With IT and The Dark Tower both getting the proper film adaptation treatment these days, it’s time to look back on horror icon Stephen King’s previous work and which ones stand out above the 200 or so that have been transformed into series/film. (joking about the 200, but also… not really)
There’s a reason that Frank Darabont graces this list three times — he’s the one guy that gets Stephen King more than any other filmmaker and he wholly embraces the spirit of the legendary writer’s work and translates it in astounding fashion for the big screen. (Rob Reiner gets the runner-up award here with two spots).
I’m 31 years old and I think I started reading King’s work before I turned 10. I would borrow them from my dad’s collection and he had every single damn novel and collection of shorts that King had ever written. I started with King before I moved onto R.L. Stine — that’s not how the hell this is supposed to work is it?
Not every movie adapted from King’s catalog has been a masterpiece — I get that. It’s hard to really sympathize with the haters though when there’s been so many adapted over the past four decades. Is that right? Forty years of King adaptations? You’re damn right it is – because Carrie (the first one) came out in 1976. And King was writing a couple years prior to that mind you…
I have a personal attachment to a bunch that didn’t make this list, because I decided to go with the genuine hits that people adore the most. I have an affection for Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet, Dreamcatcher, Thinner, Apt Pupil and more – because I watched those all several times when I was a youngin.
Disclaimer: I have removed The Shining from this list because the movie in my humble opinion — doesn’t hold up. At all. It’s a horrible piece of shit. I tried re-watching it a month or so ago and I couldn’t even stand getting through the redrum or “Here’s Johnny!” scenes. Those were the best moments of the film! Garbage – the acting is shit, Kubrick was overrated when he made it and I dare you to watch it again and not laugh at all the ridiculous, stupid, unintentionally hilarious shit in that crapshoot of a film that wrongfully gets proclaimed as the best King adaptation. I hate it. Sorry. Moving on. Also – Potentially Major Spoilers for Every Film on This List.
#10. The Mist (2007)
They’re turning this short story into a TV series now too for some reason, but I thought that most people were indifferent about Frank Darabont’s ‘The Mist’ when it came out and you know – delivered the darkest ending in the history of horror cinema. I’m putting this on the top 10 because it’s bold as hell – I don’t give a shit if you didn’t like it, but The Mist is a visual feast and it’s scary as shit – one of the best apocalyptic horror movies ever made. The monsters look horrifying (when and what you see of them anyway) and Thomas Jane’s performance in that car during the final minutes of the movie? Incredible, gut-wrenching and hands down the most extreme “what the hell just happened” climax to a horror movie that you’ll likely ever see.
Sparing his child and the other survivors in the car from what seems like a traumatic and torturous death at the fangs of tentacled evil, he turns the trigger and blasts everyone else in the vehicle, yes including his kid. Jane then tries to kill himself but he’s out of bullets so he goes outside the car to die by monster until the military shows up and saves the day… To make matters worse, Carol from The Walking Dead is with the soldiers, along with her family after nobody would help her at the beginning of the film. Talk about a gut-punch – dude just had to wait oh – I don’t know – 1 minute longer and not kill everyone? Dark as shit – Darabont came up with that ending too by the way – it wasn’t in the book….
#9. Cujo (1983)
Director Lewis Teague’s Cujo is about as grindhouse as we’ll get on this list (aside from #2…) and it’s some hard shit to watch if you love your dog. After getting bit by some asshole bat, the St. Bernard named Cujo winds up with a case of rabies and he corners a mother (Dee Wallace) and her son in a vehicle out on their farm. The car is dead, so the two are forced to overcome the unbearable heat as their giant dog murders everyone who stops by the house and prevents them from getting out.
This film is so shocking and so brutal – you would be hardpressed to find a film made in 2016 with the same content. Not to mention this was the day before CGI, so they had to use a real dog for most of the scenes. Wallace is particularly terrific too playing the mother (watch for her in several films today too – she’s been in Rob Zombie’s flicks and more). If you liked this year’s The Shallows, then Cujo is sorta like that: a strong woman is stranded and stalked by a beast that kills everyone else who comes to her aid until she realizes she needs to deal with that shit herself. The film is no stranger to mixed reactions, but I’m a fan and it scared the crap out of me since I too lived on a farm (sans rabid gigantic dog).
