Every Stephen King Movie and Miniseries, Ranked
The Stephen King-aissance is upon us. Since 2017, the master of horror has had six feature films and three television series adapted from his novels and novellas -- most recently with It Chapter Two -- and there are nearly 10 projects on the horizon for the end of 2019 and well into 2020, including the Ewan McGregor-led sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep. King is one of the most-adapted authors of all time, and if you're a fan (like me), it's great seeing his name back on the big and small screens again.
To celebrate, I've made the totally rational decision to rank all of the movies and miniseries made from King's work. Some may find it impossible or questionable to compare theatrical works to their television counterparts, but all things are possible on the internet. All. Things.
A quick note on my methodology regarding which titles not to include here: I do not include short films (there are millions), TV series like Under the Dome and The Dead Zone, or limited series (more than five episodes) like Golden Years and 11.22.63. I also didn't include either of the Lawnmower Man films because if King sued to have his name removed (and won) then who am I to argue to the contrary. The generally accepted opinion is that most King adaptations range from bad to not good, and with a whopping 77 titles the odds appear to support that assumption. But there are better ones than you expect, as I hope this compendium proves.
With a set of rules in my back pocket and severe case of optimism fueling my words, I present a ranking of all of Stephen King's movies -- theatrical, made for TV, direct-to-video, sequels, etc. -- and TV miniseries.
77. The Mangler Reborn (2005)Inspired by King's short story "The Mangler" (1972)
Anyone who picks any other King film as the worst King film clearly hasn’t seen The Mangler Reborn. More of a direct sequel than the actual first sequel -- that’s right, there are three films in The Mangler franchise -- the film follows the murderous adventures of an appliance repairman who rebuilds the title machine in his spare room, becomes possessed by it, and then begins killing stupid people.
76. Creepshow 3 (2006)Inspired by King's original Creepshow screenplay (1982)
The makers of Museum of the Dead and Day of the Dead 2: Contagium continue their war on George Romero with this limp and lazy anthology that lacks anything resembling creepiness or the EC Comics spirit. The opening animation showing a devious child and a misfortunate pup -- it feels wrong to call the scraggily drawings animation -- is especially painful on the eyes and probably damaging to the soul.
75. The Mangler 2 (2002)Inspired by King's short story "The Mangler" (1972)
You can’t begrudge Lance Henriksen for earning a paycheck, but that doesn’t make this tenuously-related follow-up -- instead of haunting a laundry press an evil spirit is now a computer virus -- a film you need to see. He’s already spent the money, so you can skip it.
74. Children of the Corn (2009)Based on King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
Twenty-five years and six sequels later, someone thought it would be a good idea to go back to the source and remake the story with less talented people involved. The only real change is that this time the protagonists -- a couple who cross paths with murderous children in a small town -- are so relentlessly obnoxious that you'll quickly be siding with the little brats.
73. Sometimes They Come Back... Again (1996)Inspired by King's short story "Sometimes They Come Back" (1974)
The title is the most creative and entertaining part of the whole movie that once again sees a man return to his hometown where he previously lost a sibling to murder. I advise the Hilary Swank completists among you to just skip this one and pretend you watched it. She'll forgive you.
72. The Langoliers (1990)Based on King's novella The Langoliers (1990)
What starts as a Twilight Zone-like premise involving a plane that mysteriously loses its passengers mid-flight quickly devolves into a dull tale with annoying characters. That, by the way, is the only thing "quick" about this miniseries that channels the boredom of a 12-hour flight into what feels even longer. And it's actually only three hours long.
71. Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return (1999)Inspired by King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
This sequel earns a point for bringing back the creepy little "kid" from the original but then loses it because he's now a far less creepy little man. Making us wait an hour for the first kill doesn't help either.
70. Riding the Bullet (2004)Based on King's novella Riding the Bullet (2000)
Movies about death and mortality have rarely been so lifeless, and while the theme has potential it’s wasted on what basically amounts to a car ride.
69. Sometimes They Come Back... for More (1998)Inspired by King's short story "Sometimes They Come Back" (1974)
Kudos for tacking the title onto a completely unrelated story about an arctic research station and the evil beneath the ice, but just because they came back for more doesn't mean you need to.
68. Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011)Inspired by King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
The seventh sequel in this increasingly unlikely franchise feels the most apart from King's core story as it only opens and closes with killer kids while focusing mostly on a young couple taking shelter for the night with a sketchy old man and his mail-order bride. This is neither a good nor bad development.
67. Mercy (2014)Based on King's short story "Gramma" (1984)
It's not a good sign when your feature film can't come close to capturing the terror and horror of an episode of 1985's Twilight Zone reboot. It's an admittedly unfair fight seeing as the "Gramma" episode was adapted by legendary sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison, but still, if you have to watch the tale about a boy stuck at home with an unwell grandmother stick with the shorter one.
66. Pet Sematary Two (1992)Inspired by King's novel Pet Sematary (1983)
Pet Sematary's Mary Lambert returned to direct the sequel and, well, it's the worst sequel to a great movie from the same director since John Carpenter's Escape from LA. Yeah, I know Carpenter's movie came out four years after this one, but hot garbage is timeless. The premise remains as people who should know better bury pets and humans in the cursed earth, but this time the "zombies" can apparently hold down jobs and crack jokes?
65. Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001)Inspired by King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
Props to the filmmakers for finally discovering the franchise's missing ingredient: a sexy bathtub kill at the hand of a sentient, murderous cornstalk.
64. Dolan's Cadillac (2009)Based on King's short story "Dolan's Cadillac" (1989)
Christian Slater and Wes Bentley face off as a mobster and a man who blames him for his wife's death and zzzzzzzz.
63. Thinner (1996)Based on King's novel Thinner (1984)
The book is a long way to go for a deliciously dark ending, but the film can't even get that right. The only two elements that work here are the fat suit makeup and the presence of Joe Mantegna. The rest is little more than a poorly acted, tone-deaf slander against gypsies as an overweight lawyer finds himself cursed for accidentally hitting and killing an ancient woman with his car.
62. A Good Marriage (2014)Written by King and based on his novella A Good Marriage (2010)
Joan Allen is an immense talent, but she's wasted here as a whiny and worthless wife and mother who discovers her husband is a serial killer. Anthony LaPaglia fares better as her killer husband, but even he fails to convince.
61. Trucks (1997)Based on King's short story "Trucks" (1973)
This movie, about trucks that suddenly come to life and begin killing people, is far more faithful to King's story than Maximum Overdrive, but it's also far, far less memorable.
60. Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)Inspired by King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
This movie might work for you if you pretend that the whole film's a deleted Naomi Watts dream sequence from Mulholland Drive. Barring that, it's pretty much more of the same (creepy kids killing people).
59. Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)Inspired by King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
You'd think Eva Mendes crossing paths with the little red-haired kid from Picket Fences would generate real thrills and dramatic sparks, but you'd be wrong. Instead, you guessed it, kids struggling to be unsettling kill off the adults, and nobody cares.
58. The Tommyknockers (1993, miniseries)Based on King's novel The Tommyknockers (1987)
King's forays into science fiction are few and far between -- check out his story The Jaunt to see him get it right -- and this is probably his longest and weakest attempt. The sci-fi elements blend into his more familiar areas of horror and community drama as remnants of a spaceship begin altering the townspeople nearby, but the thrills and reveals are never enough to justify the time spent getting there.
57. Big Driver (2014)Based on King's novella Big Driver (2010)
Revenge tales can be easy base hits; viewers love violent catharsis, and all the better if you can add Maria Bello to the mix. Unfortunately King’s tale of a writer who’s raped and left for dead hobbles itself with distracting fantasy beats and a protagonist that never quite feels realistic or reliable.
56. The Mangler (1995)Based on King's short story "The Mangler" (1972)
The late Tobe Hooper gifted the world with more than a few horror gems including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Funhouse, and a certain other King effort, but this short story adaptation is a mess. It was a one-note story to begin with -- it's about a possessed laundry press -- and the extra plot elements added for the feature never add up to anything of note. The single bright spot here is a lively turn by the great Ted Levine, but even he's under constant threat of being chewed up by Robert Englund's cartoon-like performance.
