“Where the hell is The Shining, The Shawkshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist?” is probably what you’re going to ask yourself after reading this list. A list of Stephen King adaptations that doesn’t mention those is just wrong, right? Well we never said this was a list of the best ones, this is merely the a selection of personal recommendations, and those are much more interesting since you’re probably already aware of what’s considered King’s best. That’s the beauty of humanity: we all have our own unique tastes. Art sometimes resonates with us for reasons only the individual can explain, and this is a reflection of that.
While we can wholeheartedly acknowledge that The Shawshank Redemption is cinema at its finest, we believe that Maximum Overdrive has just as much merit in its own right. And given that so many titles from the Stephen King universe have been adapted for film and television – some good, some fine, some atrocious, and some brilliantly bad – there’s plenty to choose and something for every mood. If you want good, bad, funny, terrifying… the King filmography has it all.
Therefore, without further ado, here are the TNC Staff Picks for favourite Stephen King movies. Be sure to let us know yours.
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986)
Based on King’s short story “Trucks”, which is about lorries coming to life and giving humanity a hell of an ordeal to contend with, Maximum Overdrive takes the basic premise and expands it to include basically all electronic devices. King himself directed it, and he’s the first person to wish the movie didn’t exist. Personally, I think King is being a little too hard on himself because Maximum Overdrive is a B movie done right.
It’s hard for me not to love a movie like this delight. In addition to machines causing chaos for mankind, there’s a rocking AC/DC soundtrack to boot. It is also worth noting that King was coked out of his mind at the time, and his rampant use of blow caused him to act eccentric and childlike on set. The drug-induced state of mind definitely shows on screen, but it’s all the better for it. If a sober mind made Maximum Overdrive it might not have turned out to be the weird, wacky and wonderful treat it is.
If you want to read more about, then Slash Film published this excellent piece on its production history. But make sure you watch the movie as well if you haven’t seen it already because it’s just wonderful. – Kieran Fisher
Christine was the very first Stephen King novel I read, I still have the paperback my mom bought me from Walden books on that fateful end of summer day. After leaving the book store, we went to meet up with my father for lunch at Stewart’s, and while my folks went inside to order them tasty burgers, I started reading. Then I heard it, a loud car pulled up blasting Buddy Holly (who even at a young age I knew of, my Grandfather was a DJ for a local oldies station), my dad comes out and goes:
“Beautiful, a Plymouth Fury! That’s the killer car in the book you’re reading, Ian!”
I was terrified. Turns out the burger joint was having one of those classic car meetups, I was in utter shock at the coincidence, I also knew right then that one day I must own a Plymouth Fury. It’s still my dream car.
We watched the movie later that week after I finished the book, and I loved it, and it’s pulsating soundtrack. I still have a framed Christine Poster in my room and I still die laughing every time Robert Prosky says “Look, I know you ain’t exactly got money fallin’ outta your asshole.” In fact, Prosky’s Darnell is one of my favorite movie characters ever. Come to think of it, a lot of Carpenter’s films have these little amazing characters that say or do ridiculous things and awesome things: the graveyard keeper in Halloween, Cabbie in Escape from New York, Wilfred Brimley (when he fires the gun Bogart-style and screams “I’LL KILL YOU!”) in The Thing, and Prosky in Christine. Add all those up and you get Jack Burton.
Anyway, I digress… My first book report project that year was on Christine. I got an A, but with a teacher recommendation that I should consider more jovial reading material. No teacher was going to get between me and Stephen King. Fuck him, he was a shitter anyway. – Ian West
STAND BY ME (1986)
I think about childhood a lot. The movies I watched, the games I played, the comics I read. But it always, always comes back to the friends I had. Nobody writes kids like Stephen King. They’re fleshed-out, fully developed characters going through things that most adults forget they ever even experienced. But throughout his entire career, King has kept writing about kids as if he still is one. It’s not just nostalgia, it’s a connection to one’s own sense of self that runs impossibly deep. This is one of the best things King achieves on the page, and no film adaptation has brought it to life quite like Stand by Me.
