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From 'Carrie' to 'IT' to 'Firestarter': All 43 Stephen King theatrical movie releases, ranked
We all float down here... but which Stephen King movie floats to the top of the bunch?
Stephen King is one of the most popular and successful horror writers of all time. So it is somewhat surprising that Hollywood has such a hard time creating movies based on his books that are just as good as the source material.
For the better part of five decades, King's works have been a pop-culture staple and often a popular draw at movie theaters. Some are all-timers (think Shawshank Redemption or The Shining). Others are, well, see Maximum Overdrive or (cringe) The Mangler. With IT, one of the most acclaimed and successful Stephen King adaptations, turning 5 years old this week, it seemed a good time to rank every King movie that scored a major theatrical release (sorry, Netflix's Gerald's Game).
Also, you may want to consider reading this list with the lights on. Like, put all of them on.
43. The Lawnmower Man (1992)
An adaptation so bad, King sued to have his name taken off it. (The movie also has nothing to do with King's source material, which further accelerated the author's efforts to divorce his name from the flick.)
Pierce Brosnan stars as a down-and-out psychologist who uses very dated VR to help his groundskeeper, Jobe (Jeff Fahey), evolve from a developmentally-disabled man to a digital god. Lawnmower Man seems to only have two speeds: bad ideas, or terrible ones. Nearly every scene depicting Jobe's disability is problematic at best and insulting at worst, as Fahey and Brosnan engage in a disastrous sci-fi mix of Of Mice and Men meets Flowers for Algernon.
42. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Maximum Overdrive is often considered the worst King adaptation, especially by its director: Stephen King.
King's only attempt to direct a feature film is a visually and narratively uninspired mess that seems completely uninterested in having any fun with the source material's wacky premise: After a comet passes Earth's sky, machines and vehicles become sentient and target humanity. Emilio Estevez (whose father, Martin Sheen, appeared in the far superior The Dead Zone) rises up to lead a motley resistance against the machines. Maximum Overdrive struggles to settle on a consistent tone, as King's erratic sense of pacing and structure get in the way. The movie can't decide whether it wants to be a full-throttle B-horror movie or play it "serious" with some B-movie elements. The end result is, well, a lifetime sentence in Director Jail for King, who encapsulated his experience with the film by saying this: "I was coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn't know what I was doing."
41. The Mangler (1995)
The Mangler is about as direct-to-video as King's less-than adaptations get, but somehow this Robert England-starrer earned a wide theatrical release.
Based on King's 1972 short story, and directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper in what is clearly a for-hire gig, the titular horror racking up a gruesome body count in the movie is, um, a possessed piece of laundry equipment. No, that really happened. And just when you think it couldn't get worse, the Mangler springs leg-like limbs and goes on the hunt for victims.
40. Dreamcatcher (2003)
Speaking of Movie Jail, that's where Dreamcatcher director Lawrence Kasden (The Big Chill, co-writer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens) found himself after this high-profile King adaptation notoriously flopped at the box office. Which isn't surprising, given its problematic plot about a group of friends caught in the middle of an extra-sensory alien invasion by way of (in part) a fanged, extraterrestrial worm that works its way through woodsman Jason Lee before plopping into a toilet.
After its engaging opening scenes, which introduce us to one of the most appealing King ensembles ever — Timothy Olyphant, Lee, Damian Lewis, and Thomas Jane — Dreamcatcher, adapted by Misery screenwriter William Goldman, devolves into a sloppy, dull thriller with instantly-dated CGI and a frustrating disregard for emotionally-honest responses to all the crazy from its characters. Kasdan struggles to master any of the film's constant and distracting tonal shifts, none of which are developed or executed effectively.
39. Graveyard Shift (1990)
Graveyard Shift could have been a solid guilty pleasure, given how entertaining King's source material is. Instead, the low-budget horror entry is stuck in Roger Corman-level schlock and barely rises to the level of late-night cable watch.
When late-night workers at a textile mill keep dying, those left struggle to survive attacks by (wait for it) a giant bat. In the King short story, it was a rat terrorizing workers, not that the change makes the material better. If anything, this movie stands out for horror fans thanks to its batsh** (see what we did there?) end-credits song. Crank it up.
38. Dolan's Cadillac (2009)
While not quite "dead on arrival," Dolan's Cadillac is quite the inert crime thriller based on a very old King short story that even die-hard fans forgot existed.
