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The Sixth Sense became M. Night Shyamalan’s breakout hit when it dropped in 1999. Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment starred in the ghostly thriller about a young boy who could “see dead people.” More than 20 years later, many still consider it to be one of the best movies of all time thanks to its twist ending. Haunting and engaging, the film wraps up in a way that no one saw coming. Not even Bruce Willis.

Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment in 'The Sixth Sense'
Bruce Willis Stars as Dr. Malcolm Crowe and Haley Joel Osment as Cole in ‘The Sixth Sense’ | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bruce Willis did not expect ‘The Sixth Sense’ ending

Haley Joel Osment was only 10 years old while filming The Sixth Sense alongside seasoned actor Bruce Willis. His character Cole Sear found a kindred spirit and guide in Willis’ Malcolm Crowe, the cynical psychologist who didn’t understand the kid’s belief in ghosts.

Viewers watched Crowe help Cole navigate the inner and outer torment going on his world. At times, it was frightening, sad, and enlightening. By the end of the movie, the audience — along with Crowe — learned the truth. He too was dead but didn’t know it.

When discussing his role in The Sixth Sense documentary, Willis shared that the ending shocked him. “I agreed to do it very quickly. I was as surprised by the ending in the script, I think, as the audience was in the theater,” he said. “I was completely unprepared for that ending.”

Willis said he had to forget the ending while filming

Because the script revealed everything in one fell swoop, it became tricky to shoot scenes without giving away too much. Willis worked hard to ensure his portrayal of Crowe would not betray the script and show that he was dead.

“Once I knew the ending of the film and that my character was indeed dead, I had to forget about it and act as if I weren’t. I never really thought about acting as a ghost,” he said. Willis also praised M. Night Shyamalan and added that the director uses the camera to convey the story. For this project, he felt it spoke to people’s personal feelings about mortality and whether a person is really ready for their own death. Crowe was not.

Willis recalled how no one leaked the film’s conclusion in the press or elsewhere. “Normally, films that have surprise endings — somebody always gives it away, whether it’s a film critic or it’s your friend,” he said. “No one gave it away, which is kind of a phenomenon in itself.” Shyamalan echoed his reaction by sharing that the screening audience sat stunned and in silence as the credits rolled. Nobody saw that twist coming, and nobody shared it with the public.


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Shyamalan created ‘The Sixth Sense’ ending from Crowe’s marriage

In an interview with Paramount Network, Shyamalan said that his original script was about a serial killer. He started leaning toward a communication theme when fleshing out Crowe’s side of the tale and examined the character’s marriage.

As he pondered why the couple grew so distant, a light bulb went off. Make it about death! It’s obviously a huge communication hurdle. Once that became the central idea, the rest of the script came together. Crowe’s ghostly presence formed the basis of The Sixth Sense.