Given his long and incredibly prolific career, it seems a pretty safe bet to call Stephen King the most successful popular writer of his generation. Since storming the literary world in 1974 with his self-assured debut novel Carrie, King’s books have been adored by a worldwide legion of fans. As a writer, King has demonstrated keen skill with comedy, action, drama, and (of course) horror. His stories are littered with memorable characters, haunting locations, and instances of stark brutality.
King's writing has so impacted the public imagination that Hollywood has long turned to his work for inspiration. Seriously, even if you’ve never read a Stephen King novel, odds are you’re familiar with his writing through one of his numerous big (and small) screen adaptations. His work has inspired some of the best movies in history.
And since you’ve heard of most of them — Shawshank Redemption, Misery, The Shining, Stand By Me — there's no need to belabor the point by talking about them further. Stephen Kings books have been adapted frequently enough that there are tons of pretty good Stephen King adaptations to fawn over (even barring his most famous work).
Okay, fair warning, if you’re allergic to cheese or movies from the '80s, you might want to look elsewhere for your King film fix. That shouldn’t be too hard, because the Master of Horror has a lot of legitimately exceptional adaptations of his work bouncing around.
However, if you’re willing to simply enjoy yourself and watch a movie with a decent story and some moment-to-moment excellence, then here are some fun flicks based on the works of the world’s most popular writer.
Also, mild spoilers ahead. You know, if you care about that kind of stuff.
If you’ve never committed yourself to the tear-fest that is Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile, grab a hankie and get on it. The three-hour epic is worth watching if only to absorb Michael Clarke Duncan’s incredible performance as gentle giant John Coffey.
Sure, the film is melodramatic, but Darabont’s direction and Tom Hank’s subdued turn as prison guard Paul Edgecomb makes the whole thing work surprisingly well. Darabont direction creates a celluloid storybook that’s magical and haunting. Honestly, thought the movie drags at times, it really doesn’t feel like it lasts three hours.
#59 on The Best Fantasy Movies
#63 on The Most Rewatchable Moviessee more on The Green Mile
Frank Darabont (who also directed The Shawshank Redemption) does a solid job adapting The Mist, a story in which a bunch of people find themselves stuck in a small town grocery store after a strange mist rolls in. Anyone who tries to go outside is devoured by fearsome monsters. Inside, the people begin to split into factions and the whole plot breaks down into an allegory about the warring personalities at play in modern society.
Buoyed by a really kickass cast including Thomas Jane (doing good work), Marcia Gay Harden, Andre Braugher, Toby Jones, and William Sadler, The Mist is tense, thought-provoking, and… sort of ruined by an inscrutable and depressing ending. If you commit yourself to enjoying the journey rather than waiting for the destination, though, The Mist will absolutely reward your time.
Also Rankedsee more on The Mist
It would be both misleading and unfair to call Children of the Corn a “good” movie. The script isn’t good. The acting isn't good (though some of the kids are incidentally horrifying), and the special effects are downright terrible.
Yet, there’s a weird allure to Children of the Corn that can’t be put into words. The pervasive sense of dread in the film is intriguing and the concept behind the film is stellar. The execution is muddled, but there is something there. You just have to see it for yourself.
#23 on The Best '80s Horror Moviessee more on Children of the Corn
Upon release in 1998, Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil was drowned by a lawsuit in which some of the extras accused Singer of making them strip naked during a shower scene (it’s a weird movie, folks).
The film follows a young kid (Brad Renfro) who discovers that his elderly neighbor (an immaculately evil Ian McKellen) is a former Nazi war criminal. As the young man delves deeper into the old man’s history, both of them discover a dark side of themselves that propels them forward. It’s a weirdly even-handed look at obsession and fanaticism (that will nevertheless blow your mind and make you question your own perceptions).
#56 on The Best Movies of 1998see more on Apt Pupil
Drew Barrymore is a pyrokinetic little girl who’s on the run from some shady government types. Something of a slow burn (nailed it) of a film, Firestarter is punctuated with moments of shocking violence.
The movie is also littered with Oscar-level actors who just showed up to enjoy themselves. Martin Sheen and George C. Scott are terrific as duplicitous G-men, and Art Carney and Louise Fletcher are pitch perfect as a quiet farmer and his wife. The effects, unfortunately, are fairly lackluster and the story is bit too silly for the movie's serious tone. In the titular role, however, little Barrymore is the perfect balance of sweet and scary, which makes the film a fun ride all the way through.
#68 on The Best '80s Horror Movies
#55 on The Best Movies of 1984see more on Firestarter
Christine is a story about a car that’s born evil. Oh, and she's magic. OH, and she has a gender. Christine can regenerate damage, drive herself, and she corrupts anyone who owns her. This plot lends itself easily to cheese, and in a lot of ways — like the acting — it really is quite trifling. Under the steady hand of cheese-master John Carpenter, though, Christine is a really fun ride (heh).
If you can laugh through a silly script and try to root for the car, Christine has all the endearing allure of an evil Disney movie. Some of the chase sequences are legitimately fun and there’s a lot of personality in Christine the car (more than the film’s leading ladies, at least).
#15 on The Best Car Movies
#25 on The Best '80s Horror Moviessee more on Christine
There’s just something about the 1983 adaptation of Cujo that’s consistently heart-breaking. Is it all the sad dog stuff? Yeah, probably the sad dog stuff. And, sure, the dog spends most of the movie as a rabid bastard, but the whole thing is the fault of Cujo’s owners. Who doesn’t notice fresh bite marks on their dog? Monsters, that's who.
Cujo is the story of a St. Bernard driven mad by a rabies infection. He subsequently terrorizes (and murders) his abusive owner as well as several members of the community. Also, the family drama framing the dog’s terror is actually fairly well-handled. This is mostly thanks to a good performance from Dee Wallace. She really nails being a mother trapped in a hot car that’s being assaulted by a rabid St. Bernard. Hey, it's a specific skill but it comes in handy.
#26 on The Best '80s Horror Moviessee more on Cujo
In Thinner, an obese lawyer (who's kind of a prick) gets cursed by a gypsy to waste away until he dies. It’s a unique film that draws spine-tingling suspense from some unexpected places. If you go into Thinner expecting introspection on what it means for a man to learn from his mistakes through an O. Henry-style punishment, then you’ll be disappointed.
If, however, you want a decent film that’s (surprisingly) action-heavy and macabre to the bone, then Thinner is one you won’t want to miss.
#59 on The Best Movies of 1996see more on Thinner