Hamlet (1964): Downer endings, particularly ones where all the characters we’ve spent time with expire, didn’t irk the audiences of Shakespeare’s day, who regularly put up with the Bard disposing of his casts, sometimes in ghastly ways. His most filmed play is one of his bleakest, and its bleakest adaptation remains this version by Russian theater director-turned-filmmaker Grigori Kozintsev. Co-adapted by Doctor Zhivago’s Boris Pasternak, who served time under Stalin, it unfolds amidst unforgiving open-air “sets” while emphasizing the political angle elided by most film dos (including Olivier’s famed 1948 take). And, of course, at the end everyone dies. Well, everyone but Horatio, but who cares about him?
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): Charlton Heston felt the first Apes picture had a perfectly fine ending, and only signed onto the inevitable sequel on the stipulation that he barely be in it. He even got to set off the bomb that detonates the planet, thus killing the franchise … or it would have, had Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and the never-before-seen Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) not sneaked off into a spaceship before the explosion—a minor fact not revealed till the beginning of Escape From the Planet of the Apes.
Miracle Mile (1988): What-ifs on nuclear warfare have been a cottage industry since the technology’s advent, wreaking On the Beach, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, Dr. Strangelove, Ladybug, etc., etc. Toward the end of the Cold War, this low-budget drama revived the movement and—unlike some films of its kind—didn’t puss out.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005): Rob Zombie’s funhouse mirror, where even the villains you witnessed murdering innocents get their own mournful, “Freebird”-backed death sequence.
Sunshine (2007): Even the darkest horror films—Dawn of the Dead, The Thing—tend to end with the suggestion of the survivors’ deaths. Credit Danny Boyle’s sci-fi/horror hybrid for going full monty.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012): Like those in the somber 1998 Canadian drama Last Night, humanity in this dramedy has resigned itself to the oncoming apocalypse. (Here, via a mega-asteroid.) Too bad we’re stuck with a relentless sadsack (Steve Carell), when hanging with those ending their days with heroin and orgies looks like so much more fun.
Six Long-Running Film Franchises