Before we continue our list of the top Stephen King adaptations, we must look at two more classic SK movies, that simply fall short of entering our top 20. What do you think? Should they have been included?
(Stephen King’s) Lawnmower Man (1992)
Lawnmower Man is a horror film. It is a fun horror film. It was credited as being based on the 1975 short story of the same name, which would appear in the 1978 collection Night Shift. So why is it not on the list? Well, the short story it’s “based on” is about a guy who gets naked and eats grass. That’s not exactly what this film is about. It is so radically different from the source material, King sued to get his name removed from the film’s title (leaving it as simply Lawnmower Man) and its advertising. A subpar sequel would be released in 1996 titled Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace. Watch the original movie but avoid the 2 hour plus director’s cut. It’s unnecessarily long and doesn’t contribute anything important to the story.
Rob Reiner’s adaptation of the 1987 novel of the same name earned star Kathy Bates an Academy Award. It’s great. It fits in with my theory that a strong director can make an excellent movie from a Stephen King novel. But is it horror? Or a thriller? It sure can be scary, but IS IT HORROR, I ask you? My article. My rules. So, no.
10 Creepshow (1982)
Creepshow is perhaps one of the best horror anthologies of all time. It rivals Tales from the Crypt, Black Sabbath, V/H/S, Trilogy of Terror, and all the other great ones we all know and love. 5 stories, 3 of which were written specifically for this movie, “Father’s Day,” “They’re Creeping Up on You,” and “Something to Tide You Over,” all written by King, comprise this story bookended by an appearance by Tom Atkins and a particularly creepy image of The Creep. The two previously published stories, “The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill” was published in 1976 as “Weeds,” and “The Crate” was published in 1979. Neither have been collected. Everyone has their favorite segment to this one, and mine will always be “The Crate.” From the monster to the exceptionally bitchy and beautifully iconic Adrienne Barbeau, to the wormy and vengeful Hal Holbrook, this segment always scared me as a kid. I also loved the animated-ish sequences, the little reaction shots, that were ripped right out of an EC comic book. Directed by George A. Romero, this is one for the ages that every horror film fan MUST see in their lifetime. Most anthologies have a weak segment or two, it’s just the nature of the beast, but this one has 5 stories that fire on all cylinders.
9 The Stand (1994)
1978’s The Stand seemed unfilmable. It has such a broad scope. So many characters. So, in 1994, when it came to network TV as a 4-part miniseries clocking in at over 366 minutes, with actors such as Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, and so many more, expectations were high. Rightfully so. And it paid off. Mick Garris, a notorious Stephen King adaptor, directed this and for the most part, captured the essence of the novel. It’s the end of the world and the survivors are trying to meet up with a female God-like character. But there’s a bad dude out there, also recruiting people for the ultimate battle of good vs. Evil. It’s my favorite SK novel, without question. I identified so much with the feeling that a virus would end the world, a fear that was heightened by the Corona Virus outbreak of 2020, and it really hit home for me. It’s a TV movie, which limits the adult content, but really, how many SK adaptations are loaded with nudity and cursing? A 9-episode 2020 miniseries of the same name starring James Marsden, Whoopi Goldberg, Amber Heard, and Alexander Skarsgard among many others, was released on Paramount+ and Starz, to mixed reviews.
8 Children of the Corn (1984)
1977’s “Children of the Corn” short story was collected in Night Shift in 1978 and expanded into a feature film 6 years later starring Linda Hamilton in a pre-Terminator role, and Peter Horton. Fritz Kiersch, pretty much a one hit wonder director, directed this story of a pair of adults who get swept up in a cult-like town named Gatlin, Nebraska, where children have murdered all the adults and worship an entity known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows. I can remember as a child watching the demon bulging through the ground as it rushed up and down the rows of corn. Isaac and Malachai, two of the most iconic names in horror film history, are cast perfectly and lead the cult to its nightmarish conclusion. The film has been remade in 2009 and 2020, and has spawned 9 (and counting) sequels, none of which have captured the mystique or quality of the original.
7 Carrie (1976)
Brian de Palma MAKES this movie good. It’s a little slow and dated, but de Palma, one of my favorite directors of all time, works the camera with so many stylistic choices including his split screen shot that he seemingly does in every one of his movies, that it COULD take you out of the film in a lesser talented director’s hands. But here, it simply enhances the viewing pleasure. The 1972 novel is the inspiration for the film and tells the story of a young girl who is bullied and abused, only to use her telekinetic powers to exact revenge. 80s icons P.J. Soles, John Travolta, Nancy Allen, and William Katt, join Academy Award winning actress Sissy Spacek in telling the story of Carrie White. 2 remakes, one in 2002 and one in 2013, and a sequel in 1999 titled The Rage: Carrie 2, followed with mixed results, failing to capture the magic of the original. But nothing compared to the flop of the 1988 Broadway musical that closed after only 5 performances.
6 Cujo (1983)
Lewis Teague, discussed earlier in the list, directed horror icon Dee Wallace Stone in this adaptation of the 1981 novel of the same name. It features a rabid St. Bernard attacking a family who are trapped in their car. One of my personal favorite movie posters of all time, the movie also ranks pretty high on my list. Why is it that people can be slaughtered in movies by absolutely horrible means, and yet an animal dying can provoke even the most heartfelt “aww” from the audience even if it is a murderous rabies infected giant of a dog? That was the reaction I had when watching this. You just hate to see animals doing bad things. They’re innocent. Man’s best friend. They don’t deserve that! Who cares that he wants to munch on Dee Wallace Stone? She was the ultimate horror film mother, playing that role in so many films of the 70s and 80s, and we all love her despite her dog murdering ways.
