The Top 10 Stephen King Film Adaptations

Stephen King is the one, true Master of Horror, and I’m here to remind you why. Before you even launch into this one, know that I had an extremely difficult time selecting movies, and an even more daunting task of fitting them into a respectable order. In the end, love it or hate it, this is my list and believe me: I do indeed stand behind it!

10. Apt Pupil: While more psychological chiller than official horror, Apt Pupil is wrought with dreadful atmosphere that really does linger long after viewing. There’s a dark underlining to this picture that really touches the inner core of any sensible individual. To witness a drastic alteration in one boy’s personality is one thing, to take it to a murderous racially charged level is a completely different story. This film may not put the fear into you on an… expected level, but, there’s a bit of a subterfuge at work here, as deep down, when you really contemplate this tale of Nazi obsession, it’s extremely, extremely perturbing.

9. The Night Flier: I still stand behind my proclamation that this is the most underrated vampire film of the 1990’s. Mark Pavia directs this story of an oft-jaded but extremely determined reporter who’s taken up the trail left behind by a vampire who opts to utilize a small Cessna as his means of transportation. This film has some stunning visuals, and while I’m not usually taken aback by smoke machines or “fog”, there are some shrouded shots in this picture that are awe inspiring. Toss in a fantastic performance from Miguel Ferrer, some decent gore, and a damn, damn creepy vampire (I personally love the makeup work!) and you’ve got yourself a serious winner that’s been sadly overlooked.

8. Salem's Lot (1979): I’m partial to this film because King’s Salem's Lot happens to be my favorite horror novel. That said, this is a well-structured film that relies on a very natural pace, some very cool visuals and a respectable constraint in regards to graphic gore. There are a handful of top notch performances in tow, the most significant being the effort offered by David Soul, who fits King’s heroic character Ben Mears to a perfect T. I’m also a huge fan of Geoffrey Lewis, who is excellent as one of the picture’s early victims, Mike Ryerson. For anyone who’s ever (for some reason) doubted the directing skills of Tobe Hooper, I strongly recommend this picture, it’s about as creepy as vampire films get!


7. Carrie (1976): This tale of a reclusive teen with psionic powers is actually a great picture technically. I’ve just never been able to connect on a deep level with the film. Carrie should, in all likelihood rank much higher on this list, as Brian De Palma does a stellar job of directing this melancholy tale. My main issues with the picture however is the downtime in the film’s second act, which I’m admittedly learning too enjoy more the more I view the film. A jaw dropping introduction sets things in motion and an absolutely staggering conclusion highlight this picture that I guarantee will never be forgotten.

6. Pet Sematary: I think Pet Sematary ranks as a borderline masterpiece for numerous reasons. First, the lean on irony is so pronounced that you fear Louis Creed’s life is doomed to crumble immediately, and subsequently, it does! The picture deals with so many taboos it’s amazing that King fit this kind of turmoil into a single tale. Child death, desecration of the dead, ancient evil burial grounds, questionable parenting in an obviously hazardous surrounding, senseless murder… King travels everywhere with this tale, and it’s frightening from moment one. Pet Sematary is and always will be a favorite of mine, and a good reminder to watch where my kid’s running about!

5. Misery: In my humble opinion, Misery is King’s most disturbing picture shot. Not necessarily because it packs the stunning jolts and horrific makeup work of other efforts, but because the entire scenario is extremely plausible. Just imagine for a moment that you’re a successful author, and your biggest fan (who happens to be a psychopath with a colorful background) discovers you stranded in the snow after a car accident. There’s not much positive to emerge from a setup like that, and if played right (as is the case in this instance), the negatives are three levels beyond extreme. James Caan and Kathy Bates bring their A game here, and the conviction with which both perform is gut wrenching. Being Paul Sheldon isn’t always the greatest thing in the world apparently.


4. The Mist: There’s nothing better than a film that juggles the horrors of humanity with the threat of the supernatural. Frank Darabont is a perfect fit for King’s material; he hasn’t faltered yet, and The Mist is just another example of balancing the natural with the supernatural. The character study to define all character studies, The Mist is one of the King’s finest adaptations to date. While the film’s conclusion differs from the stories, it’s still a moving moment of cinema that will tear at the strings of any father’s heart. Missing The Mist is a mistake, plain and simple.


3. Silver Bullet: The nostalgia that accompanies this picture will see that it always places quite high in a “Stephen King” listing (of any sort, practically). Released back in 1985, Silver Bullet still stands as one of the finest werewolf features ever shot. The performances are sublime across the board, the suspense is practically palpable, Corey Haim absolutely rules the roost, Gary Busey is in top form and we’ve even got some pretty impressive special effects to feast upon. I think the idea of limiting your hero by outlining him as a crippled child is both bold and inventive. Haim does the role of Marty Coslaw extreme justice, and when coupled with his relationship with Uncle Red (Busey), there’s a real sense of connectivity and camaraderie that sets the film apart from so many other lycanthropic telling’s.

2. Christine: Christine isn’t the most frightening story we’ve seen King produce. Hell, it’s not even close. What it is however is perfectly constructed. King paints teenage life with the hand of an accomplished artist, bringing believable habits and traits to each of his focal characters. And, thank the higher powers: that transfers to film rather well. Again, King offers a bit of a hybrid here, employing a haunting angle to escort a nasty revenge story. It works perfectly, and between a trio of exceptional performances from Keith Gordon (Arnie Cunningham), John Stockwell (Dennis Guilder) and Alexandra Paul (Leigh Cabot) as well as that gorgeous 1958 Plymouth Fury, you just can’t lose with this treasure.

1. The Shining: I know that Stephen King openly expressed his displeasure with this film. I’ll side with King in the sense that he’s right: what’s captured on film is not what you’ll find on page, and yes, Jack Nicholson was a bit too… crazy from the jump, the descent into madness was in part missed due to casting. That said, the film is still absolutely riveting. Some of Stanley Kubrick’s shots are genuinely breathtaking, and the editing is remarkable. There are some jarring scenes in this film that may never be rivaled by similar works. In the end, Nicholson is terrific, despite being obviously quite perturbed prior to… possession/insanity, and he really steals a few scenes that have, as it just so happens now taken on an iconic recognition.