The Top 10 List of the Best Films Based On Stephen King’s Books
The Stephen King Low Down
Stephen King has been writing novels and short stories since the early 1970’s. His books have kept millions riveted reading his tales in horror, suspense, fantasy, science fiction and drama for decades. They’ve also been made into movies and miniseries on TV. Some are insanely good, others…no so much.
This is a list of movies created from the written works of Stephen King. The placement of each movie depends on several factors. Is the movie considered a ‘classic’? Does it have dialogue or scenes that transcend the film? Not that a cast can make a movie, but it never hurts. Who’s in the cast and how good were they? Was the film an award winner; if so, for what?
I’ve definitely given Stephen King a hard time for some of the disasters that he’s inspired. This is the time, however, to give him some credit for the great films that he’s written which have been filmed and made into must see movies.
10. Cujo (Teague, 1983)
This is the only movie on the list without a famous cast. Dee Wallace (E.T.) plays Donna Trenton, a mother who is trapped in a car with her ailing son, Ted, while a rabid dog constantly on the attack. For such a young kid, Danny Pintauro (Who’s The Boss?) does a pretty good job.
Although the book was much better (most are, aren’t they?), the movie does it justice. It makes this list because the name Cujo has entered the American lexicon for a crazy or nasty dog…or person for that matter.
9. Firestarter (Lester, 1984)
This is a story about a little girl, Charlie McGee, who has pyrokinetic powers and is hunted down by a government agency, The Shop, who wants to control her. The little girl in this movie is a Hollywood legacy and film star in her own right, Drew Barrymore (Charlie's Angels). The part that I remember is how she tried to control her powers. She would snarl, “Back OFF!” There were many time in my youth that I would say this when I was mad. Of course I never shot fire out of my hair, but occasionally it did stop me from digging deeper into trouble. My parents did not have magical powers from being government lab rats. Her parents are played by David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman) and Heather Locklear (Melrose Place).
Let’s not forget about the main guys at The Shop. Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now) plays Cap with smarmy perfection while George C. Scott (Patton) delivers a performance with an equal amount sensitivity and deviousness. Now that’s a pair with acting chops to spare.
8. Apt Pupil (Singer, 1998)
This character driven story is about a young man named Todd Bowden, Brad Renfro (The Client) who finds out his neighbor, Kurt Dussander, is a Nazi war criminal. Instead of contacting authorities, he decides to blackmail Dussander, played by Ian McKellen (Lord of the Rings), into telling him stories about the concentration camps.
This psychological thriller didn't do very well at the box office, but the acting was superb.McKellan’s acting was so stellar in this film that he won a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Actor. It was well deserved.
Apt Pupil Trailer
7. The Stand (Garris, 1994)
Let me get this out of the way: this isn’t a feature film. This is a mini series, which originally aired on ABC, which means it is long, 6 hours long. At least the story is good and it is has the distinction of being the movie that sticks the closest to King’s novel. That’s probably because it’s 6 hours long, but let’s not get weighed down on technicalities.
This series is about a plague that kills most of mankind, leaving the remaining people to divide into two groups: Good and Evil. Apparently there are no grey areas in Stephen King’s world, nor any people existing outside of the United States. I’m sure he thought of that, but whatever, moving on…
Some people didn’t like it and others claim it is a rip off of Lord of the Rings, but that doesn’t negate the outstanding performances from Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump), Molly Ringwald (Pretty In Pink), Ruby Dee (Jungle Fever), Ray Walston (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Ossie Davis (Bubba Ho-Tep), Rob Lowe (St. Elmo’s Fire) and Laura San Giacomo (Sex, Lies, and Videotape) just to name a few. How’s that for great cast? Though no one got an award for their performances, the series did nab two Emmy’s, one for make up and the other for sound. Not bad.
The Stand Trailer
6. Stand By Me (Reiner, 1986)
This is the movie that asked the profound question, “Do you think Mighty Mouse can beat Superman?” Who would have believed that a movie about a bunch of kids going to see a dead body would touch the hearts of so many? This one did. This touching tale of growing up stars Richard Dreyfus (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) as The Writer or Gordie, who recounts a youthful adventure with his friends. Young Gordie is played by Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and the cast of his friends are River Phoenix (My Own Private Idaho), Corey Feldman (The Goonies) and Jerry O’Connell (Jerry MaGuire). Wheaton once said that their performances were so good, because each kid embodied the characters that Reiner cast them for in real life. Good job Rob Reiner and I’m sure he gave a high five to his casting director too.
Let’s give the casting director another high five for casting Kiefer Sutherland (24), Casey Siemaszko (Three O’Clock High) and Bradley Gregg (Fire In the Sky) as a group of bullies antagonizing Gordie and his friends. Who can forget Ace (Sutherland) driving by mailboxes and hitting them with his baseball bat? Homeowners around the nation winced.
In the end, the movie walked away with two Golden Globes, one for Best Motion Picture Drama and the other for Best Director for Reiner. Reiner also took home the Director’s Guild Award. It also took home an Academy Award for Writing-Adapted Screenplay. In case you’re wondering, King didn’t write the screenplay, so that was given to someone else.
Stand By Me Trailer
5. Carrie (DePalma, 1976)
This American classic has some ‘firsts’ that distinguish it from the rest on this list. The book was the first King novel to be published and the movie was the first to be produced and filmed. This was also Amy Irving’s (Crossing Delancy) and Betty Buckley’s (Frantic) first feature film. The last two aren't quite monumental, but this is nice little tidbit of information in case it comes up in Trivial Pursuit.