I never went out into the woods with friends to look for a dead body, but I had friends that I could immediately match up with those characters. No other film I saw when I was younger had kids that talked the way my friends and I did. Not just about our favorite comics and cartoons, but about real things that we could never discuss with an adult. Stand by Me is about one of the hardest truths: that we form incredibly deep bonds as kids and that we will never form bonds that strong again for the rest of our lives.
It’s about understanding ourselves and discovering who we want to be, about confronting mortality, but also reality. Gordie has to get over his brother’s death by also understanding that his parents never will. Stephen King is THE expert at taking a simple premise and dealing with it in the most sincere, complex way. On film, Stand by Me is his simplest and deepest to date. – Nat Brehmer
THE RUNNING MAN (1987)
By 2017 the world economy has collapsed. Food, natural resources and oil are in short supply. A police state, divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand.’ As Paul Michael Glaser’s The Running Man (1987) celebrates its 30th anniversary this year it seems as good a time as any to revisit it, which leads many to raise a smile at its now strangely ominous opening scrawl.
The Running Man was adapted from a 1982 novel by Richard Bachman, a pseudonym used by Stephen King for five novels which strayed more towards science fiction than the horror genre for which he made his name. The novel tells the story of Ben Richards, a poor, scrawny resident of the totalitarian Co-Op City, who is unable to find employment, while his daughter is critically ill and his wife has resorted to prostitution to gain money. Ben turns to the Games Network and volunteers to appear on The Running Man, the Network’s most dangerous programme where he has to attempt to survive for 30 days by travelling wherever he wishes in the world while being chased by “Hunters”.
To say The Running Man is a loose adaptation of King’s novel would be a major understatement. Ben Richards, instead of being the scrawny character King created, is now played by 1980s resident brick shithouse Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his run of now legendary 1980s action movies. The result is a movie so muscular that the biceps can barely be contained by bright yellow jumpsuits. Arnie’s Ben Richards is a cop who is sent to jail for refusing to shoot down innocent civilians. He escapes jail by beating up Yaphet Kotto, his friend, and comes into contact with rebels led by the pinnacle of 80s rebellion Mick Fleetwood, yes the drummer from Fleetwood Mac.
His jailbreak is so impressive that he catches the eye of Damon Killian (real life game show host Richard Dawson) who demands to get him on his game show The Running Man. Instead of the 30 day marathon of the novels, the movie version is a three hour free-for-all where Arnie is thrown into a war zone and hunted down by a cast of colourful characters with only his biceps and a host of one-liners to save him: there’s ice-hockey wrestler Sub Zero (death by barbed wire round the neck, “He was a real pain in the neck”), chainsaw wielding Buzzsaw (death by chainsaw to the groin, “He had to split”), and flame-throwing Fireball (death by fire, “What a hot-head”). It may lose the social commentary of King’s novel, even of the movie’s opening credits, but if you want to see Arnie lay waste to squads of bad guys then, my God, this is the movie you want to see.
Luckily the movie also strayed away from the novels’ chilling ending and any more startling real world comparisons: in King’s final chapter, Richards hijacks a plane and crashes it directly into the Network skyscraper. Thankfully that wasn’t a very Arnie ending. Here, he just gets a huge gun and blows away a lot of bad guys live on television. Now that’s entertainment. – Paul Fleming
STORM OF THE CENTURY (1999)
Unlike the other titles on this list, Storm of the Century isn’t based on one of King’s novels or short stories. The 1999 miniseries was conceived as a screenplay with the sole purpose of television in mind, hence why it’s one of the author’s most impressive onscreen outings. As the property was moulded for television from the get go, the transition to the screen felt more natural and focused, and in this writer’s humble opinion, it’s one of King’s creepiest and most thought-provoking works.
Set in a small village off the coast of Maine, the citizens are bracing themselves for a hazardous blizzard that’ll pose plenty of problems for the small town anyway, but their problems intensify further when a mysterious stranger arrives to cause a spot of bother. He knows everyone’s history and he’s offing some of the residents for good measure, but what he really wants is a child he can use to for his own nefarious purposes. I guess going through the proper adoption channels was too much for him…
One of the biggest criticisms of films and TV shows based on King’s work is that they fail to measure up to the power of the source material. Although there is plenty to enjoy about a lot of them for different reasons, it’s a valid point as most of the time his stories tend to be so much better on the page. Storm of the Century, however, is focused and structured as a miniseries from the get go; and it’s also packed with some pretty chilling scenes. Colm Feore is pure evil as the the movie’s villain and steals the entire show, but as far as storytelling goes, this is perfect King.
