BuzzFeed News

Reporting To You

Arts & Entertainment

Ranking Every Stephen King Adaptation, From Worst To Best

From Carrie and The Shining to It and Gerald’s Game, here’s how all 60 Stephen King adaptations stack up.

Posted on August 24, 2018, at 2:33 p.m. ET

Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Alamy, Columbia Pictures, United Artists, Warner Bros.

There is no living author who has been adapted more than Stephen King. Throughout his prolific career, King’s novels and short stories have been turned into some of the most memorable and celebrated films of the last few decades — along with plenty of forgettable duds. Watching all of the King films — from the award-winning highs to the laughable lows — offers a compelling reflection of one of our greatest storytellers. These movies (along with several miniseries) are what introduced so many of us to King’s world and helped turn his creations into pop culture icons: Carrie White, Jack Torrance, Pennywise, Cujo.

When King spoke to BuzzFeed News, he reflected on what makes his work so adaptable. “I have a cinematic view of things,” he noted. “My first editor, when he presented Carrie, said, ‘This guy has a movie projector in his head.’” That might explain why Carrie alone has been made into a movie (not to mention a Broadway musical) three separate times. It’s easy to imagine a King story on the big screen, but as many of the entries below remind us, it’s a lot harder to get it right.

First, a few rules: In order to be included here, an adaptation had to be a film, a miniseries, or a limited series. That excluded TV series adaptations like The Dead Zone, Under the Dome, and Mr. Mercedes. Only direct adaptations of preexisting King works were considered, which ruled out original King movies and miniseries like Sleepwalkers and Storm of the Century. Also not included: short films and unofficial Bollywood adaptations. Finally, all adaptations were judged for their overall quality, not for their faithfulness to the novels and stories on which they’re based (although the write-ups acknowledge any massive diversions from the source material).

With that in mind, here’s a ranking of the Stephen King adaptations — from fascinating failures to stunning achievements.

60. Trucks (1997)

Everett Collection / Lionsgate

Directed by: Chris Thomson
Written by: Brian Taggert
Based on: “Trucks” (collected in Night Shift)

The most baffling thing about Trucks is that it’s actually the second adaptation of a Stephen King story that never should have been adapted in the first place. There is nothing frightening about sentient trucks, no matter how hard this shockingly low-budget TV movie tries to convince us otherwise. At least the other “Trucks” adaptation, the notorious Maximum Overdrive, has some camp value. Trucks just has a lot of glaring Canadian accents — despite the fact that it takes place in a small US town — and bursts of gratuitous violence. At one point, a mail carrier is brutally murdered by a toy truck relentlessly ramming into his head. That kind of absurd carnage has to be seen to be believed, but you’re better off skipping the whole thing entirely.

59. Cell (2016)

Saban Films

Directed by: Tod Williams
Written by: Stephen King and Adam Alleca
Based on: Cell

It’s kind of impressive to find a zombie film this boring. Sorry, not zombies — the rabid masses on the attack here are called “phoners,” a designation that felt silly in the novel and sounds even more ridiculous when you hear it out loud. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson star as two survivors and deliver performances that suggest they were forced to do Cell at gunpoint: Neither actor has ever looked less happy to be in a movie. With one of King’s weakest novels as source material, Cell was never going to be great, but it could have tried for dumb thrills. Instead, it trudges along with zero sense of urgency, occasionally nudging for an emotional response when the only feeling this film inspires is that everyone (including the audience) lost a bet.

58. The Mangler (1995)

Alamy / New Line Cinema

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Tobe Hooper, Stephen Brooks, and Peter Welbeck
Based on: “The Mangler” (collected in Night Shift)

Of all the crimes The Mangler commits, making Robert Englund — Freddy Krueger himself! — so unlikable might be the worst of all. He leaves no corner of ugly industrial scenery unchewed as Bill Gartley, the cartoonishly evil owner of a laundry press. If a laundry press doesn’t sound particularly scary, you should know that this one has a demon-possessed machine that occasionally mauls the employees. There are memorable moments of over-the-top gore here — the machine crushes people and folds them like sheets, which, gross — but The Mangler is nowhere near as entertaining as it ought to be. If you’re going to make a movie that also includes an evil icebox, make sure you’re in “so bad it’s good” territory and not just “so bad.”

57. Quicksilver Highway (1997)

Alamy / Anchor Bay

Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Mick Garris
Based on: “Chattery Teeth” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes); also based on “The Body Politic” (collected in Books of Blood) by Clive Barker

Frequent King collaborator Mick Garris makes his first appearance on the list with this truly bizarre made-for-TV anthology film that includes Christopher Lloyd dressed like a monk who is low-key into BDSM. The movie adapts two short stories — one by King and one by Clive Barker, neither of which makes much sense onscreen. The King half, based on “Chattery Teeth,” is an especially galling choice for an adaptation: There is no feasible way to turn the titular novelty item into anything remotely threatening. It’s chattery teeth, for god’s sake. “Does this have a moral or a point?” a character asks at one point, and no, not even slightly. The most interesting thing about Quicksilver Highway is that it has no business existing and yet, here it is.

56. Dolan's Cadillac (2009)

G2 Pictures

Directed by: Jeff Beesley
Written by: Richard Dooling
Based on: “Dolan’s Cadillac” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

Jimmy Dolan (Christian Slater) is a really bad guy. We know this because Dolan’s Cadillac repeatedly reminds us of this in a ponderous voiceover that includes lines that were surely intended as parody: “When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad and your urine burns.” This monologue is delivered by a sleepwalking Wes Bentley, who plays Tom Robinson, a teacher seeking elaborate revenge against Dolan for the murder of his wife. The revenge itself — centered, of course, on the Cadillac in question — sounded more harrowing and claustrophobic in King’s short story than it looks onscreen. By the time it finally arrives in this overly drawn-out crime drama, you wish he would just get it over with.

55. The Lawnmower Man (1992)

New Line Cinema

Directed by: Brett Leonard
Written by: Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett
Based on: “The Lawnmower Man” (collected in Night Shift)

It’s a bit of a stretch to include The Lawnmower Man on a list of King adaptations: The movie has approximately nothing to do with the short story of the same title, to the extent that King sued to have his name taken off the project. But given that the film does depict “The Shop” — the government agency from Firestarter — it’s at least tangentially a King adaptation. Still, Lawnmower Man is a disaster in its own right. This was a bad movie in 1992 and it’s a far worse movie over 25 years later. The CGI has aged horribly, as has the plot, which is basically Flowers for Algernon with virtual reality. Jeff Fahey’s portrayal of Jobe, a groundskeeper with a developmental disability, is particularly cringeworthy. At least the virtual reality sex scene provides unintentional comedy.

