Stephen King has been cranking out stories for so long, he isn’t an author at this point, he’s an institution. Everyone on Earth has heard of him and has seen at least one of his works, but what makes him special is not his omnipresence but his variety. He’s a brand without a unifying signature. His work runs the gamut from coming of age dramas and love stories to cosmic horrors and cheesy monster flicks. It’s a career that includes trash like The Mangler and Graveyard Shift to masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. With hundreds of millions of novels sold and countless film and TV adaptations made of his work, it’s safe to say that when it comes to stories that live with you forever, Stephen King is King.
These are the 50 Greatest Stephen King Adaptations of All Time.
40. Silver Bullet (1985)
Adapted from King’s novella, Cycle of the Werewolf, Silver Bullet follows a series of horrific murders in the small town of Tarker’s Mill, Maine. The residents of this quiet down decide to go full vigilante and track down the killer themselves, which leads to even more bloodshed and death. One night, things turn supernatural when young Marty Coslaw, who is also wheelchair-bound, encounters a werewolf. With help from his sister and Uncle Red, Marty begins to uncover the truth behind the grisly murders.
I distinctly remember watching this movie when I was eleven years old. I wanted to see if because of my massive crush on Corey Haim, who played Marty. Instead, I was terrified and turned off the movie during the horrifying sequence set in thick fog where several of the town’s residents were subsequently attacked and mauled to death by the unseen monster. Once I was feeling brave enough, I returned to finish the movie and yes, I did love it. As an adult, I can admit it’s not a fantastic movie but I will argue that it’s not terrible! Marty’s relationship with his Uncle Red (played by Gary Busey) is expanded upon in this adaptation and is the heart of the film, which makes sense as the screenplay was written by King himself. Silver Bullet’s legacy is that it’s a fun, scary flick to watch if you’re a fan of King or just campy ’80s horror films.
39. Children of the Corn (1984)
There are something like ten Children of the Corn films, including remakes and sequels, and I just can’t imagine how this film managed to spawn such a min-franchise. While it’s definitely not the worst Stephen King adaptation – and it made money at the box office – it’s just such a pallid and thin horror film to have inspired so much more (and somehow worse) fare.
A mish-mash of Village of the Damned, Lord of the Flies, slasher movies, and folk horror, Children of the Corn isn’t uniformly terrible. Linda Hamilton is good, the town and corn fields are appropriately creepy, and Courtney Gains does a good job of making you hate him as Malachai – the child cult’s enforcer and wanna-be usurper.
Beyond that, I never really buy into the effectiveness of a cult of child religious assassins maintaining their autonomy, even in 80’s rural America. Director Fritz Kiersch never manages to make events suspenseful or the bad guys threatening. Peter Horton isn’t that believable as a heroic main character (and come on, Linda Hamilton is RIGHT THERE), the other child actors range from passable to painful, and the special effects are anything but. (That final creature animation is probably the worst thing in the film.)
Screenwriter George Goldsmith has said he views the film as an allegory about the Iranian Revolution, with religious zealots taking over a community, but I don’t think the film can bear the weight of that interpretation. It’s a slasher movie with the role of the killer being taken by a band of kids. It’s just not a very good one.
38. Carrie (2013)
A modern update to De Palma’s classic should’ve been a slam dunk. It had all the right ingredients: an up and coming actress with a ton of impressive credits under belt, a five time Oscar nominated actress playing her mother and the director of Boys Don’t Cry behind the camera. On paper, it was the perfect recipe for success but fans of the original just could not get over the fact that the lead wasn’t “ugly” enough. Even though she had consistently proven herself an immense talent, Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie White was deemed a colossal miscasting, and while I think that criticism is a bit harsh, I do agree to a certain extent. Moretz is a very pretty young lady and while the movie does it’s best to frump her up, she’s still arguably the best looking character in the movie. But if you can look past that, the performance she’s giving is fantastic. She plays meek very well and she more than hold her own against Julianne Moore who’s undeniably the best part of the film. Regardless of whether or not you think Moretz is miscast or bad, there’s no denying Moore is a force of nature in the film. She’s every bit Piper Laurie’s equal without borrowing anything from that performance. Even if the rest of the film was forgettable (which it isn’t), it’s still singlehandedly good enough to rank it this high.
37. A Good Marriage (2014)
Another King adaptation written by the man himself, A Good Marriage is based on the novella of the same name found in the 2010 collection, Full Dark, No Stars. King has admitted that A Good Marriage was inspired by serial killer Dennis Rader, aka BTK. Rader was a husband and father who attended church and was a Scout Leader… not the kind of man one would suspect of being a sadistic killer. King’s antagonist, Bob Anderson, reflects that humdrum kind of life as a married accountant who is also hiding a terrible secret. When his wife, Darcy, discovers items that belonged to Bob’s victims, she begins to piece together the monster she married.
Anthony LaPaglia is chilling as the family man/serial killer who tries to manipulate his wife into silence. I also adored Joan Allen’s performance as Darcy. No one can really say for certain what they would do in Darcy’s situation and she plays the fear, uncertainty and betrayal perfectly. I was really captivated by this film, just as I was with the novella. It’s an easy to watch psychological thriller with great performances and a rather satisfying ending – which, according to some, can be hard to come by when it comes to King.
36. In the Tall Grass (2019)
Becky, a young pregnant woman, and her brother Cal are on their way to visit family when they pull off to the side of road and hear a young child calling for help in a field of tall grass. Concerned, the siblings enter the grass to find the child and end up finding themselves in an endless loop of horror, unable to find their way out of the grass and back to safety. In the Tall Grass, written by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill, was one of the most disturbing pieces of literature I had ever read and thankfully the film doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of the story.
