With over 50 novels to his name, Stephen King is the literary equivalent of the Energizer Bunny. Take his short stories into consideration and you’re well into the 200 range of published works. With such a large body of work, it’s no surprise his writings have been adapted as a plethora of mediums. Cell, the latest film based on one of his novels, has recently hit the digital marketplace to a “poor reception.” With that said, there have been quite a few great films taken from his published catalog. I’ve compiled a list of my 5 favorites and placed them in order of chronological release. Because I feel films should stand on their own, I did not emphasize faithfulness when taking these movies into consideration.
- Carrie (1976)
Stephen King’s first published novel was also the first King adaptation brought to film. Although some of the special effects are rather hokey by today’s standards, the story feels timeless. There’s no question it was made in the 70s: especially based on the design of the climactic prom. Speaking of the prom, casting Sissy Spacek as the titular bullied teen was a stroke of genius. Her off-putting appearance contrasts with her identifiability as a shy teenager. Although the film is not laden with outright scares, Piper Laurie’s performance as Carrie’s fanatical mother is downright chilling.
- The Dead Zone (1983)
With The Dead Zone, Director David Cronenberg applied his signature touch in a restrained but still surreal way. Although it is devoid of Cronenberg’s usual grotesque trademarks, he compensates by establishing a strong sense of dread. Starring Christopher Walken in one of his best performances, the film is more of a psychological drama than a horror film. That’s not a bad thing because it eventually centers on a thought-provoking question. If you had the power to predict and change the future, does that give you the right to do so? Co-starring Martin Sheen and Anthony Zerbe, The Dead Zone reminds me of a greatly extended episode of The Twilight Zone.
- Stand by Me (1986)
One of the great things about King as a writer is his ability to flesh out relatively simple stories. Stand By Me thrives on the chemistry of its quartet of up-and-coming 80s actors. Narrated by Richard Dreyfus, the film follows four friends who set out to go find a deceased body. Like any great coming-of-age story, it captures childhood in a poignant, non-candy coated manner. The characters get themselves into trouble and have to rely on ingenuity and sometimes courage to get out of it. With its 30th anniversary looming, I highly encourage anyone, who hasn’t seen it, to check it out.
- Misery (1990)
Would you look at that? This is the second film directed by Rob Reiner to appear on this list. Misery taps into two of my biggest fears: entrapment and the dark underbelly of fandom. The simplicity of the story itself makes it all the more terrifying. Only starring two main actors, Misery is about a writer who is saved by someone claiming to be his biggest fan. The situation proves to be far direr as we soon find out this fan is obsessive to the point of psychosis. As Annie Wilkes, Kathy Bates flawlessly turns on a dime between being overly nice and genuinely disturbing. The isolation and suspense generated from the confined space evoke the classic suspense thrillers of Hitchcock. If I was to choose my favorite film on this list, Misery would probably be it….just don’t hobble me.
- 1408 (2007)
When I was debating what movie to include in my fifth spot, it came down to the battle of the haunted hotels. I went with 1408 instead of The Shining because everyone already knows about the later. Even though the premises are relatively identical, they’re stylistically opposites. 1408 condenses the Overlook Hotel into a single area but approached from a different angle. The main character played by John Cusack is a professional skeptic attempting to disprove the evil of the titular room. Relying on clever imagery rather than outright gore, 1408 proves that a PG-13 movie can be scary through atmosphere.
What is your favorite Stephen King film? Leave your lists in the comments below.
Matt is a longtime film buff, writer and podcast host from Rhode Island. Ask him what his favorite films are and you will probably get a different answer every time. In addition to writing for The Nerd Stash, Matt writes for The Young Folks, which is also the home of his podcast Directors of Cinema.