Torn between being a Coen Bros.-esque caper and an exercise in grindhouse horror, the Christian Slater-Wes Bentley movie fails to succeed at either. It limps along as the cinematic equivalent of checking off one's daily house chores, which is fitting considering how it limped to video after a brief and small theatrical release.
37. The Night Flier (1997)
The Night Flier was considered so bad that it went direct-to-home video first, before New Line Cinema snapped it up for a 1998 theatrical release that proved to be one of the studio's worst business decisions.
Whatever limited financial gains New Line saw in this strategy do not seem worth it, as Night Flier's tale of a tabloid-y TV journalist (the late Miguel Ferrer) on the hunt for a vampire barely musters the production values of a 1990s USA Network TV movie. Night Flier could have been 2014's Nightcrawler meets Salem's Lot, had the filmmakers had the budget (or sense) to do King's short story justice. Instead, horror fans got a movie unworthy of inclusion on a truck stop's $2 DVD rack.
36. Sleepwalkers (1992)
Director Mick Garris' first Stephen King collaboration is arguably his worst. And definitely his most disappointing.
Working off an original screenplay written by King, Sleepwalkers centers on a nomadic race of shape-shifting creatures that are a mix of vampire, werewolf, and human-sized cat. That crazy Mad Lib of a horror premise gets watered down into a Psycho-like dynamic between an incestuous son (Brian Krause) and his scene-chewing mother (Star Trek: First Contact's Alice Krige), who subsist on virgin blood in a small Indiana town. As werecat changelings are wont to do.
The only thing crazier than this movie being greenlit is how off the rails its premise gets. But, for some reason, the proceedings didn't ward off cameos from horror and sci-fi icons like Tobe Hooper, Clive Barker, Joe Dante, and Mark Hamill (!).
35. Silver Bullet (1985)
Silver Bullet and its low-budget creature effects were considered dated and terrible upon its original release, and they are all but laughable 35 years later. The werewolf attacks at the heart of the plot seem like they were executed with stuntmen wearing masks you'd find at a Spencer's Gifts. One of the few things that's watchable in this disappointing effort is Corey Haim's performance as a wheelchair-bound kid battling the werewolf terrorizing his small town.
34. Cell (2016)
One of King's more cinematic novels at the time it was published in 2006, Cell seemed destined for good things on the big screen: A mysterious audio signal delivered via cell phone turns innocent people into mad killers, with Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack forced to lead a pack of survivors before the signal gets them.
The novelty of Jackson and Cusack reteaming after their previous King adaptation, 2007's 1408, quickly wears off as Cell limps through an uninspired, momentum-sapped narrative that fails to muster even one effective jump scare. Cell tries to pass itself off as a cautionary tale about the perils of technology, but the filmmakers fail to find ways to make that resonate, or try to update the 2006 source material to reflect the advances in modern mobile phone technology in ways that could be truly terrifying.
33. Needful Things (1993)
In Ed Harris' second role in a King adaptation (the first being Creepshow), the Oscar-nominated actor headlines this noble misfire that brings King's dense novel to the big screen but without much of the urgency or tension that made Needful Things the book such a pageturner.
A demonic shop owner (the late Max von Sydow) unleashes slow-burn havoc on a sleepy Maine town (because King) and it's up to Ed Harris' sheriff to stop him. "Dull" barely covers director Fraser Clarke Heston's take on the material, as Heston (yes, the son of Charlton) seems uninterested in investing the proceedings with even the bare minimum of menace or charm that made the source material popular-ish among King fans. When your movie's biggest claim to fame is making dynamic performers like Sydow and Harris seem bored and phoning it in, you know you've done King wrong.
32. The Dark Tower (2017)
Not even Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey can salvage this much-anticipated adaptation of King's masterpiece, which kicks off with one of the best opening lines in literature: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
One of the highest-profile box office failures among King's big-screen slate of adaptations, The Dark Tower suffers from yet another problematic script from co-writer and producer Akiva Goldsman, which takes the admittedly complicated plot and world-building of the novel and makes it both needlessly convoluted and frustratingly pedantic. Elba, as the iconic gunslinger Roland Deschain, invests the character with his charismatic (and effortless) screen presence, but the actor seems lost in a movie that doesn't know how best to utilize his talents. He truly shines in his brief scenes with nemesis the Man In Black (McConaughey). But the Oscar-winner can't quite decide if he should chew scenery or play it grounded.
