Skip to main content

5 underrated Stephen King movies you need to watch

It’s officially October, which means that spooky movie season is finally upon us. No October would be complete, either, without the release of a new Stephen King adaptation. Fortunately, Netflix’s adaptation of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, which is based on King’s novella of the same name, is set to fill that annual spot this year.

As all horror fans will know, almost no author’s work has been adapted into as many films and TV shows over the years as Stephen King’s. However, while a great number of the King adaptations that Hollywood has released have received acclaim and widespread attention, many of them have also been forgotten or lost to time.

With that in mind, here are five underrated Stephen King movies that are worth seeking out this Halloween season.

The Dead Zone (1983)

The Dead Zone (1983) - Official Trailer (HD)

It might not be the best movie that David Cronenberg ever made, nor is it the best Stephen King adaptation that Hollywood has produced, but The Dead Zone is far better than its lackluster reputation would have you believe. Anchored by a deeply committed, surprisingly vulnerable lead performance from Christopher Walken, this underrated 1983 gem is a quietly unnerving, deeply engaging psychological thriller. Its third act is particularly memorable, thanks to Martin Sheen’s scene-stealing performance as a slimy politician that catches the attention of Walken’s part-time vigilante.

Needful Things (1993)

Needful Things Official Trailer #1 - Max von Sydow Movie (1993) HD

Based on King’s 1991 novel of the same name, Needful Things is an imperfect but fun horror film. It features a number of hallmarks of King’s work, including his fascination with American small towns and the ways in which evil’s corruptive influence can spread, as well as two pitch-perfect performances from Ed Harris as a well-meaning sheriff and Max von Sydow as an antique shop owner whose interests are far more sinister than they initially appear.

In other words, while Needful Things certainly isn’t one of Hollywood’s best Stephen King adaptations, it still deserves another moment in the spotlight.

Apt Pupil (1998)

Apt Pupil (1998) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Apt Pupil is one of the weirder and more underrated Stephen King adaptations that Hollywood has ever made. Based on one of the author’s novellas, this 1998 thriller explores the toxic relationship that grows between a teenage boy and a former Nazi war commandant who lives in secret in his neighborhood. Ian McKellen gives a truly frightening performance as the film’s central war criminal, and the ways that Apt Pupil ultimately explores evil’s corrosive touch are often chilling and disturbing.

The film is by no means a standard or straightforward Stephen King adaptation, but that’s also part of the reason why it works as well as it does.

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995) Official Trailer - Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh Movie HD

This 1995 thriller may not be as well-known as Kathy Bates’ other foray into the world of Stephen King adaptations, but Dolores Claiborne is still an underrated and effective drama. Featuring a number of noteworthy performances from its stars, including Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Christopher Plummer, Dolores Claiborne may have been well-received when it was originally released, but it has since been disappointingly lost to time.

Fortunately, there’s no better time than now to give Dolores Claiborne the attention it deserves. The film notably boasts a screenplay written by none other than Andor writer Tony Gilroy.

Gerald’s Game (2017)

Gerald's Game | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Odds are, most Netflix viewers will know writer-director Mike Flanagan best for his work on limited series like The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass. But before he made The Haunting of Hill House, Flanagan partnered up with Netflix for his 2017 adaptation of Gerald’s Game. The film, which was initially released without much fanfare, has since emerged as one of the more underrated Stephen King adaptations that have ever been made.

Even though it never quite manages to shake off many of the flaws present in its source material, Gerald’s Game is still an intense and inventive thriller — one that is, frankly, worth seeking out solely for Carla Gugino’s stellar lead performance.

Mr. Harrigan’s Phone will stream on October 5 on Netflix.

Alex Welch
Alex is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
This horror remake shocked audiences 5 years ago. Here’s why you should watch it this Halloween
A girl knocks at a mirror door in 2018's Suspiria.

Even for a filmmaker as celebrated as Luca Guadagnino, remaking one of the most beloved and iconic horror movies in history isn’t an easy thing to do. Nonetheless, just one year after Call Me By Your Name launched him to the top of the international cinema scene, that’s exactly what the director did. Assembling a crew of talented collaborators, including Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, modern Scream Queen Mia Goth, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Guadagnino set out in 2016 to finally make his own interpretation of Dario Argento’s giallo horror classic, Suspiria.

The resulting film, an oppressively drab, operatic exploration of supernatural horror, looks and feels like a purposeful counter to the Argento original, rather than a straightforward remake. Guadagnino’s Suspiria eschews many of its predecessor's defining aspects — namely, its vibrant color palette, surrealist direction, and prog rock score. For these reasons, the film proved somewhat divisive, and its box office earnings left plenty to be desired. In 2018, the general consensus seemed to be that the remake was an audacious, if not entirely successful, creative experiment for Guadagnino.

Read more
These 5 horror movies made me sick to my stomach. Here’s why you should watch them
The top of a VHS cassette.

It was the perfect Halloween setting. I was going through some boxes in my parent’s dark, spider web-filled attic, and came across one lurking in the dark that looked particularly intriguing. After moving items aside to get closer, I saw the top of the box was opened slightly, urging me to peer inside. Upon lifting the edge up, dusty VHS cassette boxes came into view, each with intriguing titles on the spines. I had stumbled across my old, long-forgotten horror movie collection on VHS -- and what awful treasures there were to discover within.

If you’re wondering what to watch this Halloween, perhaps some of the movies I found in the box will provide inspiration. I collected horror movies in the U.K. from the early 1990s and into the 2000s, and the harder they were to obtain, the better, with the most reprehensible and gory examples being the most coveted.

Read more
3 underrated movies on Paramount+ you need to watch in October
Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in In the Heights.

Paramount+ subscribers may have good reasons to be frustrated with the streamer. If you look at this month's list of what's new on Paramount+, you'll find that many of the best movies are being withheld for the higher tier, Paramount+ with Showtime. That's just not fair to regular subscribers, so our monthly list of three underrated movies on Paramount+ was chosen specifically from the titles that are available on all tiers.

For this month's selections, we've picked an adaptation of a hit Broadway musical from the creator of Hamilton, one of Martin Scorsese's more recent films, and a period drama that features a lot of familiar faces. These are the three underrated movies on Paramount+ that you need to watch in October.
In The Heights (2021)

Read more