Top 10: Best Stephen King Adaptations

Pet Semetary Jason Clarke John Lithgow

Some wells of inspiration never dry up. Stephen King’s writings have been the source for countless movies and TV shows over the past four decades. Just this week sees the release of “Pet Sematary,” based on King’s novel of the same name and a remake of a 1989 film. That’s not the only King property currently heading to theaters or TV. Later this year “It: Chapter Two” looks to scare up plenty of box office receipts. Both Hulu and Audience Network have shows based on King IP – “Castle Rock” and “Mr. Mercedes” respectively. With Stephen King having a moment, let’s take a look at the ten best adaptations of his work.

“Gerald’s Game” (2017)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1992 novel

hero GeraldsGame Unit 01768 RIt’s sad to see that getting handcuffed by Bruce Greenwood doesn’t turn out well in teh end. “Gerald’s Game” stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood as a married couple who goes to a private cabin for a sexy vacation. As part of their sexual exploration, Greenwood’s Gerald handcuffs his wife Jessie to the bed. However, as they’re fooling around, Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack. Now, Jessie must fight to escape the lake house, despite not being able to get out of her handcuffs. Netflix’s tight thriller makes great initial use of its clear premise. It stumbles a bit as it goes along. However, it pulls it all together in the end, proving to be an engaging, nifty thriller.

“1408” (2007)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1999 short story

1408 ScreenshotThe job description of ghost hunter has only become more prevalent with the rising number of paranormal shows. In some ways, this makes 2007’s “1408” quaint. The film centers on Mike Enslin (John Cusack), an author who researches the paranormal following his daughter’s death. Enslin visits all legendarily “haunted” location and covers them. This leads him to the famed Dolphin Hotel, where the room 1408 is rumored to be haunted. Upon booking the hotel, the manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) warns him about embarking on this journey. However, Enslin checks in to the room and is greeted by a countdown clock of 60 minutes. Within this hour, he’s subjected to extreme temperatures, the reappearance of dead family members and reliving past traumas. The movie takes the kernel of the idea in the short story and builds out the torture in the room into a surprisingly effective character study.

“The Mist” (2007)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1980 novel

No one likes being in the middle of a storm. However, 2007’s “The Mist” puts a strange collection of people in a most unusual storm. Strange, bloodthirsty creatures descend upon a small town during a storm, causing some citizens to hole up in a supermarket. The entire town gets engulfed in mist, which obscures them from seeing the creatures. While terror reigns outside the supermarket, alliances and emotions inside the supermarket become just as terrifying. The whole cast excels at defining these new relationships that are pushed to the extremes. The movie completely belongs to Marcia Gay Harden as religious zealot Mrs. Carmody who sees the situation as the wrath of God. Still, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a good monster flick where the monsters are hidden throughout?

“It” (2017)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1986 novel

it pennywiseFew recent images have been as widespread and frightening as Bill Skarsgaard’s rendering of Pennywise. His murderous clown makes for the perfect foundation of countless nightmares. However, that’s not the only element that makes “It” a successful adaptation. Director Andy Muschietti and writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman understand the heart of the story is the coming of age tale of its gang of pre-teens. As Pennywise ravages the town, our central group wrestles with hormones and growing pains. They see the horrors of their town in a new light, without any idyllic sheen. At two hours and fifteen minutes, the movie sags a bit as it wallows in its nostalgia. However, each of the character’s subplots, particularly around Sophia Lillis’ Beverly, takes “It” to a new level of horror.

“Dolores Claiborne” (1995)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1987 novel

doloresclaibornehd pub“Dolores Claiborne” jumps back and forth between two timelines. The present day features Dolores’ resentful daughter, Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) returning home to investigate the latest murder her mother has been charged with. The town, particularly Det. John Mackey (Christopher Plummer), believes Dolores murdered the woman she worked for as a maid. This all ties back to the timeline in the past, which explores the mysterious death of Dolores’ abusive husband, Joe (David Strathairn). The movie bursts with wonderfully macabre energy. Kathy Bates delivers a soulful and complex performance, one that blends melodrama with this wholly unique character. Perhaps its the dual timelines, but there’s a grand, expansive quality to the movie. One feels they’ve watched a full, detailed life. Plus, the movie deserves more credit for some truly gag-worthy one-liners that should be gif’ed for eternity.