54. Mercy (2014)

Universal Pictures

Directed by: Peter Cornwell
Written by: Matt Greenberg
Based on: “Gramma” (collected in Skeleton Crew)

Blumhouse has produced its share of low-budget horror hits; sometimes, however, you get a low-budget horror dud. There is very little to recommend about Mercy, an instantly forgettable supernatural thriller based on a short story that had already been adapted into a far superior episode of the ’80s Twilight Zone. A fairly straightforward story about a boy learning his grandmother is a witch gets saddled with some murky mythology. Chandler Riggs, The Walking Dead’s Carl, stars. It’s not just the plot that’s hard to make out: The movie as a whole is so dimly lit that it’s often hard to get a handle on how cheap it looks. Shirley Knight deserves better. Mark Duplass deserves better. We deserve better.

53. Graveyard Shift (1990)

Alamy / Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Ralph S. Singleton
Written by: John Esposito
Based on: “Graveyard Shift” (collected in Night Shift)

Graveyard Shift has the industrial drabness and stilted plotting of The Mangler — but it’s not a career low point for Robert Englund, which is an automatic improvement. Still, that doesn’t make it good, and there are some almost equally regrettable performances. As the cruel supervisor of the textile mill, Stephen Macht adopts an accent that sounds like Maine mixed with Vincent Price. And Brad Dourif, who plays an eccentric exterminator, is in another movie entirely. Graveyard Shift is another King thriller without any thrills, and it tries to compensate with a big reveal that its flimsy creature effects can’t quite nail. On paper, a (spoiler alert!) giant rat-bat hybrid might sound scary. Here, in all its puppet glory, not so much.

52. Children of the Corn (2009)

Anchor Bay

Directed by: Donald P. Borchers
Written by: Donald P. Borchers
Based on: “Children of the Corn” (collected in Night Shift)

The original Children of the Corn isn’t exactly a sacred text, so there’s nothing wrong with going back to the source material and trying again. Unfortunately, there’s very little right with this made-for-TV adaptation, which tries for gritty and ends up uncomfortable. There’s certainly more gore than in the original, but it largely feels gratuitous — these are kids getting brutalized, after all, and upping the violence makes it that much more unpleasant. But nothing is worse than a baffling scene in which all the children gather around to watch the two eldest teens have graphic sex, intercut with a truly tacky Vietnam flashback. It’s all very awkward, and the sole adults — Burt (David Anders) and Vicky (Kandyse McClure) — are so unlikable that you’re really just waiting for the kids to sacrifice them.

51. Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Lionsgate

Directed by: Stephen King
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: “Trucks” (collected in Night Shift)

Maximum Overdrive is the only movie Stephen King ever directed — with very good reason. To be fair, the film was really codirected by Stephen King and cocaine. As quoted in the book Hollywood’s Stephen King: “The problem with [Maximum Overdrive] is that I was coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn’t know what I was doing.” In this first adaptation of “Trucks,” it’s not just trucks but all machines that come to life to wreak havoc. And so: An ATM calls a man (played by King) an asshole. A baseball coach is murdered by a vending machine hurling soda cans at him, starting with his crotch. The movie is mostly too incompetent to be fun — Yeardley Smith (voice of Lisa Simpson) delivers one of the most abrasive performances ever committed to screen — but the AC/DC score is pretty great.

50. Sometimes They Come Back (1991)

MGM

Directed by: Tom McLoughlin
Written by: Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal
Based on: “Sometimes They Come Back” (collected in Night Shift)

High school teacher Jim Norman (Tim Matheson) returns to his hometown and is haunted by the ghosts of the gang of greasers who murdered his brother Wayne (Chris Demetral) back in 1963. That’s…about it. Sometimes They Come Back is a straightforward story down to the on-the-nose title, but it treats its plot like a deeply compelling mystery. We know the rowdy teenagers transferring to Jim’s class are the undead greasers — they’re played by the same actors, and they’re way too pale to be living — but the reveal that they actually transferred from the local cemetery is treated like a major twist. There’s no disguising how unimpressive this TV movie is, from the T-Bird reject zombies to the maudlin ending featuring the ghost of Wayne reappearing in a glowing orb to save the day.

49. Carrie (2002)

MGM

Directed by: David Carson
Written by: Bryan Fuller
Based on: Carrie

If you’re going to do Carrie again after Brian De Palma’s 1976 classic, you have to make sure you’re bringing something new to the table. And for the most part, the 2002 TV movie version is a pretty simple retread. Sure, there are some updates for the time period, but did we really need a She’s All That reference? In order to work, Carrie has to nail its prom massacre climax, and this one is a major disappointment, marred by bad staging and even worse effects. It’s what happens next, however, that really dooms this version: In the biggest departure from the novel, Carrie (Angela Bettis) survives and goes on the run with Sue Snell (Kandyse McClure). Why? Because this Carrie was intended as a backdoor pilot for a series about the duo helping other young people with telekinetic powers. Pass.

48. Riding the Bullet (2004)

Alamy / Lionsgate

Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Mick Garris
Based on: Riding the Bullet

In case you had any confusion over when Riding the Bullet is set, the film begins with “Time of the Season,” footage of protests, and a title card establishing that it’s 1969. That ends up being the most subtle thing about this movie, a feature-length adaptation of one of King’s flimsier novellas. King was clearly concerned with mortality when he wrote Riding the Bullet — it was written shortly after he was hit by a car and nearly killed — and that fixation runs throughout the movie. But Mick Garris can’t ever get the tone right, so moments of sentimentality are interspersed with campy fantasy cutaway scenes that feel like obvious padding and give the film an unfortunate Family Guy vibe. As for the horror, the biggest jump scare belongs to a bunny.

