With over 100 novels, novellas and short stories, award-winning author Stephen King has been dominating the horror/supernatural/sci-fi/fantasy genre for over half a century. The characters born of his genius (and hyperactive) imagination — telekinetic teens, shapeshifting clowns, ghost twins, and rabid Saint Bernards — have made for reliable, Grade-A nightmare fodder all throughout his career and proven irresistible to directors keen to bring his trademark frights to the screen.
Dozens of his works have been adapted for film and television, though many have struggled to recreate that intangible King vibe that’s ever-present in his writing. Though the author’s vernacular has proved tough to capture on-screen (and his stamp of approval even tougher to obtain), these widely varied movies and series have certainly showcased King’s impressive range and given us some timeless classics such as Stand by Me and The Green Mile (the latter of which is available to stream on AMC.com through July).
Read on for more of the most memorable (and surprising) King adaptations:
1. 11.22.63 (2016)
This eight-episode miniseries stars James Franco as Jake Epping, a present day Maine schoolteacher who is shown a portal into the past, allowing the opportunity for time travel. He embarks on a mission to prevent the 1963 assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, which is made infinitely more difficult after he falls in love with Sarah Gadon‘s small-town librarian Sadie Dunhill, who is living decades in the past. Franco had actually attempted to attain the rights to King’s 11/22/63 novel himself, only to be told that executive producer J.J. Abrams already had them. Luckily for Franco, he was later offered the title role.
2. Carrie (1976)
In Brian De Palma‘s acclaimed 1976 film, Sissy Spacek stars as 16-year-old Carrie White, the shy and oft-bullied daughter of a religious fanatic (Piper Laurie). Unbeknownst to her abusive mother and cruel classmates, Carrie possesses strong telekinetic powers, and the pigs’ blood really hits the fan when a prom prank pushes the teen to her emotional limit. This was the first of King’s novels to be adapted into a film, and high school angst has perhaps never been so terrifyingly portrayed again since.
3. Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
Somewhat surprisingly, this moody drama starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and the late Anton Yelchin was actually adapted from a 1999 King novella entitled Low Men in Yellow Coats. While there is a supernatural element to the story, the film is less a work of horror than a reflection on the loneliness of childhood and the loss of innocence that comes with growing up.
4. It Chapter One (2017)
Director Andy Muschietti‘s adaptation of King’s 1,138 page horror novel is not the first take on this terrifying source material. It does, however, utilize striking visual effects in a way its older predecessors could not, which combined with the film’s pitch-perfect casting and stunning cinematography, brings the story of the ‘Loser’s Club’ and Pennywise to life like never before. Starring Jaeden Lieberher, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, and Bill Skarsgård as the title clown, It holds the current title of highest-grossing King film adaptation worldwide.
5. Stand by Me (1986)
Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age drama is based on King’s 1982 novella The Body and stars River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Wil Wheaton, and Jerry O’Connell as four Oregon friends who strike out in search of a missing boy’s body. The tweens discover the restorative power of friendship along the way. After a private screening before the film’s release, an emotional King told Reiner that it was “the best film ever made out of anything I’ve written.”
6. The Dark Tower (2017)
Described as a ‘science fantasy Western action film,’ The Dark Tower is both an adaptation and continuation of King’s book series of the same name. With Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey in the leads, the film is packing some serious star power, but many critics felt that the creative team tried and failed to compress too much dense source material into a single movie. King, for his part, has said that the movie is “pretty good.” That’s actually fairly high praise, coming from the author!
7. The Green Mile (1999)
The heart-wrenching story of John Coffey, an innocent man on death row who possesses healing powers and psychic abilities, has become an enduring classic (if you’re in the mood to cry, that is). Directed by Frank Darabont (who also helmed the film adaptations of King’s The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist) and starring Michael Clarke Duncan, Tom Hanks and Sam Rockwell, The Green Mile is a powerful drama with King’s classic supernatural slant.
8. The Outsider (2020)
This crime-drama miniseries follows the murder investigation of an eleven-year-old boy who is seemingly killed by his little league coach, played by Jason Bateman. It soon becomes clear that there is something foul (and potentially non-human) afoot, and that a mysterious ‘Outsider’ could be responsible for not only the boy’s murder but numerous others. Also starring Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Erivo, this slow-burn thriller remains addictive all the way through its shocking finale.
9. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Based on King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, this prison drama features career high performances from Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, and received an impressive seven Academy Award nominations — a record for a King film adaptation. The story of Andy Dufrense, sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife and her lover, and fellow prisoner Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding is riveting and satisfying no matter how many times you’ve watched it, and the film features one of the most epic and visceral escape scenes in history.
10. The Shining (1980)
Though King famously disliked director Stanley Kubrick‘s film version of his 1977 novel, it can’t be denied that this psychological thriller gave us some of the most iconic horror imagery of all time. Those creepy twins, that blood gushing from the elevator, and Jack Nicholson‘s maniacal face poking through an axe-hacked door… it’s quite literally the stuff of nightmares and in the very best way possible. Both Nicholson and costar Shelley Duval‘s performances proved polarizing, but then eight-year-old Danny Lloyd‘s portrayal of their on-screen telepathic son is nothing short of brilliantly spooky.
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