The Dark Tower is a movie with studio execs' fingerprints all over it, a piece of studio IP forced into a shape intended to launch a multi-media shared universe that proved to be DOA. If this is the best Hollywood can do with the material, we'd hate to see their worst.
31. Thinner (1996)
One of two Richard Bachman (King's pen name) books adapted for theaters, Thinner has a very elevator pitch-friendly premise with the scares to back it up: A wealthy, overweight lawyer strikes a gypsy with his car and is cursed with one word — "thinner" — which sparks a tortuous weight loss intended to literally make the jerk disappear. Unfortunately, Thinner uses the book's inspired morality play to indulge in gross-out set-pieces over David Cronenberg-level body horror and pathos. The end result is a mildly entertaining, rainy day couch viewing that will leave you wishing it capitalized on its potential to be so much more.
30. A Good Marriage (2014)
The strength of the performances from Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia are the only things keeping A Good Marriage from finding a lower berth on this list.
Allen's always great in everything she's in, which makes it all the more disappointing that A Good Marriage can't provide her with a consistently gripping movie worthy of her talents. From King's Full Dark, No Stars collection of stories, and adapted by the Master of Horror himself, Marriage follows Allen's character, Darcy, forced to come to grips with the terrible truth that her husband Bob (LaPaglia) is a serial killer. When she's not putting on a good face for her murderous spouse, Darcy is slowly, privately mustering what it takes to take her husband down. You'd think King's script would let us see exactly how Darcy plots to bring her husband to justice, and invest us more in her struggle, but her plans are largely left puzzlingly off-screen. This problematic choice hinders Marriage's attempts to raise the emotional stakes or tension as the film climaxes with a violent showdown that falls short. But Allen and LaPaglia give it their all, delivering two of the best performances in a movie based on King's works.
29. Creepshow 2 (1987)
A far cry from the excellent macabre horror of the first Creepshow anthology film, Creepshow 2 doesn't get much better or scarier than its take on King's short story, "The Raft," which kicks off this sequel.
As a group of horny teens (shocker) go swimming in a lake and get picked off by a murderous oil-like slick, "The Raft" is the only one of the lesser-known King stories adapted for the film that reaches pulse-quickening levels of fright.
28. Secret Window (2004)
Most memorable for its clutch-the-pearls twist ending, Secret Window is writer-director David Keopp's attempt at mixing Stephen King scares with Hitchcockian suspense.
Secret Window stars Johnny Depp in his first role after the surprise success of 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean, with the then-burgeoning leading man cast as Mort, a cardigan-clad author facing accusations of plagiarism by an eccentric cook named Shooter (John Turturro). Mort, also estranged from his wife (Maria Bello), slowly confronts an increasingly-fractured reality when he realizes that (twist!) Shooter is his Tyler Durden — a figment of his imagination. In fact, Shooter references Mort's burning desire to "shoot her," with "her" being his wife.
That twist enthralled audiences upon its initial release but falls laughingly flat now. But Koepp's by-the-numbers script effectively builds tension leading up to the eye-rolling reveal, which is one of the movie's few selling points.
27. Firestarter (2022)
26. Carrie (2013)
Try as director Kimberly Peirce's new adaptation of Carrie might, this noble misfire is unable to come close to reaching the highs of Brian De Palma's classic take on King's blockbuster novel.
Peirce's film tries to be faithful to both the book and De Palma's original and, in doing so, forgets to forge its own path — outside of this version of Carrie (Chloë Moretz) succumbing to the ridicule of her fellow students thanks to a video going viral. Moretz is miscast as the homely, awkward teen outcast, but she excels at selling the boiling contempt for her overbearing, overzealous mother, played by an over-the-top but effective Julianne Moore. As compelling as the two stars' chemistry is, Carrie loses points for an over-reliance on CG blood and Zack Snyder-style slow-motion.
25. Cat's Eye (1985)
A staple of '80s cable, Cat's Eye is another King-inspired anthology most memorable for two of its three installments: A Drew Barrymore-starring vignette in which she takes on a tiny, soul-sucking creature and an unsettling adaptation of King's 1978 short story, "Smokers, Inc." The latter features the best performance in the movie, courtesy of a pre-garbage James Woods. Here, he plays a businessman desperate to quit smoking and his attempt to do so has violent consequences for him and his loved one.