55. Sleepwalkers (1992)Written exclusively for screen by King
This tale of a woman, whose son loves her a bit too much, and their shared allergies to cats is best summed up by the friend I watched it with on opening night who turned to me as the end credits rolled and said, "Stephen King has put better things to paper when he wipes his ass."
54. Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)Inspired by King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
You can take the boys out of the cornfield, but you can't take the corncobs out of the boys' hands, and a brief glimpse of Charlize Theron and some fun effects by Screaming Mad George are a case of too little too late, respectively.
53. The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)Inspired by King's novel Carrie (1974)
Few films feel as ill-suited for a sequel as Carrie, but logic and story details have never stopped Hollywood from trying to cash in on previous successes. Amy Irving returns as an adult Sue Snell, and it’s through her that we discover Carrie has a half-sister named Rachel. So why isn't this called Rachel? I don't know, but bullying and bloody revenge follow.
52. Sometimes They Come Back (1991)Inspired by King's short story "Sometimes They Come Back" (1974)
A murder from the past haunts the present in an adaptation that can't quite match the ghostly power of the original prose. What's atmospheric and eerie in the story -- a group of greaser punks from 1957 start popping up 20 years later with renewed malicious intent -- comes across as silly here.
51. Bag of Bones (2011, miniseries)Based on King's novel Bag of Bones (1998)
Mick Garris once again attracts a pretty strong cast for his last (as of publication) King adaptation, but as is often the case, the book's weaknesses don’t improve onscreen. It's a tale of ghostly revenge, but it's one with neither scares nor a sympathetic spirit. Instead it's only the cast that keeps it just engaging enough with Pierce Brosnan and Melissa George, as a successful writer and a woman in a bad relationship, doing good work with unexciting material.
50. Desperation (2006)Written by King and based on his novel Desperation (1996)
Ron Perlman is an absolutely mad delight in the first half of this ensemble thriller, but an over-reliance on God as both a plot point and endless topic of conversation leaves it feeling more like one of Kirk Cameron's evangelical Christian movies. The novel's release was paired with a "Richard Bachman" thriller called The Regulators, and that meaner, leaner book is the better of the two (and -- trivia! -- almost got adapted for the screen by the legendary Sam Peckinpah).
49. Cell (2016)Co-written by King and based on his novel Cell (2006)
John Cusack proves that not even flesh-tearing zombies can shake him from his boredom, and viewers follow his lead.
48. Firestarter 2: Rekindled (2002, miniseries)Inspired by King's novel Firestarter (1980)
If you watched Firestarter and thought, "this would be better if a now grown-up Charlie McGee was fighting the X-Men," then hoo-boy, do I have a movie for you.
47. Carrie (2002)Based on King's novel Carrie (1974)
Hannibal's Bryan Fuller wrote this adaptation with the hope of turning it into a TV series which means, surprise, Carrie survives in the end. That lowers the dramatic impact substantially, and when combined with the limitations of TV (at the time) the end result is a fairly toothless affair. Still, Angela Bettis gives Sissy Spacek a run for her money in the lead role.
46. Children of the Corn (1984)Based on King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
The terror of kids who find religion and then murder all of the adults in town dwindles as the character stupidity increases, but there are some creepy, kiddie-cult sequences as we watch Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton try to fight their way out of harm’s way.
45. Graveyard Shift (1990)Based on King's short story "Graveyard Shift" (1970)
Look, there are worse movies about killer rats.
44. Firestarter (1984)Based on King's novel Firestarter (1980)
George C. Scott’s portrayal of a Native American assassin is simultaneously both the worst and best thing in this otherwise bland thriller about bad government agents wanting to weaponize a young girl who possesses literal firepower.
43. Carrie (2013)Based on King's novel Carrie (1974)
This is definitely an unnecessary redux. While boasting a female director, Kimberly Peirce of Boys Don't Cry fame, the fourth take on King's novel once again focuses on the same premise of bullying, revenge, and telekinetic shenanigans without bringing anything new to the table.