47. Desperation (2006)

Touchstone Pictures

Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Desperation

Desperation has a solid cast — including Ron Perlman as possessed sheriff Collie Entragian — and a script by King that attempts to condense his somewhat convoluted novel into a coherent three-hour miniseries. Unfortunately, there was probably no good way to streamline the complex mythology and heady theological debates of Desperation into something digestible. At the risk of damning it with faint praise, there are some creepy makeup effects and harrowing images that keep Desperation watchable. But it’s mostly just silly and hard to follow. The ending — in which the evil spirit Tak possesses a crow and Tom Skerritt sacrifices himself after invoking Adam Sandler and Ann Coulter — is not good, nor is the coda that reminds us God was love all along.

46. The Dark Tower (2017)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Nikolaj Arcel
Based on: The Dark Tower series

Fans of The Dark Tower — King’s epic fantasy series — had been waiting years for a proper adaptation of books that have been called unfilmable. It’s true that translating these epic novels to the screen is no easy feat, but that still doesn’t account for all the misguided choices on display in the movie we got. Rather than adapt The Gunslinger or any of its sequels, The Dark Tower is a baffling hodgepodge of ideas from all seven novels in the original series. Idris Elba is well cast as gunslinger Roland Deschain, but the characterization is all off: This softer Roland would never dream of letting Jake (Tom Taylor) fall to his death. As for Matthew McConaughey’s Walter, the less said, the better. Fidelity to the source material aside, The Dark Tower is dull and clunky, somehow both underwritten and overstuffed.

45. Secret Window (2004)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: David Koepp
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: “Secret Window, Secret Garden” (collected in Four Past Midnight)

Secret Window was never any good, but your current feelings on Johnny Depp are liable to taint it further: He’s largely unpleasant as Mort Rainey, a writer who gets accused of plagiarism by an eccentric man named John Shooter (John Turturro). Secret Window rests on a twist that might have been less obvious pre–Fight Club: Shooter is a figment of Mort’s imagination. The name “Shooter” reflects Mort’s secret desire to “shoot her” — her being his estranged wife, Amy (Maria Bello). Somehow the latter reveal is delivered with a straight face. If you’re upset about the spoiler, consider that the movie never does a particularly good job keeping it under wraps: Mort attacking his own reflection in the mirror is Secret Window’s idea of subtle.

44. The Shining (1997)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: The Shining

One of King’s many issues with the classic Stanley Kubrick adaptation of The Shining is that you could tell Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance was a homicidal psychopath from the get-go. In this much more faithful adaptation, penned by King and directed (naturally) by Mick Garris, Steven Weber plays Jack as a more sympathetic character — it’s the Overlook Hotel that’s the real villain. Unfortunately, that’s just not as interesting to watch, and it doesn’t really account for the toxic misogyny and violent behavior that seem endemic to Jack, haunted hotel or not. Beyond that, this Shining is a slog: It’s way too long (over 4.5 hours, sans commercials), the acting is a mixed bag (Courtland Mead’s Danny Torrance is especially rough), and none of the imagery comes close to anything in the Kubrick version (unless you find hedge animals to be terrifying).

43. Children of the Corn (1984)

Image Entertainment

Directed by: Fritz Kiersch
Written by: George Goldsmith
Based on: “Children of the Corn” (collected in Night Shift)

The original Children of the Corn is considered a classic by some, presumably because they’ve never seen it. Outside of an incredible opening scene in which the children of Gatlin, Nebraska, murder all the adults — you’ll never look at a deli slicer the same way again! — there’s not much to recommend here. John Franklin is suitably creepy as Isaac, the pious leader of the children, but it’s still hard to take any of this seriously. The over-the-top climax, which has Burt (Peter Horton) attacked by…corn, suggests that this movie could have been campy fun. Instead, it’s weirdly earnest, including a happy ending that rings false even if you don’t know how the original story ends. Even the presence of a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton as Vicky can’t save this.

42. The Tommyknockers (1993)

ABC

Directed by: John Power
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen
Based on: The Tommyknockers

It’s not saying much to note that the miniseries adaptation of The Tommyknockers is better than the book: King’s novel is one of his least favorite, a bloated sci-fi mess whose length the author attributes to his cocaine addiction. The miniseries is, at least, shorter — though, at three hours, still not short enough — and has some solid performances, particularly Marg Helgenberger as Western writer Bobbi Anderson and Jimmy Smits as her boyfriend Gard, a poet and recovering alcoholic. Still, The Tommyknockers takes itself too seriously; it works best when it leans into the absurdity, as when Nancy (played by former porn star Traci Lords) turns her lipstick into a disintegration ray. On the whole, the miniseries is not good, but it’s mostly harmless.

41. Needful Things (1993)

Alamy / Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Fraser C. Heston
Written by: W.D. Richter
Based on: Needful Things

Like the novel, Needful Things is a tragedy of squandered potential. Both versions of the story concern an escalation of conflict culminating in an explosive climax of violence...that ends up feeling totally underwhelming. Max von Sydow is a brilliant choice to play Leland Gaunt, a man who may or may not be the devil, and there’s some fun in watching him manipulate the residents of Castle Rock into destroying each other. But for the most part, Needful Things is just ugly, and the increasing brutality becomes tough to take after a while. At one point, a fragile woman’s beloved dog is skinned and left for her to find — it’s a lot! Some of that could be forgiven if the rushed and overwrought ending didn’t fall so flat, rendering everything that came before it a big waste.

40. Salem's Lot (2004)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Peter Filardi
Based on: Salem’s Lot

For those who are really attached to the original Salem’s Lot miniseries — bless their hearts — the hip new version probably felt like sacrilege. In reality, it’s unnecessary but not a total disaster. The story is pretty much the same — vampires overrun the town of Jerusalem’s Lot — but now it’s the early 2000s. This Salem’s Lot is edgy, or at least it tries very hard to be, which is why Rob Lowe’s Ben Mears gets to wear a leather jacket. While the miniseries earns points for trying to distinguish itself from the 1979 adaptation, most of the updates don’t make it any scarier or more compelling. The scene of Floyd Tibbits (Todd MacDonald) using his new vampire powers to crawl through a ventilation shaft is one of the few moments of genuine terror.

