This story is going to spoil M. Night Shyamalan’s 2016 movie Split, so if you haven’t yet seen it, and you want to be surprised by the ending, stop reading this article now and check out one of our other outstanding stories.
Because of his work on such films as The Sixth Sense, The Village and Signs, audiences have come to expect a twist near the end of an M. Night Shyamalan movie. He does what he can to protect them, but once movies start to screen, details emerge and people start to spread the word. When it came to the big reveal at the end of 2016’s Split, confirming its existence as part of the Unbreakable universe, Shyamalan even managed to keep the secret from Universal Studios executives… and their reaction was priceless.
The scene we are discussing takes place at the very end of Split, where the events of the movie are being televised on a small screen in a diner. The camera pans around the eatery and rests on Bruce Willis, reviving his character of David Dunn and setting up the story that would be told in Glass. The way that M. Night Shyamalan describes it, though, he kept this reveal from his bosses at Universal until the very last second, telling CinemaBlend’s official ReelBlend podcast:
By the way, the greatest thing happened. Imagine this. Because I pay for my movies, right? It’s such a weird situation. Just imagine this. I go to the Universal Studios chairman, (the) marketing team, everyone’s in the theater. We pull down the lights and we play them Split. They don’t know the ending that they’re watching. They didn’t even know I shot it, because I didn’t even send them the dallies of that (scene). The lights go down. They watch the whole movie of Split. Then this scene comes on, and they’re completely flummoxed. They look at me, and they’re like, ‘What are you saying? That’s a Disney movie!’ (Laughs) And I go, ‘It’s all good. We have the permission to do it!’ Can you imagine? You are the chairman of the studio, and the guy shows you that it’s a sequel to a movie from another studio?
When Unbreakable came out, it was released by Touchstone, a one-time division of Walt Disney films. So technically, the characters from that world belonged to Disney, and dropping them into a Universal film should have created significant studio confusion. But M. Night Shyamalan jumped through the requisite hoops even before he showed Universal his twist ending. Still, the shock value must have been priceless.
Shyamalan says that he didn’t actually commit to the Bruce Willis cameo in Split until the very end, because he wasn’t sure if he ever would be able to capitalize on it. The way that he described it to ReelBlend:
When I wrote that movie, I didn’t put the end scene on. I handed it to the studio without that end scene on. We shot it without that end scene on. We previewed it without that end scene on. And then the best part was… I said, ‘Let’s just go for it.’ Lemme call Bruce and say, ‘Hey dude, would you just come to Philly for, like, three hours and shoot this thing for me?’ And he was like, ‘Why, what?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I did this movie, and it’s kind of in the Unbreakable world. I don’t know if we’ll ever shoot (a sequel). Do you just want to just come for three hours, bro?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. I’ll come.’
The director says that the entire shoot was protected from the crew even. So when Bruce Willis arrived on set to film his brief cameo, the crew members on Split all turned to themselves and questioned the same thing the Universal execs wondered. “Does this mean it’s an Unbreakable sequel?”
It was, as was Glass, the movie that pit Bruce Willis against Samuel L. Jackson as well as James McAvoy. It was a long con, with a thrilling payoff. Be sure to listen to the latest episode of ReelBlend, which has our full interview with M. Night Shyamalan.