Along with being one of the most celebrated and prolific authors of all time, Stephen King has also had the fortune of having just about every story he’s ever written make its way to the screen in one form or another — sometimes more than once.
The latest adaptation of King’s work is Pet Sematary, the second big-screen adaptation of his 1983 novel of the same name. It’s a good time to be a fan of King’s work, because there’s no shortage of it on both television and the big screen lately. It: Chapter Two and Doctor Sleep are both headed to theaters later this year, and multiple television adaptations are in various stages of development or currently airing.
Before we get your angry phone calls, King has more than 100 movies, television shows, and miniseries based on his work, so it’s no easy task to choose our favorites. Here are the projects we chose as the best adaptations of Stephen King’s stories.
Legendary filmmaker John Carpenter directed this 1983 adaptation of King’s novel of the same name, which follows a teenage boy whose life takes a dark and deadly turn when he buys a cherry-red 1958 Plymouth Fury. The demonic car gradually begins to take over his life, and brutally eliminates anyone who crosses him or gets between the car and its new owner. Christine is as much an exploration of automobile culture in America as it is a horror movie, diving into the country’s obsession with classic cars and the appreciation — or in this case, obsession — that people have for them. As with many adaptations of King’s work (as well as Carpenter’s films), the film does a masterful job of blending music and visual elements to create many of its most memorable moments.
7. Pet Sematary (1983)
One of the scariest — and quite frankly bad vibiest — movies of any of King’s many adapted works, Pet Sematary starts out with a graphic and shocking car crash and doesn’t let up till the credits roll. While we’re sure the new film has its place, this nightmare-fueling take about a cemetery that brings the dead back to life was written by King himself and will have you screaming “dead is better” in your sleep long after the screen goes dark. If you’ve never seen the original, we highly suggest you give it a shot before (or after) you’ve seen the 2019 film. It’s well worth the ride.
6. The Mist
A thick fog that rolls over a small town in Maine unleashes a host of mysterious, horrifying creatures in this 2007 film. The project brought Frank Darabont back as screenwriter and director and chronicled the town’s descent into savagery as the surviving residents are forced to take refuge together. The ensemble cast is led by Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Witwer, Toby Jones, and several actors who would go on to play featured roles in The Walking Dead television series, including Jeffrey DeMunn, Laurie Holden, Melissa McBride, and Juan Gabriel Pareja. The Mist is quite possibly the bleakest film ever made from one of King’s stories, and that’s saying a lot.
5. Carrie (1974)
Stephen King’s first published novel was also the source material for the first cinematic adaptation of his work, with Carrie published in 1974 and director Brian De Palma’s film based on the novel arriving in theaters just two years later. The film casts a young Sissy Spacek as 17-year-old Carrie White, the sheltered daughter of a religious-fanatic mother who endures both physical and psychological abuse at home and school. When she discovers her latent telekinetic powers, she exacts deadly retribution on her tormenters. Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen, William Katt, and John Travolta play supporting roles in the film, which features one of the most notoriously memorable prom scenes in Hollywood history.
4. It (1990)
Before it was a record-breaking film, King’s It was adapted as a two-part, three-hour miniseries that aired on network television in 1990 and featured Tim Curry as the iconic, shapeshifting demon known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The story follows a group of outcast kids who vow to stop the murderous Pennywise — first as children in 1960, and then again as adults when Pennywise resurfaces decades later. The series is surprisingly intense for a project that aired on a major network (ABC) and features an impressive ensemble cast that includes John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Harry Anderson, Jonathan Brandis, and Seth Green, among other familiar faces. While some of the visual effects used in the series feel a bit dated now, Curry’s performance continues to be potent nightmare fuel, even 30 years later. For those wishing the impressive 2018 cinematic effort would have made the cut, we have one thing to say: Let’s wait for the second half.
3. The Shawshank Redemption
King granted filmmaker Frank Darabont the rights to his short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption as part of a “handshake deal,” and the result was this beloved 1994 film, which earned an impressive seven Academy Award nominations and is often included in lists of the greatest movies ever made. The film casts Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, a banker serving a life sentence in Shawshank Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover. The story unfolds over several decades as Andy meets and befriends fellow inmate Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), adapts to life in the prison, and struggles to find hope in a world of broken dreams and danger.
2. The Shining (1980)
Acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick helmed this infamously terrifying 1980 adaptation of King’s novel of the same name, which follows a man’s descent into madness as he and his family serve as caretakers for an isolated and snowbound hotel haunted by supernatural entities. Jack Nicholson portrays struggling writer and alcoholic Jack Torrance, who gradually succumbs to the influence of the malevolent forces inhabiting the hotel and endangers the lives of his wife and son (played by sShelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd, respectively). Although King himself wasn’t a fan of the liberties Kubrick took with the source material, The Shining has been recognized as one of the best horror movies ever made and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 2018 due to its cultural significance.
1. Stand By Me
Like Shawshank, Rob Reiner’s 1986 adaptation of King’s story The Body isn’t filled with Stephen King’s usual spookiness, but it’s one of the most effective tales at capturing a particular time in America, the nostalgia of childhood friendships, and the moments that seem to only exist in that period between adolescence and adulthood. The film follows a group of four boys who set off on a weekend hike to find a dead body that was reportedly discovered deep in the woods. The friends are portrayed by an impressive ensemble of young actors who would grow up to be household names — Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell — along with John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland also playing supporting roles. Nominated for an Academy Award, Stand By Me is widely regarded as one of the greatest coming-of-age films ever made.
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