#8. Misery (1990)
Kathy Bates won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a crazy stalker fan who winds up holding her favorite novelist hostage until he finishes her beloved story — one that he started but decided not to pursue. See that image above where she cranks James Caan’s foot with a sledgehammer? Yeah, I know right? This may go down as Bates’ greatest performance of all time and I’m OK with that. She’s not a monster, she’s not superhuman, she’s just insane.
Director Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride) really did a tremendous job capturing the spirit and claustrophobia of King’s novel. Caan is helpless and he’s forced to deal with an unstable woman who at any moment is capable of punishing him in unspeakable ways. Again – see the sledgehammer to his feet. This is one of the few times that the film wound up better received than the source material and that’s due to Reiner, Bates and Caan’s efforts in delivering such a powerful and intense thriller.
#7. Pet Sematary (1989)
I watched Pet Sematary when I was very young. This was back in the days when parents didn’t care what their children watched – my father would let me have the run of the video store. This disturbing sucker was one of the few that haunts me to this day. I didn’t like animals getting killed, who does in films really? But I especially don’t like children getting murdered either and this one was a doozy. After a father loses his toddler (he’s run over by a damn semi truck), he buries him in a mystical Pet Sematary in order to bring him back to life.
He does this of course because “hey it worked for the cat!”, although did anyone notice that the damn cat turned into a psychotic bitch upon it’s resurrection? Anyone? Glowing demon eyes and shit? Nothing? So the kid comes back to life, kills an old dude by slicing his Achilles and all kinds of madness until the father has to step in… This was the part of the movie that I can’t get out of my mind and I’ve only ever watched this film ONCE – when I was a child… It’s when the dad has to stick his zombie serial killer toddler with a needle to kill him – again. The child cries, tries to get stabby stabby again and then the father repeats the cycle with his newly dead wife because he’s a fucking moron. This movie still gives me nightmares to this day.
#6. The Running Man (1987)
This movie was helmed by Paul Michael Glaser – that’s the original Starsky – yes Starsky & Hutch. How cool is that? I thought it was neat, but that’s not important is it? What is important is how brilliant this concept is – take several death row inmates, put them on a televised gameshow where they battle gladiators for a chance at freedom… Now insert Arnold Schwarzenneger and Jesse Ventura (yes they did a badass action movie together the same year as Predator) then have notorious real-life gameshow host Richard Dawson actually host the sucker! It doesn’t get better than this folks – this is definitive 80’s action.
I used to watch professional wrestling as a kid and this was the kind of movie that appealed to me on that same kind of level. There were themed badguys: Subzero (freezes dudes), Buzzsaw (chainsaws dudes) but the greatest of all – Dynamo! An opera singer with a Mohawk helmet who uses bolts of electricity to fry fools. The Running Man was ridiculous when it came out then and I like to think it still holds up today as one of the better Schwarzenneger films of that era too. Plus who doesn’t love seeing Richard Dawson riding a rocket sled through a billboard until he explodes in a fiery hilarious death?
#5. The Green Mile (1999)
True story: When I did a book report in grade seven English class, I chose The Green Mile (after having read the badass version which was chopped up into all those mini-novels). During the report we were asked to do a fantasy cast – and I chose Tom Hanks for the lead part. Nailed it. I don’t want to admit this but I may have also cast Shaq for the role of John Coffey…. Shut up – I was young, let me have the victory of predicting Hanks way before it happened.
Frank Darabont was directing his second King adaptation and it was yet another prison themed affair. He had a shit ton to live up to considering the first and I think he nailed it as best he could. The Green Mile is twisted, it’s emotional, it’s loaded with fantasy – it’s also one of the best prison movies ever made. The cast is stellar – everyone from Michael Clark Duncan (no – not Shaq dammit), Sam Rockwell, Hanks, David Morse, Michael Jeter (Mr. Noodle!) and more. You feel so damn bad for Coffey in this movie… So damn bad – it’s hard to watch at times, especially the executions via electric chair…. Always wet the sponge man…. For the love of god just wet the sponge.