39. A Good Marriage (2014)

Screen Media Films

Directed by: Peter Askin
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: A Good Marriage (collected in Full Dark, No Stars)

With a lead performance from the always great Joan Allen, A Good Marriage should be so much better than it is. Alas, there’s not much she can do with one of King’s weaker screenplays. Allen plays Darcy, who discovers that her beloved husband, Bob (Anthony LaPaglia), is a serial killer. Darcy pretends to be OK with it — and Bob believes her, which requires a real suspension of disbelief — while secretly plotting to take the law into her own hands. The problem is we never see any of that planning, which means the film just drags along, with little suspense or tension, until a sudden burst of violence that lands with a shrug. The strength of the actors involved is the only thing keeping A Good Marriage from a much lower spot on this list.

38. Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (2006)

TNT

Directed by: Brian Henson (“Battleground”); Mark Haber (“Crouch End”); Rob Bowman (“Umney’s Last Case,” “The Fifth Quarter”); Mikael Salomon (“The End of the Whole Mess,” “Autopsy Room Four”); Sergio Mimica-Gezzan (“The Road Virus Heads North”); and Mike Robe (“You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”)
Written by: Richard Christian Matheson (“Battleground”); Kim LeMasters (“Crouch End”); April Smith (“Umney’s Last Case,” “Autopsy Room Four”); Lawrence D. Cohen (“The End of the Whole Mess”); Peter Filardi (“The Road Virus Heads North”); Alan Sharp (“The Fifth Quarter”); and Mike Robe (“You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”)
Based on: “Battleground” (collected in Night Shift); “Crouch End” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes); “Umney’s Last Case” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes); “The End of the Whole Mess” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes); “The Road Virus Heads North” (collected in Everything’s Eventual); “The Fifth Quarter” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes); “Autopsy Room Four” (collected in Everything’s Eventual); and “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

Like the stories on which it’s based, TNT’s limited series is hit or miss. The highs are high: “Battleground,” a dialogue-free episode in which an assassin (William Hurt) faces off against toy soldiers, is surprisingly artful. And “Autopsy Room Four,” about a catatonic man (Richard Thomas) forced to endure his own autopsy, is tense and funny — despite the difficulty in adapting a story that takes place largely in the main character’s head. But the lows — oh, the lows. Most of these episodes are mediocre, with a couple that are truly terrible: “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band” is easily the worst, unless you find Elvis and Janis Joplin impersonators to be frightening. Watch “Battleground,” “Autopsy Room Four,” and “Umney’s Last Case.” Skip the rest.

37. The Langoliers (1995)

Alamy / Spelling Entertainment

Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Tom Holland
Based on: “The Langoliers” (collected in Four Past Midnight)

No miniseries that ends with a freeze-frame of the characters laughing can possibly be good. And The Langoliers isn’t “good” — but it’s occasionally amazing in the way that only ’90s cheese can be. Everything about this miniseries is so of its time, from the egregiously shitty CGI to the presence of Bronson Pinchot (delivering an impressively deranged performance). To be fair, the story is actually quite compelling: A group of people on a plane wake up to discover all the other passengers (and the pilot) have vanished into thin air. The more we learn about what happened — along with the reveal of the titular Langoliers — the sillier things get. But The Langoliers is at least moderately entertaining. And honestly, that freeze-frame is iconic.

36. Thinner (1996)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Tom Holland
Written by: Michael McDowell and Tom Holland
Based on: Thinner

Thinner is a nasty, mean little movie — and at times that works in its favor. Lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke, in a laughably unconvincing fat suit) accidentally hits and kills an old Roma woman with his car, and worms his way out of justice. As revenge, the woman’s 106-year-old father (Michael Constantine) curses Billy to rapidly lose weight until he wastes away. There are some great moments of body horror as Billy is transformed into a skeletal version of himself, and Thinner has a dark sense of humor that helps elevate it past its ludicrous concept. But the movie’s relentless cruelty is ultimately exhausting, and its cartoonish portrayal of the Roma people — called “gypsies” here and played largely by white actors — is shameful.

35. Creepshow 2 (1987)

Image Entertainment

Directed by: Michael Gornick
Written by: George A. Romero
Based on: “The Raft” (collected in Skeleton Crew)

The first Creepshow was directed by George A. Romero and written by Stephen King, which proved to be a winning combination. The sequel, written by Romero and directed by Michael Gornick, is a major step down. That’s not to say it’s not occasionally amusing. The highlight is “The Raft,” the only one of the three segments based on a King story: Four college students are terrorized by a floating black blob that looks like an oil slick and melts off human skin. It’s not particularly smart, but it’s impressively gross, and sometimes that’s enough. Creepshow 2 as a whole, however, hasn’t aged well: “The Raft” includes a completely unnecessary scene of sexual assault, and the depiction of Native Americans in “Old Chief Wood’nhead” is archaic, to say the least.

34. The Stand (1994)

Spelling Entertainment

Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: The Stand

It’s kind of incredible that The Stand — King’s epic novel about a postapocalyptic battle between good and evil — got such a coherent adaptation. That doesn’t mean this miniseries is good, but all things considered, its competence is impressive. And while that’s a low bar, The Stand has its moments. The first episode, which depicts a virulent flu decimating the human population, is the strongest: The outbreak is appropriately terrifying, and the character introductions are efficient yet compelling. But the miniseries falters where the book does — a meandering middle section in which King seems to run out of steam and starts killing people off. That’s followed by an even worse ending featuring the most flagrant deus ex machina imaginable: the literal hand of God descending to save the day.

33. The Night Flier (1997)

New Line Cinema

Directed by: Mark Pavia
Written by: Mark Pavia and Jack O’Donnell
Based on: “The Night Flier” (collected in Nightmares & Dreamscapes)

The late Miguel Ferrer stars as Richard Dees, a craven tabloid reporter. He’s instantly unlikable, which makes him a tough character to root for. That’s part of the appeal of The Night Flier: The film has a mean streak that keeps things interesting, even as the story — about Dees tracking a serial killer who might be a vampire — meanders. The reporting aspects of the plot are never all that compelling, mostly because we know the elusive Dwight Renfield (Michael H. Moss) is a vampire well before Dees does. But the movie’s unmistakable cynicism — the absence of a hero to face off against evil — is refreshing. If you don’t mind that The Night Flier doesn’t have much more going for it, aside from some notable creature effects and gore, it’s a fun time.

