Stephen King’s been at it for more than four decades. Over the years he’s enjoyed a whole hell of a lot of ups with the occasional down thrown in the mix… you know, to keep The Master grounded. His small screen adaptation of Under the Dome recently got the ax from CBS, but that slice of negative news won’t do much to ruffle King’s feathers. A big screen rendition of his beloved tale It is finally moving forward, and he’s got a string of other projects in the works, including an 11/22/63 miniseries that is currently shooting, the pending big screen arrival of Cell (which recently wrapped and reunites John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson) and the long awaited transfer of The Dark Tower.
King is and always has been an absurdly busy guy. He’s working his wondrous mind with no thought of slowing down and fans of the genre are absorbing some great material as a result. With all the forward momentum King is enjoying it got us to thinking: what are the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations?
This list wasn’t easy to compile. A great number of you will feel as though the order is all wrong, and to be fair, in a sense you’re right. Because I could easily craft an entirely different order were I to write this piece tomorrow, or next week. But that speaks volumes to the quality of King’s work in general. Even the stories based on these adaptations are so riveting it’s just about impossible to nail a list that could be agreed upon unanimously. The man is just too damn good, and we’re just tooeager to acknowledge his greatness, which is why this piece exists.
Behold, the 20 best King films.
20. Sometimes They Come Back: Sometimes They Come Back hasn’t aged as well as some of King’s transfers, but it’s still a remarkably chilling film. When you take into consideration the fact that this picture was made for television it shoots the pic’s stock through the roof; not many filmmakers successfully transfer King’s works to the small screen with such effectiveness. Prepare to run the gamut of emotions, as this one is frightening, sad, demands a very human degree of sympathy and ultimately, proves exciting as hell.
19. The Running Man: The Running Man is one of those strange films that isn’t remotely near horror, yet still feels like it belongs rooted in the same garden. Men in awkward and monstrous getups stalk a series of individuals framed for some heinous acts they didn’t commit. The murders are unforgiving, all the while home viewers revel in execution. It’s a very dark film. Not only is it one of King’s absolute best transfers (for the record, the novella differs greatly in storyline), it’s also one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best as well.
18. 1408: John Cusack is a brilliant performer who’s been keeping fans entertained for decades. He’s also wildly versatile, fully capable of handling comedy, action, horror and even romantic affairs.1408 is obviously a horror film, and it’s a damn fine one. Essentially a haunted house story, the picture feels constantly claustrophobic and chilling as we witness a man trapped in a hotel room hell bent on killing him. Samuel L Jackson plays an important role in the film and his conviction also lends something very agreeable to the production as a whole. While 1408 is a respected piece, it deserves more love than it’s garnered.
17. The Green Mile: While there are clearly some fantastical moments in The Green Mile, it isn’t quite what most would deem a horror picture. But it’s a great flick just the same with top notch work from Tom Hanks, David Morse, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell (who is absolutely magnificent) and the late Michael Clarke Duncan. This story – which focuses on an imprisoned man with some unbelievable abilities – runs a little long (which is the primary reason for filing in at #17 rather than inside the top 10), but still holds the attention and delivers a big payoff in the final moments.
16. The Night Flier: Hands down the most undervalued King film in existence, The Night Flier is an insanely creepy vampire story. It’s also shockingly original, as The Master of Horror puts a spin on the bloodsucker tale that few could ever even conceive of. A vampire who travels by Cessna? We’re all in – and we’re all for cheering on Miguel Ferrer, who is magnetic and obnoxious in equal measures. If you skipped this one due to low expectations, it’s time to hit rewind.
15. Needful Things: I’ll never know exactly why Needful Things failed to gain the fan adoration that some of King’s other stories have. The tale is extremely unforgiving, Max von Sydow and Ed Harris are both excellent in the picture and the rate in which one small town destroys itself from the inside out is entertaining times 10. One of the underrated gems of the 1990s, Needful Things is a must-see film in every sense.
14. Creepshow: Over the years we’ve seen a handful of highly rewarding anthologies. Few of those anthologies however, are as charming or memorable as the first Creepshow feature. The Crate is one of the finest shorts you’ll ever see while They’re Creeping Up On You disturbs and The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill is intelligently comical. This is a fine film, and if you’re up for sequels, Creepshow 2 is worth a look as well, if for no other reason than the mesmerizing segment,The Raft.
13. Cujo: Cujo could easily land a higher position in this list. If you choose to rank it higher, I wouldn’t have a problem with that in the least. Dee Wallace carries the entire picture, despite how terrifying that damned St. Bernard is. Although the action slows to a crawl for the bulk of the film, the tension is still alive and well, and at the end of the day, there’s something deeply heartbreaking about the picture. There are discussions of a Cujo remake floating about, and while that could prove to be something to chew on, there’s no doubt it will fail to rival the impact of the original.
12. The Mist: One of King’s more recent homerun transfers, The Mist juggles two terrors to perfection: conventional monsters and human monsters. In fact, it’s actually the human monsters that really make the production so unsettling. Seeing Marcia Gay Harden’s character Mrs. Carmody ignite a religion fueled war among survivors of a stunning creature invasion is jaw dropping, and Thomas Jane, who plays the story’s hero, David Drayton, turns in one of his greatest performances to date. This is a rollercoaster of emotion waiting to be ridden and we suggest you do so, like, yesterday.
11. It: We’ll probably catch a little flack for listing Stephen King’s It so low in this lineup, but the film has aged worse than just about any other major King transfer. In fact, if you go back and watch the feature in its entirety, you’ll probably come to the same conclusion we’ve reached: the only element of the film that’s maintained its effectiveness is Tim Curry’s sublime portrayal of the paralyzing Pennywise the Clown. That said, Pennywise alone pushes this picture into iconic territory and Curry’s work is some of the most impressive you’ll ever see.