42. A Return to Salem's Lot (1987)Inspired by King's novel Salem's Lot (1975)
This sequel-in-name-only pales beside Tobe Hooper's original (and the more recent adaptation for that matter). You can't take a single moment of it seriously... but the damn thing's entertaining all the same. Credit Cohen's sense of humor and his leading man's inherent nuttiness as Michael Moriarty is never less than a good time here.
41. Pet Sematary (2019)Based on King's novel Pet Sematary (1983)
King's most terrifying novel was originally adapted in 1989 (you'll find it further down this list), and while it's a fantastic horror film, it still left some room for improvement. The filmmakers behind 2014's brilliant Starry Eyes deliver a new adaptation that's far better acted, but their attempt to mix things up with the story -- always a welcome element as the film belongs to the filmmakers, not the book's author -- makes choices that effectively neuter the story's key theme of grief. Things are also played a bit silly in the back half, leaving viewers hungry for the expected scares, dread, and emotional horror they found in the original text.
40. Salem's Lot (2004, miniseries)Based on King's novel Salem's Lot (1975)
The second miniseries adaptation of King's vampire book sticks fairly close to the original, but it manages some fresh thrills of its own with a slick production and some effective effects work. And not for nothing: Rob Lowe is literally the second-best Ben Mears ever.
39. The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer (2003)Inspired by King's miniseries Rose Red (2002)
This prequel to King's 2002 original miniseries Rose Red lacks everything that made the first installment a success. While big fans may enjoy a more detailed backstory of how the Rose Red mansion came to be haunted it comes with neither thrills nor engaging drama.
38. The Night Flier (1997)Based on King's short story "The Night Flier" (1988)
A fairly one-note story becomes an equally one-note movie, but it's held higher than it probably deserves on the sheer personality and charisma of Miguel Ferrer in a rare lead role. He kills it as a cynical and sensationalist reporter investigating a string of killings committed by a vampire with a pilot's license. It's silly, but Ferrer and a few solid gore beats make it a better ride than you'd expect.
37. Dreamcatcher (2003)Based on King's novel Dreamcatcher (2001)
This one has a pretty rough reputation, but I'd go to bat for its first half. Terrific cast, some smart writing, ass-blasting monsters... it's a fun creature feature. Then Morgan Freeman's eyebrows show up, and while they offer their own entertainment, the movie loses itself in the wrong kind of silliness and too much time spent following the military's conspiratorial efforts to fight the alien menace rather than the struggle of four close friends facing that same threat.
36. It (1990, miniseries)Based on King's novel It (1986)
There's no denying the cultural impact of this hugely popular miniseries and its highly memorable images -- Pennywise in the sewer, a bathtub suicide, the bursting of blood-filled balloons -- but, and I say this having watched it again just recently, it's just OK. Characters are drawn broadly, dialogue is on the nose, and performances are frequently shoddy (aside from Tim Curry's clown, obviously). The pacing fares no better as every ramp up in excitement is neutered with a move forward to adulthood or back to childhood. Still, Pennywise is an eternally terrifying creation.
35. Secret Window (2004)Based on King's novella Secret Window, Secret Garden (1990)
It's great seeing Johnny Depp tackle a rare "normal" person as opposed to his usual makeup-caked, hat-wearing, over-the-top characters, but this film about a writer accused of plagiarism by an odd stranger starts strong before an obvious and shallow twist derails everything. It's still fun watching Depp and John Turturro spar, though.
34. Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)Inspired by King's short story "Children of the Corn" (1977)
No, I haven't accidentally ranked a Children of the Corn movie higher than it deserves. Part sequel, part remake, the entry has fun with the premise and delivers both personality and gore alongside a very funny, somewhat progressive, and obligatorily wise Native American character. It's ultimately the best of the franchise because it balances the core story about killer kids with a lively energy missing from most of the others.
33. 1922 (2017)Based on King's novella 1922 (2010)
This dark period drama kind of came and went quietly at the start of this latest King renaissance, but it deserves more eyeballs. It's a fairly straightforward riff on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" with a man haunted by guilt -- in the form of ghosts half-eaten by rats -- after murdering his wife. There's tragedy to spare here as the man's actions draw in his son and the boy's girlfriend, and the atmosphere is heavy with depression and death, but while it's a definite slow burn, it's still a solid feature headlined by a memorable lead turn from Thomas Jane.