Cat's Eye aspires for Twilight Zone-level quality and almost gets there. What it lacks in consistent scares it makes up for with sustained bouts of suspense.
24. Apt Pupil (1998)
Plagued by behind-the-scenes controversy that clung to the movie before its release, Apt Pupil understandably struggled to find an audience despite the script being one of the better, more faithful King adaptations.
Bryan Singer's follow-up to the Oscar-winning Usual Suspects centers on high school student Todd (the late Brad Renfro) discovering that his elder neighbor (Ian McKellen) is a Nazi war criminal hiding in suburbia. That setup is disturbing enough without Singer's camera lingering uncomfortably too long on his teenage star's body, which makes rewatching the movie as difficult now as it was then.
Apt Pupil is a very uncomfortable and dark movie, and it is also one anchored by two gripping performances from its lead actors. But quality casting and craftsmanship, bolstered by a chilling, well-structured script, doesn't forgive the unforgivable conduct of its director. Which makes Apt Pupil a movie you watch once as a curiosity in terms of being a King completist, and immediately file away as "never watch again."
23. Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
A mixed bag of a novel, Hearts in Atlantis translates to an equally mixed bag of a film.
Director Scott Hicks oversees a very "loose" adaptation of the short story "Low Men In Yellow Coats," which is both a Dark Tower-adjacent tale and part of a larger collection of stories titled Hearts in Atlantis.
The movie is so disconnected from King's source material that it becomes hard to engage with, especially as the last hour twists itself into a plot-driven pretzel fueled by melodrama and confusing twists. But at its (no pun intended) heart, Atlantis is a story about a kind old man (Anthony Hopkins) trying to make a meaningful connection with an innocent tween (played by a very young Anton Yelchin), using what life he has left to bond with someone who has barely begun to live theirs.
There is a thematic darkness underscoring the relationship between these two characters, one Atlantis too often ignores or outright avoids — much to the movie's detriment. Still, it's welcoming to see Hopkins play a character so sincere and kind, instead of trading on his Hannibal Lecter persona. And the late Yelchin deftly carries the film with one of his earliest, and most endearing, roles.
22. Children of the Corn (1984)
For a generation of '80s kids, Children of the Corn (based on a King short story published in Penthouse) was the highest octane of nightmare fuel they could put in their eyeballs. The movie doesn't quite hold up as well as those fans may expect, but Corn is still an undeniably creepy entry in King's canon.
Dated hair and fashion aside, the movie's core conceit — an evil cult of murderous children worship a deity while purging their town of adults 18 or older — delivers a solid dose of scares and tension. Linda Hamilton, in one of her few performances outside The Terminator franchise, is especially compelling as one half of a young couple screaming through the demonic horrors the titular kids wield.
Oh, and thanks to this movie, "Malachai" is still the most horrifying name ever uttered.
21. The Dark Half (1993)
George A. Romero directs and Timothy Hutton stars in this underrated chiller with one of the most shocking and bleakest endings to a King work ever.
Another King adaptation casts a writer as its protagonist, this time with Hutton playing both Thad Beaumont and his evil, Mr. Hyde-esque alter ego, George Stark. He's literally in life-or-death conflict with his pen name, and Hutton delivers a masterful performance that grounds the material's campier indulgences and Romero's execution of them. Sadly, The Dark Half doesn't feel like a true Romero movie; despite offering plenty of opportunities for the horror legend to showcase his flourishes or signature style, Romero seems more inclined to "go through the motions" visually. That is, until that gory finale, in which George is mauled and torn apart by a flock of evil birds.
20. The Running Man (1987)
The Running Man is Peak '80s Arnold, with an abundance of campy one-liners and excessive violence. It's also a confidently executed and highly entertaining action film loosely based on King's book (written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman).
While most King adaptations live and die on their faithfulness to the source material, Running Man doesn't use much of the book to tell its eerily timely cautionary tale of state-approved executions being used as broadcast entertainment. Arnold finds himself as a wrongfully-convicted pawn forced to punch and kick his way through a gauntlet of grotesque, American Gladiators-style obstacles and "Boss Fights" as audiences watch.
Is it over-the-top? Sure. Entertaining? You bet. Especially any scene involving Running Man host Richard Dawson, who plays an R-rated parody of himself in an action movie that arrogantly creeps up to the line of self-mockery but never crosses it.
