Wuthering Heights: Andrea Arnold’s gritty take on Emily Brontë has been praised as more faithful than other adaptations. But it falls into the same problem: Like the 1939 Olivier-Oberon version and most others, it chooses to end on a high note of romantic fatalism, stopping with Catherine’s death. There’s an entire second half that’s ritualistically elided, where Heathcliff ages into a bitter, haunted ghoul trying to force his sickly son on Catherine’s daughter. Only the 1992 one, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, bothers with it.
The Time Machine: After leaving the Eloi, our unnamed time traveller keeps going, journeying 30 million years into the future. He witnesses a dying Earth inhabited by crablike monsters wandering blood-red oceans. And this spectacle isn’t in the 1960 George Pal adaptation, nor the thoroughly shitty 2002 one made by H.G. Wells’ great grandson because?
I Am Legend: The reason Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel is called I Am Legend is because our hero realizes he’s the villain: To the vampires that now inhabit the Earth, he is a monster who kills them, the planet’s dominant lifeform, as they sleep. Not surprising that none of the many adaptations dared touch it. It’s less of a downer, oddly, to just martyr him.
The Getaway: In both film versions of Jim Thompson’s gutter pulp, Doc and Carol get away, and that’s nice. In the novel, they do—and they don’t. More murderous on page, they wind up in El Ray, a mythic Mexican village that offers protection from the law, in exchange for essentially becoming slaves. Not even Sam Peckinpah would touch this surreal dark coda.
A Clockwork Orange: Anthony Burgess’ novel ends with its anti-hero going back to crime, only to grow out of it—naturally this time. American publishers felt this chapter was unconvincing and forced him to gouge it. That was the version Stanley Kubrick read, but even after finding out about the forced edit, when he’d already finished his script, he had to agree the soulless American publishers were right.
Watchmen: Sorry, nerds, but the ending to Alan Moore’s “graphic novel” is pretty silly and hugely dubious, with or without fake aliens that could be easily disproved, thereby ruining the fraudulent world peace