Stephen King Film Adaptations: 8 of the Best and 8 of the Worst

This month we got our first look at the new Pennywise the Clown for the 2017 film adaptation of master author Stephen King’s novel ‘It’.

The demonic clown, the main shape taken by the ageless shape shifting child devouring evil, will be played by Bill Skarsgård (‘Hemlock Grove’, The Divergent Series: Allegiant). The character was previously played by Tim Curry in a 1990 miniseries in a performance tailor made for clown-based nightmares. We will have to wait until next year to see Skarsgård’s interpretation.

Coulrophobia anyone?
Coulrophobia anyone?

Last month there was a film adaptation of the King novel Cell and next year we will get a film from his magnum opus ‘The Dark Tower’ series of novels. With 54 novels and more than 350 million copies sold his works have been adapted on television and film A LOT. For this post I will be focusing only on movies. Here is my list of the seven best and the seven worst:

#8 Best: The Dead Zone (1983)

This may not be the best known film on this list but this gem is worth discovering. Starring Christopher Walken and directed by David Cronenberg this movie about a man with psychic powers is thrilling. Side note – the novel was also adapted into USA television series starring Anthony Michael Hall.

#8 Worst: Cell (2016)

The most recent film on this list, neither John Cusack nor Samuel L. Jackson could save this generic and dull horror flick. You can check out my full review here.

#7 Best: The Shining (1980)

Now The Shining is a beautiful film and a master class in filmmaking. But King is not a fan as he feels that director Stanley Kubrick dropped the family emotionally falling apart aspect of the story. And when you think about it the movie has a whole lot of style and atmosphere but you never really connect with the characters. It still holds up really well though as a film so it makes the top list. Goooooooooo Johnny!

#7 Worst: Sleepwalkers (1992)

You may not remember this cheefest about shapeshifting energy vampires that feed off virgins (actual description) because it is utterly forgettable. Based on a King screenplay, Sleepwalkers is definitely not his finest work. Everyone has an off day.

#6 Best: Carrie (1976)

It’s been 40 years since the film but a rampaging telekinetic Sissy Spacek is still some really scary stuff. Both Spacek and Piper Laurie, who played her fanatically religious and abusive mother, were deservedly nominated for Academy awards for their powerful performances.

#6 Worst: The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)

Some things just do not need to be remade and that includes an iconic horror film like Carrie. Feel free to skip this bargain bin version. I have not seen the 2013 remake nor do I plan to.

#5 Best: Firestarter (1984)

Okay fine this a bit of a cheat. Firestarter is neither a well acted or well written film. But by goodness it has cool factor that I just loved. And a young Drew Barrymore with pyrokinetic powers blowing up everything in sight? That alone is worth the price of admission.

#5 Worst: Dreamcatcher (2003)

If someone ate the novel ‘Dreamcatcher’ and vomited it out that would have probably been better than this revolting movie. Cardboard characters, a confusing plot, poor effects and a complete and utter lack of scares combine into this crap load of a movie. Avoid this one like the plague!

#4 Best: Stand by Me (1986)

One of the few non-genre films on this list, coming of age tale Stand By Me (based on the novela ‘The Body’) is a touching story with believable characters and wonderful performances. This one is a must see.

#4 Worst: The Mist (2007)

This highly generic horror is only memorable for its highly depressing ending (which King himself approved).  The monster designs are interesting but that’s about it. It was directed by Frank Darabont who adapted two other works from King to much better effect.

#3 Best: The Green Mile (1999)

This Academy Award-nominated film, directed by the aforementioned Darabont, is a masterwork. A prison drama with supernatural elements you will be drawn into the mystery and fall in love with Tom Hanks and the late Michael Clarke Duncan in an astounding performance as gentle giant John Coffey. I really loved this one.

#3 Worst: Children of the Corn sequels (1984-2011)

Talk about taking a premise and riding it into the ground. King’s short story spawned not one, not two but NINE films and we are getting yet another one next year. A mysterious town, creepy killer kids and supernatural elements, rinse and repeat. Please just stop.

#2 Best: Misery (1987)

This is one of my favorite films based on one of my favorite King novels. A spot on adaptation, Misery features Kathy Bates in an Academy Award -inning performance and James Caan at the top of his game. Absolutely riveting and claustrophobic this is one movie that sticks with you for life. Highly recommended.

#2 Worst: Pet Sematary Two (1992)

The first Pet Sematary was your run of the mill horror movie but this sequel lowers the bar further by just redoing everything from the first, with minor changes like an undead dog swapped for an undead cat. A flagrant cash grab if there ever was one.

#1 Best: The Shawshank Redemption

First and foremost this movie was robbed at the 1994 Academy Awards (it had seven nominations and did not win any) and deserved to beat Forrest Gump for Best Picture. Venting over, this movie is simply a masterpiece. The best of the three King/Darabont collaborations, Shawshank delivers perfect performances, pacing, writing and a beautiful inspiring story of hope and the strength of the human will. I do not exaggerate when I say this one of the best films of all time. It is based on the novella ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’ and, like Misery, it is an extremely faithful adaptation.

#1 Worst: The Running Man

This film and the novel that it is based on are as different as night and day. Or, a better analogy, as different as logs of crap and bars of gold. Arnold and game show host Richard Dawson ham it up in this over the top and lurid more deadly version of ‘American Gladiators’. It could have a “so bad its good” factor but it is just plain bad.

The novel ‘The Running Man’ features a character that plays a game where he runs for his life from people hunting through a futuristic city and the longer he stays alive the more money his family gets. Doesn’t that sound great? Don’t you think THAT would have made a great movie? This unrecognisable film has to be one of the worst adaptations of the works of King and I can only hope the actual novel gets the movie treatment eventually.

So what is your best King film adaptation? What is your worst? Feel free to comment below and if you enjoyed this you can like and/or share.

For my aforementioned review of King’s Cell you can click here and for my new favorite sci fi horror TV series ‘Stranger Things’ you can click here.


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