19. IT Chapter Two (2019)
Judging by critical responses and box office, IT Chapter Two fell creatively short to the unprecedented success of the first film. IT Chapter One's director Andy Muschietti returns to finish what he started, this time with the "all-grown-up" versions of his young cast dealing with the sins of their past as Pennywise resurfaces to finish them off.
Chapter Two trades the relatable horrors of the first film's child heroes for more conventional scares and jolts, much to the movie's detriment. Its nearly three-hour runtime cannot sustain the tension or thrills that made its predecessor so enthralling, as it is less fun watching the adult versions of our favorite characters battle that which scarred them as kids and made them all the more endearing to us. There is an almost pedestrian way the movie checks its boxes when it comes to delivering frights, often with the energy and urgency of one checking off items on their grocery list. But Bills Hader and Skarsgård elevate the angst-heavy material, even though the latter's Pennywise is reduced to slightly more than a peripheral presence.
18. Firestarter (1984)
Firestarter desperately feels and looks like a John Carpenter movie. And it almost was, before Carpenter was removed from consideration following the lackluster box office of 1982's The Thing. Fans wish they got to see Carpenter's take on the material, which centers on Drew Barrymore (in her first post-E.T. role) as a young girl who can start fires with her mind. She is wanted by the government, led by George C. Scott, in a horror version of The Fugitive, as Scott's character will stop at nothing before he can capture Barrymore and let the U.S. Government weaponize her powers.
It's not the best King adaptation but is one of the better-acted ones. (Barrymore offers her creepy take on Zoolander's Blue Steel.) And the impressive pyrotechnics still pack a punch from a practical effects standpoint.
17. Pet Sematary (1989)
A VHS staple of many a '90s teen's sleepovers, Pet Sematary is one of the few major Hollywood studio adaptations of a King book to accurately capture the tone and intent of the source material. The movie, directed by the talented Mary Lambert, fills you with constant dread as the movie drops audiences into a world where the buried dead can be resurrected with fatal consequences.
The movie spends the bare minimum of time exploring the moral and ethical consequences of resurrections, favoring kills and blood over thematic resonance. But the trade-off there is witnessing some of the creepiest visuals in all of King's big-screen oeuvre, especially the sight of Victor's grey corpse appearing minus a sizable chunk of his skull.
16. Pet Sematary (2019)
A love letter to the original movie as much as it is to the book, 2019's Pet Sematary is a slow-burn dread fest that offers a bigger budget and louder jump scares as it explores (albeit at a surface level) the moral consequences of bringing back the dead. That even "good" people can let their grief get the best of them — even if it means losing more than what originally set them on this terrible path.
If directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer succeed at anything, it's their faithful attention to the book's tentpole moments and dreadful tone. This allows some leeway with the liberties their adaptation takes with the source material, especially with the film's controversial ending — which left audiences either up in arms or indifferent. But, what audiences and critics alike agreed on is that this Pet Sematary eclipsed its predecessor with its cast, led by grieving father Jason Clarke and his stalwart neighbor played by John Lithgow. It's not a great movie, but there are enough "great" moments in it to earn its status as one of the better King adaptations to hit the big screen.
15. Cujo (1983)
Almost 40 years after its release, Cujo still proves unrelenting in its sense of terror and dread.
Trapped in her car with her son (Danny Pintauro) in the blistering heat as a rabid dog terrorizes them, Dee Wallace literally gives a full-throated performance as a mother desperate to save her child from the foaming jaws of his would-be killer. (Fans were surprisingly fine with the one big change from the book to the movie: In the novel, the young boy dies. In the movie, he survives.) One of the best and most overlooked King films from the '80s.
14. The Green Mile (1999)
Frank Darabont trades the grim road to redemption of Shawshank for the more saccharine path to hope afforded by The Green Mile.
Tom Hanks stars as the kindest death row prison guard ever made and the late Michael Clarke Duncan plays Coffey, a falsely-accused prisoner who can heal with his touch. Their lives intersect in ways that tug on the heartstrings with Hallmark Movie subtlety, but also provide some of the most heartbreaking moments in a film based on a Stephen King book. (When Coffey asks if he can avoid wearing a black shroud prior to his execution, because he is afraid of the dark, it is a gut punch.)