#4. Stand by Me (1986)
Rob Reiner’s second flick on this list is an adaptation of King’s short story ‘The Body’ and it’s one of the most beloved films of all time. The cast of kids – probably the best ever assembled at that time: Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell and the late River Phoenix were so dynamic and ‘real’ together that everyone who watched Stand by Me could relate to this group of boys. It was a coming-of-age story, narrated by the great Richard Dreyfuss about a group of kids on the search for a corpse in the woods. Typical small-town shit – everybody did that at least once right?
The 50’s and 60’s classic jukebox hits that loaded the soundtrack, coupled with Dreyfuss’ voiceover makes Stand by Me such a feel-good movie… I always have a smile on my face every time I stop to watch it, whether it’s the train scene, the showdown with that badass Keifer Sutherland (still rocking that Lost Boys hair so you know you can’t screw with this slick sonofabitch) – the movie just hits all the right notes. It’s definitely not your standard King story, but if you go back and look at his work – he’s done some damn fine drama too you know – not everything is about murder and monsters.
#3. Carrie (1976)
John Travolta killing a pig, draining it’s blood (like tons of that pig’s blood) and then saving the shit in a huge bucket in order to dump it onto a teenage girl’s head during a rigged prom queen election… Carrie is some twisted, genius shit – the horrors of highschool have never, ever been so horrific on the big screen. Director Brian De Palma was the first man to tackle a film adaptation of King’s and he chose his first ever published work – Carrie. A story about a young girl who has psychic powers (can lift objects with her mind and more as you’ll find out in the end).
Sissy Spacek was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Carrie’s abusive and psychotic religious mother – well deserved. Her lines are legendary: “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” Little did she know – her bitch mother was right, because just when Carrie starts to fit in, she realizes it was a setup when all that blood is dumped on her so she proceeds to murder as many of her fellow students as she can – using her crazy ass mind murder powers. Kudos to Piper Laurie’s title performance – I really felt so bad for her – kids are dickheads… Especially teenage John Travolta – that bastard.
#2. Creepshow (1982)
I love me some Creepshow. As a Tales From The Crypt fan, this horror anthology set the stage for short story horror on the bigscreen. We wouldn’t have movies like Trick R’ Treat if it weren’t for this evil romp featuring five nasty short stories. Two were based on King’s work (Weeds and The Crate) while the rest were actually written by King specifically for the movie. Did I mention George Romero (Night of The Living Dead) directed Creepshow? Did I also mention Tom Savini did the makeup and effects? Creepshow is a who’s who in horror mastery – it will never get better than this — ever again.
I don’t even mind that King himself starred in one of the segments. Some people don’t dig the guy when he’s in front of the camera, but his portrayal of a goofy redneck who winds up sprouting grass all over his body after touching a meteorite – was perfect. The ending was so depressing, so dark – you can’t help but just roll with it at that point. Leslie Nielson, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau – the cast was stellar and the stories were all so memorable even when they were fairly simple in structure. This is a must-see flick every October people — it’s a perfect double-header alongside Cat’s Eye, Trick R’ Treat or Tales From The Darkside.
#1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Predictable? Yeah I know, but some things are better left as they should be and where The Shawshank Redemption should be – is number one. Not just on this list – a list of King’s greatest adaptations, but on most of your “greatest movies ever made” kind of lists too. Frank Darabont’s big screen adaptation of the novella ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ is a masterpiece. I love everything about this movie, Morgan Freeman’s narration, Clancy Brown’s asshole prison guard, Tim Robbins’ career defining performance, James Whitmore’s mezmerizing supporting performance as Brooks (the old guy with the crow) — all of it — astounding.
The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Oscars and didn’t win anything. Blame Forrest Gump for that one – it took damn near all of them (Pulp Fiction also came out in 1994, which must make that year one of the greatest year’s in the history of film, right?). Whenever this movie pops up on TV, I always stop to watch it. I even tried to suffer through a censored version one time and despite the awful editing in order to get all of Clancy Brown’s “fucks” out of the picture, it still comes across as a work of art.