Top Ten Stephen King Movie Adaptations

I’ve done my top ten short stories and novels, so now here’s my list of the best movies based on Stephen King’s writing.

This is a difficult list for several reasons. First, any movie based off of of a novel is inherently going to have some changes from the original work, and it’s tough for me to cease comparisons if I’ve read the book. But I wanted to judge these movies on their own merit and leave out the constant, “well, it sucks that they changes this,” and “hey, that guy didn’t die in the book.” Also, I love horror movies so I’m a bit more biased in liking those. The other thing is, although I’ve seen a great number of these, I’ll admit that I haven’t seen every single one (sorry, The Mangler fans).

This list does not include television shows (Under the Dome, the Nightmares & Dreamscapes series, etc), but does include made-for-TV movies.

So here they are, my top ten Stephen King movie adaptations (spoilers likely, but I tried to limit them):

1. Misery


Was Kathy Bates not unreal in this movie? So terrifying. I think I’d be afraid to meet her in real life. Of course, James Caan is great as well, and these two performances are what make this my number one movie. The brilliant story helps too. King must have known he had a winner when he came up with this one (there’s a great section about in On Writing, for those interested). My favorite scene is when Paul is exploring the house in his wheelchair while Annie is coming home. It’s so agonizing, the way it’s drawn out – I think I may have been sweating more than Paul when Annie find him and he lies his way out of it. And who could ever forget the hobbling:

2. Carrie


From that first horrifyingly uncomfortable scene in the girl’s showers (see below), it’s obvious this one is a masterpiece. The girl-with-psychic-powers trope has become rather tiresome over the years, but Carrie was original, and is still the best of them. Sissy Spacek is heartbreakingly perfect in this role. And her MOM!!! It always seems King throws a crazy religious person in there somewhere, but Margaret White is incomparable. The end of the movie gives you such payoff, although isn’t without its tragedy.

3. Pet Sematary


Yeah, I’m a homer for this one. I ranked it above The Shining. There ya go. Honestly, here’s why: simply put, this movie terrified me more than any other King movie. I watched it first when I was probably 12 years old. I was haunted by Pascow. By Gage. By Timmy Baterman. And, worst of all, by Zelda. I didn’t watch it again until I was much older, thinking I was a mature person and couldn’t be scared by this movie again, especially since I’d already seen it. I was wrong. It’s not perfect, but it’s a top flight horror movie.

Unfortunately, I can’t find a good clip of the scariest scene with Zelda where she’s in the bed (the “I’m coming for you Rachel” scene). I don’t know why there isn’t one on YouTube. Maybe that a good thing. Here’s a link to another one of her scenes.

4. The Shining


I can’t say too much about this movie that hasn’t already been said. I’d have probably had it in the top two before I came to understand why Stephen King didn’t enjoy it so much. However, I said that I’d rank the movies without comparing them to the book. Although, part of King’s argument still stands. Nicholson seems crazy from the get-go, and although he acts the hell out of his role, maybe a more mild-mannered actor would have been more effective.

That said, it’s still a masterpiece. And although a friend of mine has informed me that it’s mostly a joke, the documentary Room 237 appears to have unearthed some fans of The Shining that are convinced there’s more to this movie than what you see on the surface. I’m dubious to their claims, but I still thought it was entertaining. Maybe because I’m fascinated by conspiracy theorists.

Also, the scenes that actually take place in that forbidden room are some of the most frightening in any King movie adaptation.

5. The Shawshank Redemption


Again, to write about this one would be beating a dead horse. I had to include it, though. Although it’s been overplayed to death on TV and satirized by countless other shows and movies to the point where I don’t really even want to write about it, I still think it holds up. Excellent performances, uplifting, blah blah blah it’s a great movie.

6. It


Yes, I know it’s a made-for-TV movie. I know some of the scenes are cheesy. I know the segments with the kids is wayyyy better than the ones with the adults. I know trying to tackle a movie version of this book is damn near impossible. And, I know the ending sucked.


Tim Curry as Pennywise is one of the greatest performances in any horror movie, ever.

There, I feel better.

7. The Mist


If only the CGI monsters were pulled off a little better, and some of the cheesiness was scraped off the top, this might have been higher. I’m a sucker for people-trapped-together plots for some reason (I suppose in that way, it’s kind of Under the Domeish on a smaller scale). You have your skeptics, your religious maniacs (again), your children . . . yeah it’s rather formulaic but it’s still entertaining to me. And the much ballyhooed ending, well, I may be in the minority that didn’t love it or hate it, but thought it was solid. And I liked this thing:

8. Creepshow


I loved Creepshow. It makes the top ten. Sue me. I grew up reading tons of Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror comics, and I guess this movie played into that. It’s got some campy-ness to it. But it’s also got tons of cockroaches, Leslie Nielsen fighting zombies (see below), Stephen King himself playing a lead role in on of the stories, and direction by George A. Romero. What’s not to love?

9. The Dead Zone


Hey, I love the bizarre wtf-ness of Christopher Walken as much as the next guy, but something about him in this movie, based off of one of King’s best books, just didn’t quite do it for me. I did feel sympathetic to his character, having woken up from a coma with his girl in the arms of another man, but I just thought he was a little too . . . weird. I know, Walken is weird, but it was hard for me to separate him from other characters he’s played and appearances he’s done. This is one that I didn’t watch until I was an adult, after Walken had become more ubiquitous. Maybe that’s why. Martin Sheen, however, plays the madman politician just right. One the whole, the movie is very well done and has an awesome climax.

10. Stand by Me


The only other non-horror on the list is graced with some outstanding performances from child actors. This movie made me feel nostalgic for an era in which I didn’t even grow up. Going on an adventure like they do would have been the ultimate thing to do for my 12-year-old self. Especially the train dodge. Although, the journey to find the body is just the MacGuffin in this film. What it’s really about it the boy’s relationships with each other. And we’ve all had a friend like Gordie, Teddy, Chris, and Vern. That’s why it works.


5 responses to “Top Ten Stephen King Movie Adaptations

  1. I am a big fan of The Stand. Although I also love a godd “people trapped together” scenario, I love the “people together in a post apocalyptic” scenario better, especially if it involves a good killer virus!
    Also, I really liked Max Von Sidow in Needful Things. There was something so creepy about all these people doing horrible things a la “strangers on a train”.

  2. Hi Dana, I have a totally different perspective to you as I have never read a Stephen King novel or story of any kind (Apologies if this just sent a shiver down your spine). Despite this, I have seen a number of movie adaptations. I guess in some ways it is a good thing that I haven’t read the books as there is no conflict over content or even context. Of your top 10 I have seen all but Pet Sematary and The Mist. I love Shawshank (though not Green Mile) and Misery of course, but also have a soft spot for The Dead Zone, which I found to be a quite moving and very personal film. Perhaps you could tell me how the book compares? I’m also fond of The Shining, but more from the perspective of a Kubrick fan. No other films that I would mention outside your list, other than perhaps admitting a perverse enjoyment in watching The Running Man – mainly for Richard Dawson’s performance!

    • The Dead Zone, then, is where you should start. I agree about the Running Man. It’s terrible, but I somehow liked it. The novel is very different than the film and is very good. Thanks for the comment!

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