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Best Film Adaptations of Stephen King Novels

Updated on July 24, 2013
A large number of Stephen King's novels have been made into film--this hub looks at the best.
A large number of Stephen King's novels have been made into film--this hub looks at the best. | Source

Best Movies Based on Stephen King Books

Stephen King is commonly regarded as one of America's best and most prolific horror writers--since his career started in the 1970s, he's consistently published one bestseller after another. King's books aren't just about horror, though--that's too simplistic a summary. His novels usually feature fully drawn, relatable characters, weave together multiple perspectives, and keep the reader in thrall with the high level of suspense.

Perhaps that's why so many of his books and short stories have been made into film--some successful, some not.

Read on for the best film adaptations of Stephen King novels.

"Carrie" Trailer

Trailer from the 2013 Film Version of "Carrie"


Stephen King's "Carrie" was his first published novel, submitted at the request of his wife, who found a rough sketch of it in a garbage can and pushed him to complete it. The novel deals with the overweight, miserable Carrie White, taunted at school for her looks and shyness and abused at home by her religious fanatic mother. But Carrie isn't your typical awkward teen--she has intense telekinetic powers, which she slowly learns to control. Her torment culminates in a terrible night at prom--and she makes everyone who's wronged her (and some who haven't) pay.

The book is fairly short as King's works go, but weaves together multiple perspectives as well as fictional journal articles and book excerpts to tell Carrie's story.

The movie is limited in that it can't show the many perspectives or the articles/excerpts, but Sissy Spacek is very effective as the shy, tortured Carrie--her eyes occasionally alive with hope, but mostly fearful and confused. Her portrayal of Carrie's character is what makes the movie so horrific--she's a small girl, but when she lets her rage explode it's truly terrifying. The climax at the prom is one of the great scenes in horror films.

"Misery" Trailer


"Misery" is another one of Stephen King's early work, telling the story of popular writer Paul Sheldon, who writes period romances but longs to pen something greater--if his fans will accept it. After a car wreck, he's found by Annie Wilkes, his "number one fan"--who takes him home and holds him prisoner, alternately fawning on him and torturing him as she makes him write another novel about Misery Chastain, his most popular character.

What makes "Misery" a great movie is not so much James Caan's portrayal of Paul Sheldon--it's Kathy Bates's portrayal of Annie Wilkes. By turns folksy and chilling, Bates makes a chubby, lonely woman into one of the scariest villains on screen. She makes the character real without getting campy, and won an Oscar for her performance.

"The Shining Trailer"

What's your favorite film adaptation of a Stephen King novel?

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"The Shining"

"The Shining" is one of Stephen King's most intense, terrifying works--the tale of a family of three slowly losing their minds at a secluded hotel where the father has agreed to be the caretaker over the winter. The Overlook is filled not just with Jack Torrance's regret over being a poor father, husband, and man, but also with evil that invade's Jack's mind and pushes him to violent madness. His son, Danny, has "the shine"--psychic abilities that make him open and susceptible to supernatural phenomena. Their stay in the hotel and Jack's descent into madness make for a gripping read and one of the great horror stories.

King and Stanley Kubrick, who directed the film version of "The Shining," famously fell out and King refused to have anything to do with the adaptation. His lack of involvement and the film's departure from the storyline of the novel don't make it any less of an effective film, however, and it's certainly one of the best film adaptations of a Stephen King novel.

Jack Nicholson perfectly portrays a weak man drawn easily into evil, as the hotel makes him its pawn to kill Danny and take his soul, while the face of Shelley Duvall's terrified Wendy will likely be burned into your mind after you watch Jack slowly stalk her up the stairs. Other images that make this a horror movie great: the gushing blood flowing from the elevator, those creepy twin girls who just want Danny to come play, and the hedge maze.

"The Green Mile" Trailer

"The Green Mile"

Stephen King's "The Green Mile" started out as a series of novellas and was later combined into a novel under one name. The story is told by Paul Edgecomb as he looks back over his life, remembering his time as a block supervisor on the death row at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, where he meets a prisoner named John Coffey, a huge but seemingly gentle man who has been jailed for raping and murdering two girls. As Paul deals with his sadistic supervisor and the other prisoners, he comes to learn more about John and finds that he has true healing powers, as well as great empathy and sensitivity.

"The Green Mile" was made into a critically acclaimed film of the same name, starring Tom Hanks as Paul and Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey. While the story is haunting in print, Duncan's patient, sensitive portrayal of John Coffey makes it even more effective and heartbreaking on film. Though Hanks is good as always, it's really Duncan who gives the film an emotional center that rises above horror into a story about humanity.

Stephen King Film Adaptations in the Future

Given the popularity of Stephen King's novels, we'll probably be seeing film adaptations of his works long into the future--some amazing, like the ones on this list, and some not so good ("Christine," anyone?).

What's your favorite film adaptation of a Stephen King book?

Watch the Films


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great Stephen King movie hub, Saffron. I'm not a huge fan in horror movies or novels. But you've done a good job here. Voted up!

    • Breanne Ginsburg profile image

      Breanne Ginsburg 

      4 years ago

      I've never read The Shining, but I did see the movie and thought it was good. Another great Stephen King film is Storm of the Century with Tim Daly. Also, the TV series The Dead Zone and the movie are great and so is Fire Starter!

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 

      5 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      This is a hard one. I chose Carrie, but my favorite adaptations are usually the ones that are faithful to the book, but I often only prefer them only after I've already read the book, not the other way around.

