What better way to fully submerge in Halloween weekend than with the legendary horror icon, Stephen King? A renowned American author, King is responsible for a plethora of successful novels. Many of which have been adapted for several films and TV miniseries. Through the years, King has garnered himself a reputation as “the horror master” to fans. This is due to his inclusion of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and suspense elements in his novels. To help celebrate Halloween and admire the Maine native’s contributions to the horror world, let’s take a look at Stephen King’s 5 best horror movie adaptations.
5. Cujo (1983)
Lewis Teague’s take on Cujo strikes an unexplainable fear of panic and desperation. Cujo tells the story of a mother and her son trying to escape a rabies-infected St. Bernard. In a tale of imposing claustrophobia and pure terror, Cujo conveys the message of a mother determined to protect her child, even if it is inside of a Ford Pinto. The film specifically follows a housewife, Donna (Dee Wallace), and her son, Tad (Danny Pintauro). While the pair take Donna’s car to a local mechanic for repairs, they encounter the film’s titular character, the vicious Cujo.
Met with mixed critical reviews and underwhelming financial success, Cujo has since attracted a cult following. Critics assured that while the film wasn’t stereotypically horror scary, it established genuine fear in the hearts of its characters. Critics and audiences alike, including Stephen King, also praised Dee Wallace’s performance as a scared, yet resourceful mother with the perseverance to keep her son alive. Stephen King himself described the film as “terrific” and expressed his satisfaction with the adaptation.
4. Misery (1990)
As the only Stephen King movie adaptation to win an Oscar, Misery remains a suspenseful classic. Misery follows Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), an overly-obsessive fan of the Victorian-romance author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan). Annie first finds Paul after a blizzard causes him to crash his car, to which Annie takes him back to her home and offers to take care of him. Appreciative of her hospitality and care, Paul discusses his plans for a new series he’s writing. Annie takes a sharp disliking for this theory and soon becomes unhinged and violent, creating a nightmare for the successful author.
Bates went on to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal in the film. The role turned out to be her Hollywood breakthrough, with many critics calling it the performance of her life. James Caan also received credible praise for his role as a helpless victim. While Misery doesn’t cater to traditional horror tropes such as monsters and final girls, its suspenseful take on entrapment and obsession secures its label as one of the greatest thrillers in cinematic history.
3. It (2017)
As the highest-grossing Stephen King adaptation film, It sits near the top of the list. Despite the 1990 original series being regarded as a fan favorite, Andy Muschietti’s 2017 take on the supernatural horror extravaganza met worldwide success. As such, It (2017) has cemented its legacy as one of Stephen King’s best horror movie adaptations. It follows a group of children in Derry, Maine who are forced to face their fears against a supernatural being. Tim Curry’s memorable portrayal of Pennywise helped to terrorize an entire generation. Still, Bill Skarsgård’s frightening rendition reinvented the shapeshifting monster.
Setting a box office record, It grossed $701 million worldwide against a $35 million budget. The film was met with highly favorable reviews, with critics praising its script, direction, score, and performances. Specifically, the strong performances of the Losers’ Club young cast. Skarsgård’s Pennywise was amongst those received well by critics. Many praised his intense, cartoonish portrayal of the villain. Because of its financial success and terrifying aura, It is a movie for horror lovers everywhere to enjoy this Halloween.
2. Carrie (1976)
As the first film based on King’s published works, Brian De Palma’s Carrie made its rightful impression upon horror audiences with its horrifyingly unorthodox coming-of-age story. The film follows Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), a timid and bullied teenager who possesses telekinetic powers. Carrie lives with her mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), a frantically religious and abusive woman who treats Carrie just as badly as her bullies do. Carrie offers a terrifying glimpse into the world of horrid high school bullies, all while implementing supernatural abilities as a revenge mechanism.
Spacek and Laurie both received Oscar nominations for their unforgettable performances, and rightfully so. Carrie was deemed both critically and financially successful and has since been regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time. The film went on to gross $33.8 million against a $1.8 million budget. The film also produced one of cinema’s most iconic scenes, where the climax features a pig-blood soaked Carrie setting fire to the school’s gymnasium, while also killing several administrators and students.
1. The Shining (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is responsible for several memorable cinematic scenes. These include the red river of blood flowing through the hotel’s hallways to the frightening encounter of the ghostly twins. The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), who takes a winter caretaker job and moves his family into the Overlook Hotel. Furthermore, Jack’s son, Danny, possesses “the shine” and can see the hotel’s dark past. Over time, Jack begins to succumb to insanity due to the hotel’s lingering supernatural presence.
Sporting a wicked demeanor and creepy smirk, Nicholson delivered one of the best performances of his career as the demented caretaker. Deemed “culturally significant” by the United States National Film Registry, The Shining is a profound tale of crippling lucidity. Despite critical and commercial success, Stephen King has spoken out against the film. In an interview with Rolling Stone, “The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire and the movie in ice.” King’s disapproval excluded, The Shining upholds as a cinematic masterpiece with an uncovering of a dark, haunted past of a Colorado hotel.
Upcoming Stephen King-based projects like Salem’s Lot are set to release. It will be interesting to see where future films fit in Stephen King’s best horror movie adaptations.