Top 10 Stephen King Movie Adaptations

84 titles is a lot to wade through, so here at WhatCulture, we thought we’d sort the wheat from the chaff so that you don’t have to; without further ado we present our ten favourite Stephen King adaptations.

Stephen King is undeniably one of the most recognised household names in modern literature. A prolific idea machine, King€™s schlocky, pulp-style delivery and liberty-taking use of prose is an instant turn-off for some. But it can€™t be denied that many of the concepts that he dreams up are truly touched by greatness. There are a ridiculous number of varying movie/TV adaptations from throughout the length and breadth of Stephen King€™s career; believe me, I counted them. In all, I found evidence that no less than eighty-four various projects (from shorts to feature films and the gamut in-between) have been adapted out of Stephen King€™s novelizations and short stories. And chances are you€™ve seen a good chunk of them, even if you€™re not aware of it. Of course they€™re not all great, not by a long shot. Some of them are downright drivel (the T.V adaptation of The Shining, for example, which somehow failed dramatically, despite being penned by King himself), but with such a huge output in terms of moving image the odd dud is to be expected and certainly not damning. Eighty-four titles is a lot to wade through, so here at WhatCulture, we thought we€™d sort the wheat from the chaff so that you don€™t have to; without further ado we present our ten favourite Stephen King adaptations.

10. The Mist (2007) - Directed by Frank Darabont

€œFear Changes Everything€ Stephen King and Frank Darabont have thus far had a long and happy collaborative relationship. Darabont is one of Hollywood€™s go-to-guys for movie versions of literature in general and it€™s easy to see why when faced with the staggering commercial success of his output (much of which is also adapted from King€™s works). When a small American town is engulfed by a mysterious mist, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his son are forced to take shelter in a grocery store. It€™s a moody little story, quite intimate in setting but pacey and dynamic, and with a huge range of contrasting characters. Generally, The Mist is good, great in places but it has its moments of weakness. The ending though, for me, was one of the most twistedly nihilistic I think I€™ve ever seen in mainstream Cinema; and from what I understand it€™s been changed drastically from King€™s actual source (I must confess, I haven€™t read the book). It€™s a cynical age of cinema, and it€™s not often that as an audience member, I€™m left with the sense that €˜they went there€™.

9. Christine (1983) €“ Directed by John Carpenter

€œOk€ Show me.€ Car reverence exists today, as prevalent still as it€™s always been, and probably will be until transport tube technology is invented (and what then, tube obsession?!). You know the guy; His car is an extension of his penis essentially. He strokes it, polishes it, names it, talks to it and there comes a point when his car becomes an unhealthy obsession. With the renovated 1958 Plymouth Fury (the title €˜character€™ in Christine), the feeling is mutual. King often personifies inanimate objects, or abstract concepts in his work and Christine is clearly a personification of this vehicle obsession. What if that guy who€™s in love with his vehicle was actually loved back? Throughout the story, Arnie Cunningham€™s personality changes as Christine€™s dark influence perverts his character. It€™s not exactly the most successful King adaptation, in terms of critical acclaim and audience reception, but it€™s an entertaining enough delivery from John Carpenter that it earns a place at ninth.

8. Pet Sematary (1989) €“ Directed by Mary Lambert

€œSometimes, dead is better.€ What€™s the best way to deal with the loss of a loved one? If you said closure via the support of family and friends then you€™d be dead wrong. The answer is of course by re-burying their corpse in an ancient Native American mass grave, and waiting patiently for them to rise from the dead. Or at least it is for Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff). And that€™s the tone pretty much throughout. King (who wrote the book of course, but also the screenplay in this instance) uses Pet Sematary to explore themes of mortality, guilt and shame; it€™s almost the film equivalent of the Catholic Church. There€™s a heady mix of sub-contextual values at play, which ultimately purvey the sentiment that death is a one way journey. Despite occasionally corny dialogue, and the sometimes questionable appearance of a €˜friendly ghost€™, Pet Sematary€™s cult popularity affords it a well-earned number eight spot.