      I heard on the special features of the "Secret Window" DVD that King has the power to refuse the filming of anything in a shooting script that he doesn't like, but he almost never uses it. He likes to see the different approaches that filmmakers take in bringing his stories to life. I've heard him praise some of his movie adaptations and totally bash others. So, he doesn't have an ego about his work or think that everything he writes is perfect, but he can be brutally honest, and that's really nice to hear sometimes. Good Hub!

    • Lee Strong profile image

      Lee Strong 

      5 years ago

      Good read. Interestingly enough, I was planning to write a hub about King film adaptations! Great minds think alike?

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      5 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Safron,

      Great read. Any article about Stephen King is great. You did a great job in presenting your topic. I voted up and all the way and not just because I am a huge Stephen King fan . . . .love Needful Things. Oh, what about Graveyard Shift?

      Anway. I left you some fan mail. Really like your work.

      I invite you to check my hubs and become one of my followers.

      I would love it.



    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 

      6 years ago from Warwick, NY

      I can't believe it, but I have never actually seen either The Shining or Carrie. I think you've inspired me to order up some horror films in the near future. I keep telling my 13 year old he would love Stephen King! I gotta put my vote in for Pet Cemetery. What's more scary than that?

    • Disney Robb profile image

      Rob Hower 

      6 years ago from Lebanon, PA

      Great summary - enjoyed reading about these movies - being an avid King reader since childhood (hmm, is that why I'm so 'off') it was great to remember some of these (truly) classics. I haven't seen it, but any thoughts on the new adaptation of "Carrie" that was recently released?

    • Kevina Oyatedor profile image

      kevina oyatedor 

      6 years ago

      Green Mile, Carrie, The Shining and Misery are awesome. Great hub.

    • W1totalk profile image


      6 years ago

      These were all great books and varied films. Great writing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Although I do agree with all the picks in this hub, as well as the comments, I think my favorite movie adaption was The Dead Zone - it was just so damn sad!

      Believe it or not, I enjoy watching Christine if simply for the cheesy 80's aspect - but then again, did John Carpenter ever make a movie that wasn't cheesy? It did have some good moments though, especially in the opening depicting Arnie as such a "loser". Plus I love classic 50's cars so I never tire of watching Christine herself. XD

    • shai77 profile image


      6 years ago

      I love both King's The Shining and Kubric's The Shining for different reasons-- King wrote and awesome book; and even though Kubric changed so much, the film is a masterpiece on it's own. My favorite King adaption is the 8 hr miniseries of The Stand.

    • Cinnamin profile image

      Cathy Valor 

      6 years ago from Florida, USA

      I love Stephen King and this hub was great! The Shining, too, is my fave.

    • Amanda108 profile image


      6 years ago from Michigan, United States

      My favorite is The Shining, the original version, not the adaptation that came later. Great list!

    • jenniferyaniz profile image

      Jennifer Yaniz 

      6 years ago from Chicago, IL

      Some of King's work is bound to see remake, IT definitely needs an update. Dark Tower would be nice but unless it is made by HBO which would only make them if Game of Thrones is a solid hit for a few years, otherwise there is no way the story ever sees a screen.

    • Joshua Scott profile image

      Joshua Dalrymple 

      6 years ago from Naples, Italy

      There were rumors for a long time about a Dark Tower Movie followed by an HBO series. I don't know what happened but after years of waiting I don't think it will ever get off the ground.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 

      6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I've seen all of these films except for Green Mile, which, ironically I started watching earlier today and plan to finish it soon. My favorite is Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, both of which I didn't even know were based on books that King wrote until after I had seen them! Great and enjoyable hub!

    • Thief12 profile image

      Carlo Giovannetti 

      6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Cool! I hadn't noticed that other hub. For what it's worth, Apt Pupil is included in the same compilation as Shawshank and The Body.

    • SaffronBlossom profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks for commenting, Thief12! I covered Shawshank in my hub about Stephen King short stories/novellas that were adapted to film...I agree, it's one of the best, and so is Stand by Me. I actually have not seen Apt Pupil, so I will put that on my list.

    • SaffronBlossom profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thanks Geekdom! I agree, The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best...I covered it in a hub on Stephen King movies made from novellas/short stories. :) Glad you enjoyed the list!

    • SaffronBlossom profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      @Moviesreviews: I agree, The Green Mile is a great movie! I've only seen it twice though...I can't handle how bad I feel afterward. It's not exactly uplifting but it is so good.

    • Thief12 profile image

      Carlo Giovannetti 

      6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      No Shawshank? that would be my favorite adaptation since it's my favorite film of all time. Stand By Me would probably be a close second.

      Other than the ones you mentioned, other film adaptations I like are:

      Dolores Claiborne

      Apt Pupil

      The Mist

      and why not? The Running Man

    • Geekdom profile image


      6 years ago

      Great List! Although my favorite Stephen King adaptation was not horror or supernatural. The Shawshank Redemption is not only one of my favorite King adaptations, but favorite films.

    • moviesreviews profile image

      Cacey Taylor 

      6 years ago from San Diego, CA

      The green mile is my personal favorite. I had no idea it was a Stephen King novel to be honest. I think The Green Mile can easily be one of the Top Ten movies ever made. It was that good and a real tear jerker.

      Such a microcosm of how things get misunderstood so easily especially when your black. One of Tom Hanks most underrated roles I thought, just like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.


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