M. Night Shyamalan’s story about eight-year-old Cole Sear seeing dead people captivated a large enough audience to become the highest grossing movie of 1999 that didn’t feature a character named Jar Jar Binks. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, a particularly impressive feat for a thriller/horror movie. Below are some nuggets about The Sixth Sense just for the living.
1. THE DISNEY EXECUTIVE WHO BOUGHT THE SCRIPT WAS FIRED BECAUSE OF IT.
Walt Disney Studios' then-president David Vogel didn’t bother to consult with his superiors before paying $2.25 million for the rights to The Sixth Sense, and agreed to let Shyamalan direct the already-expensive film. Vogel’s boss was livid when he found out about the deal, and demanded that Vogel relinquish some of his power. When Vogel refused, he was canned.
2. IT WAS ONE OF THREE FILMS BRUCE WILLIS STARRED IN AS PART OF A SETTLEMENT WITH DISNEY.
A couple years before The Sixth Sense was released, Willis was slated to star in another Disney film, the ill-fated Broadway Brawler. It did not go well. Willis, who was both producing and starring in the film, fired most of the crew—including the director—less than three weeks into production. The turmoil forced Disney to abandon the movie altogether, to the tune of a $17.5 million loss. To make up for it, Willis signed a three-picture contract with the studio in which a portion of his salary would go back to covering their losses on Broadway Brawler. The first of those three was Armageddon, the second was The Sixth Sense (for which he earned $10 million), followed by The Kid.
3. MICHAEL CERA AUDITIONED TO PLAY COLE.
Cera, who was 10 years old at the time, remembered getting the tone of the scene all wrong in his audition. Instead of crying like Haley Joel Osment did in the film, he played the scene as “upbeat.” Before Osment got the part, Liam Aiken was offered the role, but turned it down.
4. OSMENT WAS VERY PREPARED BY THE TIME HE AUDITIONED.
Haley’s father, Eugene Michael Osment, is a theater and movie actor who made sure his son read the entire screenplay twice. He told him that it wasn’t a horror movie, it was a movie about communication. Once Haley finished the audition and left the room, Shyamalan told his casting director he wasn’t sure he wanted to even make the movie if Osment wasn’t in it.
5. MARISA TOMEI WAS ALMOST COLE’S MOTHER.
Tomei lost out to Toni Collette. Collette had ambivalent feelings when she found out from her agent that she got the part, as she had her heart set on being cast in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film, Bringing Out the Dead.
6. DONNIE WAHLBERG LOST 43 POUNDS TO PLAY VINCENT GREY.
The former New Kid on the Block wanted to prove that he was serious about pursuing an acting career.
7. SHYAMALAN REGRETTED CASTING HIMSELF AS DR. HILL.
He did it as a “nice little thing” to acknowledge his parents, who are both doctors. Unfortunately, the actor Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan wasn’t good enough for his director: He thought his acting was so bad that he cut most of his scene.
8. THE COLOR RED WAS SYMBOLIC.
Shyamalan explained that anything “tainted” from the ghost world or that had some connection to it was colored red in the movie, like the basement doorknob, or the dress of the killer mom.
9. THERE WAS A REASON WHY OSMENT NEVER GOT COLD.
According to the film’s logic, it’s only when a ghost got upset that the temperature dropped.
10. PATCHES OF WHITE HAIR WERE ALSO IMPORTANT.
Osment and Donnie Wahlberg’s character, who also saw dead people, both had some white hair on their heads. Shyamalan decided that all “spirit spotters” would have one similar physical attribute.
11. OSMENT’S FATHER TOLD BRUCE WILLIS TO YELL AT HIS SON TO GET HIM TO CRY.
When Haley couldn’t manage to cry in a scene where he was supposed to, Eugene suggested to Willis that he yell his lines off-camera to his son to get the waterworks going. It worked.
12. STRANGE THINGS HAPPENED TO TONI COLLETTE DURING FILMING.
In her Philadelphia hotel room, she always woke up in the middle of the night and always to a repeating number—1:11, 3:33, or 4:44.
13. MISCHA BARTON ACTUALLY THREW UP BREAKFAST CEREAL.
Future The O.C. star Mischa Barton played Kyra Collins, the little girl who was killed by her mother. The “vomit” was actually a breakfast cereal mix that she would hold in her mouth and spit up. Barton didn’t tell her friends she was in the movie, which caused one of them to run out of a screening, horrified that her friend had just died in front of her eyes.
14. WILLIS DJ'ED ON WEEKENDS.
He spun some records at crew parties at the Philadelphia Convention Center some weekends in the fall of 1998, when filming took place.
15. A GRAPHIC SCENE WAS DELETED.
Osment remembered shooting a scene where he looked out a window and saw an entire hospital wing of “horribly disfigured and mutilated people.” Shyamalan cut it from the movie, possibly to protect its PG-13 rating.
16. THE MOVIE WAS RELEASED ON SHYAMALAN’S 29TH BIRTHDAY.
The Sixth Sense was released on August 6, 1999. Because that also happened to be the director's 29th birthday, he took it as a sign that The Sixth Sense was “being guided.” His first two movies—1992's Praying With Anger and 1998's Wide Awake—grossed $350,000 combined. The Sixth Sense made more than $8 million on its opening day.
17. IT’S SIMILAR TO AN EPISODE OF ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
As the internet has pointed out, the 1994 episode “The Tale of the Dream Girl” shares a similar storyline to The Sixth Sense, where a teenager named Johnny doesn’t realize that he’s dead until the very end of the episode, even though the only living person that talks to him is his sister Erica. (The audience doesn't realize it either.)