M. Night Shyamalan’s
supernatural thriller, The Sixth Sense, establishes Shyamalan as a writer and director known for his contemporary supernatural plots, and introduces the audience to his affinity for a twist ending.

Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a troubled, isolated boy who is able to see and talk to the dead meets an equally troubled child psychologist (Bruce Willis) who tries to help him. Cole’s line “I see dead people” becomes a very popular catchphrase.

The Sixth Sense is produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall and shot in sequence. The color red is intentionally absent from most of the film, while being used prominently in a few isolated shots to depict when the world of the living and the world of the dead would crossover.

An ardent Spielberg fan since his childhood, M. Night Shyamalan integrates themes and stylistic elements from Spielberg’s work in his films (and is touted by the media as “the next Spielberg”), e.g. framing, long take, suspense techniques, ideas of perception and reality, the prescience of children, ordinary people confronted by the supernatural, home invasion etc.

Spielberg “takes note” by casting Haley Joel Osment for the lead role in A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001).

The Sixth Sense receives favorable reviews (highlighting the performances, its atmosphere, and surprise conclusion) and is the second highest grossing film of 1999 (behind Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace), grossing about $672 million worldwide.

It is one of only four horror films to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the others being The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The film gets five more Academy Award nominations: Best Actor / Actress in a Supporting Role for Haley Joel Osment and Toni Colette as well as Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing.

In a cameo, M. Night Shyamalan can be seen as Dr. Hill, who examines Cole.


The Matrix
, written and directed by The Wachowskis, hits theatres. The groundbreaking and highly influential science fiction film stars Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving.

It is inspired by cyberpunk literature such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and by Mamoru Oshii’s animated Ghost in the Shell (1995), which counts James Cameron and Steven Spielberg among its most famous fans – their films Avatar (2009) and A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001) being influenced by it.

In The Matrix, we are taken to a dystopian future in which mankind’s perceived reality is actually a simulation called “the Matrix”. Computer programmer “Neo” is  made aware of it by swallowing a red pill and is drawn into a rebellion against Earth dominating machines that created the matrix. In the simulated world, human (as well as machine-based) protagonists are represented by human-looking avatars. The filmmakers call into question: What is reality and what is only perceived reality?

Beyond this, the film contains numerous references to philosophical and religious
as expressed in the works of Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, Zen and Homer’s Odyssey. It pays a huge homage to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and to Simulacra and Simulation by the French
philosopher Jean Baudrillard. The impressive fight sequences are influenced by Hong Kong action

A visual effect called “bullet time” is just one example for the innovative look and feel of the film: The heightened perception of a character is visualized by combining slow-motion shots of the action with camera movements at normal speed (watch the video clip). The downward-flowing green characters of the title sequence are another trademark of the film.

In order to subtly distinguish the “real world” and the Matrix, the
production design team applies the Matrix code’s green color in
scenes set within the simulation
, while putting an emphasis on the color
blue during sequences of the “real world”

Neo and his companions wear slick black leather trenchcoats, whereas machines are typified by sterile FBI-style suits straight from the 50s. Dialing into the matrix is done via old-fashioned phone booths and modem hook up.

The Matrix is generally well-received by critics, and grosses over $460 million worldwide, at a budget of $63 million. It receives Academy Awards for film editing, sound effects editing, visual effects, and sound. The success of the film leads to the release of two (mediocre) sequels.

Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018) will also take us into an artificially created world, featuring avatars and a hero chased by corporate henchmen.

George Lucas‘ Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
does not meet high expectations. As expected, it’s a huge box office success ($924.3 million worldwide), but overall the film disappoints many critics and viewers.

Drew Grant of Salon.com concludes: “Perhaps the absolute creative freedom director George Lucas enjoyed (…) —with no studio execs and not many an independently minded actor involved— is a path to the dark side.

The Phantom Menace stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman. The film is Lucas’ first production as a film director after a 22-year hiatus following the original Star Wars – A New Hope (1977), and marks his fourth film overall.

ILM’s visual effects include extensive use of computer-generated imagery (CGI). Some of the film’s settings and characters are completely computerized, e.g. the Gungan outcast and comic relief Jar Jar Binks, who is widely regarded as the worst character of the Star Wars universe.

For the first time, ILM seamlessly integrates footage filmed with high-definition digital cameras – an innovation that challenges the supremacy of the movie-making medium of film (Episode II & III will be filmed entirely on digital video). However, digital cinematography creates controversy amongst filmmakers. Many of them prefer to shoot on film, among them Steven Spielberg.

As a nod to Spielberg’s inclusion of Yoda in the Halloween sequence of E.T. – The Extraterrestrial, Lucas adds a group of E.T.s to the Senate Chamber sequence.

Spielberg has been repeatedly asked to direct a Star Wars installment – including Episode I – but his reply is always the same: “No! No! It’s not my genre. It’s my best friend George’s genre.

He is not the only one: According to Ron Howard, he and Robert Zemeckis have been approached but they turn down the offer, too – so, George Lucas decides to direct himself.

Star Wars Episode I is followed by two sequels that complete the first trilogy: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), both directed by George Lucas.

The first film in the planned third trilogy is Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), directed by Steven Spielberg’s protégé J.J. Abrams and shot on film, not on digital video.

Stanley Kubrick’s last film
, Eyes Wide Shut, is an erotic thriller loosely based upon Arthur Schnitzler’s 1925 novella Traumnovelle.

The brilliant character study is directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick who dies six days after showing his final cut to Warner Bros. executives.

The story is set in New York City and follows the sexually charged adventures of Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), who is shocked when his wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman), reveals that she had once contemplated an affair.

The film holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous film shoot period (400 days). The making of the film puts an enormous strain on Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and marks the beginning of the end of their real-life marriage.

Eyes Wide Shut is released a few months following Kubrick’s death, to positive critical reaction and intakes of $162 million worldwide. To ensure an R rating, the studio digitally masks several “steamy” scenes.

In an interview for the Eyes Wide Shut DVD release, Steven
comments that “nobody could shoot a picture better in
history”, and that Kubrick told stories in a way “antithetical to the
way we are accustomed to receiving stories”. 

The Blair Witch Project
, an immersive and terrifying trip, written, directed and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez is the first popular film of the “found footage” genre, i.e. the film is presented as if it were discovered video recordings.

Three student filmmakers (Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard) have disappeared while hiking in the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland in 1994 to film a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch. We are told the students were never seen again. However, their video equipment was discovered a year later and the “recovered footage” is the film we are watching.

It takes only 8 days to shoot the film (but 8 months to edit), at a budget of only $600,000. For the film’s groundbreaking viral marketing, a website is set up (blairwitch.com), creating an increasing buzz about the whereabouts of the missing students by featuring faked newsreel footage and police reports of the incident.

The Blair Witch Project receives generally positive reviews and earns over $248 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent movies of all time. It has a significant impact on the film industry and spawns a host of similar projects.

The viral marketing for The Blair Witch Project inspires Steven Spielberg to apply a similar web-based campaign for A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001).