Go in blind, and let it sweep you away. – Kieran Fisher
PET SEMATARY (1989)
Needful Things was the first Stephen King book I ever read, but Pet Sematary was the first Stephen King book I ever TRIED to read. At 12 years old, I was way too young to appreciate, let alone understand, hardly anything that was going on in the novel. I’ve always loved the movie adaptation from 1989, and I eventually gave the novel another go several years later, but the real truth of the story didn’t hit me until I was much older.
On the back cover of my paperback edition of Pet Sematary is the quote “The most frightening book Stephen King has ever written!” That’s a bold statement when you’re talking about the king of horror – yet for me it is the absolute truth. It is this incredibly dark and disturbing story about the complete annihilation of a family in the most horrible of ways.
The film brings this to life in a way that is equal parts gory and funny. The humoristic undertones (such as Victor Pascow’s ghost) aid in making the story go down a bit easier, but at the same time, it makes everything that is happening even more disturbing. When you really think about it, this movie is as horrifying as anybody, especially a parent, could imagine. The death of a child in a particularly brutal way is the centerpiece of it all, and things only get worse from there. Zelda, anyone?
There is also a real rawness and emotion in the portrayal of the parents, Rachel and Louis Creed, that I have always admired in the film. Denise Crosby is great as the take-no-shit matriarch at first, but what she really represents at her core as a mother comes out in the scene where she is reunited with Gage again. Dale Midkiff as Louis has one standout scene after another, not the least of which is his anguished cry to the heavens after his son has been killed.
Pet Sematary is as gruesome and as dark as things can get in the King universe, and it’s something that I don’t think the movie gets as much credit for because of the way it is presented (which I think is truly brilliant). Yet underneath it all, I think you really will find the most horrifying story Stephen King has ever written. – Michele Eggen
SALEM’S LOT (1979)
Tobe Hooper’s 1979 Salem’s Lot is my favorite Stephen King adaptation, and a superlative film in its own right. Paul Monash adapted the screenplay from King’s expansive novel, and even though the film is a TV miniseries that runs just over 3 hours, some corners had to be cut in order to make the runtime manageable. Normally I hate when this is done to King’s work, and a number of favorite scenes from the book never made it into the movie.
Aside from condensing some of the characters into composites, the biggest liberty Monash takes with King’s story is changing lead vampire Barlow from a suave aristocrat a la Count Dracula into a mute variation of Count Orlok from Nosferatu. Although it may have disappointed diehard King fans, this choice nudges the film in a direction that really makes me happy. Too often in films, vampires are presented as normal looking, or even sexy, until they’re required to attack, when they suddenly morph into something monstrous.
The creatures in Salem’s Lot are hideous 24/7. In this film, vampirism isn’t sexy or a way to achieve any kind of pleasurable immortality, it’s a horrible thing that you would never, ever want to have happen to you. Its vampires can’t hide their glowing yellow eyes, nor can they pass as normal in any other way, even temporarily. I am sure Paul Monash had his reasons, but I find this approach to be far more sinister than the Barlow in the book, who appeared handsome to the people who saw him and communicated with both spoken language and written words. The creature of the film has been physically altered by the centuries that it has existed. The skin has turned whitish blue from lack of circulating blood, the features are animalistic and rat-like, and its powers of telepathy and telekinesis have rendered speech unnecessary. The newer vampires still haven’t shed the affectations of being alive; they have powers of telekinesis and levitation, but they speak and have memories of their previous lives.
This may horrify some purists, but I really wish the weird ending of the film had led to a continuing series. King adaptations often veered sharply from his original game plan, but Salem’s Lot manages to be faithful to the book even when it’s doing its own thing. If the series had not lasted more than just a few episodes, it would have still been interesting to have seen where other writers would have taken this concept, or if they’d have been able to maintain the level of quality that is represented in the TV movie. – Bill Van Ryn