From his modest beginnings in the great state of Maine, to his first novel, Carrie, which has led to a lucrative writing career, author Stephen King has become as much a part of the popular culture as Saturday Night Live or Darth Vader. With a near endless list of books and their respected adaptations to choose from, it can be difficult to weed it down to only a few that represent the best. With that said, we like a challenge, so here are 10 of the best movie adaptations from King’s renowned works.
10. The Dead Zone (1983)
Based on the novel of the same name, which was published in 1979, the film follows the awakening of Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) from a five-year coma. Upon awakening, Johnny discovers that he has newfound psychic powers, which enables him to see the future of those he comes into physical contact with. Johnny is then set on a collision course with death, when he is compelled to thwart the future maleficence of U.S. Senatorial candidate Greg Stillson. In Johnny’s vision, Stillson becomes President of the United States and will bring about nuclear holocaust if he is not stopped. Walken gives a virtuoso performance in this well-crafted and suspenseful thriller, which is a reflection of the directorial stylings of David Cronenberg.
9. Creepshow (1982)
Exceptions must be made in life, and enthusiasts of Mr. King will undoubtedly notice that this selection is not from one of his novels. This is true. Nevertheless, Creepshow is an essential member of King’s works, and the film provides audiences with five spine-tingling tales drenched in horrific aesthetics that can still creep out the squeamish viewer. King’s screenplay was inspired by the horror comic books he enjoyed from the 1950s. Be sure to check out the third tale, “Something to Tide You Over,” which features the late Leslie Nielsen. Best known as a comedic actor, after his performance as Dr. Rumack in Airplane! (1980), Nielsen gives a disturbing and realistic portrayal of a man wronged by the woman he loves and the lengths and depravity he will stoop to in order to get revenge.
8. Pet Sematary (1989)
Based on the novel of the same name, which was published in 1983, the film explores the depths of human despair and the lengths Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) will go to in order to quench his own intolerable pain. Louis is amazed when he witnesses his neighbor’s dead cat, Church, rise from the dead, after it had been buried in the local pet cemetery. After Creed’s young son Gage (Miko Hughes) is accidentally run over by a truck and killed, Louis decides to bury the boy’s body in the supernatural pet cemetery. As Church did before him, Gage returns, however, the child is now only a corpse driven by a murderous entity’s appetite for death; Gage’s arrival leads only to doom.
7. Christine (1983)
Less than eight months passed, before this King novel hit the Silver Screen. The film follows outcast teenager Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) and his love for a vintage 1958 Plymouth Fury, which he restores and names Christine. Unfortunately, for those who do Arnie any harm, Christine appears to be a living entity. Christine reciprocates Arnie’s love and the car systematically wipes out those who dare intercede in their perverse love affair. The film is an exemplary look at the life of an American teenager and the overriding emotions we all feel during our formative years, which includes loneliness and the need for acceptance by our family and peers.
6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Based on the 1982 novella, “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” from the Different Seasons collection, Shawshank explores the 19-year imprisonment of banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) at Shawshank State Penitentiary. The film is a testament to the enduring human spirit and the bonds of friendship that are forged under the direst of circumstances. The movie is widely regarded as one of the best films of all time, but it lacks King’s more sinister, horrific, and brooding writing style, which is sadly absent in the picture. But, while it is a departure like Stand by Me (1986) and The Green Mile (1999), from his more morbid works, Shawshank’s stellar storytelling warrants its inclusion in the top 10.
5. Misery (1990)
Based on the novel of the same name, which was published in 1987, Misery is a celebrity’s worst-nightmare-come-true. Writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is horribly injured in a car accident and rescued by Ms. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who cares for and nurses Paul back to health. Later, Annie reveals that she is a huge fan of his books, but Paul soon realizes that his fan is actually a true psychopath that demands he rewrites his latest manuscript in order to spare the life of its main character. This is one of the darkest King adaptations because it impacts its audience on a visceral level. It leaves your hairs standing on end, as you teeter on the edge of your seat, hoping that Paul can escape his disturbing and murderous captor.
4. Stand by Me (1986)
The film is based on another novella from King’s Different Seasons collection. Originally published as “The Body,” the story was adapted into another one of King’s more character-driven, less horrifying, ventures. This is the quintessential coming-of-age story, as the film follows four young boys on their quest to see a dead body. Actors Will Wheaton and the late River Phoenix give Oscar-worthy performances in one of the most emotionally-stirring feature films of the last 30 years. While it might strike the most basic horror levels that King is known for, Stand by Me is one of the most poignant must-sees for any filmgoer.
3. Silver Bullet (1985)
One of King’s crowning achievements, the film intertwines horror, comedy, and brilliant storytelling. The ingredients culminate into a cinematic triumphant that rivals any modern day werewolf tale. Based on King’s short novel The Cycle of the Werewolf, which was published in 1983, the film follows Marty Coslaw (Corey Haim), a young boy confined to a wheelchair. Marty soon discovers that the town’s Reverend Lowe (Everett McGill) is a sadistic killer–a werewolf. Marty eventually convinces his sister Jane (Megan Follows) and Uncle Red (Gary Busey) of the truth and the unlikely trio prepare for a climactic showdown with the tormented and misguided werewolf Lowe. You’ll experience the entire spectrum of human emotions. There are plenty of scares to terrify you and there is ample comedy to induce sidesplitting laughter. The protagonists are all so likeable that you’ll be rooting for them all the way, and you may even find yourself empathizing with the cursed reverend. Silver Bullet represents some of King’s best storytelling and the film can be seen regularly every year during numerous horror movie marathons. If you haven’t caught it yet, be sure not miss it this year.
2. Carrie (1976)
This is the tale that started it all. Based on King’s debut novel of the same name, which was published in 1974. Young teen Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is ridiculed by her classmates and emotionally abused by her overzealous and ridiculously religious mother (Piper Laurie). But, while Carrie struggles with being an outcast, her inner strength begins to reveal a deep, previously unlocked power–telekinesis. One student, Sue Snell (Amy Irving), realizes how badly Carrie has been treated and tries to help her. Setting up a prom date between her boyfriend Tommy Ross (William Katt) and Carrie, Sue’s good intentions becomes a nightmare when the class bully Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) again lashes out at Carrie with a hateful practical joke. Carrie’s wrath is on full display, as she unleashes her fury on the entire student body, which leaves only Sue alive. Everyone has felt like an outcast or a sense of not belonging, at some point, making Carrie the ultimate revenge fantasy to hit the Silver Screen. The acting, narrative, and elements of horror all come together in a symphony of near perfection.
1. The Shining (1980)
King’s third book turned out to be his best enterprise into cinema. The Shining is a perfectly-woven story that just has everything to make it one of the most entertaining horror films of all time. First, you have Stephen King’s book, as a basis for the project. Second, director Stanley Kubrick is at the helm. And last, but certainly not least, you’ve got Jack Nicholson portraying the movie’s main character, Jack Torrance. Torrance takes a position as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, during the establishment’s brutal, wintry offseason. With only his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along for the ride, Jack makes his home in the mammoth hotel. Whether it is from the isolation, the supernatural mystique of the hotel, or a combination of both, Jack slowly slips into a crazed state culminating in a murderous rage. Wendy and Danny find themselves fighting for their lives, as Jack stalks them with no sign of help in sight. Despite the author’s own reservations about the adaptation, The Shining is the 10 carat diamond in Stephen King’s illustrious crown.
Honorable Mention (in order of release): Salem’s Lot (1979), Cujo (1983), Firestarter (1984), The Running Man (1987), and The Green Mile (1999).