“Misery” (1990)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1987 novel

misery watching recommendationNo one does Stephen King quite like Kathy Bates. She manages to sink into the broader aspects of his female characters and give them texture, life and agency. “Misery” kicks off with author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) getting in a car accident during a snow storm, only to be taken in by a local woman, Annie Wilkes, who claims to be his biggest fan. However, once she finds out the fate of the beloved character at the center of Paul’s novels, she takes him hostage to rewrite his wrongs. Today, the movie reads as a horrifically wonderful skewer of fan fiction culture. While so much of the movie can come off comedic, director Rob Reiner and Bates are aligned on one thing. Nothing is more serious to Annie Wilkes than the fate of her beloved Misery Chastain.

“Stand By Me” (1986)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1982 novella “The Body”

rs stand by me01 4fe82db8 ca20 430c 8353 760337b644baYou’d be hard pressed to find a more authentic portrayal of childhood friendship. “Stand by Me” follows a group of four twelve year olds who go on a journey to find the body of a missing boy. Will Wheaton plays Gordie, the introverted “writer-type” of the group who recently lost his older brother (John Cusack). His best friend, Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), hails from the wrong side of the tracks, though he displays lots of great potential in school. The other members are the wisecracker Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) and the butt of everyone’s jokes, Vern (Jerry O’Connell). The final tear-jerking moments speak to the fleeting nature of childhood friendships. It speaks to the overwhelming emotional maturity present in the DNA of the story. Not bad for a movie that features a scene of projectile vomiting from a character named “Lard-Ass.”

“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1982 novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”

shawBanker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) receives a life sentence at Shawshank State Penitentiary after the murder of his wife and her lover. While in Shawshank, Andy strikes up a friendship with Red (Morgan Freeman) a smuggler who is also serving a life sentence. The friendship between Andy and Red makes for a winning combination. Freeman’s performance, in particular, shines. He conveys Red’s fears for going back out into the real world, which causes him to stall his parole hearings. It’s an honest and heartfelt look at how prisoners fashion their own lives and roles inside the microcosm of a prison. Going back to Andy for a minute, Robbins sells through the triumphant journey of his character exceedingly well. Andy’s drive to escape leads to one of the film’s most thrilling sequences, a truly iconic movie ending.

“The Shining” (1980)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1977 novel

The ShiningDirector Stanley Kubrick’s ambition pairs perfectly with King’s demented novel. It’s easy to see how so much mythology has been built around the film. Every aspect of the Overlook Hotel and the various haunts within feel sketched out and developed at every turn. Still, the movie never overplays its hand in demonstrating the horrors. Instead, it focuses on the effects the hotel has on its inhabitants. Jack Nicholson sells through Jack Torrance’s developing madness throughout the movie. Meanwhile, Shelley Duvall crafts one of the most aesthetically detailed portraits of fear. Add in Danny Lloyd’s textbook creepy-child performance as Danny and you have a fully rounded family portrait of madness.

“Carrie” (1976)

Based on: Stephen King’s 1974 novel

carrie 1976Most people remember “Carrie” as the movie where a misfit murders a bunch of teenagers at prom. While that’s technically true of the film’s climax, that simplistic synopsis misses what makes the film timeless. It’s hard not to feel for Carrie. Everyone at school mocks her for being quiet, standoffish and weird. At home, she’s constantly berated by her crazed, religious mother (an expert Piper Laurie). Our opening scene finds Carrie getting her period during gym class only to not know what’s going on. Life is hard for Carrie. That’s why, once she unlocks her powers of telekinesis, the movie becomes much more cathartic. Carrie isn’t a bad girl who seeks revenge. She’s a meek woman pushed so far to the brink that, for the first time in her life, has the means to fight back. Sissy Spacek is incredible in a performance, and film, that’s one of a kind.

What are your favorite Stephen King Adaptations? Share with us in the comments below.


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Written by Christopher James

Christopher James has been an Oscar obsessive ever since watching his first ceremony at age 5 when "Titanic" won Best Picture. He is a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with degrees in Screenwriting for Film and Television and Marketing. Christopher currently works in media strategy and planning at Liquid Advertising, based out of Los Angeles, CA. You can find Christopher running on the sunny beach, brunching at trendy restaurants or mostly just sitting in a dark room watching movies and TV in sweatpants. Follow me on Twitter @cwj92movieman


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