choose what they were, within reason, but they had to be made within the next few years. The first of these was 1998’s Armageddon and the final one was 2000’s The Kid. Both were sizable hits for Disney – Armageddon was the biggest seller of 1998 and the tenth biggest film of the decade. The second film, however, brought massive unexpected success.

Without the company’s approval, Disney’s head of production, David Vogel had purchased a spec script by a new writer by the name of M Night Shyamalan. He paid $3 million for the screenplay, also giving Shyamalan the right to direct. Unhappy at this illicit decision, Disney demoted Vogel, who soon left the company. Eager to shift what they thought could be an expensive mistake, Disney sold the script on to Spyglass Entertainment while retaining the rights to distribute the film and to take 12.5% of the profits.

And this was what Willis chose as his second contractual movie for Disney. It cost $40 million to make and took $672.8 million. It went on to become the most rented movie of all time – a record as yet unbroken with more than 2.5 million copies hired. As well as the success of Armageddon and The Kid, The Sixth Sense alone made back over twenty times what Disney had lost on Broadway Brawler. All three brought in over $1 billion in profits. For the film, Willis himself took a reduced paycheque of $14 million as well as a share of the profits. It’s estimated that he made around $120 million from The Sixth Sense alone, making him still to this day the highest-paid actor for a single film (only Tom Cruise for the Mission: Impossible, Johnny Depp for the Pirates of the Caribbean and Keanu Reeves for The Matrix have beaten that – and they were all for entire franchises, not individual movies).

I first saw this film when it came out in UK cinemas in 1999. I knew very little about it, apart from it was about a boy who could see ghosts. I was certainly not aware that there was a huge game-changing twist towards the end so when that moment came I was utterly floored. I’d enjoyed the film and it could have ended before the twist without changing my enjoyment of it.

Watching it back though, and I have seen it many many times, it’s a very different beast. While it’s fun to watch it again and again, spotting the slow drip-feed of clues, the first time really is the most special. I don’t want to say much more for fear of ruining it for anyone who hasn’t seen it and doesn’t know the big reveal (which is up there with The Empire Strikes Back and The Usual Suspects for shock value).

If you haven’t seen it I can only urge you to watch it immediately. And stay off the internet until you have.

Join us again next week for more spooky 90s fun! We’re not entirely sure what the plan is just yet, as things are a bit up in the air, but hopefully, we will be joined by Jane Roberts as she takes us back to 1991 to meet the family – The Addams Family!

Paul Childs

As well as writing for Den of Geek and Your Truth, Paul also runs Badgers Crossing, a site for ghost stories. He loves the 1980s and thanks to a keen interest in Public Information Films he has never been electrocuted or set himself on fire.

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