13. The Mist (2007)
Frank Darabont's third Stephen King adaptation is a bumpy but intense thriller with one hell of a Twilight Zone-y ending.
Arguably the most popular story to come out of King's Skeleton Crew collection, The Mist is a dread-fueled supernatural thriller, with most of the action taking place in a grocery store. As the titular fog rolls through a small town, along with the grotesque monsters inside it, fear goes viral among the town's citizens as they turn to mob rule in a desperate attempt to fend off the creatures trying to kill them. The only thing scarier than the creatures with eye stocks attacking our heroes is what fear does to the humans who are confined together.
Relentlessly cynical, The Mist submits that when the chips are down, humanity's so-called better angels won't hesitate to do things to their fellow man that would make demons blush. And after watching Darabont's brutal ending, you can't blame them.
12. Christine (1983)
John Carpenter missed out on directing Firestarter but scored Christine instead. Yes, it's about a haunted, possessed car — a 1958 Plymouth Fury — that has a murderous obsession with its owner. But the silly premise has a near-perfect amount of terror and tension, thanks to Carpenter, that keeps it from veering into schlock.
11. Creepshow (1982)
Creepshow marks Romero's first collaboration with a King property (several, in the case of this original anthology). A macabre homage to vintage horror comics like Tales From the Crypt, Creepshow's parts are better than its whole — especially the old-school monster movie vignette "The Crate" and the terrifying tale of zombie Ted Denson getting revenge on his killer, Leslie Nielson, in "Something to Tide You Over."
But for the most scares, watch (if you dare) "They're Creeping Up on You." Starring E.G. Marshall as a secluded, wealthy germaphobe, his character finds himself on the losing end of a fatal war with an army of cockroaches flooding his residence. As entertaining as it is inconsistent, Creepshow makes a strong case that King is best serviced in small doses on the big screen. (The AMC/Shudder show based on Creepshow is also must-see horror TV.)
10. 1408 (2007)
Taken from the short story of the same name (that began as a writing example at the end of King's On Writing), 1408 is a great, unsettling ghost story. John Cusack, in one of his last legit star turns, plays a skeptical supernatural writer who books a night in a horrific haunted hotel room. He doesn't believe — until he does. Throw in a supporting role from Samuel L. Jackson as the hotel's ghoulish manager and 1408 is a devilishly good time.
9. IT Chapter One (2017)
The highest-grossing King adaptation set many a box office record upon its October 2017 release, while also terrifying genre fans with Pennywise's much-anticipated, big-budget trip to the big screen.
One too many jump scares are balanced out by an emotional story, one that hinges on the film's exceptional ensemble cast of children who have boundless chemistry. Most big-screen King adaptations are more miss than hit, whereas IT proved to be the exception to that rule, finding a Stranger Things-level of success no other movie from the horror master has achieved.
8. Doctor Sleep (2019)
Despite being a box office disappointment, Doctor Sleep is one of the best King adaptations. Maybe even one of the best horror sequels ever.
Mike Flanagan's haunting and tear-jerking take on the nearly unadaptable novel is both a sequel to Kubrick's The Shining and King's novel. The task, on paper, is a tricky and unenviable one, but Flanagan somehow pulls it off effortlessly, a masterpiece of chills and heartbreak on par with his Haunting of Hill House.
Doctor Sleep catches up with an adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), still suffering from the trauma brought on by the Overlook Hotel and coping through it with alcohol. A broken Danny tries to get his life together — and suppress his psychic "shine" — when an ancient supernatural force, Rose the Hat (a terrifying Rebecca Ferguson), comes calling. Rose and her posse of soul-sucking immortals feeds on others' shine, and they want to feast on Danny and his new friend, the powerful teen girl Abra (Kyliegh Curran). The two team up not just to stop Rose, but to also confront the sins of Danny's father — and his past — by venturing back to the Overlook for one final showdown that is as frightening as it is cathartic. (The Shining Easter eggs that pepper this sequence range from subtle to obvious, but never overpowering or distracting.)
Flanigan is fearless and inventive in his approach to the story's themes of grief and how loss isn't there to make us weak, but to show us how strong we really are. He uses every scary tool in his considerable arsenal to craft a profound (if 20 minutes too long) meditation on life, death, and the struggles both offer on those caught between the two.
