Critic's Picks: 10 Best Stephen King Screen Adaptations

10:10 AM 7/19/2018

by Jordan Mintzer

As Hulu prepares to launch 'Castle Rock,' its series based on the Maine-set stories of Stephen King, THR film critic Jordan Mintzer ranks the finest big-screen adaptions of the horror-meister's work.

'Carrie,' 'The Shining,' 'It'
'Carrie,' 'The Shining,' 'It'
Courtesy of Photofest(2); Courtesy of Warner Bros.

  1. 10
    10

    Children of the Corn (1984)

    Photofest

    The movie may seem dated, if not downright silly, more than three decades later, but back in 1984 there was many a child (including this critic) traumatized by director Fritz Kiersch’s unsettling account of Nebraskan farm kids murdering adults to ensure themselves a bountiful fall harvest. Filled with kooky religious symbolism and a handful of eerie set pieces — especially one that takes place after Sunday church — Corn has the merit of turning innocent crops into harbingers of brutality and fear.

  2. 9
    10

    It (2017)

    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

    After a passable TV version in 1990, It received a fitful reboot last year from director Andy Muschietti, who turned the tale of Pennywise the killer clown into a box-office smash that became the highest-grossing King adaptation thus far. Marked by a solid script that follows several teenagers terrorized by cinema's scariest funnyman, the movie is a polished thrill ride that dishes out a few legitimate frights. A sequel — which tackles the second half of the novel — is due out in the fall of 2019.

  3. 8
    10

    The Dead Zone (1983)

    Photofest

    One of the more conventional works of the David Cronenberg canon, The Dead Zone stars Christopher Walken as a Maine schoolteacher who wakes up from a coma with psychic powers that enable him to see people's darkest secrets — and dark futures. Produced between the director's more memorable Videodrome and The Fly, this straightforward, if skillfully handled, horror flick still remains one of the better King adaptations to date.

  4. 7
    10

    Christine (1983)

    Photofest

    Horror maestro John Carpenter took a stab at King with this chiller about a nerdy teen who becomes a badass after buying a vintage Plymouth Fury filled with supernatural powers — until the car turns on its driver and all hell breaks lose. Neither the director's best nor his worst, Christine has become a cult classic that's perhaps most known for Carpenter's pulsing score, composed with Alan Howarth.

  5. 6
    10

    The Mist (2007)

    Photofest

    After getting a bit too treacly with The Green Mile, Frank Darabont returned to the supernatural side of King with this underrated sci-fi thriller set in a small Maine town besieged by a biblical apocalypse. Less about the monsters flying around outside than it is about the demons that people harbor within, the film intelligently depicts the way we unravel — or stick together — when disaster strikes. Darabont would tackle similar themes in The Walking Dead, several of whose cast members feature in The Mist.

  6. 5
    10

    Stand By Me (1986)

    Photofest

    Based on King's novella The Body, this coming-of-age story set in 1959 backwoods Oregon quickly became a family classic. With a cast of rising stars that included River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland, Rob Reiner's third feature would leave an indelible impression on kids who grew up in 1980s — both for its sharply drawn teenage heroes and for the way it depicted the darker sides of growing up. King was moved to tears by the film, claiming it was the best adaptation of his work.

  7. 4
    10

    Misery (1990)

    Photofest

    Writer beware: In Rob Reiner's nail-biting, leg-breaking, book burning two-hander, James Caan and Kathy Bates duke it out to the bloody end as an author and an obsessive reader, characters caught in a violent tale of fandom taken way too far. Marked by its taut turns and claustrophobic atmosphere, the movie remains the only King adaptation to this day to receive an Oscar, which was handed to Bates for her harrowing performance.

  8. 3
    10

    The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

    Photofest

    Few people associate this popular prison drama (ranked No. 1 on IMDb's top-rated movies for a decade and counting) with the work of King, yet its Maine setting is one of several elements that tie it to the writer's oeuvre. Adapted by Frank Darabont (who would go on to bring two more King stories to the screen) and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as a pair of jailbirds trying to survive a brutal penitentiary from the 1940s through the '60s, this enduring thriller keeps you hooked to the very last twist.

  9. 2
    10

    Carrie (1976)

    Photofest

    Brian De Palma was the first director to bring a Stephen King book to the screen, turning the author's 1974 debut novel into a sizable horror hit that would spawn plenty of copycats and one underwhelming remake. Sissy Spacek stars as the titular heroine, whose burgeoning psychic powers — coinciding with her burgeoning womanhood — allow her to exact gruesome revenge on a high school filled with heartless jocks and bullying cheerleaders. Prom night has never been the same since.

  10. 1
    10

    The Shining (1980)

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    Stephen King said The Shining was the only screen version of one of his novels that he "remembers hating." Yet for most of us, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation remains one of the greatest horror films of all time, if not the greatest. Using unforgettable imagery to depict a family descending into madness at the hands of Jack Nicholson's terrifying patriarch, The Shining is less about scaring viewers than about having them experience a sustained, and sublime, level of dread with their eyes wide open.