Stephen King has been known as the “King of Horror” for many decades and his brilliant mind has led him to write a whopping 64 published novels. While not all of his works fall into the horror genre, he is undoubtedly one of the greats of modern literature. As a result, King has been fortunate enough to see many of his works adapted into other mediums, including television series like The Stand and films like Doctor Sleep.
Some of King’s on-screen stories have been translated so well that over time, they’ve grown to become fixtures of American cinema. What would the world of motion pictures be without Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Shining? The correct answer is incomplete, just like we would be without the rest of King’s compelling stories.
Here are the 7 best film adaptations of King’s books to date.
The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg’s take on The Dead Zone is up there as one of his best movies and easily as one of the greatest Stephen King adaptations of all time. It stars Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith, a teacher who gets into a car accident, goes into a coma, and wakes to find that he has gained the power of foresight. His ability allows him to see the moment people die, and he must now wrestle with what to do with it. The sense of responsibility and dread Smith feels reverberates well with the audience. The antagonist, a scummy and corrupt mayor, fits as perfect social commentary even close to 40 years after its release. I’d go so far as to say that this is the best King adaptation in terms of staying faithful to the source material.
While not necessarily the most faithful adaptation of a Stephen King book, The Shining is one of the finest films ever made and has rightfully earned its place in the cinema history books. The eerie tone throughout the film is presented with aplomb thanks to the masterful direction of Stanley Kubrick, and John Alcott’s cinematography makes it an uneasy and tense watch. The various fan theories, interpretations, and analyses over the years have helped keep this film fresh for audiences for decades ⏤ there’s even an entire documentary that’s been made to present theories from the film called Room 237 ⏤ and Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance will stand the test of time, as will his bone-chilling, “Heeeere’s Johnny!”
The Shawshank Redemption
This is without question everyone’s dad’s favorite film. With the combined star power of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption has become one of the most beloved films of all time. The 20-year story centers around two prisoners and their bonding resonates strongly with audiences to this day. It was not a huge financial success at the time of release, but it received political acclaim straightaway. As of 2015, it has been put into the United States Library of Congress’s preservation archive in the National Film Registry, with the film cited as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Stand By Me
The quintessential short story from Stephen King, The Body, inspired 1986’s Stand By Me, which starred the likes of Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, and Corey Feldman. A heartwarming and thoroughly emotional watch, it chronicles the experiences of four young boys who bond over a horrific shared experience. From a personal standpoint, this film will remain very poignant. Everybody I know who has seen Stand By Me maintains that it is the greatest coming-of-age movie to date. You know you’re iconic when The Simpsons parodies you, too. Who could forget Ben E. King’s rendition of the song “Stand By Me,” either? It doesn’t get more classic than this.
Carrie is one of my favorite books (and movies) of all time. I love the way the story is told in the book via medical reports and witness statements mixed in with normal third-person writing. The 1976 film Carrie starring Sissy Spacek is a perfect movie, as it completely accomplishes all of its goals despite not being a complete page-for-page adaptation of King’s original novel. The climax of the film is a great mixture of classic revenge movie mixed with coming-of-age tropes and is overall quite frankly brilliant. Brian De Palma’s history of making excellent genre movies arguably began with this film.
It: Chapter One
One of the most-hyped King adaptations of the last decade, It surprised audiences with how good it was. The casting was on point, its adaptation of the book was perfect, and the changes it made were as strong as they were necessary. Bringing back killer and spooky clowns was always going to be a tough ask, but Argentine director Andy Muschietti nailed It. It came out at a perfect time, too, with all the hype around Stranger Things bringing back 1980s nostalgia and a bit of a cultural reset on what horror is in the new millennium. Less jump scares, more horrifying and tense atmosphere, please.
A movie cited by Stephen King himself as one of his “top ten” adaptations, Misery is in a category of its own as the only King adaptation to win an Academy Award. Based on the book of the same name (which is one of the most meta and personal Stephen King stories), it follows a crazed fan who takes her favorite author captive. It’s suspenseful, smart, and aptly helmed by director Rob Reiner, with a stunning cast featuring James Caan, Lauren Bacall, and Kathy Bates, who won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her terrifying performance as Annie Wilkes.