Greetings, Glancers! As you’ve no doubt witnessed over the last few years, uber-author and all round good guy Stephen King has been in the midst of a cinematic resurgence. While not the extended universe I was hoping for, we have been treated to a tonne of movies and series based on novels, shorts, and napkin scribbles by the master of horror. Since the release of Carrie in the late 70s, there has been roughly, roughly, fifty eight billion adaptations of his work and neither he, nor those who wish to put his work on the screen, are showing signs of slowing down. Which is terrific for me because he has been my favourite writer for most of my life, great for you because you get to read my lists on the subject, and wonderful for everyone because we are treated to some fun and frightening viewing experiences.
I’ll be writing two posts on King adaptations – this one is purely for movies, and the next one will be for TV shows and mini-series. Within minutes of me posting them, they will probably be out of date as another 10 adaptations will have been made. Here we go then – my favourite Stephen King movies – released on the big screen, straight to video, or through streaming services. I’m going with alphabetical order because I can’t be arsed ranking these. Get busy readin’, or get busy dyin’!
I was originally going to include thirteen movies here – with The Dead Zone and The Green Mile making up the numbers. I cut those two, which left me with Eleven. I decided to cut Carrie over Apt Pupil, because everyone picks Carrie. I love Carrie, as well as the other two I cut, but I feel like Apt Pupil deserves more recognition. The film should have been a hit at release, considering it was Bryan Singer’s follow-up to Who Is Keyser Soze The Movie, but it didn’t land. Now, when it should be getting re-evaluated, the accusations against Bryan Singer have ensured that most people are keeping at a distance from the film. It’s that rare King adaptation which doesn’t feature any supernatural activity. What it does have, is an interest in the heart of evil as young Brad Renfro becomes obsessed with the brutality of World War II and strikes up a relationship with an elderly man in his neighbourhood who he believes to be a Nazi. The short is one of King’s darkest, most riveting reads and the film feeds off this malevolent energy thanks to Singer’s sure hand and two superlative, committed performances from Ian McKellen and the late, great Brad Renfro. Like the best of Horror, it’s an uncomfortable watch.
I covered Creepshow recently in my TTT George Romero movies, so go check that out. Great movie, great anthology.
One of my favourite books, and with the 90s mini-series being a firm favourite, the hype for a big screen It was real. The movie went through a few incarnations before Muschetti came on and finished Chapter One. I’m including Chapters One and Two together as it really is two halves of the same story. Both films are similar enough that you could watch the whole thing in one numb-arsed sitting, even though most fans and critics seem to prefer the first chapter. I’m old enough to remember the same arguments going one when the mini-series first came out – that the kids section was better. In all honesty love them both and would happily have watched four more hours. Sure the de-aging effects are dicey, the CG is at times a let down, Mike is reduced to a quivering weirdo as an adult, and it does feel somewhat repetitive, but I found the charm and banter between the adults just as endearing as the kids. In essence, it’s a scary and efficient horror story featuring a near perfect villain which preys on kids and which adults can’t see. Skarsgard is a great Pennywise – the performances all around are excellent – but it gets the most important pieces of the source material correct – the tone and that sense of binding, unbreakable friendship.
The only King adaptation to win an Oscar – not overly strange if you consider his shlock, but very strange when you consider his ‘more literary’ pieces. When a talented director and cast takes a King text and treats it with reverence, it will strike gold. Misery is a prime example of this and it could so easily have become just another crazy white woman movie. With Rob Reiner on an incredible run, he takes two seasoned performers and allows the film to be almost entirely by their command. The game of wits becomes a game of cat and mouse until the tables are eventually flipped. Bates and Caan have rarely been better and Reiner doesn’t shy away from some good old fashioned, ankle-snapping violence. It has no business being as good as this.
Hands down King’s most devastating and horrifying work, thanks to personal experience it’s not one I would recommend reading while pregnant or with a young child. We all know ‘dead is better’ and we know the film does have a certain reliance on gore and grisly effects, but there are numerous chilling moments and an honestly unnerving performance from young Miko Hughes. What could be worse than losing a child? Pet Sematary delves deep into this question and poses several horrible answers.
Stand By Me
Reiner’s first effort is many fans’ personal favourite. Like It, it features that Band Of Outsiders vibe which is always appealing and a nostalgic quality which reminds us of our own youthful adventures, loves, fears, and mistakes, and how time has a way of glossing over the cracks yet leaving a bittersweet taste of regret. We get older, we change, and we sometimes forget, but once in a while something makes us remember a time we can’t quite return to. It’s so much more than the tale of four friends on a trek to see a dead body – while The Body is not exactly a Maguffin – it’s more about the journey, the relationships, and what the discovery of that body represents to each of them. It’s about growing up, losing innocence, remembering, and it all plays through the eyes of a great cast – Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Richard Dreyfuss, Jerry O’Connell, Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, John Cusack.
Another ensemble, this time dealing with a more direct and present horror. The Mist is one horror, the creatures of varying sizes and types in the mist are another, and the opposing voices in the store they hold up in is another. Another successful film based on a short, the film follows primarily a father and son shopping after a storm when a sudden all encompassing Mist swarms over their town. The store is packed with workers and other townsfolk, and eventually the military, and once the monsters show up and begin attacking and killing, it seems to some that the end is nigh. And when push comes to shove, it turns out they’re right. It’s a great ensemble piece at times let down by the effects, but in terms of efficiently telling a story about society’s breakdown against a horrific backdrop, and an ending which has gone in film lore, it’s one of the best.
The Running Man
They’ve been trying to get a remake of The Running Man up and, ahem, running for decades now. I say remake, but in most cases it sounds like they want to make a film more akin to the source material. Because make no mistake, The Running Man is more of an Arnie movie than a Stephen King movie. Still, he wrote the original and however loose of an adaptation this is, it still is. You can call it silly or smart, it certainly ticks boxes in both categories, but in the end it’s one the better end of the scale of Arnie mowing down bad guys and quipping. There are some bizarre casting choices and some legit great performances – I only wish we could send a few celebs onto this show for real.
The Shawshank Redemption
What else needs to be said about The Shawshank Redemption? It’s already frequently named as one of the best films ever, and it’s one of those rare instances where almost everyone agrees that it’s great. It is.
You know it, I know it. Say what you like about the differences between book and movie – we all know King’s comments on Kubrick’s work over the years. I look at them as the separate things they are – both men are legends and both deserve to do whatever the hell they like when creating. It’s one of my favourite King books, it’s one of my favourite King movies, and both are classics in their respective mediums. I remember the first time I saw this, I was babysitting for some kids a few houses down the road. Free fridge, free house, the dark, and The Shining, and a creepy walk home around Midnight as I pondered over what I’d just seen and what might be creeping up behind me.
Let us know in the comments what your favourite Stephen King movies are, and stay tuned for my favourite Stephen King TV and Mini-Series adaptations!