32. Bag of Bones (2011)

A&E

Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Matt Venne
Based on: Bag of Bones

Of all the Mick Garris–directed adaptations, Bag of Bones is the standout. It’s more polished and sharply plotted than any of his other attempts, with a strong cast led by Pierce Brosnan as Mike Noonan, a writer haunted (quite literally) after the death of his wife, Jo (Annabeth Gish). But it’s still not great! Garris continues to struggle with tone, so we get a somber depiction of a man in mourning alongside the cartoonish Max (William Schallert) and Rogette (Deborah Grover). And while the central ghost story is compelling, the reveal — which rests on rape and racial violence — is uncomfortable. Bag of Bones lacks the nuance to portray these horrific acts with the necessary sensitivity. Despite good intentions, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

31. Hearts in Atlantis (2001)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: Scott Hicks
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: Low Men in Yellow Coats (collected in Hearts in Atlantis)

Like Stand by Me, Hearts in Atlantis is a story told by a grown man reflecting on his past after the death of a childhood friend. Both films are aggressively nostalgic for a bygone era, but Hearts in Atlantis has far less to say and skews more toward maudlin sentimentality. What grounds the movie is its exceptional cast: These actors take the mostly mediocre material and enrich it with emotional honesty. As Ted Brautigan, a mysterious man on the run, and Bobby Garfield, the neglected young boy he befriends, Anthony Hopkins and Anton Yelchin deliver strong performances that are frankly better than the script deserves. It doesn’t amount to much, but it’s deeply poignant — all the more so as a reminder of what a talent the late Yelchin was.

30. Salem's Lot (1979)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: ’Salem’s Lot

If you watched Salem’s Lot as a kid, chances are it founds its way into your nightmares. The image of young vampire Ralphie (Ronnie Scribner) floating outside the window is genuinely terrifying, and a major reason why this miniseries is so fondly remembered. The other reason: the Nosferatu-inspired makeup on Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nalder), transformed from his normal human appearance in the novel to something more traditionally monstrous. Yes, Salem’s Lot has scary moments — especially for a late-’70s TV adaptation for CBS — but the miniseries as a whole is pretty damn boring. The pacing is all off: The action doesn’t really pick up until a full two hours into its three-hour runtime, and at that point it’s hard to care much if the vampires completely take over the town.

29. Firestarter (1984)

Universal Pictures

Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Stanley Mann
Based on: Firestarter

In terms of plot, Firestarter is a lot like Carrie. Here, again, is a girl with latent supernatural powers: Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore) can set fires with her mind. Throughout the film, she learns to harness her abilities, and in the dramatic climax, she uses them against her enemies. Comparing Firestarter to Carrie, however, just exposes the weaknesses of the former: When it comes to quality, there’s a big difference. But if you’re looking for dumb ’80s cheese, you could do worse. The Tangerine Dream score is a blast, and while Barrymore wasn’t the strongest actor at 8, her screen presence is captivating. Really it’s all about the film’s fiery conclusion. The middle chunk of Firestarter might be a slog, but watching Charlie set everything ablaze is almost enough to make you forget that.

28. Big Driver (2014)

Lifetime

Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Written by: Richard Christian Matheson
Based on: Big Driver (collected in Full Dark, No Stars)

Your tolerance for Big Driver depends on how you feel about rape-revenge films: This TV movie is a fairly straightforward retread of the contentious genre. Maria Bello stars as cozy mystery writer Tess Thorne, who is brutally raped and left for dead, and then decides to seek violent retribution against her attacker. Big Driver is an oddity, combining its deeply unpleasant subject matter and graphic sexual violence with an occasionally jaunty tone (the movie aired on Lifetime, and it shows) and a disconcerting sense of whimsy (Olympia Dukakis plays Doreen, one of Tess’s characters come to life). And yet, thanks to the standout cast — Bello is great, and Ann Dowd delivers a twisted performance that reminds you to never trust Ann Dowd characters — it’s worth a watch.

27. The Green Mile (1999)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on: The Green Mile

In The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont showcases the stark realities of prison, from abuse by guards to rape by fellow inmates. In The Green Mile, he depicts prison as a Hallmark card. That’s a little unfair — there is certainly horror throughout the latter film, particularly in a gruesome botched execution — but The Green Mile as a whole is overwhelmingly saccharine, and Tom Hanks plays the nicest prison guard ever. That having been said: You will cry. Of course you will cry. Sweet, simple John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), who has the power to heal with his touch, is falsely accused of the rape and murder of two white girls. It’s infuriating. And when he asks to forgo the black hood at his execution because he’s afraid of the dark, it’s heartbreaking.

26. Dreamcatcher (2003)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Written by: William Goldman and Lawrence Kasdan
Based on: Dreamcatcher

Dreamcatcher gets more hate than it deserves, probably because it should be so much better than it is. It has a screenplay by William Goldman, who wrote the far superior King adaptation Misery, and Lawrence Kasdan, who cowrote The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. To be fair, they were adapting one of King’s lesser novels: When you remember that King was high on painkillers, you can kind of forgive the shit-weasels, the invading alien species that emerges from people’s asses. And yes, there’s yet another King character who has a developmental disability and magic powers, Donnie Wahlberg’s Duddits. But Dreamcatcher is actually pretty fun, with a strong cast, including King standby Thomas Jane, and some terrifying visuals. Also: shit-weasels.

25. Cat's Eye (1985)

MGM

Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: “Quitters, Inc.” (collected in Night Shift); “The Ledge” (collected in Night Shift)

Who is Cat’s Eye for? This anthology film is all over the place: The segments are linked by the titular cat, and there’s a darkly comedic tone that runs throughout, but that’s about all the consistency the movie has to offer. It’s hard to comprehend that “Quitters, Inc.” — a nasty story about a smoker (James Woods) trying to quit by any means necessary — and “General” — a fairy tale about a cat protecting a young girl (Drew Barrymore) from a troll — are part of the same movie. But hey, it was the ’80s. If you can get past the erratic nature of Cat’s Eye, or even lean into it, there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly in the lunacy of that final segment and the tiny troll at its center. It’s silly, but at least it knows that.

