We’re taking on a huge task here at Wicked Horror that nobody asked us to do. It’s massive to the point that you don’t even realize how huge until you’re right in the thick of it. That’s right, we’ve decided to rank every single Stephen King film for no reason other than your pleasure. Of course, it’s easier said than done considering that at this point King takes up about half of the genre.
Being the living author with the most adapted works, plus writing a few original things himself, there’s a lot of material to mine through. You won’t be getting it all in one piece, either, for both of our sakes. But when an author has that many movies being made based on his works, there’s bound to be a lot of good and a lot of bad. But hey, that’s what keeps things interesting, right?
Before we start, let’s set our parameters. We’re only counting film and television movie/miniseries adaptations. No shorts, no TV series, no miniseries that constitute an entire season of a show, i.e. 11.22.63. We won’t be counting sequels unless they were specifically based on a Stephen King novel or story, but we will be counting remakes as they are also adaptations of a specific work.
And here we are. We’ve reached the end of our list after a four week journey, going from the worst King adaptations ever and finally arriving here at the top eleven. It was a lot of fun to compile, and I’m curious to hear what your rankings are, as well. Click here for part one. Click here for part two. Click here for part three.
11. Salem’s Lot
The first great thing Tobe Hooper did after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was Salem’s Lot. It raised the bar for horror on television. This is one of the most atmospheric King adaptations ever and the vampires—especially the film’s reinterpretation of main antagonist Barlow—are some of the most frightening to ever appear on the screen. If you don’t get how vampires can be scary, Salem’s Lot is the movie to watch. Then you’ll understand.
Pet Sematary, to me, is honestly the scariest Stephen King adaptation. It even horrified the author himself. It’s a full-blown tragedy, complete with Greek Chorus in the form of Jud Crandall. King wrote the screenplay himself and Mary Lambert did a hell of a job directing it. It’s also aided by real Downeast Maine locations. In general, an excellent adaptation and one of the most underrated, as well.
John Carpenter’s criminally underrated love story between a boy and his car absolutely deserves one of the top spots on the list. It’s moody, well-paced and superbly shot with some great performances to boot. At one point, Carpenter considered this the worst movie of his career, but I think it’s one of the best horrors of the early ‘80s. Somehow, Carpenter not only makes this car scary, he makes it a genuine character. And Keith Gordon’s descent as Arnie Cunningham is chilling to watch.
The title promises the most fun you’ll ever have being scared, and that’s about what you get. This is arguably the best horror anthology ever made. It brings together some of the biggest talent in the genre, from Stephen King to George Romero to Tom Savini. Savini, who was then only known for his gore, got to go all out on the superb effects for this one. It’s genuinely scary, with a well placed sense of jet black humor hanging over the whole thing. Plus, Stephen King’s one man show as Jordy Verill will never not be a delight to watch.
07. The Dead Zone
The marriage of Stephen King and David Cronenberg should not have worked. I adore both, but they are completely different creative forces. Yet The Dead Zone is fantastic. It’s true to the book, keeps the core of the story intact. The film makes some surprising casting choices, yet every member of the cast does a phenomenal job. I think this is actually the best performance of Christopher Walken’s career, proving that he can genuinely immerse himself in a character and not just play a charicature of himself.
06. The Green Mile
The Green Mile is an amazing, sincere, superbly well crafted drama by Frank Darabont. It’s only fault is that there’s one movie on this list that also has all of those elements but is slightly better. That’s not to take away from what a strong and compelling piece this is, though, because it’s an amazingly well put together production with a wholly underrated performance from the late Michael Clarke Duncan.
05. The Shining
The Shining is widely regarded as a masterful film. It’s far from King’s favorite adaptation of his work but remains a masterpiece on its own merits. There’s cinematography and atmosphere in here that’s just unrivaled, not to mention the fact that it is genuinely scary. Even aside from being known as a Stephen King movie, The Shining is one of the most influential horror pictures of all time.
Brian De Palma’s Carrie is a masterpiece. The very first Stephen King adaptation, it set the bar extremely high for everything to follow. It is slick and stylish, without ever once sacrificing character or story. It’s sincere while still managing to be scary because the horror is born from the character and her struggles. Both Sissy Spaceck and Piper Laurie were nominated for Academy Awards.
Confined, claustrophobic, but never once becoming anything approaching boring, Misery is a character piece. It only becomes scarier the more intimate it gets. Both performances are astoundingly good—I thought James Caan was pretty one note before I watched him in this—Kathy Bates steals the show in a role that gained her an Oscar for best actress relatively early in her career.
02. Stand by Me
Stand by Me is as close to my heart as a film can get. It speaks to me on a deeply personal level. It was also incredibly autobiographical for King, fictional of course, but taking major scenes from events in his own youth. It’s funny, sad, poignant, nostalgic while examining the concept of nostalgia as a whole. River Phoenix gives what might just be my favorite performance by a child actor, ever. This is so different from what people are used to from Stephen King and yet it completely bears his stamp.
01. The Shawshank Redemption
Is this really a surprise to anyone? The Shawshank Redemption is not only the best Stephen King adaptation, it’s the number one highest rated film on IMDb. On a list of the 250 greatest, it’s ranked the best of all time. There are a lot of reasons why it’s so highly praised. Morgan Freeman gives one of the best performances of all time, and not just because of his scenes with Tim Robbins. After watching him plead his case over and over again for completely disinterested people, he gives one of the best movie speeches of all time about how little you care after being beaten down for so long.