The star, however, is Carrie innocent, yet powerfully played by Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter). Piper Laurie (The Hustler) plays her mother and the pair is in a rare group of actresses nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in this horror movie. It’s a rare feat indeed. The movie itself made #46 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills list. Who can forget the pig blood at the prom scene? That scene has been etched into pop culture history and will be forever remembered at prom time when the queen goes up to get her crown.
But, let’s not forget that this movie also stars John Travolta (Pulp Fiction) and William Katt (The Greatest American Hero). In fact, this movie was made during Travolta’s Welcome Back, Kotter days and was his first motion picture. See that? Another interesting tidbit I'm throwing at you. Trivial Pursuit here you come.
4. Misery (Reiner, 1990)
Do your ankles hurt just thinking about this movie? Mine do and that is just one reason this movie is so great. Kathy Bates (Fried Green Tomatoes) plays Annie Wilkes, an obsessed fan who kidnaps a car wrecked author played by James Caan (The Godfather).
How good was Kathy Bates in this role? It earned her Best Actress awards from the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes. Not only that, Steven King loved her so much that he wrote Delores Claiborne (1995) for her as well as a part in The Stand.
Even though it was only nominated for AFI’s 100 Years…100 Quotes, Annie’s “I’m your #1 fan” still send chills down the spine. That’s because Bates performed the hell out of that role and help makes Wilkes AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains, the #17 Villain on their list. Once again Rob Reiner took one of King’s books and etched it into pop culture. That takes talent.
3. The Green Mile (Darabont, 1999)
This tale is about a death row inmate named John Coffey with a mysterious gift who changes the lives of prisoners and guards around him.
Let me start this off by saying that this film received kudos all around and was nominated for a slew of awards. Michael Clark Duncan (Sin City) who plays Coffee won a few Best Supporting Actor awards from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (2000) and Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards (2000), Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island) received a Best Supporting Actress award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (2000) while the widely loved Tom Hanks (Philadelphia) won a Blockbuster Entertainment Award (2000) for Best Actor.
Those are only the actors that won awards, but there were other actors that put their stamp on this film as well. Bonnie Hunt (Jumanji), Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump), Harry Dean Stanton (Alien), David Morse (The Hurt Locker) and James Cromwell (L.A. Confidential) all give great performances that you get lost in this 3 hour film. It is heart breaking, joyous and worth every moment spent watching it.
The Green Mile Trailer
2. The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)
Jack Nicholson (Chinatown); how his mere presence alters a film. If King was given a chance he wouldn’t have ever casted Nicholson nor would he have allowed experimental director, Stanley Kubrick, to helm this classic film. King’s biggest complaint was that Jack Torrence (Nicholson) wasn’t the same character as his book and the character’s motivations were off. He was especially ticked that the supernatural elements were overlooked.
Did he not understand that Nicholson is an acting freak of genius and that Kubrick was an auteur? Damn the book and allow the narrative to flow from visual impact. Kubrick achieved visual impact, so much so that to this day people are still analyzing the scenes in an attempt to piece together its full meaning. That’s not good directing, that’s great directing. Sorry Stephen King, though the movie may not be exactly like the book, it was scary, engaging and exciting to watch. It’s a definite must see.
There are plenty of memorable scenes that shock you like “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” or creep you out like the two twin ittle girls, an elevator full of blood and “Redrum, Redrum”. AFI’s 100 years…100 Movie Quotes thought that there was one quote that topped all others and it placed #68 on their list. Remember the scene? Nicholson axed through his front door frightening his wife, Wendy, played by Shelly Duvall (Popeye). He pops his head through the shattered door and screeches, “Here’s Johnny!” Move over Johnny Carson, the line was forever altered.
Adding tot that, his valiant attempts to kill his wife and child also gets Jack Torrance on AFI’s List of 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains at the #25 spot. The movie itself made AFI’s 100 years…100 Thrills list at #29. King may have not liked the movie, but it has cut its way into American culture forever.
The Shining Trailer
The Book. This the book which has Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redpemtion, the novella which the movie is based on. This book also includes the original novellas for The Body (Stand By Me) and Apt. Pupil.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont, 1994)
This movie is so moving, dramatic and emotional that there’s only one reason that it didn’t win a slew of Academy Awards: Forrest Gump. Just know that it was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, but got shut out by Tom Hanks’ juggernaut film. That, however, doesn’t diminish the impact this movie still has.
This character driven story is about a friendship between Andy and Red that grows inside a prison. It is all about corruption and redemption. Andy is played by Tim Robbins (Mystic River) who juxtaposes naivety and brilliance effortlessly. Morgan Freeman (Seven) shows strength, weakness and cunning as Red. The pair moves this film and create subtle moments of brilliance that will make you chuckle, cry and get angry with them.
AFI nominated them in several of their 100 Best categories. The two areas they made the list are 100 Years…100 Cheers (for inspirational films) and 100 Years…100 movies at #72.
- Five Horror Movies You Should Avoid Like the Plague
This is a list of horror movies to watch during Halloween or ever for that matter. These films missed the mark and you should miss watching them. A movie based on one of Stephen King's books makes this list!
And That's It
This was a hard Top 10 to muddle out, because I love all of these movies and this still doesn’t include some of my favorites. I loved Christine (Carpenter, 1983), Pet Sematary (Lambert, 1989) and Dolores Claiborne (Hackford, 1995). If you haven’t seen these movies, buy them, rent them, download them or stream them. It doesn’t matter, just as long as you watch them. They are all worth watching and reading for that matter.
...and stay away from the plethora of stinkers that are out there. There are plenty.
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