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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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