24. Silver Bullet (1985)

Alamy / Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Daniel Attias
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Cycle of the Werewolf

Werewolf movies are hard to get right, and Silver Bullet suffers from the familiar plight of unconvincing makeup effects. It’s easy to overlook, though. When you’ve got ’80s icon Corey Haim as your hero and Gary Busey as his eccentric uncle Red, it doesn’t really matter how fake the werewolf looks. It’s not just the cast, though: Silver Bullet is really entertaining. Tonally, it has a lot in common with The Goonies or The Monster Squad, but it’s (slightly) more grown-up and substantially gorier. It makes sense that one of King’s least known works would be adapted into a movie that’s largely been forgotten. As a werewolf movie, Silver Bullet is easy enough to dismiss, but as a time capsule of the decade, it is perfect.

23. The Dark Half (1993)

Alamy / MGM

Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Based on: The Dark Half

In George A. Romero’s straightforward adaptation of King’s novel, Timothy Hutton plays writer Thad Beaumont and his evil alter ego George Stark, Thad’s pen name come to life. It’s a fun concept — King was inspired by his own pseudonym, Richard Bachman, which he used for darker works — and Hutton does a great job at playing two sides of the same coin. If there’s a major complaint to be made against The Dark Half, it’s that Romero doesn’t bring much of his own distinctive flourishes to the film. It’s a competent adaptation that feels a bit too restrained. In contrast to most King films, the highlight is the ending: Stark is brutally torn apart by a flock of sparrows, and the ghastly sequence reminds us that Romero has an eye for artful gore.

22. Tales From the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: John Harrison
Written by: Michael McDowell (“Lot 249” and “Lover’s Vow”) and George A. Romero (“Cat From Hell”)
Based on: “The Cat From Hell” (collected in Just After Sunset); also based on “Lot No. 249” by Arthur Conan Doyle

Only one segment of this anthology feature belongs to Stephen King: the George A. Romero–penned adaptation of “The Cat From Hell,” in which an old man (William Hickey) hires an assassin named Halston (David Johansen) to get rid of a cat he’s convinced will kill him. The segment was originally going to be part of Creepshow 2, and it certainly has that feel, down to the shocking moment of comic book violence at the end, in which the cat emerges from Halston’s mouth. King aside, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie has plenty to offer. “Lover’s Vow” is the strongest segment, but “Lot 249” features a young Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and Christian Slater, and the wraparound story stars Deborah Harry (Blondie!) as a suburban witch.

21. It (1990)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace and Lawrence D. Cohen
Based on: It

Much like Salem’s Lot, if you saw It as a kid, the miniseries likely scarred you for life. Watching it for the first time as an adult may inspire a more muted reaction: Was this ever really scary? Well, yes and no. The best thing about the original It miniseries — and the only thing it has going for it over the later film adaptation — is Tim Curry as Pennywise. He’s perfectly cast, and the character design, which is more subtle and less overtly monstrous than the 2017 iteration, is nightmare fodder. The rest of the acting, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Not to mention the fact that — because this aired on ABC in 1990 — it’s really a lot tamer than it should be. Still, for Pennywise alone, It has earned its place in pop culture history. Just try not to think about the terrible effects on that giant spider at the end.

20. Carrie (2013)

Sony Pictures Releasing

Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Based on: Carrie

So it’s come to this: another Carrie. The 2013 adaptation never really justifies its existence: As with the TV movie version, it’s too close to the original, with some eyerollworthy updates (Carrie is humiliated via viral video this time). But hey, the cast is good! Chloë Moretz isn’t all that believable as a homely outcast, but she portrays Carrie’s isolation and rage well, and Julianne Moore’s intensity as a self-harming Margaret White is harrowing. As for the bloodbath, it’s a little too reliant on CGI — including lots of slow motion — but it’s suitably brutal. Poor Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) dies as soon as the bucket hits his head! Look, this Carrie is the live-action Disney remake of King adaptations: It’s inessential, but it’s pretty.

19. Apt Pupil (1998)

TriStar Pictures

Directed by: Bryan Singer
Written by: Brandon Boyce
Based on: Apt Pupil (collected in Different Seasons)

It’s hard to view Apt Pupil objectively, as controversy has followed the film since before it even hit theaters. What the movie asks of its 14-year-old star, Brad Renfro — and the way the camera lingers on his body — is uncomfortable. The film as a whole is hard to watch: High school student Todd Bowden (Renfro) learns his neighbor Arthur Denker (Ian McKellen) is actually a Nazi named Kurt Dussander and blackmails him into revealing gruesome details about his past atrocities. But as dark and unpleasant as Apt Pupil is, it features two undeniably great performances — Renfro and McKellen play off each other so well. And, for better or worse, it gets under your skin. Apt Pupil is the kind of movie you watch once and never again, assuming you can make it through even one viewing.

18. 1408 (2007)

Dimension Films

Directed by: Mikael Håfström
Written by: Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski
Based on: “1408” (collected in Everything’s Eventual)

Honestly, 1408 has no right to be as entertaining as it is: King’s claustrophobic short story about a haunted hotel room doesn’t exactly scream feature film adaptation. And yet, 1408 is sharp and largely effective, precisely because it keeps itself confined. The action takes place almost entirely in the titular room — and in the troubled mind of writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack). The banality of that room, which doesn’t look particularly creepy when we first see it, somehow makes it all the more unsettling. As Mike’s night spirals into chaos, 1408 gets a little too carried away with flashy special effects that ultimately undermine the horror. But when it keeps its focus on subtler scares and Mike’s paranoia, it’s gripping and effective.

17. The Running Man (1987)

TriStar Pictures

Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: The Running Man

Before The Hunger Games, there was The Running Man. In this loose adaptation of King’s novel — published under the Richard Bachman pseudonym — Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, the unwitting participant in a reality competition to the death. The year is 2017, the economy has collapsed, and the US is a police state, but hey, television is really entertaining. The Running Man has a lot of big ideas, but it’s also a cheesy ’80s action movie that shoehorns in an “I’ll be back,” features Jesse Ventura as a character named Captain Freedom, and gets former Family Feud host Richard Dawson to essentially play a sadistic version of himself. The film wavers between absurdity and uncomfortable prescience, and it’s quite a ride throughout.

16. 1922 (2017)

Netflix

Directed by: Zak Hilditch
Written by: Zak Hilditch
Based on: 1922 (collected in Full Dark, No Stars)

You have to be patient with 1922: This is slow-burn horror, and while the deliberate pacing is mostly a point in its favor, it can feel a bit drawn out at times. Thomas Jane’s Wilf James decides to kill his wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), and coerces his son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), to help. Murder isn’t clean, and 1922 does a striking job of depicting how nasty and ugly the act is, as well as the aftermath — not just the immediate cleanup, but the destruction it wreaks on the family. Jane is more restrained than usual as James, a man of few words who nonetheless narrates the story, though he’s compelling if not sympathetic. And Zak Hilditch has an eye for strong visuals: There are gorgeous shots throughout, as well as some supremely disturbing imagery, as rats begin to follow Wilf everywhere.