32. The Shining (1997, miniseries)Written by King and based on his novel The Shining (1977)
I'm of the belief that the generally negative consensus towards this miniseries is due at least in part to the overall love for Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation from two decades prior. The Shining miniseries, from King favorite Mick Garris, definitely lacks the film's iconic lead performance and highly memorable set-pieces. But for fans of the novel, this is the one that gets it far more right. King's own script offers a far more detailed look at both the hotel and the Torrance family, which in turn offers more depth into the story itself. It's not Kubrick, but it's good. I swear.
31. The Running Man (1987)Based on King's Richard Bachman novel The Running Man (1982)
The film veers wildly away from the grim and bleak book penned under King's pseudonym once the game show setup is established to become just another goofy action vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, but since when is a goofy Schwarzenegger movie a bad thing? Fun one-liners, varied action sequences, and the terrifically hammy Richard Dawson make for an entertaining enough diversion.
30. Creepshow 2 (1987)Based on a treatment written by King and his short story "The Raft" (1982)
Sure, it can't compete with the original's cohesive horror-comic feel, but there's still fun to be had with two of its three tales. You can skip "Old Chief Wood'nhead," as it's far too simplistic and poorly acted, and jump to "The Raft" and "The Hitchhiker" instead, both of which deliver some gooey, gory bits and blackly comic laughs.
29. The Dark Tower (2017)Based on the eight novels in King's Dark Tower saga (1983-2012)
Look, it's not a bad little YA adventure film if you can successfully forget everything you know about Stephen King's Dark Tower books before watching it. The film makes it all about young Jake and quickly sends him on an adventure involving the fate of the universe, and while the highlights are still Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, the rest is a perfectly competent, gun-toting adventure shtick.
28. 1408 (2007)Based on King's short story "1408" (1999)
This haunted hotel room story is the second best of John Cusack's three ventures into King adaptations, and it's actually quite good for the first half as it sets up the characters, history, and motivation that would drive someone so intently into searching out the supernatural. The final third though gets lost in cheap jump scares, a seemingly endless series of hallucinations, and an ending that feels undeserved in its change from the original story.
27. Maximum Overdrive (1986)Directed and written by King, based on his short story "Trucks" (1973)
Your brain knows that King's solitary directorial effort is an objectively bad film. Your gut doesn't give a damn. It's poorly acted and sloppily crafted, but the sheer gonzo nature of this machines-come-to-life-and-kill movie is ridiculously appealing. From popping a kid's head with a steamroller to killing a guy with a murderous soda machine, the movie is just ridiculous enough. And if nothing else, it's worth a watch for King's cameo at a sassy ATM machine.
26. The Stand (1994, miniseries)Written by King and based on his novel The Stand (1978)
King's greatest novel -- an epic tale of good and evil as a worldwide plague wipes out most of humanity, leaving the survivors to choose a path of light or darkness -- gets a fairly average adaptation from Mick Garris, but while the limitations of the medium and talents involved are evident, enough of the book's strengths come through to deliver sequences both frightening (the tunnel) and emotionally powerful (Nick's demise).
25. The Dark Half (1993)Based on King's novel The Dark Half (1989)
King's look at a writer's dark side coming to life gets a solid adaptation from the legendary George Romero, known best for tales of the living dead. Timothy Hutton (in his first of two King films) delivers too as both the film's hero and villain, and along with a fine supporting cast, he grounds the supernatural elements.
24. Cat's Eye (1985)Written by King and based on his short stories "Quitters, Inc." (1978) and "The Ledge" (1976)
It may be more centered on suspense than horror, but the second King anthology film -- we get stories about a ruthless self-help group, a murderous husband, and a heroic feline -- still delivers with a great cast, engaging thrills, and some over-the-top cruelty. Female characters fare pretty horribly though, Drew Barrymore's endangered little girl aside, as they're abused and shoved to the periphery at every turn.