Since this is an adaptation of a novella, there is quite a bit added to the plot to stretch it to an acceptable runtime, but director Vincenzo Natali stays true to the atmospheric nature of source material. It’s not as chilling as the novella, but the cast is fantastic and the imagery is bound to stay with you for a while after the credits run. Source material aside, In the Tall Grass is a creepy little movie worth a watch during this time of year.
35. Cat’s Eye (1985)
I like a good horror anthology, and Cat’s Eye – featuring two King short stories and an original written just for the film – hits all the right notes. While not at the level of Creepshow or your average Amicus compendium, it manages to be entertaining and occasionally creepy. I vaguely remember being slightly disappointed in it when I first saw the film, but I don’t know what my problem was. The framing device – featuring a stray cat who wanders through the first two stories before featuring in the third – is a little weak, but it doesn’t diminish the segments themselves.
The first story, “Quitter’s Inc.” is a Tales From the Crypt throwback that could easily have been in Creepshow. It features James Woods as smoker trying to quit who finds a really, REALLY dedicated service to help him do so. The third segment involves a little girl (Drew Barrymore), the wandering cat, and a creepy little monster living in the walls. The creature design for the monster is by Carlo Rambaldi, and it’s far more effective and enjoyably gruesome than his work on Stephen King’s Silver Bullet.
For my money the second story is the best, however. An adaptation of “The Ledge,” wherein mob boss Cressner (the always great Kenneth McMillan) forces tennis pro Norris (Robert Hays) to walk the ledge around the outside of his penthouse apartment, tormenting him as he does so. Hays is a little flat, but McMillan (who will always be Baron Harkonnen to me) just has a ball with his role and really makes the segment. It’s not a high-budget film, but director Lewis Teague (Alligator, Cujo) does a great job with what he’s got. It’s definitely worth checking out if you like horror anthologies.
34. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
The one Stephen King movie not adapted from any of his previous work, and directed by the coked-up madman himself, might just be the most fun of them outside of the Running Man. Here’s the skinny: Appliances and vehicles develop sentience and a taste for human blood. That’s it. That’s all it is and all it needs to be. Want to see a push-mower go un-pushed just to decimate its victim? Want to see a semi-truck duded up with a Green Goblin mask and prowl around a dinner waiting to kill its patrons? Want to see a little league team get gunned down by an errant soda machine, tag in a steam roller to finish off a kid? Either watch this movie or ingest the same amount of cocaine and Budweiser as ’80s-era Stephen King.
33. Salem’s Lot (1979)
Novelist Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his hometown of Salem’s Lot, Maine, to research and write about the ominous Marsten House. The hilltop property has recently been purchased by the mysterious Richard Straker (James Mason) under the guise of opening an antique shop with his absent business partner Kurt Barlow. In short order, disappearances and deaths begin to plague the town — only, the dead don’t stay that way. Mears and a few of the townsfolk gather their crosses and holy water to fight back against Barlow and his fresh horde of vampire children.
I vividly remember reading Salem’s Lot when I was in college. When the sun went down, I was so creeped out that I made my roommate sit in the living room with me, all the lights on, while I read into the wee hours of the night. The movie doesn’t pack quite that same punch, but it’s still a respectable horror flick for its time and feels like a decently realistic portrayal of how a small town in Maine might handle a vampire invasion. Cheesy late ’70s special effects notwithstanding, it’s definitely worth watching at least once.
32. Secret Window (2004)
Before Johnny Depp became nothing more than a caricature in his films, he played Mort Rainey in Secret Window, a writer in the middle of a divorce and accused of plagiarism by a mysterious man named John Shooter. I remember seeing this movie in the theater, before I had actually read the novella. I think this was a good choice, as I wasn’t able to compare the two and walk away disappointed. The novella has a very different ending than the movie but I found the movie’s ending to be far scarier and far more in line with what King is usually known for. Beyond that, Secret Window sticks pretty darn close to its source material. Depp is truly superb in this movie, as is John Turturro, who plays Shooter. As the body count rises, the mystery unfolds, leading to a satisfying, chilling conclusion.
31. Creepshow 2 (1987)
Five years after the first Creepshow was a surprise hit at the box office we got Creepshow 2, with a screenplay by George Romero based on short stories by Stephen King.
I’ve only rewatched Creepshow 2 once since it was released. I didn’t like it much either time, though I do remember croaking “thanks for the ride” to friends whenever they dropped me off. Though the segments were based on existing King stories and something I wanted to see, the general quality and tone of the film was significantly different from the original and had lost most of the ‘wink wink, nudge nudge, aren’t we having fun with this horrible stuff’ aspect as well. It no longer felt like a labor of love – more like a budgetary decision.
Of the three segments (and the framing sequence), the best of the bunch is “The Raft” (which we’d call a float here in Maine) where young people are trapped on a lake by a vicious creature. Scott Smith would take the concept and expand it into a decent book (and less decent movie) with The Ruins. “The Hitch-Hiker” injects a bit of levity into the proceedings with a really determined hitchhiker. The less said of “Old Chief Woodenhead” the better.
There’s no heart in this film. While the first one had fun with the concept – lighting and framing and even the general tone of the segments – this one is simply a straightforward horror anthology dressed up with some animation. And it’s not even a particularly good anthology. I’d suggest watching “The Raft” and skipping the rest.
What are some of your favorite Stephen King adaptations? Where do you think they will rank on the list?