7. IT (1990) €“ Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

€œWe all float down here!€ I only watched Stephen King€™s IT for the first time quite recently. As a child, I remember that its front cover alone used to terrify the living shit out of me and as such I refused to watch it. IT follows an ensemble of characters as they each receive the call to return to their home town and face down an evil presence from their childhood; each recounting their past experiences with Pennywise the shape-shifting Clown (played by Tim Curry) along the way. At a gruelling three hour run time (thanks to its original format as a TV miniseries), IT takes some stamina to get through in one sitting, but King adaptation regular Lawrence D. Cohen takes advantage of an opportunity to thoroughly expand his characters, creating a depth that may not have been possible in the standard 90-minute fare. Looking back, IT is tame by today€™s standards of horror, but the fact remains that Tim Curry€™s sardonic take on Pennywise is most likely seared into the fear centre of any 80€™s baby€™s brain.

6. Carrie (1976) €“ Directed by Brian De Palma

€œIf only they knew she had the power.€ I€™m sure most of us have felt antagonism along the lines of what Carrie (Sissy Spacek) does at some point or another in our lives, although hopefully in most cases not to such a degree. After beginning to menstruate for the first time in the school showers, the introverted Carrie White is ostracised by a popular clique, for little other reason than her body€™s adherence to human biology. Of course, it€™s not all human-drama, Carrie also has certain€abilities. It€™s often the case even in real life that the bully (or bullies) is the internally weaker party, whereas the antagonised is often the pillar of internal strength. In Carrie€™s case, this internal strength is given tangibility in the form of a terrible, vengeful telekinetic power. It€™s a potent, cautionary tale from King from the outset, and an outstanding screen adaptation by Lawrence D. Cohen.

5. Stand By Me (1986) €“ Directed by Rob Reiner

€œI was 12, going on 13, the first time I saw a dead Human Being€. Stand By Me is a beautiful movie. It€™s undeniable early proof that King€™s ideas carry weight outside the macabre. Narrated from the future by €˜The Writer€™ (voiced by Richard Dreyfuss), the story follows road-movie rules; centring on four childhood friends as they cross the state in search of the body of a missing local boy. King often deals with mortality in his work, but never to my mind more poignantly than in Stand By Me. The characters are at a crucial stage in their lives; the period in their development when abstract thought begins to properly crystallise. The story isn€™t so much in the boys€™ quest to find evidence of death as the plot implies, but more in their cathartic discovery of what it means to be alive along the way. It€™s more powerful substance from King and a phenomenal €˜to-screen' adaptation by Raynold Gideon & Bruce A. Evans.

4. Misery (1990) €“ Directed by Rob Reiner

€œPaul Sheldon used to write for a living. Now He€™s writing to stay alive.€ Misery follows long-suffering scribe (James Caan) after being rescued from a near fatal car crash by an obsessed fan (played by Kathy Bates, in a turn that won her the Oscar for Best Actress). When she discovers his plans to kill off her favourite heroine she forces him, through violence, drugs and bondage, to continue the saga of a character that he€™s lost all interest in. Stephen King is never above injecting himself directly into his stories. Some call it narcissism; others call it €˜write-about-what-you-know€™. However you see it, King knows this character intrinsically, this €˜writer€™ that he so often centres his stories around. And with such powerhouse, character driven performances from Caan and Bates its little wonder that Misery is one of the more popular Stephen King movie adaptations.

