Main menu


The Best Stephen King Movie Adaptations

featured image

The name Stephen King is synonymous with all things creepy, suspenseful and terrifying, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood has turned to the Sarasota resident’s many novels and short stories for inspiration. Dozens and dozens of King works have been adapted into films and television series, and while many of them fit squarely within the horror genre King has so effectively owned for decades, others show the breadth of his imagination and creativity. Here are some of our favorites that we’ll be revisiting this Halloween season:


The one that started it all back in 1976, this film is based on King’s first published novel, and it’s the first of the many, many, many adaptations of his fiction for TV or film. Directed by Brian De Palma (and featuring a young John Travolta as a baddie), this movie about shy, persecuted teenager Carrie, her supernatural powers and a prom night not to be forgotten made Sissy Spacek a superstar. —Kay Kipling

The Dead Zone

Director David Cronenberg made The Brood, Scanners and Videodrome in the lead-up to helming this 1983 King adaptation, and the combination of Cronenberg’s visceral style and King’s plotting is a marriage made in heaven. Aim The Dead Zone is less of a scare-fest than a thought-provoking science fiction thriller with a political edge. After waking up from a coma, our hero, Christopher Walken, finds that he can see into the future after touching another person’s flesh. When he shakes the hand of an evil, plotting US Senate candidate, he is given a vision of nuclear apocalypse, and races to avert that fate. —Cooper Levey-Baker

Dolores Claiborne

After starring in Misery (see below), Kathy Bates landed the lead in the 1995 film of King’s story about a hard-working woman abused by her husband and determined to keep her young daughter from the same fate. She’s utterly convincing, and so is Jennifer Jason Leigh as the grown-up, estranged version of the daughter. And let’s not forget Judy Parfitt as Dolores’ employer, who utters the immortal line, “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hang on to.” —Kay Kipling

The Green Mile

The second of King’s prison movies, after The Shawshank Redemption (see below), this 1999 film stars Tom Hanks as a prison guard and the late Michael Clarke Duncan as a gentle giant accused of a heinous crime and sentenced to walk the long stretch of green floor to the electric chair. Duncan’s character has the ability to heal (plus he’s innocent), causing Hanks’ character to regret his task of overseeing his execution. Long but compelling, this one also boasts a bravura performance by Sam Rockwell as a truly repellent psycho. —Kay Kipling


A killer clown in a sewer opening—it’s an image that will be burned into my brain for the rest of my life. King’s 1986 novel has been adapted twice (once as a TV miniseries and once as a two-part film), and while neither live up to the haunting majesty of the book, I’ll vouch for them. The 1990 TV adaptation puts Tim Curry in the role of Pennywise the clown, who periodically goes on a spree of child murders in a small Maine town, while the more recent film version ups the blood and gore significantly. —Cooper Levey-Baker


King doesn’t always like adaptations if his work, but he reportedly enjoys this one, which is based on his novel about a successful writer who ends up trapped at the home of his “No. 1 fan,” the psychopathic Annie Wilkes, after an accident during a blizzard. Of course, she turns out to be the fan from hell, willing to do anything to get him to write the story she wants. Kathy Bates won an Oscar in 1991 for her role as Annie, but James Caan turns in a memorable performance as the writer, as well. —Kay Kipling

Pet Sematary

King’s 1983 novel has been adapted multiple times, but I’ve only seen the 1989 original, which is a wonderfully creepy thriller with a disturbing climax that sticks with you. Bonus points for the Ramones song that shares a title with the film, written by bassist Dee Dee Ramone after King gave him a copy of the book. —Cooper Levey-Baker

The Running Man

This one falls into the “not actually good, but fun” category, and has extremely little to do with its source material—a gritty thriller King published under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. The movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a former policeman convicted of a massacre he didn’t commit. He’s given a chance for leniency when he agrees to participate in a reality TV show in which people are hunted and killed. I’m tempted to make the case that this is a prescient 1987 look at the world of reality television, but come on… it features a murderous hockey player named Professor Subzero who slaps explosive pucks at the show’s contestants. What more do you need to know? —Cooper Levey-Baker

The Shawshank Redemption

King’s other 1990s prison-set movie is based on his novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and stars Tim Robbins as a banker sentenced to life for the murder of his wife and her lover. It was not a box office hit at the time of its release, but it has staying power (it’s probably on TV right now). Maybe that’s partly because of the sentiment espoused on its poster: “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” —Kay Kipling

The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of The Shining is famously disliked by King, and you can understand that if you’ve read the original book, with its very different representation of main character Jack Torrance. But, faithful or no, Kubrick’s haunting visuals—rivers of blood flooding out of an elevator, creepy twin girl ghosts, etc.—are so unforgettable they were recreated for the 2019 film Doctor Sleep, based on King’s sequel to his original story. I can watch this one over and over. —Kay Kipling