23. Hearts in Atlantis (2001)Based on King's novella Low Men in Yellow Coats (1999)
This coming-of-age tale is about a boy being raised by a single mom and the mysterious older man who moves into their building. It's engaging enough, but what elevates the material are the two lead performances from Anthony Hopkins and a very young Anton Yelchin. Their conversations about growing old and the beauty of life carry an unplanned weight now that the old man has outlived the child here in the real world.
22. It Chapter Two (2019)
Based on King's novel It (1986)
The closing chapter to 2017's monstrous epic arrived with high expectations, and it happily meets a few of them with killer performances and some creepy set-pieces. It stumbles pretty heavily elsewhere, though, leaving this a far lesser film than the first. The comedy, while funny, is so frequent that it upends the film's attempts at a darker tone. Bill Skarsgård's Pennywise, arguably the core of the horror and the strongest element from the first film, gets the short shrift here, leaving him little face time with our grown up Losers. Too often It Chapter two relies on CG scares en route to an ending that feels both generic and counterintuitive to the first film's (and the novel's) themes. Still, it's fun, and more than that, it's an epic, R-rated studio horror that we'd be lucky to get more of in the future.
21. Apt Pupil (1998)Based on King's novella Apt Pupil (1982)
Real-world evils are typically saved for the periphery of King's works, but Apt Pupil finds an all-American teen falling under the spell of a Nazi -- the worst of humanity's many evils -- hiding in the plain sight of suburbia. It mines King's work to create a grim reality, while Ian McKellen and the late Brad Renfro are terrifyingly cold as people who see the rest of us as mere fodder. Unfortunately, it was directed by serial assaulter Bryan Singer.
20. The Green Mile (1999)Based on King's serial novel The Green Mile (1996)
Others might rank King's second collaboration with writer-director Frank Darabont higher, but while there's a lot to love here, there's also more than enough to make a sensible choice. The cast, led by Tom Hanks but down to the last person, delivers strong, affecting work that leaves viewers no choice but to build a powerful relationship with their characters. There's magic at the story's core, but while it engages it also isn't quite strong enough to carry the three-hour-plus running time. It's odd, as I was held in the novel's grip across the months in which the six volumes were released back in 1996, but the film wavers some while attempting a similar feat.
19. Silver Bullet (1985)Based on King's novella Cycle of the Werewolf (1983)
Corey Haim in a wheelchair? Gary Busey as his crazy and irresponsible uncle? Everett McGill as a Catholic priest with a nocturnal appetite? This is a slight movie any way you slice it, but that doesn't make it any less fun.
18. Gerald's Game (2017)
Based on King's novel Gerald's Game (1992)
Writer/director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House) has been a reliable name in horror filmmaking since 2011's Absentia, but the announcement that he'd be tackling King's "unfilmable" novel still cast doubts. He proved his detractors wrong, though, by delivering a creepy, unsettling tale of suspense and self-discovery with King's story about a woman (Carla Gugino) handcuffed to a bedpost in a remote cabin. It all plays out both in the cabin and in her head, and Flanagan's direction and script work beautifully to merge the two into an affecting journey into terror. The film also delivers one of the most cringe-inducing injuries in King's film canon -- no small feat -- and it should leave fans excited for Flanagan's next collaboration with the upcoming Doctor Sleep.
17. Christine (1983)Based on King's novel Christine (1983)
It may not rank high among John Carpenter's filmography, but his King adaptation remains a competent-yet-stylish horror-thriller that fully captures the novel’s rock 'n' roll aesthetic. Some of the performances and dialogue are a bit stiff, but the film comes alive whenever Christine does the same, leading to some muscular thrills and memorable visuals.
16. Rose Red (2002, miniseries)Written for television by King
King's no stranger to novels and short stories about ghosts and haunted dwellings, but one of his best in the subgenre was written specifically for the small screen. Over four-plus hours, the story of a haunted dwelling and the people -- both believers and otherwise -- who attempt to tame it delivers an epic quality few network series achieve. And while it gives a nod to Richard Matheson's fantastic Hell House and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, King makes the story his own through eclectic characters and the house's richly-detailed and frequently unsettling history. It's a hefty time investment but well worth spending a night inside.
