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We Finally Understand Why Universal Was Shocked By The Ending Of Split

There may be some room for debate here, but arguably one of the best twists in the M. Night Shyamalan cinematic universe — a world that relies heavily on the use of twists as plot drivers, to say the least — is the one featured at the end of "Split." 

The 2017 movie starred James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with 23 personalities, whose life has been upended since a handful of those personalities gained control of his mind and body to prepare the way for the arrival of a supernatural 24th personality. In order to do this, three of Kevin's other personalities work together to kidnap three teenage girls — to be used as bait, to get the 24th personality, referred to as "The Beast," to emerge. What these personalities don't plan for is for one of the kidnapped teens (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) to spark a connection with "The Beast" and find a way to outsmart him. 

While "Split" was a thoroughly compelling thriller in every way, what no one suspected was that it was also a stealth sequel to Shyamalan's 2000 superhero-themed thriller "Unbreakable." This only becomes apparent in the final scene, when Bruce Willis reappears as David Dunn, listening to a news report about earlier events while in a local diner. 

A big reason "Split" revealing itself to be a sequel to "Unbreakable" was so shocking was because the movie contained no other hints or teases of its ties to the earlier movie before that point: it appeared to be an entirely independent production. While this twist was no doubt a jaw-dropper for fans, Shyamalan recently revealed that it was equally as shocking to Universal Pictures, the studio behind "Split," before the movie was even released.

Shyamalan kept the Split twist a secret until the very last second

In a interview with ReelBlend Podcast (via Cinema Blend), Shyamalan explained that he had actively kept it a secret that "Split" was a sequel to "Unbreakable." The director-writer explained to ReelBlend, "When I wrote ['Split'], 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.'"

This led to Shyamalan calling up Willis and asking him to fly out to Philadelphia for just a few hours to film the final scene featuring David Dunn. It took a lot of convincing on Shyamalan's part because Willis was a bit confused, but it ultimately paid off. When the time came to screen a final cut of "Split" for Universal, there was a big surprise waiting for everyone at the end of the movie. As Shyamalan recalled, "I go to the Universal Studios chairman, 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]. [...] 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!' 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?"

Ultimately, Shyamalan's last-minute decision paid off

Although Shyamalan took a big gamble in connecting "Split" to "Unbreakable," the latter of which was owned by a separate studio at the time of its release, the gamble paid off handsomely. Following the wide release of "Split" in January 2017, the Universal pic went on to score a $40 million domestic opening weekend and end with a nearly $140 million domestic gross. 

"Split" can also be credited as reviving Shyamalan's career, which had been waning in public favor following the disappointing back-to-back releases of "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth." 

Of course, "Split" also paved the way for "Glass," the final chapter in the only multi-installment franchise in Shyamalan's career to date, and which was distributed by Universal domestically and Disney internationally (via Variety). "Glass" brought together McAvoy, Willis, and "Unbreakable" star Samuel L. Jackson, with all three actors reviving their roles and completing the epic, comic book-inspired narrative begun nearly 20 years earlier.