With any art, whether it be film, music or high grade pornography, there are certain artists that grab you and never let go, no matter how much you change as a person. I often say that music was my first love but I actually discovered Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton way before Oasis and Pulp. The first author to really get under my skin however, was Stephen King.
The Maine author is often described as The King of Horror but he actually has a lot more strings to his bow than that. I honestly don’t believe there is a writer who could claim to have inspired 10 films as strong and disparate as those on this list. King is a powerhouse in horror but to only take into account the macabre and grotesque is doing his work a grave injustice. I have read 36 Stephen King books, some of them many times and I have seen most of the films adapted from his works. What follows are 10 of the best. Sit down, turn down the lights and ignore that gurgling sound coming from the plughole…
10. The Mist (2007)
‘As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?’
When you think of a collaboration between Frank Darabont and Stephen King, The Mist is perhaps not the first film that comes to mind. It is however, a faithful and haunting adaptation that takes a potentially silly premise and injects a claustrophobic tension. The ending in the film takes the ambiguity from the book and drowns it in the dark waters of desolation and despair. Needless to say, King approved of this conclusion so much that he said he wished he had thought of it himself.
9. Pet Sematary (1989)
‘Sometimes dead is better…’
I have seen hundreds if not thousands of horror films and in terms of pure terror I would rank Pet Sematary amongst the top 5. Visually and thematically the film veers between the deranged and the tragic and in Zelda contains one of the most heart stoppingly, fearful creations ever committed to film. The book did a better job of capturing the tragedy and descent into madness suffered by protagonist Louis Creed but director Mary Lambert crafted a minor classic when she made Pet Sematary.
8. 1408 (2007)
‘Why do you think people believe in ghosts? For fun? No. It’s the prospect of something after death.’
Perhaps it’s due to their lack of recognition from the Academy of maybe a lack of resources, but horror films often struggle to attract a really stellar cast. It goes without saying then that when a Stephen King adaptation starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson was announced that people began to sit up and take notice. They would not be disappointed.
I saw 1408 at a packed cinema, in which everyone was so terrified that the room was on the verge of group psychosis. It is an experience I have never had before or since and it is baffling that 1408 still doesn’t receive the critical acclaim that it undoubtedly deserves. One of the best horror films of the last 20 years.
7. Misery (1990)
‘I’m your number one fan. There’s nothing to worry about. You’re going to be just fine. I will take good care of you. I’m your number one fan…’
I have read some pretty gruelling novels over the years. My natural predilection is to suffering and horror and the aptly titled Misery is easily the toughest book I have ever encountered. The description of protagonist Paul Sheldon’s horrific recovery from a car crash, plays out in such intimate and seemingly never ending detail that I found it hard to keep turning the pages. The fact that the book is semi autobiographical (King himself was the victim of a terrible car accident) makes Misery all the more galling.
The film doesn’t quite capture the grinding torture of the book but the iconic performance from Kathy Bates ensures that Misery will forever go down as the archetypal stalker horror. The famous ‘hobbling’ scene is different from the book in a way that is subtle but infinitely more grotesque. Misery is excruciatingly memorable for all the right reasons.
6. The Green Mile (1999)
‘People hurt the ones they love. That’s how it is all around the world.’
The second of three collaborations between Frank Darabont and Stephen King is also one of the most popular King adaptations. The Green Mile is a difficult film to pin down. It isn’t a horror but it has elements that are horrific, it isn’t a fantasy but it definitely has fantastical moments. This ambiguity results in a film that is unlike any other, even in the sprawling career of Tom Hanks.
The Green Mile is in many ways the best King adaptation as it is probably the one that improves on its source material the most. John Coffey has become an iconic film character and any film that boasts a cast of Hanks, David Morse and Sam Rockwell is well worth anybody’s time.
5. Carrie (1976)
‘Red. I might have known it would be red…’
The story that started it all. The career of
John Travolta Stephen King is entirely indebted to his first published story, Carrie. King’s wife Tabitha pulled the story out of the trash and convinced King to finish it. The rest is history. King’s epistolary novella is raw and powerful and inspired a generation of teen horror films.
In the steady hands of master director Brian de Palma, Carrie is a horror tour de force that features career defining turns from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Carrie will celebrate it’s 40th birthday in November of this year but it still feels as fresh and imaginative as it did on release.
4. The Running Man (1987)
‘I’m not into politics. I’m into survival. ..’
I am a massive fan of 80’s cinema and in particular the work of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not in a kitsch jokey way however, I genuinely believe his output from 1984 to 1991 to be fucking outstanding. In the middle of that golden run came The Running Man. The alarming advancement of technology meant that the 80s was a decade particularly obsessed with a dystopian future and The Running Man is one of the best films of the era.
If The Running Man feels less like a Stephen King story than the other works on this list than that might be because it isn’t be Stephen King at all. It was actually written by a mysterious and reclusive writer named Richard Bachman… Confusing.
3. Stand By Me (1986)
‘I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve…’
I have reviewed nearly 500 films for this website over the years. Only 7 of them have received a score of 10 out of 10. Stand By Me is one of them. Read why here.
Stand By Me is one of my all time favourite films. It is third on this list… Ridiculous.
2. The Shining (1980)
‘Words of wisdom, Lloyd my man. Words of wisdom…’
The Shining is the best horror film ever made. I often find people like to add the caveat ‘in my opinion’ or something similar when discussing film but this one isn’t up for debate. The best director of all time in Stanley Kubrick, one of the best actors of all time in Jack Nicholson, an absurdly good supporting cast and all this from the mind of The King of Horror himself… Yet Stephen King hated it.
King declared that The Shining was the only adaptation of his work that he can ‘remember hating’ and only a few years ago he expressed his continued dissatisfaction when stating ‘there was Stanley Kubrick’s movie which many seem to remember — for reasons I have never quite understood — as one of the scariest films they have ever seen’. It is safe to say that King himself is the only man that seems to have a problem with the Kubrick version. The Shining is a masterpiece.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
‘Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies…’
A list of acclaimed films released in 1994 (holds breath): Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, The Lion King, The Crow, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Leon: The Professional, and
Street Fighter Clerks. There is a strong argument that 1994 could well be the best ever year for the motion picture. The Shawshank Redemption betters all of them.
Shawshank is the slow burner that captured the imagination of cinema goes world wide and still sits pretty atop IMDB’s top 250 movie list. It is also one of the most faithful adaptations of any of King’s works with most of the dialogue coming verbatim from the book. It would make Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman into house hold names but more than anything, The Shawshank Redemption could lay claim to being the most universally liked film ever released. Despite it’s huge populist appeal, proclamations of Shawshank being overrated are thin on the ground.
Stephen King shaped my life in countless ways with his writing. I have read IT more than any other book despite its gargantuan length and every chapter in my life has a corresponding King novel running along side it. This list shows that he is responsible for 3 of my all time favourite films, as well as many others that I have watched and enjoyed over the years. The King of Horror? Definitely. But that does King an injustice as this list covers different genre’s, era’s and ideas. Stephen King has inspired countless generations with his work and this list shows that he will remain timeless as a horror writer, author and story teller.