“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” – Stephen King
The works of Stephen King have reigned over the public imagination for years, earning him the well-deserved moniker of the ‘King of Horror’. While his novels have engaged both children and adults, they have also interested filmmakers who have rushed to conduct memorable film adaptations of his masterfully entertaining literary investigations.
Although King has denounced multiple adaptations of his novels, they continue to be extremely popular among audiences who enjoy the cinematic translation of the genius of a true pioneer.
In recent years, King has pushed ahead with this extensive tradition of film adaptations by letting newer generations of artists mould his work into series meant for streaming platforms like Netflix.
For this edition of Far Out Fear Club, we have compiled a list of 10 greatest Stephen King adaptations but have restricted our entries to feature films only. The absence of The Shawshank Redemption might be conspicuous but each of these 10 films deserves to be watched much more.
Check out the entire list of our top picks below.
The 10 greatest Stephen King film adaptations:
10. The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)
From the director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist is a commendable sci-fi horror flick that imagines a crazy scenario where a small town is suddenly attacked by predatory creatures. To make matters worse, the town is coated by a thick mist which makes it impossible to see what’s out there.
In a rare turn of events, Darabont actually suggested a change to the novel’s ending and King loved it so much that he ended up admitting that the film’s conclusion was way darker than what he had written. It ended up working perfectly since audiences claimed that they never saw it coming.
9. The Running Man (Paul Michael Glaser, 1987)
An underrated gem involving Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Running Man is based on a dystopian version of America which runs a popular show where convicted criminals are put in a survival battle against professional hitmen. Although it is a loose adaptation and heavily influenced by Le prix du danger, it is an interesting product of its time.
While The Running Man might have been handled in a better way by other directors, Glaser’s version is a fascinating extension of King’s imagination. Recently, it was announced that another adaptation of King’s eponymous novel is in the works and it will be handled by none other than Edgar Wright.
8. Cujo (Lewis Teague, 1983)
A Stephen King adaptation that had a mixed reception at the time of its release, Cujo is a strangely allegorical tale about a mother and a son who are confined within their car while hiding from a vicious St. Bernard. It is a metaphorical investigation of the binaries between domesticity and the wilderness.
In subsequent years, Cujo has earned the label of a cult classic as many younger viewers have flocked to witness the film’s horror. Many top critics denounced it when it first came out but King stood by this version and named it as one of his favourites.
7. Misery (Rob Reiner, 1990)
A fantastic psychological thriller that is up there with the best of the genre, Misery is a brilliant commentary on the nature of writing and authorship. It tells the bizarre story of a fan who is so obsessed with a particular writer that she paralyses him and engages in discussions about his work.
This narrative generates extra layers of meaning when we consider that the film is an adaptation and almost all of us are participants in such discourse on some psychological level. Reiner’s version impressed King so much that he counted it among his top ten as well.
6. Christine (John Carpenter, 1983)
John Carpenter’s 1983 supernatural horror flick builds on the classic horror trope which involves an inanimate object coming to life and terrorising everyone. In this case, it’s a 1958 Plymouth Fury called Christine who gets into the head of its teenage owner.
Christine is definitely counted among Carpenter’s most enigmatic works and has been revitalised by newer generations of horror fans. A remake is being conducted by Sony and Blumhouse with Bryan Fuller set to direct this exciting new project.
5. Stand by Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)
A staple in America’s steady diet of coming-of-age films, Stand by Me is a touching story about a group of friends who embark on a journey that changes their lives forever. Along the way, they discover the meaning of friendship and learn to navigate the labyrinths of life while leaning on each other.
On multiple occasions, King declared Stand by Me to be the finest adaptation that has ever been made based on his own novels. According to Reiner, King told him after a screening: “That’s the best film ever made out of anything I’ve written, which isn’t saying much. But you’ve really captured my story. It is autobiographical.”
4. The Dead Zone (David Cronenberg, 1983)
David Cronenberg’s 1983 sci-fi project stars Christopher Walken as Johnny, a man who learns that he has psychic abilities. When he realises that he can view anyone’s future by making contact with them, Johnny dedicates his life to the murder of politician Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) who will become a terrible fascist if he gets the chance.
Cronenberg recalled: “The first adaptation I did was Stephen King’s book The Dead Zone and before that, all of the scripts that I had made into movies were my own original screenplays. I was reluctant at first because I thought, if you’re going to be a real auteur you should be the author of your work, you should really write your own screenplays.”
Continuing, “[While] working on The Dead Zone, I realised that there’s a kind of fusion of your sensibility with someone else’s when you’re making a film it could be very productive and you would come up with a creation that would be neither completely his, or hers, or your own.”
3. Creepshow (George A. Romero, 1982)
George A. Romero’s 1982 horror anthology film was the director’s way of trying to combine the visual aesthetics of E.C. horror comics from the ’50s as well as the literary sensibilities of Stephen King. Featuring all kinds of evil – ranging from zombies to an army of cockroaches, Creepshow is an endlessly entertaining wild ride.
Romero explained, “Steve King and I, as long as we’d known each other, would talk about movies and the old EC comics. Steve bought me some original panels and a couple of books.
“I had a couple of original Jack Davis paintings and so we were sitting around and decided to do Creepshow. Steve, basically, wanted to do a homage to those EC books. He thought an anthology [format] would be perfect for it. The script came in within three weeks. And that was it.”
2. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)
A competent adaptation of one of King’s most celebrated novels, Carrie follows the tragic existence of a teenager who is relentlessly bullied by the people around her until she discovers that she possesses some badass, supernatural powers. Carrie has had a seminal influence on fans as well as filmmakers, including the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Ari Aster.
“I read the book. It was suggested to me by a writer friend of mine. A writer friend of his, Stephen King, had written it,” the filmmaker recalled. “I guess this was almost two years ago [circa 1975]. I liked it a lot and proceeded to call my agent to find out who owned it. I found out that nobody had bought it yet. A lot of studios were considering it, so I called around to some of the people I knew and said it was a terrific book and I’m very interested in doing it.”
1. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
The most controversial entry on this list since Stanley Kubrick made the film his own, The Shining is an immortal horror tale about a man who goes insane in isolation and decides to murder his wife and child. While King insisted that evil was supernatural in nature, Kubrick maintained that we cannot shift the blame from ourselves and that we are beyond redemption.
In an interview, King condemned the artistic decision by saying: “That’s what’s wrong with [Stanley Kubrick’s] The Shining, basically…the movie has no heart; there’s no centre to the picture.
“I wrote the book as a tragedy, and if it was a tragedy, it was because all the people loved each other. Here, it seems there’s no tragedy because there’s nothing to be lost.”