7. Carrie (1976)
Carrie was King's first published novel and the first of his stories to be turned into a movie. After nearly 45 years, it still remains one of the best King adaptations, thanks to Brian De Palma's masterful sense of tension and pacing, as well as stars Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Hollywood has tried both the sequel and remake route with this property, but none of them can touch the original.
6. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Even though she won the Oscar for Misery, star Kathy Bates considers Dolores Claiborne to be both her favorite role and best performance.
Not 10 minutes into the Tony Gilroy-scripted adaptation, you can see why: Bates is fantastic (and intentionally hair-raising) as the titular matriarch overseeing what's left of her fractured family after her murderous act tore them apart. But there's more to the motives and story behind the homicide she committed, as Dolores' estranged daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) discovers when she must return home to deal with a fresh hell concerning her mother — one with ties to their traumatic past. The courtroom drama elements don't really shake hands with the rest of the movie, but Dolores Claiborne succeeds despite those bumps. Don't let its constant TBS and TNT airings fool you, the movie is scary-good.
5. The Dead Zone (1983)
A classic from King's '80s heyday, The Dead Zone is beautifully directed by David Cronenberg (weirdly his only stab at King). Christopher Walken stars in one of his all-time greatest performances as a timid man who, after surviving a catastrophic car wreck, is plagued by psychic visions that prove fatally true. What makes Dead Zone even more enthralling now is watching Martin Sheen, beloved liberal icon thanks to The West Wing, playing a hawkish, psychotic politician poised to light the fuse on the end of the world unless Walken's character stops him.
4. Stand By Me (1986)
King's favorite cinematic translation of one of his works, Stand By Me proves that Hollywood doesn't need supernatural horror to make a great and timeless King adaptation.
One of the 1980s' most essential films, Rob Reiner directs with a mastery of tone as four young teens go in search of a dead body and, along the way, are forced to grow up a lot sooner than they hoped. Stand By Me was a then-risky gamble; Columbia Pictures was taking a chance on both Reiner, then a comedy-only director, and on bringing a non-horror King story to the screen. Reiner and the studio owe most of their success to the talented ensemble at the heart of the film: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell. They are as natural as they are likable, giving each scene the exact amount of whatever it needs to hit audiences in the feels. A minor detour in the summer of 1959 becomes one of the defining moments in the boys' lives, accompanied by a catchy soundtrack of oldies led by Ben E. King's title song.
3. Misery (1990)
Whether in novel or film form, Misery is one of King's greatest and most effective horror/suspense tales.
James Caan stars as (shocker) a writer who, after being caught in a blizzard, has the misfortune of crashing his car near the house of his most obsessive fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Annie's obsession inflicts physical and mental torture on Paul, with the latter forced to endure a medieval-level of pain as he struggles to escape her deranged clutches in director Rob Reiner's second (and best) King adaptation.
Bates delivers a star-making (and Oscar-winning) performance as the sadistic and possessive Annie, helping the film achieve Hitchcockian levels of suspense.
2. The Shining (1980)
King's disapproval with director Stanley Kubrick's take on The Shining is legendary, but that doesn't change the fact that it's easily one of the best King movies ever filmed.
Jack Nicholson's iconic portrayal of a handyman/struggling writer driven mad by the ghosts of a remote mountain resort is the stuff of Hollywood history. And Kubrick's elaborate, purposeful camera work gives the film a haunting quality all its own.
All work and no play, well, you know the rest...
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
No one expected much from Frank Darabont's under-the-radar adaptation of King's novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Which is ironic, considering the subject matter. But several Oscar nominations later, including one for Best Picture, and the top spot among IMDb's user-voted list of all-time best films, The Shawshank Redemption has rightfully solidified itself as a Hollywood classic.
Even King himself doubted Darabont's script, which centers on a wrongfully convicted accountant (the never-better Tim Robbins) and his blossoming, life-changing friendship with Morgan Freeman's Red. The two suffer the slings and arrows of life in this corrupt prison together, while also using each other to find hope and meaning in a place hellbent on snuffing either out.
Shawshank is an endlessly rewatchable, feel-good drama that, despite ample opportunity, never veers into sappy territory or strikes a false, manipulative note. The movie is pure polish; a cinematic achievement as endearing as it is profound. They don't make modestly-budgeted dramas like this anymore. And, given Hollywood's predilection toward billion-dollar blockbusters, they likely never will again.