The Best and Worst Stephen King Adaptations

Michaela McGrath

Stephen King, a legendary and ubiquitous voice in horror, has never been shy about having his work adapted to the big screen. With the release of the latest “It” movie, based on the 1986 novel, it’s worth it to look back on King’s film track record which has ranged from remarkable to laughable over the years.  

One of the most beloved and iconic Stephen King adaptations is also one that he notoriously hates: Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). King disowned the film because it isn’t faithful to his book, but it remains for many, a masterpiece. Another classic in the genre is the supernatural horror, “Carrie” (1976), directed by Brian de Palma and based on King’s first published novel. “Carrie” follows a bullied high school girl who develops telekinetic powers that she uses to get revenge on her classmates.

Other adaptations worth seeing include “Misery” (1990) and “Creepshow” (1982); the year 1983 gave us “Christine” and the excellent “The Dead Zone” directed by David Cronenberg. King’s less horror-centric stories have also been adapted successfully. Most notably, Rob Reiner’s “Stand by Me” (1986)—a coming-of-age drama about a group of boys who go on a trip to find the body of a missing child—is loosely based on King’s novella “The Body.” Frank Darabont’s “The Shawshank Redemption” is also based on a King story and achieved widespread critical acclaim, including from the man himself, who considers it one of the best adaptations of his work.   

For every well-made King adaptation, there are a handful of unwatchable ones. Among the worst of the worst is King’s only directorial attempt from 1986, “Maximum Overdrive,” which was reportedly made in a cocaine-fueled daze. The result is a disaster film that is itself a lame disaster. Other failures include “Children of the Corn” (1984), “The Mangler” (1995), “Dreamcatcher” (2003), “Cell” (2016), and the 2013 remake of “Carrie” that never had a reason to exist. Then there’s “The Dark Tower,” which after a long-delayed production, was finally made and released this summer to a massive thud. King’s work has drawn so much interest from Hollywood that cinematic casualties are bound to happen.

Stephen King is the definition of prolific, after writing 54 fiction novels and over 200 short stories in a span of five-decades. A storyteller in the classic sense, his work often expertly uses suspense, extended metaphors and dynamic characters to terrify readers. Over the years, King has returned to the same themes: memory, childhood trauma and suffering, and the evil lurking in the seemingly ethical. His proclivity for writing protagonists who are children or outsiders is embodied by “It,” which focuses on a group of seven kids (referred to as The Losers Club) who are terrorized by a being that takes the form of a clown. “It” is already predicted to be a box office success, but hopefully it will also capture Stephen King’s trademark frightening magic.

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