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 reading pleasure. Of course, it’s easier said than done, considering that at this point there have been over 50 King adaptations.
Being the living author with the most adapted works, plus writing a few original titles, himself, there’s a lot of material to mine through. You won’t be getting it all in one piece for our sake and yours.
When an author has that many movies being made based on his work, there’s bound to be a lot of good and a lot of bad. But hey, that’s what keeps it interesting, right?
Before we start, let’s set our parameters. We’re only counting film and television movie or miniseries adaptations. No shorts, no TV series, no miniseries that span an entire season, 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 still adaptations of the author’s work.
Trucks is a terrible remake of a movie that was kind of notorious for not being that great to begin with, that being the Stephen King helmed Maximum Overdrive. Where Overdrive is at least full of fun moments, Trucks is dull and lifeless, the last thing you want from a film depicting automobiles taking over the world.
Horror master Tobe Hooper gave us one of the best King adaptations to date with Salem’s Lot, but also one of the worst with The Mangler. This title centers around an evil industrial laundry press. The concept works much better on the page than it does on the screen. Robert Englund appears under a heap of old age makeup.
55. Children of the Corn (2009)
The Syfy Channel remake of Children of the Corn gets bonus points for sticking closer to the original story and showing us why those changes were made to begin with. Spending the length of a feature with a couple that hate each other is both insufferable and gives us no reason to actually want them to survive.
54. The Lawnmower Man
There are a lot of bad Stephen King adaptations out there, but Lawnmower Man is the only one so bad that King sued to have his name removed from it. The reasoning, though, is fair: This isn’t exactly an adaptation of his story. The studio wanted to tell a totally different story, but still use his name in marketing. The film is still loosely connected to the larger King universe by its use of The Shop, the mysterious organization from Firestarter.
53. Graveyard Shift
Graveyard Shift can be a fun monster movie, but it’s not a particularly good movie and happens to feature some of the worst New England accents ever committed to film. The giant rat/bat beast is a cool monster but all of the other rats in the movie don’t really come off as intimidating. They mostly just stare at the camera. Brad Dourif is the most entertaining part and is killed off too quickly.
52. The Tommyknockers
When I was young, I could watch The Tommyknockers with no problem and be blown away by its mysterious Pumpkinhead-ish creatures. But man, it’s rough to revisit. It’s brutally long for how bland of a movie it is. It takes huge liberties with the book and really should have been toned down to feature length because it drags like crazy.
Dreamcatcher might be proof that some ideas that work on the page won’t work on the screen. If anyone could have brought it to life, it’s the amazingly talented people who put this together. But even with a great cast and production value, it’s still about poop monsters. The movie couldn’t really change that, no matter how much money was thrown at it.
50. Carrie (2013)
I know some people loved this and I like that Carrie as a story is being rediscovered by a new generation, but it’s still bland. There are three adaptations of this tale now and this is the worst because at least the 2002 miniseries was different. All throughout the promotion, we were promised a brand-new take on Carrie that was closer to the original novel and we were flat-out lied to because—aside from two tacked-on scenes—the 2013 film essentially used the same script as Brian De Palma’s original.
49. A Good Marriage
A Good Marriage isn’t a terrible adaptation, all things considered. King’s script adheres closely to the novella, but whereas the book was a gripping page turner the movie just kind of… happens. Strong as the concept is, the execution winds up being a little bland.
48. Dolan’s Cadillac
For me Dolan’s Cadillac has the same problem as Good Marriage, where it just feels bland. I wasn’t a huge fan of the story one which it was based, but the adaptation was really kind of a bore. Some neat casting, but nothing unexpected.
47. The Night Flier
Despite the absolutely ridiculous premise and a small budget, The Night Flier is still a lot of fun. Miguel Ferrer is a completely unlikeable protagonist, which does get tough in a few places. But the vampire makeup is excellent and there are great references to the larger Stephen King mythology.
46. The Langoliers
Everything about The Langoliers works until the monsters actually show up. If it weren’t for them, it would rank a lot higher and not just because the entire film was shot in my local airport growing up. It’s an interesting story with a strong group of characters, but the creatures are kind of a big part of it, and they are just a complete embarrassment when they appear.
With all of the great things Stephen King and Mick Garris have done together, it’s hard for me to believe that either one of them had anything to do with Sleepwalkers. It’s such an uncomfortable movie, and not in an endearing way. It’s basically about a soul-sucking, incestual mother-son duo who can turn into cats but also can only be killed by cats and are the origin of vampire legends.
44. The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer
First of all, while Rose Red has its fans, it’s not the most gripping title Stephen King ever wrote. It’s perfectly decent, serviceable even, but it didn’t need to have its own completely separate prequel film in the form of the much less interesting Diary of Ellen Rimbauer. This is really just a feature-length companion to a film that’s already over four hours long.
43. Golden Years
Golden Years is basically Stephen King’s own take on Cocoon. The premise is interesting enough, but it’s the weakest of the original miniseries he wrote. Or, as he liked to call them, his “novels for television.” Golden Years is at least noteworthy for expanding the role of The Shop.
42. Maximum Overdrive
“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” That was what a coked-out Stephen King promised in the trailer for this film and bless him for trying. He puts in the effort and it’s entirely a product of where he was at during that time, in that it’s just a frantic coke high of a movie that jumps from one thing to the next without a moment’s notice. It’s everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink filmmaking, but while as a whole it suffers, many individual scenes are excellent. And so is the soundtrack.
41. Cat’s Eye
While it’s the weakest of the Stephen King anthology movies, Cat’s Eye is still a lot of fun. It features adaptations of two stories from Night Shift—“Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge” respectively—which was my favorite of the King collections. The third story is the winner, though. It’s a total callback to Trilogy of Terror, except it’s a cat fighting a troll to save a young Drew Barrymore.