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The Worst Endings To Stephen King Stories

Updated June 21, 2021 2.1k votes 315 voters 24.7k views16 items

List RulesVote up the conclusions that are so half-baked or out of left field that they cast an uncomfortable shadow over the rest of the story.

Stephen King's novels are rooted in 20th-century Americana. He uses horror to tell stories that speak to something greater about humanity. At the same time, however, there are occasionally some bad endings to Stephen King novels. Stephen King is notorious for the shaky endings that mar some of his books. Even his most popular and beloved stories can suffer from some of the worst King-related tropes, be they explosions, ghosts that show up at the last minute to save the day, or the dreaded hand of God.

With dozens of novels, short stories, and novellas under his belt, there are plenty of Stephen King endings people hate. In some cases, it's because the story completely falls apart at the climax, but in other cases, King is just way too sincere.

King's work, the good and the bad, is going to live forever. Even these horrendous endings can't take that away from him.

  • What Happens: When a mystery pulse blasts out across the world and turns everyone using a cell phone into a zombie (AKA "phoners"), the surviving "normies" set out to turn their loved ones back into regular human beings. Along the way, protagonist Clay Riddell tries to find his son in the increasingly chilling Northeast. 

    Cell ends with Clay finding his son after playing a part in blowing up a field full of phoners. His son's brain is fried due to a "dirty" pulse that went through his brain, and Clay suspects that another pulse will set him back to normal... hopefully?

     

    The Problem: There's nothing worse than an ending that feels like it should read: The End...? Some audiences love that kind of mystery, but it's unlikely that King will ever revisit this story, which can make reading a novel of this size feel like wasted effort if you're not totally locked in.

     

    But Maybe: It's hard to fault Cell's ending for being bad when the whole novel is incredibly pulpy. Cell's climax has all of the hallmarks of King's worst endings - an explosion that happens out of nowhere and a vague ending that hints at more to come (of which there won't be). That being said, King's pulpy writing is incredibly fun to read, and as much of a drag as that this ending is, it's a wild ride to get there.

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  • Photo: CBS

    What Happens: When the small Maine town of Chester's Mill is covered with an invisible semi-permeable dome, the townspeople understandably grow agitated and afraid. People turn against one another and their worst traits come out in the name of conspiratorial thought. People are disemboweled, they're gassed and tortured, and all of that happens against the backdrop of one looming question: Who did this? 

    When multiple people from Chester's Mill touch a strange object left in the town, they're inundated with visions of alien creatures that they refer to as "leatherheads." As toxic fumes fill the dome, asphyxiating the people inside, the cynical editor of the local newspaper reaches out to the aliens and asks them to remove the dome. Her request works and all is well. 


    The Problem:  So much of this book is an engrossing look at a post-9/11 world, but to just end things with teenage aliens removing the dome is such an eye-rolling ending that it undoes all of the nuance that comes before.


    But Maybe: Under the Dome is King's most political work. Written at the height of the Iraq War and the tail end of the second Bush administration, King explores what it means to be a community when the people in that small world have vastly different opinions. He also tackles the ecological destruction of the planet with as light of a touch as he can.

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  • Photo: ABC

    What Happens: Something strange is happening in the small town of Haven, ME. After a strange ship in the middle of the woods emits a noxious gas, the town's inhabitants turn into geniuses with no real knowledge of the things they're creating. On top of that, their bodies begin to break down and mutate as they transform into something inhuman. The climax of the book reveals the ship to be of alien origin.

    Poet James Gardener enters the ship and telepathically lifts it into outer space, killing everyone in town who was affected. Then to put a hat on the hat, government agents swarm the town and remove the devices created by the people of Haven before offing a quarter of the survivors.

     

    The Problem: It's not just that the ending of The Tommyknockers is bad. There's just way too much going on in this book. It's almost like King is pretending to be someone else who's writing a King-esque novel.

     

    But Maybe: When the man himself doesn't care for the book, it's hard to defend the ending. There's a lot of interesting stuff in The Tommyknockers, it's just that it's surrounded by a lot of unnecessarry side stories that lead to nowhere.

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  • Photo: ABC

    What Happens: Interweaving the past and the present, It tells the story of the children of Derry, ME, and how they grow up with the terror of a fear-eating creature named Pennywise lurking all around them. Pennywise doesn't just maim and kill, it destroys the town of Derry from the inside out and leaves a smudge on the soul of everyone with whom it comes into contact. 

    The structure of It purposefully intertwines the past and present, so when Pennywise is defeated it basically happens twice, but that's not the problem.

    In 1958, the kids who defeat the evil entity decide to perform the "Ritual of Chüd" to maintain their bond. For those of you who don't speak Lovecraft, that means that the six male members of the Loser's Club all have intercourse with the one female member, Beverly. The scene is written with the detail that King is known for, and it's off-putting to say the least. In 1985, no one makes it in a sewer, but a woman who was left catatonic after peeping at Pennywise's "deadlights" is brought back to the land of the living by getting a ride on Silver, Bill Denbrough's trusty bike.


    The Problem: By the time the end of the book comes around, it feels so good to see the Losers finally defeat Pennywise, but the sex scene is always going to feel weird. The bike thing just feels a little too easy. Waking up a comatose side character with a miracle bike ride is iffy writing, but that sex scene is so odd that it's hard to imagine those pages making it through the editing process today.


    But Maybe: It shows why King is one of the most beloved authors of the 20th century regardless of the genre. He weaves a tale that incorporates interdimensional shapeshifting creatures into a Bradbury-esque story about the dangers of nostalgia and the pain of getting older and growing up. This immense novel shows King putting everything he loves into one story, and that includes the magic of the perfect bike and a weird preteen orgy.

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