The Top 10 List of the Best Films Based On Stephen King’s Books

Stephen King
Stephen King

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.

Cujo Trailer

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.

Firestarter Trailer

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

Different Seasons (Signet)
Different Seasons (Signet)

The Book. This the book which has The Body, the novella which the movie is based on. This book also includes the original novellas for Shawshank Redemption and Apt. Pupil.

 

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.

Carrie Trailer

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

Different Seasons (Signet)
Different Seasons (Signet)

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.

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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26 comments

Michele Travis profile image

Michele Travis 4 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

Wow, great hub. You are reminding me about movies I have seen but have not thought about for a long time. Thanks for that. They were good movies. I even saw the Apt Pupil and the original Carrie.

Thanks!


Smokes Angel profile image

Smokes Angel 4 years ago from Broke Alabama

I love Stephen King. His movies are great but his books are better. Just finished Duma Key for the second time.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England

All excellent choices vmartinez and I had a feeling Shawshank would be your number 1.

King being synonymous with horror, or he used to be, I would pick Kubrick's The Shining for my no.1 Stephen King film and Carrie my no.2.

I have a friend who adores The Stand, the book and mini-series, was that King's magnum opus? I don't know.

You've got me in the mood for a Stephen King season, it's been a while since I've watched any of them. I think The Mist was the last one I saw.

Voted Up and Useful.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Thank you all so much!

@Michele, when I was going through the list of movies, I forgot how many good ones there were. And I didn't even realize Apt Pupil was one of Stephen King's creations.

@Smokes Angel, I agree his books are so good. I remember reading Cujo over and over again. So many subtleties that film can't recreate when it comes to Stephen King's books.

@Steve Lensman, I really, really, really thought The Shining would be my number 1, since I absolutely love horror movies and this one was so great. But, I set up a way to rate them and I had to follow that. The Shawshank Redemption had so many kudos, was so well acted and ranked really high over the board. Carrie was originally my number 3, but after rating the Academy Awards and general cast, I had to give it to Misery and The Green Mile. Personally, The Shining and Carrie are my personal 1 & 2. But, then again, Maximum Overdrive would make the list, so there's no account for my taste. :D

I really enjoyed The Stand, but felt the book and movie were so...insular. But, Stephen King is a pretty insular writer, so that makes sense. The Stand, if I can recall correctly, is the biggest seller that he's ever had. I'm pretty sure I read that, but don't quote me.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Great job. When I was going down your list, I saw Misery at number 4 and I thought that is way too low....then I saw Green Mile, The Shining and Shawshank...and thought...I guess it is in the right spot....a hub that I really enjoyed reading...voted up and awesome and interesting. But where is Maximum Overdrive? lol.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Hey Cogerson,

I know, how weird is it to see Misery at #4 and Carrie at #5? I really enjoyed writing this.

As for Maximum Overdrive..."But WE made YOU! WE made YOU!!!" To this day I still try to work that into conversations. Classic cheese.


dilipchandra12 profile image

dilipchandra12 4 years ago from India

Good Hub, i will try to get the list of movies you've given over here. Thanks for sharing. :)


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

I'm glad you enjoyed it dillipchandra12. You'll enjoy these films. They are really good.

Thanks a bunch!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

excellent hub. up and shared. I would have ordered the films exactly this way. Kathy Bates in Misery is one of the best roles ever!


InTuneWithCooking profile image

InTuneWithCooking 4 years ago from Australia

Great hub! The first "adult book" I read was "The Bachman Books" and it hooked me onto Stephen King. I would have to agree with your order, but 1 & 2 are very close for me!!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

I just realized this list is missing Secret Window. That's a pretty terrific KING movie.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia

Hey, this was a really great hub. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. Before work got in the way, I would stay up all night to finish his novels. His short stories were excellent, too. Secret Window is a good example. Thanks for adding the trailers. Some of the movies made from his books didn't go over as well. It was a good thing Carrie, his first novel, was so well done. Thanks for sharing.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

You've brought back memories for me. I used to run to buy any Stephen King novel as soon as it hit the book stands. Being the strange person I am I watched Carrie with my children, my youngest at the time was four years old! They loved it as did I. My only complaint is that the movies are never as good as his books. Great hub with great detail. Voted up and interesting.


i_am_monk profile image

i_am_monk 4 years ago from Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, England

Great hub, I totally agree with that list. Love every book there, Stephen king is just an amazing writer.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

@PDXKaraokeGuy, I'm glad you liked the list. It did take me a while, but I got it all figured out. I'm working on the worst of list still, but that will be a bit longer before I figure that one out too. I will have to admit that I missed Secret Window. It's on my list to watch this weekend and I'll make adjustments if necessary. I'm glad you suggested doing this! It was fun! Gracias.