15. Needful Things (1993)Based on King's novel Needful Things (1991)
This is one of the more divisive King movies, and while I understand most people's issues with the off-putting blend of brutality and humor, I think it works more often than it doesn't. A black comedy about a mysterious shopkeeper offering a person's greatest desire for a deceptively hefty price, the film's tone captures that cynical view of humanity while delivering both laughs and acts of cruelty along the way. It grows a bit wobbly towards the end, but it's ultimately worth the cost.
14. Cujo (1983)Based on King's novel Cujo (1981)
This one doesn't get a lot of love, but it's as intense a film experience as you'll find in King's filmography. Dee Wallace is terrifically effective as a woman forced by circumstance into facing off against a rabid St. Bernard, and it becomes a proving ground to show how far she'll go to protect her child. The ending of King's novel is stronger, but the one here works to offer a satisfying character redemption. The film also does a good job finding the pathos in the canine "monster," leaving viewers sympathetic to the beast's actions.
13. Creepshow (1982)Written by King and based on his short stories "Weeds" (1976) and "The Crate" (1979)
It's 37 years old and still one of the best horror anthologies around thanks to George Romero and King's perfect recreation of the old Tales From the Crypt-like comics where morality and hard lessons come with a side of gruesome death and macabre humor.
12. Storm of the Century (1999, miniseries)Written for television by King
Easily among the most under-appreciated King titles, this three-part miniseries from Rose Red director Craig R. Baxley blends elements from Needful Things and The Mist into one of the author's most haunting works. A stranger arrives knowing far too much about the local residents, and as a natural disaster blows in those locals become a threat all their own. A strong cast, a chilly atmosphere, and a disturbing series of deaths pull viewers in, and it builds towards a devastating conclusion that challenges one's faith in humanity. It's as sad as it is heartbreaking, and the coda adds one final punch.
11. Pet Sematary (1989)Written by King and based on his novel Pet Sematary (1983)
For a writer considered to be the king of horror it’s surprising how few of his adaptations manage to capture a creepy feeling or deliver real scares. This tale of grief and poor choices is one of the exceptions. Long touted as the only book of King’s to actually scare the author himself, the novel’s themes and terror carry over beautifully to the screen with harrowing scenes of loss and unsettling sequences of return. Young Gage with the scalpel, hunched Zelda rushing towards the viewer... this is a terrifically disturbing movie. Some underwhelming acting from the leads holds it back from absolute greatness, but the mighty Fred Gwynne balances that particular ledger with arguably the best supporting turn in a King movie.
10. Carrie (1976)Based on King's novel Carrie (1974)
King's first novel became his first adapted feature, courtesy of Brian De Palma, and four decades later it remains one of his most popular, having spawned numerous imitators of its plot, themes, and memorable shock ending. The director's style gets a bit in the way of the film's emotional intentions (don't @ me), and some performances are more than a little heightened, but these issues don't take away from the overall entertainment value as a revenge tale with a socially relevant theme and a nihilistic lack of discretion.
9. Dolores Claiborne (1995)Based on King's novel Dolores Claiborne (1992)
You don't hear a lot of talk about this one, and it’s a damn shame. Granted, I held off a few years before watching it because it looked like a gloomy affair, but once I finally gave it a spin, I was floored by the evolving drama and the lead performances by Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. They're mesmerizing as mother and daughter who reconnect when the elder is charged with murdering the woman she's cared for for decades. Dolores Claiborne is a tale about guilt and forgiveness, and the film finds suspense in their emotional journey. But yes, it's still pretty damn gloomy.
8. The Mist (2007)Based on King's novella The Mist (1980)
Yes, writer-director Frank Darabont's reworked ending (altered from the novella) is one hell of a gut punch, but the film's strengths start well before then with a tremendous sense of foreboding, stellar creature designs, and a fantastic cast bringing the nightmare to life. Communities turning on their own is an oft-visited theme in King's work, and the film succeeds in making these people's actions every bit as monstrous as the literal monsters outside.
