Stephen King, the nation’s most famous horror novelist, has written more than 50 novels, 200 short stories, and has sold more than 350 million copies of his written work. It’s no wonder that movie directors frequently look to his books for inspiration. With about 155 adaptations of his work, some have hit the nail on the head, while others just failed miserably.
In recognition of the recent remake of, based on King’s first novel (originally published in 1974), and following in some big footsteps marked by the beloved 1976 adaptation from Brian DePalma, I present you with my list of the worst and best Stephen King movie adaptations, from the mighty flops to the soaring wins.
Graveyard Shift (1990 based on the short story from 1970)
What King may have imagined while writing this short story unfortunately does not come through in this film, with lazy acting and meager production quality. The film centers on a decrepit textile mill that has a serious rat infestation. When the health inspectors check out the space, they demand that the place be cleaned up. To the shock and horror of the desperate locals the mill owner manages to recruit in the cleanup, they run into the king of the rats — a massive, man-eating monster rodent.
The Mangler (1995 based on the short story from 1972)
“It folded her like a sheet, Mark!” Is this what happens when you have a nightmare about folding laundry? No, it’s a terrible adaptation of King’s short story and tells the tale of machine that has become hungry for human blood. It is a horror in itself to watch.
Maximum Overdrive (1986 based on the short story “” from 1973)
Being the first film ever directed by King, in an attempt to “get it right,” this film ironically falls flat. Unlike King’s successful Christine which focus on machinery taking human traits, Maximum Overdrive seems to mock King’s story. What was supposed to be a horror film turned out more like comedy.
Thinner (1996 based on the novel from 1984)
Thinner follows the story of Billy, a gluttonous lawyer who is, to no surprise, a selfish fatty. He accidentally hits and kills a gypsy, whose gypsy father then places a hex on Billy, forcing him onto a diet that will eventually shrink him down to nothing. This film is like trying to turn the movie The Santa Clause or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids into a horror film. But, instead of gaining weight or shrinking, Billy is just getting really skinny. It’s every woman’s dream. And in the end, it is a strawberry pie that claims the lives of many. I couldn’t find this one streaming anywhere except on DirecTV, which fortunately also has The Green Mile.
The Green Mile (1999 based on the novel from 1996)
Quite possibly one of the most emotionally captivating movies based off a Stephen King novel, The Green Mile (like The Shawshank Redemption) is set in prison where John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is waiting on death row for the brutal murder of two girls. The main prison guard, Paul Edgecomb (played by Tom Hanks) believes he is innocent and experiences his supernatural gifts.
The Shining (1980 based on novel from 1977)
King himself was not a fan of this film, and even went so far to say that is was the only adaptation he “remembers hating,” as it was a stretch from his original novel, and he thought the main themes were ignored. However, I still consider Kubrick’s adaptation a classic film, whether or not it follows King’s intended storyline. The Shining is a psychological thriller about a writer (played by Jack Nicholson) who, along with his wife and son, moves into a hotel in a remote part of Colorado for the winter to serve as a caretaker. Soon after moving in, there is an extreme snowstorm, causing the family to be trapped into. Jack becomes a little stir crazy and is taken over by the hotel’s supernatural presences, and begins his gradual descent into madness. This film remains one of the more viscerally disturbing thrillers ever made.
Misery (1990 based on the novel from 1987)
When writer Paul Sheldon (James Caan) crashes his car during a Colorado snow storm, he is rescued by former nurse and recluse, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who happens to be his biggest fan (and is also an insane person). She takes him back to her home and nurses him back to health. While in recovery, Annie reads Paul’s latest novel and finds out that he kills off her favorite character from the book, Misery. She punishes him physically and forces him to complete a new Misery novel with a different ending. This is a true psychological thriller which King excels at, and I found it streaming on Netflix along with Graveyard Shift and some other King stuff like The Langoliers (also worth watching).
The Shawshank Redemption (1994 based based on the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption from 1982)
Quite possibly one of my favorite movies of all time, The Shawshank Redemption follows the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker who is wrongly convicted of killing his wife, and sentenced to life in prison. Ironically, King sold the movie rights for this novella for a mere dollar. Starring Morgan Freeman as Dufresne’s jail mate and friend, Red, the film truly captivates King’s voice and emotion and is a true testament to the human spirit.
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