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The best Stephen King adaptations ranked by Rotten Tomatoes

Stephen King is a master of horror, but it can be trickier than it may seem to translate his material to the big screen. King’s best books are often complex and epic in scope, and making them work in the confines of just a few hours can be almost impossible.

Still, there are a number of films and filmmakers that have found great success in adapting King’s works to the big screen,  and created some great horror movies in the process. Often, those beloved works were recognized by critics at the time as worthy of praise. The movies below are the cream of the crop when it comes to King adaptations. They’re scary, sad, and above all else, great movies.

10. Doctor Sleep (2019) - 78%

10. Doctor Sleep (2019) - 78%
59%
7.3/10
152m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
Stars
Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, Rebecca Ferguson
Directed by
Mike Flanagan
Watch on HBO Max
Revisiting The Shining is a tall task, but Mike Flanagan’s 2019 sequel, adapted from a sequel to the book, lives up to the task. Following an adult version of Danny, who is a child in the original film, the movie is all about revisiting the traumas of your past and fighting to make sure that future generations don’t meet the same fate. Thanks to a wonderfully menacing performance from Rebecca Ferguson, Doctor Sleep also manages to be just as scary as Kubrick’s 1980 original.
STEPHEN KING'S DOCTOR SLEEP - Official Teaser Trailer [HD]

9. 1408 (2007) - 79%

9. 1408 (2007) - 79%
64%
6.8/10
104m
Genre
Horror
Stars
John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack
Directed by
Mikael Håfström
Watch on Amazon
Based on one of King’s short stories, 1408 is a story about an author who has made his name by disproving supposed hauntings around the country. When he checks in to room 1408, he expects to do the same thing, only to discover the actual terror hidden inside his room. 1408 is another claustrophobic King adaptation that works in part because of the constraints it puts on itself. The movie chooses to tell the story of a small, intimate haunting, and is all the better because of its well-defined scope.
1408 Trailer

8. Dolores Claiborne (1995) - 85%

8. Dolores Claiborne (1995) - 85%
62%
7.4/10
132m
Genre
Crime, Drama, Mystery
Stars
Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judy Parfitt
Directed by
Taylor Hackford
Watch on Amazon
Although it’s not as well remembered as some other entries on this list, Dolores Claiborne is King in full-on murder mystery mode, and it turns out that the genre suits him well. The film tells the story of a housekeeper (Kathy Bates) who is accused of murdering her elderly employer, which leads the housekeeper’s daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to return to town to prove her mother’s innocence. What makes the movie crackle is the way that revelations about both the murder and the past of this mother and daughter are slowly doled out, creating a consistent sense of intrigue throughout.
Dolores Claiborne (1995) Official Trailer - Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh Movie HD

7. The Shining (1980) - 85%

7. The Shining (1980) - 85%
66%
8.4/10
144m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
Stars
Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Directed by
Stanley Kubrick
Watch on HBO Max
King was famously unhappy with the creative direction that Stanley Kubrick decided to go in when he adapted The Shining, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Telling the story of a writer and his family as they move into an enormous hotel to take care of it for the winter, the movie follows its central character as he slowly loses his mind. While Kubrick made several key changes to King’s novel in his adaptation, the movie works, and has stood the test of time as one of the great horror films ever made.
The Shining - Official Trailer [1980] HD

6. It Chapter One (2017) - 86%

6. It Chapter One (2017) - 86%
69%
7.3/10
135m
Genre
Horror, Fantasy
Stars
Jaeden Martell, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis
Directed by
Andy Muschietti
Watch on HBO Max

This more recent entry deserves its place on this list, as the first half of It works much better than its sequel. Following a group of kids who discover that an entity that takes the form of a clown is haunting their small town, this movie is effective because it is genuinely frightening. It follows a truly terrific group of young actors, and while it does have a certain Stranger Things energy, this chapter of It seems genuinely interested in the inner lives of each of these kids. Their fears are rooted in something mysterious yet timeless, and that’s part of what makes the movie work.

IT - Official Trailer 1

5. The Dead Zone (1983) - 90%

5. The Dead Zone (1983) - 90%
69%
7.2/10
103m
Genre
Thriller, Horror, Science Fiction
Stars
Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt
Directed by
David Cronenberg
Watch on HBO Max
A wonderful thriller, The Dead Zone is the kind of slightly rambling science fiction movie that rarely gets made today. Telling the story of a schoolteacher who falls into a coma and awakens with psychic abilities, the rest of the film works almost as a tragedy, as we see that this man’s gift is actually much more of a curse. The movie’s tragic ending is bittersweet, and thanks to excellent work from director David Cronenberg, every minute of The Dead Zone feels both essential and compelling.
The Dead Zone (1983) ORIGINAL TRAILER [HD 1080p]

4. Misery (1990) - 90%

4. Misery (1990) - 90%
75%
7.8/10
107m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
Stars
James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth
Directed by
Rob Reiner
Watch on Amazon
Kathy Bates won a richly deserved Oscar for her performance in Misery, playing a woman who kidnaps a famous author and is far too attached to the characters in his most popular franchise. It’s essentially a two-hander, but Misery is thrilling in spite of its relatively intimate scope. As James Caan’s struggling author learns more and more about his captor, he becomes just as desperate to mount an escape. It’s a taut, wonderful thriller that goes as big as it can without becoming too cartoonish.
MISERY (1990) | Official Trailer | MGM Studios

3. Stand by Me (1986) - 91%

3. Stand by Me (1986) - 91%
75%
8.1/10
89m
Genre
Crime, Drama
Stars
Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
Directed by
Rob Reiner
Watch on Netflix
Most of King’s work confines itself to the realms of science fiction and horror, but Stand By Me stands out because it is such a subtle, quiet movie. The film tells the story of four boys who decide to head out on a quest to see a dead body, only to find themselves deeply changed by what they find. More than that, though, Stand By Me is a movie about that period in your childhood when you can feel that it’s ending. It’s a sad, nostalgic story about innocence lost, and one that has resonated for generations as a result.
Stand by Me (1986) Trailer #1 | Movieclilps Classic Trailers

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - 91%

2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - 91%
81%
9.3/10
142m
Genre
Drama, Crime
Stars
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
Directed by
Frank Darabont
Watch on HBO Max
One of the definitive movies of the ’90s, The Shawshank Redemption is another King adaptation that falls outside the realm of traditional horror. Telling the story of a pair of prison inmates who develop a friendship over decades, the movie’s greatness comes in part from the hope it manages to pull out of the incredible sadness of incarcerated life. The Shawshank Redemption can feel like one of the darkest movies to ever come out of King’s work at times, but its ending offers a hopeful reminder that, through our connections to others, we can still find rays of happiness.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Official Trailer #1 - Morgan Freeman Movie HD

1. Carrie (1976) - 93%

1. Carrie (1976) - 93%
85%
7.4/10
98m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
Stars
Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Directed by
Brian De Palma
CARRIE (1976) | Official Trailer | MGM Studios
One of the very first adaptations of King’s work still stands as the best reviewed. Released in 1976, Carrie follows a high school girl, abused at home and tormented at school, who begins to discover that she has supernatural powers. What makes Carrie so thrilling to watch or read is the shock of violence that eventually consumes the story. Brian de Palma carefully builds up a tense narrative, and then patiently waits for everything to explode. It’s a joy to watch, even if large sections of it are also horrifying.[/dt_media]

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen

Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.

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