7. Salem's Lot (1979, miniseries)Based on King's novel Salem's Lot (1975)
Tobe Hooper directed the first King miniseries, and it remains the best. The story about a small town overrun by vampires comes to life with strong performances, terrific atmosphere, and some of the creepiest scenes in his entire filmography. Little Ralphie Glick floating outside the window and scratching at the pane is nightmare fuel. Barlow's dark shroud rising and filling from the kitchen floor is absolutely terrifying. Vampires on-screen are too often made to be cool, sexy, or mesmerizing, but Hooper and King respect the idea that monsters are monsters for a reason.
6. The Dead Zone (1983)Based on King’s novel of the same name
This quietly harrowing thriller is an underrated entry in both The Fly and Videodrome director David Cronenberg’s and actor Christopher Walken’s filmographies, and yet remains among the warmest of their respective careers as well. The Dead Zone follows a man’s effort to do good with his newfound psychic abilities and delivers some suspenseful and visually exciting scenes -- his visions of the gazebo killer and of a crazed politician's future are both standouts -- but the movie's power comes from the tragic love story running through it that while barely spoken is repeatedly evident in Walken’s pained expressions.
5. The Shining (1980)Based on King’s novel of the same name
The Shining has become one of the most memorable and well-regarded horror films for a reason: an intimate tale of alcoholism and abuse, the ghostly horrors play out across a cavernous canvas in Stanley Kubrick’s epic haunted house film. From Jack Nicholson’s iconic visage to the one-liners he spouts with an ax in hand, the film offers numerous sequences and images guaranteed to stay in your brain forever. (Certain elements make it a lesser adaptation of King’s novel, but on its own terms those issues aren’t nearly as egregious.)
4. IT (2017)Based on King's novel It (1986)
Some were against splitting King's most monstrous book into two films while others balked at updating its setting to the late '80s, but the first half of the end result is easily the best of the author's pure horror adaptations. The film captures the fears we shared growing up just as beautifully as it does the importance of standing up to them, and it's a scary, funny, and honest ride that feels like real life plus monsters... so childhood, basically. Terrific and often grisly special effects work in tandem with textured production design and gorgeous cinematography to bring the nightmares and the daylight to life. IT is the Stand by Me of King's horror canon.
3. Misery (1990)Based on King's novel Misery (1987)
Director Rob Reiner's bread and butter is comedy, but his single stab at a true suspense thriller suggests he should grace movie lovers with another one. A two-hander for most of its running time with a pair of killer performances by Kathy Bates and James Caan, Misery is a sharp exploration of fandom's darker side -- something King knows all too well -- and finds an intense battle of wits explode into one involving flesh and blood. Reiner slowly ratchets up the tension like a madwoman tightening the screws on an ankle block before slamming a sledgehammer where it'll hurt the most. The film fires on all cylinders from beginning to end.
2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)Based on King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982)
It's become oddly trendy to hate on this film, but to hell with that nonsense. The Shawshank Redemption is a story of guilt, innocence, and the human will to survive, and Frank Darabont's directorial work captures all of it with an overwhelming beauty (which made for the kind of posters some of us used to browse at Spencer's Gifts). The cast is perfection from the smallest roles to the leads, the film's look and score work to create an alternately oppressive and redemptive atmosphere, and it all builds to one of the most satisfying endings in years. Make that two satisfying endings as the rousing, cheer-worthy finale is followed by a quieter but every bit as fulfilling one.
1. Stand By Me (1986)Based on King's novella The Body (1982)
It's entirely possible that some of you reading this aren't even aware that it's a King film, but it's both the first of his non-horror adaptations and still the best. Thirty years after its release, it remains every bit as affecting, heartbreaking, and entertaining. Today's kids might not feel the same, but if you were a child even as late as the 1990s, then this film's magic will most likely still work on you. A writer recalls a time from his childhood involving his best friends and the rumor of a dead body down by the railroad tracks, and while the film's about the art of writing and the importance of memory, director Rob Reiner brings the characters so perfectly to life that it becomes a beautiful reminder of our own triumphs and tragedies from our youth. There's a very good chance you'll see yourself or someone you knew in this movie, and the memories it dislodges can be unexpected gifts.