3. The Green Mile (1999) €“ Directed by Frank Darabont

€œYes sir boss. Like the drink only not spelled the same€ The Green Mile has an eloquent, high-brow plot that echoes elements of the famed 19th century Russian novel €˜The Brothers Karamazov€™ by literary pioneer Fyodor Dostoevsky (the fifth segment in particular, The Grand Inquisitor, which details the story of a man who arrests Jesus). It follows the lives of a group of guards on death row (led by Tom Hanks), whose duty it is to execute a huge black man, unfairly convicted of the rape and murder of two children. Even in the face of his apparent innocence and his supernatural ability to spirit-heal, the guards are powerless to change his fate. The Green Mile is acted superbly by both its lead and supporting cast - with a particularly heart-wrenching turn by Michael Clarke Duncan as the condemned miracle John Coffey - and a thoughtful screenplay by adaptation-expert Frank Darabont (who also directed of course). With his beautiful, but ultimately down-ending story, King calls into question some of life€™s most potent values of faith, equality and duty. Little wonder it€™s regarded so highly amongst audiences and critics, and that it falls in the top three on this list.

2. The Shining (1980) €“ Directed by Stanley Kubrick

€œAll work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.€ I€™m trying to be objective here. Entry numbers aren€™t just based on personal taste (although I€™d be lying if I said that wasn€™t a factor), but I€™m taking into account general audience and critical reception as well as lifetime commercial standing. These factors are the only reason that Stanley Kubrick€™s horror masterpiece The Shining, for me, hasn€™t placed first. Following King€™s source material only loosely, the story depicts the descent into madness of struggling writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson, as if you didn€™t know). Upon taking a job as the winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, the grand guest house with a sanguinary past, he suffers crippling writers block and begins to see ghostly apparitions of the hotel€™s previous guests. I guess we€™re essentially dealing with a haunted-house plot here (if you want to talk in terms of sub-genre) but the setting has such grand scale and the characters so much depth and subtlety that it€™s barely recognisable as such. It€™s ambiguous as to whether or not Torrance€™s sojourns of aggression and instability are the result of an actual haunting, a perversion of the protagonist by the hotel itself; or whether he is simply losing his mind. Of course Kubrick never concludes this neatly for us either; that€™s one of the hallmarks of his genius and undoubtedly the reason that high-horror fans are still debating The Shining€™s plethora of potential meanings today. I€™m truly sorry Mr. King, I know your gripes with the movie adaptation are well publicised, but for me The Shining isn€™t only one of the most innovative page-to-screen adaptations of all time, it€™s also one of the greatest horror films ever produced.

1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Directed by Frank Darabont

€œGet busy living, or get busy dying€. Frank Darabont gets a third mention on this list, stealing the top spot as the writer/director of one of the most widely acclaimed contemporary movies available for consumption today. It€™s a favourite film for many because its central value is one that can apply to a person of any age, any background and any class or race. It€™s the story of hope in the face of adversity; one of humanity€™s most endearing and defining characteristics. Beginning in 1946, there€™s a similar concept to The Green Mile at work here; Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is accused and convicted of gunning down his adulterous wife and her lover, damned by incriminating circumstantial evidence. The story itself spans the years that Andy spends in Shawshank Penitentiary and the powerful friendship that he strikes with fellow inmate Ellis €˜Red€™ Redding (Morgan Freeman). Each character on the inside is at a varying level of hopelessness, but become inspired by the indomitable quality of Andy€™s spirit, even when his only chance at freedom is apparently extinguished. In his ground-breaking book Substance, Structure, Style and the Principals of Screenwriting, screenplay guru Robert McKee muses that €œour appetite for story is a reflection of our profound human need to grasp the patterns of life; not merely as an intellectual exercise but within a very personal, emotional experience€. That€™s arguably why The Shawshank Redemption, since its release in 1994, has sat high atop IMdB€™s €˜top 250 movies of all time€™ list. Existence is often difficult, often humdrum (particularly with the global economy in the state that it is) but applying Shawshank€™s metaphor that €˜hope springs eternal, even in the most inhospitable situations€™ to our experience of life can be almost salving. No other Stephen King adaptation is quite as poignant, uplifting and life-affirming and ultimately The Shawshank Redemption's place at number one is virtually a no-brainer. So there€™s our list, all nice and neat. Did we catch all of your favourites? If so, are they in the right order? As usual, let us know!
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Stuart believes that the pen is mightier than the sword, but still he insists on using a keyboard.