15. The Dead Zone (1983)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: Jeffrey Boam
Based on: The Dead Zone

After watching The Dead Zone, you can understand why this story made sense as a TV series. The film is oddly episodic, with Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) awakening from a coma with newfound psychic abilities and using them to try to change the future. As such, The Dead Zone is a little uneven, but at its best, it works well enough to smooth itself out. Serial killer Frank Dodd (Nicholas Campbell) is terrifying, but nothing compares to Martin Sheen’s Greg Stillson. As in Firestarter, Sheen proves that he can play the scariest villain of all — the one who’s so charming no one around him notices his barely concealed darkness. The final confrontation between Johnny and Stillson makes for a bittersweet but satisfying ending, one of the best in any King adaptation.

14. Pet Sematary (1989)

Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Pet Sematary

In terms of overall quality, Pet Sematary isn’t the strongest King adaptation — but it’s quite possibly the scariest. It’s hard to shake the image of the dead Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist) appearing next to the bed, a chunk of his skull missing. And Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek) is the stuff of nightmares. These moments of horror make up for the fact that Pet Sematary is occasionally clunky with a somewhat uneven tone. It’s a pretty straightforward cautionary tale: Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) learns the ancient burial ground behind his home can bring animals back from the dead, then makes a terrible choice when his son, Gage (Miko Hughes), is killed. But more than the plot, what we remember about Pet Sematary are the grisly scares — like a scalpel to the Achilles tendon.

13. 11.22.63 (2016)

Hulu

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald (“The Rabbit Hole”); Frederick E.O. Toye (“The Kill Floor,” “The Eyes of Texas”); James Strong (“Other Voices, Other Rooms,” “The Day in Question”); James Franco (“The Truth”); John David Coles (“Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald”); and James Kent (“Soldier Boy”)
Written by: Bridget Carpenter (“The Rabbit Hole,” “Happy Birthday, Lee Harvey Oswald,” “Soldier Boy,” “The Day in Question”); Quinton Peeples (“The Kill Floor,” “The Eyes of Texas,” “Soldier Boy”); Brian Nelson (“Other Voices, Other Rooms”); Brigitte Hales (“The Eyes of Texas”); and Joe Henderson (“The Truth”)
Based on: 11/22/63

Hulu’s limited series adaptation of King’s time travel novel came and went without much fanfare, a consequence of living in the era of peak TV. That’s unfortunate, because the series is actually quite good. Jake Epping (James Franco) is an English teacher who gets recruited to travel back in time to 1960 and prevent the Kennedy assassination from happening. It’s a high-concept story, but the eight-episode length allows the story to proceed at a leisurely pace, with plenty of quieter character scenes alongside bursts of tension and violence. Franco does some of his best work playing a character who is more charm than flash. Jake’s romance with Sadie (Sarah Gadon) ends up being just as captivating as his attempt to thwart Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber).

12. Creepshow (1982)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: “Weeds,” “The Crate”

The first King anthology film — and the first George A. Romero adaptation of his work — remains the best. Creepshow is just a good time: a series of twisted tales with all the dark humor, garish colors, and over-the-top violence as the EC comics it was inspired by, Tales From the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, and The Vault of Horror. As is the case with any anthology film, some segments are better than others, and there are five here, which is probably at least one too many. “Something to Tide You Over” might be the most fun, featuring Leslie Nielsen playing against type as a rich psychopath, but “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” — one of two segments based on a King story — is both goofy and surprisingly sad. It’s King’s largest role to date: He plays the doomed protagonist who touches a meteorite and sprouts weeds.

11. It (2017)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, and Gary Dauberman
Based on: It

If we’re in a new golden age of Stephen King movies, It is the film that gets most of the credit. And deservingly so! It is a sleek, well-constructed adaptation of one of King’s most unwieldy novels — and one that had already been adapted into an iconic (albeit deeply flawed) miniseries. With an R rating and no ABC censors to deal with, the 2017 It doesn’t shy away from depicting kids in real peril; that makes it both truer to the novel, and a much more harrowing viewing experience. Still, there are some major CGI missteps that keep the film from being truly terrifying. It works best when it’s a coming-of-age movie — it feels like a worthy successor to Stand by Me in that way. That’s a credit to the script, which smartly adapts only the half of the novel with the Losers’ Club as kids, but also to the exceptional cast of child actors.

10. Christine (1983)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Phillips
Based on: Christine

Yes, Christine is about an evil car, but unlike the homicidal trucks of Maximum Overdrive, the titular Plymouth Fury feels like a real character. You can’t exactly justify the seemingly romantic attachment Arnie (Keith Gordon) has to her — but you also kind of get it. And that’s why the movie works as well as it does: John Carpenter takes this ludicrous concept and plays it straight. That’s not to say it isn’t often campy — this is a movie in which a possessed car somehow makes a girl (Alexandra Paul) nearly choke to death on a hamburger. But Christine takes its characters seriously, particularly Arnie, whose transition from hapless loser to ’50s greaser is as thrilling as anything that happens with Christine. Like most teen movies, Christine is ultimately about sacrificing one’s soul for the sake of fitting in.

9. Gerald's Game (2017)

Alamy / Netflix

Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard
Based on: Gerald’s Game

So many of the best King adaptations are the ones that shouldn’t work, and Gerald’s Game may be chief among them. The setup here is simple: Jessie (Carla Gugino) is handcuffed to the bed in a remote cabin when her husband, Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), has a heart attack and dies. Stranded where no one can hear her screams, Jessie has to escape before she starves to death — or worse. It’s an intriguing concept albeit one that’s fairly challenging to dramatize, and Mike Flanagan pulls it off. Gugino is fabulous as Jessie, both the version of herself trapped to the bed and the one that she imagines to help her out of her predicament. Watching her struggle is a visceral experience — culminating in a horrific act of violence you’d be hard-pressed to watch without screaming. It’s painful, but it’s also cathartic.

