Top 10 Stephen King Movie Adaptations of all time, in honor of the Master of Horror!
Stephen King took the literary world by storm in 1973 when he published his first novel Carrie. Adapted into an Oscar nominated film just three years later, King found success in both books and film. With more than 57 published books, 200 short stories, and over 60 films made based off his work, Stephen King has produced some of the most iconic villains, stories, and images in film history.
The highly anticipated adaptation of IT opens September 8, 2017. To celebrate IT, we take a look at King’s top film adaptations of all time.
With such a vast amount of work, it’s a hard feat to even begin to imagine ranking King’s work. How can something like Christine be compared to The Shawshank Redemption? Nonetheless, we are looking strictly at Film Adaptations, so no TV movies or original screenplays (but do check out the excellent works Creepshow and The Stand!)
Here’s a look at ten killer Stephen King films:
John Carpenter had already established himself as a masterful horror director with Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing. He didn’t disappoint with his adaptation of King’s horrific tale of a possessed ’58 Plymouth Fury.
Keith Gordon plays the nerdy Arnie who takes the demonic car to the shop to repair it, not knowing that his new set of wheels, named Christine, will kill anyone who gets in her way. But the film is much more than just a campy horror flick about a car that offs a bunch of bad teens in a small town. Like Carrie, it is about high school, bullying, and friendship.
In addition to directing, Carpenter of course writes the chilling score to the film.
And then there’s 80’s hotties John Stockwell and Alexandra Paul in supporting roles. With stellar effects and a very faithful adaptation to the book, Christine is a ride that never gets old.
9. The Mist
One of King’s more recent adaptations makes the top ten list. Frank Darabont reunited with King to direct The Mist in 2007, a full length film based on a short story that deserves the longer length. A hunky Thomas Jane plays small-town good guy David Drayton who takes his kid to the local supermarket for some snacks. Little do they know that there’s a monster lurking behind a mysterious mist coming their way.
The local suburban supermarket is the setting for just about the entire film. It’s a perfect stage for small-town America to debate issues like religion, science, politics, and all kinds of sensitive topics. And then there’s Marcia Gay Harden, playing one of the most insanely convincing Christian villains ever. Who else could deliver the line, “The day I need a friend like you, I’ll just have myself a little squat and shit one out.”
And finally, the film keeps the unapologetic ending that still shocks upon multiple viewings. Very few films in Hollywood have dared to be as bleak or daring. The Mist stays with you long after.
Fun note: The studio forced Darabont to release the film in color, but you have to option to purchase it in black and white as originally intended, giving it a Twilight Zone tone that he was going for.
Some might remember the poster of this movie as that one movie where the mom from E.T. gets stuck in a car with her kid to protect themselves from their rabid St. Bernard. Oh, but it’s so much more. As far as adaptations go, this one is spot on from the book. No major changes were made and perfect casting brought the terrifying tale to life.
While the quality of filmmaking isn’t necessarily up to par with the works of Kubrick, DePalma, Reiner, or Darabont, its a relentless thriller nonetheless with a knockout performance from Dee Wallace. In just 91 minutes, the film stages an edge of your seat thriller that is nerve-wracking and claustrophobic.
Dee Wallace described her experience making the film as “relentless”, as she was treated for exhaustion for nearly three weeks after filming. It’s no wonder, as the film is an ultimate rush of adrenaline.
7. The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg directed King’s psychic epic with a standout performance from Christopher Walken. Less of a gory horror film like a lot of King’s work, the film is a deep psychological thriller, faithfully adapted from the novel.
Walken plays Johnny Smith, a schoolteacher who awakens from a five year coma, only to find that he can predict the future. While this new psychic ability at first seems like a gift, it slowly proves to be anything but. Martin Sheen brilliantly plays the evil politician Greg Stilton, a third party candidate running for president. Just wait for the scene where Smith shakes Stilton’s hand, seeing that he will make a terrible president as he will order a nuclear strike against Russia that will result in a nuclear Holocaust. The Dead Zone is a film worth re-watching today.
One can only hope that there were more Johnny Smith’s in the world who could predict such worldly destruction.
6. Dolores Claiborne
Coming out just five years after Misery, Kathy Bates took on another King tale, proving that the author and Oscar winning actress were a perfect pair. In a tour de force performance (seriously, how was she not nominated for this?!), Bates plays the title character, a woman accused of murdering her elderly boss.
Taylor Hackford directed the film based on the book that was written in the first person narrative. While the novel took place in a confession room, with Claiborne telling her story to the cops, the film adds more to Selena’s story who is now an adult living in New York City as a reporter.
The story is rather small, but it’s the performances that make it more than memorable. Bates plays the strong, hard edged Claiborne to perfection. Through all of the roughness and grit she carries around in her body language, there’s a maternal love seen in her eyes as a woman surviving life in a hyper-masculine world. She will do anything to protect her daughter. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the abused Selena beautifully, a woman struggling with PTSD and holding on to the anger she feels towards a mother who gave up everything to protect her. And then there is Judy Parfitt, in small but scene stealing performance that will stay with you long after.
5. The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption, a film that many regard as “The greatest film of all time”. So why isn’t it number one? Well, for someone known as the “master of horror”, one can’t write off classics like Carrie and The Shining from taking the top spots, but that doesn’t take anything away from Frank Darabont’s stunning film that never ages.