5 Silver Bullet (1985)
This is another one that’s gonna catch me grief. Corey Haim in a wheelchair is laughable. The reveal of the wolf is pretty obvious. But Gary Busey has his best performance outside of Point Break and he, Haim, Terry O’Quinn, and Everett McGill make it work, dammit! It’s like getting in a car with your best friends in college and traveling for 4 days to get to spring break in Florida, but it rains every single day you’re there. The destination sucked. But the ride there was incredibly fun, full of bonding and love, and made the trip overall worthwhile. It’s a good movie to introduce Stephen King to your children. The source material, Cycle of the Werewolf, is an interesting story in and of itself. It started as a calendar, with an illustration and vignette for each month of the year. Then it became a novella in the form of an illustrated novel, clocking in at only 127 pages, his shortest to date. Each chapter was its own short story, telling the tale of the townsfolk facing off against a werewolf, who kills someone each month during the full moon. Emmy award nominee Daniel Attias, director of some of the most popular TV shows of our generation, has his lone film directing credit with this movie.
4 Pet Sematary (1989)
Mary Lambert directed this adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name. Known for directing TV, music videos, horror films, video games, you name it, she truly cemented herself with this one. Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Frey Gwynne, and child star Miko “boys have penises, girls have vaginas,” Hughes star in this tale of a family who moves into a house next to a busy highway only to find out that the pet cemetery behind their house has the power of resurrection. This movie is one for the ages. It’s dark. Gory. Scary. Creepy. Very few movies give off a feeling of evil like this one. A mean spirit, if you will. I think a large part of that has to do with the spinal meningitis infected sister Zelda, who is so mean spirited and haunting that it’s guaranteed to give the viewer nightmares. Throw in jogger Victor Pascow, the creepy daughter Ellie, and the emotional disaster of a wife Rachel, and you’ve got characters that all just seem off. Next door neighbor Jud, knowing what the cemetery does to animals, still teaches Louis the way to resurrect his cat, and plants the seed for the final act. The movie deals with death, grief, and love in ways that no one can understand unless they truly lose a loved one to tragic circumstances. Those who have, can understand the pain and possibly even sympathize with the batshit choices made by the characters under incredibly sad conditions. A pretty decent sequel featuring a scene stealing Clancy Brown and a still in his “ten minutes of fame” Edward Furlong followed in 1992, also directed by Lambert, and a remake was made in 2019. A prequel was made during the pandemic starring David Duchovny and is supposed to be released this year.
3 It (1990, 2017, 2019)
Annette O’Toole, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Tim Curry, and Richard “John-Boy Walton” Thomas, star in this Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween 3, Fright Night 2) directed two-part ABC miniseries based on the 1986 novel of the same name. A movie like this is only as good as its ensemble cast, who must play off of their child counterpart (the Losers Club), and still mesh with their friends through the decades that pass in the film. And it works. Tim Curry plays Pennywise to perfection as the creepy clown who torments these people from kids to adults. The TV limitations hurt the miniseries in my opinion, but it still remains one of the best adaptations of King’s works. In 2017 and 2019, we got the two-part theatrical adaptation, one dealing with the Losers Club as children, and one dealing with them as adults. Bill Skarsgard, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader play the adults, but I feel the first part, which has to do with the children’s story, is the stronger of the two. I still am not sure if I like the idea of splitting the films in half based on time period, but the one thing I am sure of is that both of these versions are great. Overall, I prefer the 1990 miniseries for nostalgic purposes. But it’s like arguing over what is more enjoyable, a Dairy Queen Blizzard with Heath, or one with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
2 The Shining (1980)
Perhaps the most famous of his film adaptations, the 1977 novel was turned into a movie by famous director Stanley Kubrick. Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall star in the story of a recovering alcoholic who takes the job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel during the winter months, only to catch a little cabin fever and go nuts on his family. There’s also their kid who has psychic abilities, aka “the shining”, and ghosts that populate the hotel, that may or may not be real. The images (the twin girls, the blood, the fuzzy bear? man giving a BJ), the iconic quotes, (“Here’s Johnny!” and “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”), the scene chewing acting of Nicholson in perhaps his finest role, and the pathetic (in a good way) Shelley Duvall, who plays an abused wife who must become strong to protect her family, all make for a terrifying viewing experience. The story of Stephen King’s dislike for Kubrick’s version is the stuff of legend, with him liking the 1997 TV miniseries remake much better due to it sticking closer to the source material. A sequel, Doctor Sleep, was released in 2019. A spinoff titled Hallorann by Mike Flanigan, and a JJ Abrams-HBO Max spinoff titled Overlook are both in development. An exceptional 2012 documentary entitled Room 237 talks about all the conspiracy theories involving the “secret” messages behind the 1980 film, including the famous theory that the moon landing was faked, and Kubrick himself filmed the artificial “space” footage.
1 The Mist (2007)
For some reason, this film divides the audience. And it all revolves around THAT ending. Some like the ending of the book. Some prefer the movie. I happen to love the ending of the movie, and I have to say, now that I have children, it really packs a different punch. It hurts me more than it did before. I don’t want to spoil a 15-year-old movie, so just go watch it. Frank Darabont expertly directs this take on religion, isolation, stress, and paranoia in ways that manage to both frighten and anger audiences. Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Marcia Gay Harden, William Sadler and 4 future stars of TV show The Walking Dead, all appear in this movie, and all play their part to perfection in this ensemble piece. Get the special edition that contains the black and white version. It’s even more breathtaking. A short-lived TV series appeared on Spike in 2017 but lasted just one season.
There you have it. You’ve seen my top 20. How is your different? Let the debate begin.