8. The Mist (2007)

Alamy / MGM

Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on: The Mist (collected in Skeleton Crew)

The Mist is ostensibly about a mist that descends on a town and the monsters within it, but it’s really about the monsters in the town. Like so many of King’s best works, it’s a story of mob violence and simmering tensions. The Mist is relentlessly cynical, with one of the bleakest endings of all time. When the film came out, it was a product of the Bush era: Marcia Gay Harden’s Mrs. Carmody is the perfect embodiment of the family values voter, which is why she’s more terrifying than anything that emerges from the mist. In fact, if there is a weak point to the film, it’s the literal monsters, more disappointing CGI creations — why do they always have to look so fake? These creatures are nowhere near as memorable as the human adversaries or the brutal final shot as David (Thomas Jane) realizes what he’s done.

7. Cujo (1983)

Alamy / Warner Bros.

Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: Don Carlos Dunaway and Lauren Currier
Based on: Cujo

A rabid St. Bernard. A hot car. A desperate mother (Dee Wallace) and her young son (Danny Pintauro) trapped inside. There’s not much more to Cujo. Sure, there’s some drama at home, and maybe this is all a metaphor for the collapse of the American family — but also, maybe it’s not that deep and that’s OK! King confessed in On Writing that he wrote the novel Cujo on a cocaine binge, and the movie has an equally frenetic feel. But because Wallace is so good as Donna Trenton, a woman who will protect her kid at all costs, and because Cujo is such a terrifying adversary, it’s a thrilling movie whether or not it has anything profound to say. Tad, the son, doesn’t survive in the novel, but he makes it through in the film. After seeing what Donna endures, it’s a relief that he does.

6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Frank Darabont
Written by: Frank Darabont
Based on: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (collected in Different Seasons)

At this point, The Shawshank Redemption is such a classic — such a universally beloved movie — that it’s easy to overlook what a stunning achievement it is. Morgan Freeman narrates (the three most beautiful words in the English language) as Red, an inmate at Shawshank State Penitentiary. There, he befriends Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who has been falsely accused of murdering his wife. As in The Green Mile, Frank Darabont’s other adaptation of a King work set in a prison, The Shawshank Redemption sometimes leans too hard into sentimentality. But it feels more earned here, so that when Andy does make his escape — burrowing a hole behind a poster of Rita Hayworth and crawling through literal shit toward his freedom — it’s immensely satisfying. The reunion of the two friends on the beach at the end is a tearjerker for the ages.

5. Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Taylor Hackford
Written by: Tony Gilroy
Based on: Dolores Claiborne

Kathy Bates is so memorable in Misery that her performance in Dolores Claiborne is too often overlooked. That’s a pity, because the latter is also some of her finest work. She has a searing intensity (and a believable Maine accent) as Dolores, a woman who may have killed her employer, Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt) — and her husband, Joe (David Strathairn), many years before. The rest of the cast is phenomenal: Jennifer Jason Leigh is especially compelling as Dolores’s daughter, Selena. And the story is one of King’s most gripping mysteries, beautifully adapted by Tony Gilroy. King is not exactly lauded for his strong female characters, with some notable exceptions, but Dolores Claiborne is a powerful statement on women as survivors in what Vera aptly calls a “depressingly masculine world.”

4. Carrie (1976)

United Artists

Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen
Based on: Carrie

The first adaptation of a King novel is one of the greatest horror films ever made — that’s a high bar, and one few of the subsequent adaptations could match. In this case, the credit largely belongs to Brian De Palma, who created such indelible images — including the opening scene, in which Carrie’s sensual shower turns to horror when she gets her first period — that the later iterations of Carrie couldn’t help but mimic them. No one has come close to what Sissy Spacek does here. It’s all in the eyes: the fear and confusion when she discovers that she’s bleeding, and the vacant stare when she unleashes her wrath on her tormentors. High school is hell, and De Palma makes sure that every shot and musical sting conveys that, culminating in the garish red light of the massacre at prom. Oh, and that final jump scare? You’ll still scream.

3. Stand by Me (1986)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Rob Reiner
Written by: Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans
Based on: The Body (collected in Different Seasons)

As in It, which owes a clear debt to Stand by Me, the strength of this coming-of-age story has a lot to do with assembling a cast of terrific child actors — which is no small feat! Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell are each pitch perfect in their roles. They also really feel like kids, from the way they talk and relate to one another to their appreciation of a story in which everyone gets covered in vomit. Stand by Me is about four kids looking for a dead body, but it’s really about how we grow up and grow apart. The friend group at its core is so artfully depicted that it’s heartbreaking to imagine them losing touch with each other, as an older Gordie (Richard Dreyfuss) recounts their disparate futures. These aren’t your friends, of course, but the power of Stand by Me is in making you feel that loss as your own.

2. The Shining (1980)

Warner Bros.

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
Based on: The Shining

The Shining isn’t King’s least favorite adaptation of his work — he’s maligned plenty other films on this list — but his distaste for the 1980 take on his novel is well documented. To be fair, the movie is a somewhat stark departure from the book, but that has a lot to do with the iconic filmmaker who made it — The Shining is not a Stephen King film; it’s a Stanley Kubrick film. The story is all King, of course: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes a job as off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, where he’s overtaken by a homicidal rage that he unleashes on his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son, Danny (Danny Lloyd). But the imagery is pure Kubrick: the twin girls in the hallway, the blood pouring out from the elevator, the frozen smile on Jack’s face. And it’s those elements that make The Shining such an enduring (and terrifying) classic.

1. Misery (1990)

Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Rob Reiner
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: Misery

Misery has so many of the elements that make a Stephen King adaptation great: pitch-black humor, a complicated villain, a moment of shocking violence, a stellar writer and director, and Kathy Bates. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Bates plays Annie Wilkes, one of King’s all-time great characters, a woman who is willing to break a man’s ankles to keep him prisoner in her home but who wouldn’t dream of cursing. Her victim is Paul Sheldon (James Caan), a romance novelist and Annie’s obsession. Misery takes place almost entirely in the bedroom where Paul is recuperating from an accident and then held against his will; the claustrophobic setting helps the film ratchet up the tension to a nearly unbearable degree. But it’s also deeply funny and, in the end, something close to tragic — a reminder of everything King, Goldman, and Reiner do best.

ADVERTISEMENT