Based on the short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture. It’s the ultimate uplifting tale of self-worth, freedom, and of course, redemption. Tim Robbins give a severely underrated performance opposite Morgan Freeman. In the book, Freeman’s character is white, yet his performance is so definitive, you’d think it was written specifically for him.
While The Shawshank Redemption wasn’t a box office hit when it premiered in theaters, it became a massive one once it hit video stores. It’s a meticulous film, from the acting to the cinematography, it’s flawless. And then there’s that gorgeous Thomas Newman score.
4. Stand by Me
Mainly known for being the “master of horror”, King has also written some beautifully subtle dramatic pieces. Stand by Me, based off his short story “The Body” from Different Seasons, is a classic coming of age tale with a perfect soundtrack full of 50’s doo-wop hits.
Another Stephen King film directed by Rob Reiner, the film stars River Pheonix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, and Will Wheaton. The four misfits (who echo the very similar “Loser’s Club” from It), embark on a long adventure into the woods to find a dead body. The voiceover from Richard Dreyfuss as the adult looking back adds some extra reach for the kleenex moments, leading to the gut wrenching ending with the title song.
Both funny and touching, the film at times feels so different from a traditional Stephen King story, that is until the infamous cherry eating contest.
As far as adaptations go, Misery is one of the only page to screen films that might be better than the novel. Don’t get us wrong, the book is genius, but Misery the film stands on it’s own, depicting one of the most disturbing and best, well, can we dare say “love story”, of all time.
Rob Reiner directed the story, taking place mainly in that one little bedroom that Paul Sheldon is held prisoner in. It’s always difficult to make a small scale psychological thriller that takes place in one room captivating, and Misery is the best of it’s kind. Never boring, always entertaining, and at times even funny, Misery is terrifying. And it gave a whole new meaning to the term, “I’m your number one fan!”
Bates, who wasn’t well known at the time of it’s release, embodies Wilkes, making for not only an Oscar winning performance, but one of the greatest villains in film history. In fact, Bates and Caan work so well together, it’s hard to imagine that behind the screen their relationship was difficult. Bates, who was mainly a stage actress at the time, believed in rehearsing scenes to death, while Caan believed in just diving into filming right away. While directing the two stars may not have been easy, the end result is masterful.
While King’s works like Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile have been nominated for Oscars, Misery is the only one to take home the golden statue as Kathy Bates dropped the hammer, literally.
2. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece is not only one of the best Stephen King films of all time, but just might be the best horror film of all time. Yes, of all time. So why isn’t it number one? It was a hard fight between The Shining and Carrie, but ultimately if we’re going for best adaptations, The Shining fails on a couple of technicalities. Much of the story was skimmed, big changes were made, including the ending, and King himself has publicly declared his hate for the film. “The book is hot, and the movie is cold,” he famously said, as the book literally ends in fire and the movie in ice. But, one cannot deny the brilliance that is The Shining.
Kubrick’s vision of the Overlook Hotel can be seen in every set piece and every fiber of that orange and brown drenched carpet that little Danny rides around on. He also gives us some of the most iconic images in horror films, from the Grady twins, to Jack’s sadistic face peering through a busted white door, to the bloody letters of “REDRUM” smeared on the walls.
Ok, so it’s not the most faithful adaptation, but the story is there and the film succeeds as being one of the scariest movies of all time that will give you nightmares long after viewing. It’s no wonder the film still plays in theaters across the world today.
It’s fitting that King’s very first work is our number one choice for adaptations. Carrie was better than anyone ever expected it to be, and still holds up today. King threw away his original manuscript in the trash, but thanks to his wife Tabitha, she fetched it out and convinced him to sell it.
Brian DePalma adapted the story, paying lots of homage to Hitchcock films, most notably Psycho, but drenching it in late 70’s attire. Sissy Spacek plays the quiet title character and Piper Laurie embodies her mentally unstable mother who screams the memorable one-liner, “They’re all going to laugh at you!” Both actresses were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances, deservedly so, and it marked as Laurie’s first film since 1961’s The Hustler.
Telling the story of the sheltered, telekinetic teen Carrie White, the film explores deep issues like bullying, abuse, religion, revenge, and even menstruation. Speaking of menstruation, can you name any other films that blatantly talk about women getting their periods? (Well, ones that don’t make a one liner joke about it that is.) The opening credits of Carrie are so ahead of it’s time, depicting a girl becoming a woman while making commentary on religion and society, a bold move back then and even now. Period.
While many horror films have been accused of being mysognistic, Carrie is anything but. With every major role played by women, Carrie is a scary movie with a feminist twist. While many films in the genre depict women as “the girlfriend” or “the slut” or “victim number twelve”, in Carrie, it’s the women who plot revenge, control their boyfriends, break the rules, and ultimately kill. While the film is very 70’s, (verrrrry 70’s), it is still just as relevant today as it was when it premiered.
Oh, and don’t bother watching the 2014 remake.
Runners up: The Green Mile, Pet Cemetery, The Running Man, Firestarter, Children of the Corn, 1408, Apt Pupil, Needful Things, Cat’s Eye, The Dark Half.