@InTuneWithCooking, as a horror fan, The Shining holds a special place in my heart. Personally, I really wanted that to be #1, but since accolades counted, I couldn't help but put Shawshank Redemption first, not only was it a great movie, but if it hadn't been for Forest Gump, it would have won a bunch of Academy Awards.

@Cyndi, I'm going to watch Secret Window this weekend, because I seemed to have missed that one. Odd, since I'm also a Johnny Depp fan, but there ya go! I will be doing a worst of for Stephen King and at this point don't know if I should even count his numerous made for TV remakes, because they're so awful. Thank goodness for Carrie indeed. :)

I'm glad you enjoyed the trailers. When I watched them, I found it interesting how the quality shifts throughout each decade block from the 70s through the 90s. Thanks a bunch!

@tillsontitan, There's nothing strange about watching horror movies with your kids. As far as I'm concerned, it gets them excited for Halloween. My daughter couldn't handle a horror movie at all until I introduced her to Nightmare Before Christmas and Scooby Doo, now at the age of 6, she's able to watch some horror films and enjoy them as much as I do. Some others...not so much, but she does well with plot heavy and those combined with comedy. It's a start :) I also agree the movie are never as good as the books, especially my all time favorite Cujo. The Hollywood ending and all that!

@i_am_monk, I agree wholeheartedly! Fortunately, the movies that were make from these books were directed by some really good directors. To make his books work on film, they have to be altered into visuals. He's such an internal author at times it can be tough.

Thank you all for checking it out!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

i don't know what you'd take off to include secret window, but i'd still be curious to see how you liked it!


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

I enjoyed the movie and really like John Turturro's performance. I usually love Johnny Depp, but his performance fell kinda flat for me. I think that may be because I prefer him when he's kinda kooky. I don't think I would boot Cujo off for it though. That movie is really nostalgic for me and next to Carrie, it is the quintessential King horror on film.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

I always love John Torturro, but I agree with you on Deep. He started out strong, but kind of fell off.


SouthernHoney profile image

SouthernHoney 4 years ago from Woodinville, WA

Great post, Stephen King has inspired some incredible movies!

Am I the only person who actually likes the movie It? Maybe it's because it's the first Stephen King adaptation I ever saw . . .


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Thank you so much SouthernHoney. I have made fun of Stephen King for some of his awful movies, but he has had some spectacular ones made out of his books. I adore his books, so I love to see the two combined beautifully.

It...hmm, I love Tim Curry, but I absolutely hate clowns. I can't deal with them at all, so although I've seen the movie, it's not one that rates particularly high with me. There's also the questionable production that I had issue with as well.

Thanks again!


cperuzzi profile image

cperuzzi 4 years ago from Freehold, NJ

I loved your analysis.

I agree. There are a plethora of others that would not make that cut.

I liked "The Dark Half", "The Dead Zone" and "Thinner"... Also, "The Silver Bullet" and "Creep Show" were also good comic adaptations.

I'm crossing my fingers for someone to make a good attempt on "The Dark Tower Series". It can be done in 4 parts.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

No need to rush the Dark Tower Series!

My biggest problem with Stephen King is that he always hates any adaptation of his books that maneuver away from the book itself. What he seems to miss is that his books are so intricate that as they stand, they don't translate well into a visual, filmic experience without fudging what goes down on paper. That's why his best films are ones that take the essence of his books and translate them visually.

The Shining is the perfect example. It really is hard to film someone going insane.

Thanks cperuzzi


Anjo Bacarisas II profile image

Anjo Bacarisas II 4 years ago from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

WEW .. you did a bang-up hub, the list above are true best films not only based on Stephen King’s Books but for all. Great!


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 4 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Thank you Anjo. They truly are brilliant and showcase how his books are so thoughtful and insightful. They might not have been exactly what he wanted, but they have all made their mark in one way or another.


daisydayz profile image

daisydayz 4 years ago from Cardiff

Well I've seen 1-5 and think they are all superb films! I will have to try get hold of copies of the other 5 now and see what I think of them. Have never actually read one of his books, even though I love the films. Im a masive book fan so will have to see if I can pick one up next time I am in the Library. Thanks for the tips!


jmatthewdobson profile image

jmatthewdobson 18 months ago

All of these films are great adaptations, some even improved upon the source material, especially Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption. I'm looking forward to Cary Fukunaga's take on IT which will be out some time next year. Good post (:

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