10. Stand By Me: Another of King’s non-horror stories, Stand By Me is one of the greatest coming of age/exploration pictures ever released. Crammed full of emotion and spirited performances by a group of inexperienced but uber talented kids, Stand By Me is timeless. The picture hasn’t lost a bit of its sheen over the years and that says something very, very important for the movie. It’s a true great.
09. The Children of the Corn: We’ve seen too many Children of the Corn films to even count (seriously, I have absolutely no clue how many of these movies have been made), and sadly, just about every last one of them is a certified stinker. But not this one. This one here is awfully special. The story – which pits grown folk against delusional, murderous children – manages something quite rare: it frightens, to the bone. There’s such a primal vibe to the picture that it’s hard to shake it from your memory once you’ve seen it and both Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton are so convincing it all feels oddly real.
08. Silver Bullet: The most lovable, memorable and thrilling werewolf film ever released (okay, An American Werewolf in London and The Howling would argue against that), Silver Bullet redefines magnetism. The characters are so enchanting and realistic it becomes a challenge to peel your eyes away from the screen. Gary Busey’s Uncle Red is a perfect pure counter to Everett McGill’s evil Reverend Lowe and Corey Haim (God rest his soul) is just fantastic as Marty, a handicapped kid with a heart as big as Texas and a will to survive rarely seen on screen. This is 80s magic, right here.
07. Pet Sematary: There are so many noteworthy aspects of Pet Sematary that the picture calls for an enormous write up. But that’s not what we’re doing here; we’re assembling a list with truncated breakdowns of 20 separate pictures. That means I can’t gush too much, but let it be known that Pet Sematary is terrifying, Fred Gwynne is remarkable and Miko Hughes turns little Gage Creed into one of the most terrifying children in history. While we recommend you pay Pet Sematary a visit, we don’t recommend you actually pay Pet Sematary a visit; what is dead is best remaining so.
06. Christine: Fans love to talk about John Carpenter’s handling of this film, often forgetting that it’s actually a Stephen King story (one of his absolute best novels, by the way) that Carpenter just so happened to nail seamlessly. While Carpenter deserves a world of credit for this innovative picture, it all really comes back around to King himself, who took an inanimate object and turned it into something horrendous. Shot way back in ’83 the flick has aged beautifully. It still appeals to younger crowds as well as older and these characters (particularly Arnie Cunningham, Dennis Guilder and Buddy Repperton) are the kind of characters every creator hopes to bring to life. Two bits of advice: watch Christine immediately, and never fuck with a ’58 Plymouth Fury, ya shitter.
05. The Shawshank Redemption: Here’s yet another King tale that doesn’t even come close to being categorized as a horror piece. That doesn’t matter, because The Shawshank Redemption is one extremely emotional viewing experiences to be had. On the surface it’s about an oppressed convict, but below the surface it’s about human beings, the prison system and hope, or lack thereof. A tearjerker through and through, The Shawshank Redemption is a landmark film that King will always be remembered for. Whether dramas are your thing or not, this is a picture that will steal your heart.
04. ‘Salem’s Lot: Maybe Stephen King should write more vampire stories. The Night Flier was bad ass, and ‘Salem’s Lot (if you get the chance, seek out the extended cut, which runs 183 minutes but feels like a much more cohesive tale than the trimmed down two hour take) is legendary. Ben Mears is one of the more likable heroes featured in King’s ever growing film catalog, and he doesn’t carry the film by himself – he’s got plenty of awesome assistance from the likes of Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia), Richard K. Straker (James Mason), Mark Petrie (Lance Kerwin) and Mike Ryerson (Geoffrey Lewis). Throw some sinister vampire makeup and a surprising degree of suggested brutality and you’ve got yourself one of King’s greatest transfers.
03. Carrie: Brian De Palma did what very few can do, he made a film based on King’s work that’s actually superior to King’s own story! I strongly stand by the belief that the original Carrie was a more entertaining and enjoyable piece of work than King’s breakout novel, which was good, but not great (again, this is all personal opinion). De Palma’s movie was great. Every second of the flick is highly engaging and each step in the buildup to Carrie’s fateful prom trip kept us glued to the screen. They don’t make them like this anymore, which was evidenced by the horrendous 2013 remake!
02. Misery: Some may be shocked to see Misery ranked so highly in this list, but it’s a near-flawless genre film, which is an awfully rare find. Kathy Bates takes the villain to a whole new level, and the core of her motive is very frightening. What would you do if you had a fan so crazed she’d ultimately rather kill you than be without you? How about knowing that she had no problem with torturing you before the inevitable end? These are questions that bestselling author Paul Sheldon is forced to contemplate as he wakes after a car accident to find himself a prisoner in the home of his “biggest fan”. Bates picked up an Oscar award for this one, and that should really tell you all you need to know about how riveting and high caliber the feature is.
01. The Shining: No brainer, right? Stanley Kubrick’s rendition of The Shining differs from King’s own novel (the differences aren’t astronomical, but they’re noticeable), and that’s something that King himself has always been a bit displeased with. But ironically, while King isn’t a big fan of the movie, it’s widely recognized as the greatest King transfer in history. It’s absolutely terrifying, and Jack Nicholson’s performance is one for the ages. He’s a loose cannon with something dark brewing inside from the jump (part of King’s issue with the film, as Jack Torrance – on paper – descends into madness, rather than seeming to begin in that territory, as Nicholson’s character does) and viewers feel it immediately. The imagery is haunting, the location is beautiful and the supporting characters are pitch-perfect. Everything about this film – including Kubrick’s countless subliminal messages – is masterful. The Shining isn’t just Stephen King’s greatest film, it’s one of history’s greatest horror flicks, period!