Like many classic novels, Wuthering Heights has been adapted many times over the years. As one of the most famous love stories of all time, the source material continues to draw storytellers in with the challenge of adapting a story that has yet to be done with acclaim.
Part of the challenge of bringing Brontë’s story to screen is the sprawling nature of the novel, both in terms of space and time. The story follows two families over two generations, and the heroine dies halfway through, making for an unusual narrative. Despite being far from a feel-good story, people are still falling in love with it to this day.
Updated on May 12th, 2021 by Kristen Palamara: There are countless authors from this classic era that have been adapted into various films and television series and stage plays whether they’re true to the written story or a more modern approach to the story with varying degrees of success. Emily Brontë’s story of Heathcliff and Catherine in the atmospheric moors is no different as there’s been several adaptations of the tragic and at times bone-chilling romance both in film and multiple part TV series. Here are the best, and the worst, adaptations of the original novel according to IMDb.
10 Wuthering High School (2015) – 4.0
This Wuthering Heights Lifetime movie adaptation re-imagines the story of Cathy and Heathcliff in California and between two high school students.
A high school teen, Heath, is adopted by the wealthy and prominent Earnshaw family and begins a romantic relationship with his new step-sister. The basic premise of Wuthering Heights is there, but the modern age is the worst-rated adaptation according to IMDb.
9 Wuthering Heights (2003) – 4.3
This movie is another modern adaptation of Wuthering Heights and is again one of the lowest-rated amongst all the Wuthering Heights movies ranked.
Again, the basic premise is the same as a young woman named Cate accepts a marriage proposal from Edward, but remains in love with another man, Heath, after she’s married. This movie introduces a musical aspect as the characters sing original songs throughout, but the effort wasn’t successful.
8 Wuthering Heights (2011) – 6.0
The 2011 adaptation of Wuthering Heights forgoes any emphasis on the romantic in favor of a focus on the rougher elements of the story, from the setting to the characters. Things were considered too rough for some, who felt that the film might have benefited from paying closer attention to the more romantic, traditional elements of the novel.
But what this film does is amplify the darker tendencies of Emily Brontë’s tale of love, obsession, and revenge, with a picture that’s as unforgiving as the Byronic Heathcliff himself.
7 Wuthering Heights (1967) – 6.5
This 1960s adaptation of Wuthering Heights was a BBC multi-episode miniseries that aired on television and has decent ratings.
Ian McShane and Angela Scoular star as Heathcliff and Cathy and it is a decent movie adaptation of the original novel that is set during the same period and attempts to follow the original text. The movie shifts between more of a stage play and a movie so it is a bit lost at times, but overall it’s a fine adaptation with some great acting.
6 Wuthering Heights (1950) – 6.5
The 1950 version of Wuthering Heights, a made-for-TV movie, suffers from the low production values that one would expect from a project like this during this particular time period. Another expected element present here is the inclusion of Charlton Heston, the acclaimed dramatic actor who some may also recall brought Edward Rochester to life in the television film version of Jane Eyre, another popular romance novel by a Brontë (Charlotte, not Emily).
This project is a product of its time, with melodramatic performances and production values that almost feel as though you’re watching a play on YouTube. However, the source material is relentlessly dramatic, so perhaps all the melodrama can be forgiven in this instance.
5 Wuthering Heights (1998) – 6.5
The 1998 adaptation gets points for accuracy, taking a little more time than it’s predecessor so that story beats feel less rushed. However, Heathcliff is slightly miscast, as this version makes him visually hardly distinguishable from Linton, his romantic rival for Cathy’s affections.
However, due to this version’s devotion to accuracy, the most important, tragic plot points from the novel remain intact. Fans of period dramas may be excited to notice Matthew Macfayden as Hareton, Hindley’s illiterate son who works for Heathcliff when Lockwood arrives.
4 Wuthering Heights (1992) – 6.8
What’s unique about the 1992 adaptation is that it features an introduction and voiceover from Emily Brontë (played by Sinead O’Connor). In addition to this element, this adaptation is the only one to have the same actress play Cathy ad Catherine (Juliet Binoche).
Though fans of the novel will like that the entire story has been brought to life here, there’s a sense of many plot points being rushed through or checked off. The hair styling is interesting, with both Catherine’s looking like they should be in an 80’s rock band.
3 Wuthering Heights (1939) – 7.6
The 1939 film adaptation is gorgeous to look at, with a gothic style that compliments the story and features performances from very talented leads. The script makes the choice to tell only the first half of the story, ending with Cathy’s death and forgoing the entire latter half of the plot in which Heathcliff enacts his revenge.
It did end up winning an Oscar, despite complaints from those who felt that the story was too thin due to the choice to exclude the second half. As with many films from this time period, the story is cleaned up a bit, un-blurring the lines of morality that, for many, is the biggest draw of the story, to begin with.
2 Wuthering Heights (2009) – 7.6
This is a quite popular adaptation of Wuthering Heights, despite being potentially the least accurate and making the most changes. There are changes to the order in which the events of the story are told, as well as several minor additions that, depending on your view, add to the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff.
Other moments that are considered iconic from the book are left out, such as Cathy’s ghost at the window and Heathcliff overhearing her speech to Nelly. However, the performances from the leads are good, with Charlotte Riley and Tom Hardy displaying good chemistry that helps the audience to believe in their passionate relationship (although Hardy’s wig is really something, and not in a good way).
1 *Wuthering Heights (1962) – 8.5
The 1962 adaptation is the best Wuthering Heights movie according to IMDb although not as popular as the 2009 version starring Charlotte Riley and Tom Hardy.
The BBC television adaptation is shorter and focuses on the first half of the book more with some great performances by Claire Bloom as Cathy, Keith Mitchell as Heathcliff, and Patrick Troughton as Hindley. The set is minimal and doesn’t have many, if any, outdoor shots which is odd considering what a big part the Yorkshire moors play in the novel, but nonetheless it’s still a highly rated adaptation.
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