The Best Things About The Worst Stephen King Adaptations

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Vote up the things that shine in not-so-great Stephen King films.

There's no debating that Stephen King is the master of horror. His bibliography boasts at least a dozen stone-cold classics, and his collection of novels, short stories, and novellas have been mined time and time again by Hollywood for adaptations that range from astonishing to, shall we say, not so hot. The latter are the films we're discussing today.

Even when a King adaptation is bad, there's something magnificent going on, from super-gross effects to an actor who knows exactly what kind of movie they're in and plays it to the hilt. Every single one of these "bad" King adaptations is well worth your time, especially if you're looking for the next so-bad-it's-good classic.


  • Thinner was the final novel by Richard Bachman, the pen name King used to write some of his pulpier material, and it's an absolute banger. Even though the novel isn't as focused as King's more beloved work, it's a nasty little read about a guy who's cursed to lose weight until he's skin and bones after he kills the wife of a Romani traveler in a hit-and-run accident.

    Directed by Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play), Thinner is a love-it-or-hate-it experience. Holland leans into the story's nastiness and really makes sure the audience hates everyone on screen, but even if you're not into that kind of thing, you can appreciate the makeup effects applied to actor Robert Jon Burke to make him appear obese at the beginning of the film and then legitimately skeletal by the finale. Thinner isn't perfect, but it's worth checking out for the wild visuals. 

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 15%

  • 'The Shining' (1997) Has Stephen King's Stamp Of Approval
    Photo: ABC

    The 1997 made-for-TV adaptation of The Shining is nowhere near as terrifying as Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's masterwork, but it does have a few nice updates to the 1980 film. Rebecca De Mornay's performance as Wendy Torrance is a nuanced portrayal that the original is missing, and Steven Weber gives Jack Torrance an actual arc rather than copying Jack Nicholson's cranked-up (but fantastic) performance.

    King and his regular co-conspirator Mick Garris (the two previously did Sleepwalkers and The Stand) crafted a miniseries that's much more faithful to King's original work.

    Because King was in charge of the adaptation, there was no one around to keep him from indulging his goofier impulses, which is one of the reasons this miniseries is more of a curiosity than a must-see.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 36%

    70 votes
  • There's a reason you've likely forgotten Secret Window, the film adaptation of Secret Window, Secret Garden. In the film, Johnny Depp plays a recently divorced writer named Mort who's suffering from writer's block when he runs afoul of a man named John Shooter who claims Mort plagiarized one of his stories. It's basically The Dark Half if things worked out poorly for everyone. Also, it's kind of a drag.

    The one shining moment of this film is John Turturro as John Shooter, Mort's alter ego who really wants Mort to kill his ex-wife. Turturro is doing the most in Secret Window - aside from wearing an amazing Daniel Plainview hat, he's rocking a Southern accent that's just a hair short of sounding like Foghorn Leghorn. Everyone else is trying to play into the film's nuance, but Turturro knows he's in one of King's sillier adaptations, and he's cranked up to 11.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 46%

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  • You've got to see Silver Bullet - it's absolutely bonkers. Released in 1985 amid the first cinematic hot streak for King, this adaptation of Cycle of the Werewolf is best enjoyed with a group of friends who are ready to laugh rather than discuss the existential nature of werewolfery in the work of King, but it's not without its merits. Silver Bullet features a cast of some of the best scene-chewers in the business (such as Gary Busey, Everitt McGill, and Terry O'Quinn), and its werewolf effects are stunningly weird.

    In an era where practical effects were about to reach their apex, the werewolf work in this movie is nowhere near as cool as An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, but the goopy, bear-like creature that stalks the town of Tarker's Mill, ME, under the full moon is a fascinating take on what was possible - even with a small budget - back in the 1980s.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 45%

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  • Maximum Overdrive isn't a good movie. It's not even a good adaptation of King's short story, "Trucks." The story focuses on a group of people stuck in a truck stop while sentient semi-trucks try to gun down every human on the planet. It's not one of King's best short stories, but it's effective.

    The same can't be said for Maximum Overdrive. Directed by a cocaine-fueled King, Maximum Overdrive is a straight-up mess. Emilio Estevez tries to hold the cast together, and Yeardley Smith is absolutely wild, but it's all for naught.

    The really cool thing in this movie is the iconic Green Goblin truck that leads the automobiles in their devastating crush on the human race. We don't know why there's a Green Goblin truck, and we don't care. It's really cool to watch, and we're into it.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 15%

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  • 'The Langoliers' Is A Showcase For Its Character Actors
    Photo: ABC

    Frankly, The Langoliers is just a drag. It's adapted from King's short story about a group of people on a plane who end up in a space between time where creatures known as the Langoliers exist only to eat the past. The story and the adaptation are more or less a mishmash of overused King tropes (telepathic blind kid, cosmic monsters, daddy issues), but the miniseries does have some bright spots, namely Dean Stockwell and Bronson Pinchot.

    Dean Stockwell can do it all. He's absolutely off the wall in Blue Velvet and The Dunwich Horror, but when he reins things in to play a normal guy, it's really astonishing to watch. As the King analog Bob Jenkins, a mystery writer, Stockwell anchors the adaptation without popping off.

    That kind of over-the-top energy is saved for Bronson Pinchot, an actor fresh off his beloved role in Perfect Strangers. Pinchot does a 180 from playing a fish out of water to a psychotic businessman who just wants to get to his meeting in Boston. He screams, he blows snot out of his nose, and he rips up paper. It's an out-there performance that's absolutely worth seeing, even if this adaptation is a soul-sucking miniseries.

    Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50%

    62 votes