With moviegoers waiting in between the upcoming release of Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep and the post-release of Andy Muschietti’s IT Chapter Two, we will be discussing the best adaptations of Stephen King’s stories. This list will only include movies and things that are not miniseries or made for TV movies, so that unfortunately means the original IT’s Tim Curry scenes will not be on this list.
Before we start, here are a few honorable mentions that weren’t good enough to make this top ten list.
Written and directed by Frank Darabont, this film tells the story of a group of people locked inside a grocery store after a mysterious mist engulfs a small town in Maine, bringing with it deadly creatures. Before The Walking Dead but after Green Mile, Frank adapted The Mist to slight critical acclaim. While the acting and story were great and okay, the bad visuals and downer ending kept it from being something truly special.
A movie that suffered greatly due to its poor marketing and making it out to be something that it wasn’t. 1408 is a WAY above average horror film that relies more on the creepy atmosphere and context rather than jump scares; however, the jump scares do hold it back, and Sam Jackson is the best and worst part of the film, as it’s clear he wants to scream at John Cusack, but can’t due to the story’s restrictions. Overall, it’s a good horror film that just couldn’t land because some bad miscasting and it’s inability to focus and go all in on either of its alternate endings.
Now onto the list:
Number 10 — Delores Claiborne
In classic King fashion, Delores Claiborne is held back by its story limitations and occasional wonky acting, but those should be expected from any sort of King adaptation. Although this movie closely adheres to source material, it unfortunately lacks the care and effort that most of the other films on this list display. Kathy Bates is good and the story of a woman trying to find out if her mother is guilt or not remains quite intriguing. It manages to leave you hooked from start to finish.
Director Taylor Hackford and screenwriter Tony Gilroy do an acceptable job of bringing Stephen King’s book to life, but I can’t help but feel that this film was made because a certain studio wanted to capitalize on another Stephen King adaptation from the year prior. It’s still a decently-made movie with a lot of good things going for it. The mystery is captivating and I genuinely found myself questioning all the information given to me. Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh hold up much of the film but, in the end, I’m left wondering why this movie was made. It’s unfortunate that Delores Claiborne couldn’t have been better because it is still a great movie held back by that lingering feeling that it wasn’t made for the best purposes.
Number 9 — It: Chapter Two
The sequel to the smash hit of 2017, IT Chapter Two follows the Loser’s Club twenty-seven years after the events of the first film. Despite not being as critically well received as its predecessor, the sequel still manages to be something truly special in an age of endless sequels and bottomless franchises. It really does feel like a finale to what is otherwise a pretty decent story.
Where IT Chapter Two succeeds is within its casting, as each of the adult Losers are an exact replica of their child counterparts to an eerily exact extent. Everyone brings the characters we read on the page to life, with Bill Hader being the biggest example of perfect casting. Another aspect that feels horrifying and very Stephen King is its use of violence and gore, as IT Chapter Two does not shy away from anything. AND I DO MEAN ANYTHING, as we get gore galore.
IT‘s story, for the first two-thirds, is spot on and heartfelt but accompanied by some truly gut wrenching scenes and beautiful visuals. Where the film stops being great is within its third act, moving away from the absurdity of Stephen King’s original novel and instead goes with a different kind of absurdity. It’s a mess that bogs down an otherwise phenomenal movie. IT also suffers the same problems as the book, running at a whopping 2hrs and 49min runtime where you feel its length. Plus, there are things are set up that never get paid off.
The biggest problem is that the adult stuff are just not as interesting as the child scenes. The uniqueness to this story’s whole situation is stripped away once they become adults. But the performances are so good, the directing solid, and the ending five minutes are just perfect enough to makes up for it in the end, as both movies — side by side — capture the magic and feel of the original novel. My friends and I concluded that, while IT Chapter Two is a bad horror film, it’s still a fantastic drama that deals with tough themes of childhood trauma. Despite not being up to par with some other films on this list, I was still glad to watch it and found the film an absolute joy.
Number 8 — Gerald’s Game
Before Mike Flannigan scares up another great Stephen King adaption, but after he scared us senseless with The Haunting on Hill House, he gave us Gerald’s Game, a premise that, at first glance, is sincerely dumb. It tells the tale of Jessie, a housewife who tries to spice up her marriage with some BDSM, but inadvertently becomes trapped once her husband dies of a sudden heart attack. It sounds like a sexual thriller that only Netflix could have bought the rights for, yet Gerald’s Game runs with its concept and manages to be something truly unique.
Over the course of its hour and 41 minute runtime, we get to feel for Jessie and understand her background in ways that most horror movies today cannot even do right. The scares are not horrifying in normal ways, despite having a few jump scares, but the scares come in ways that make you think, making you fearful to be caught up in a situation similar to Jessie’s. But like IT Chapter Two, Gerald’s Game works better as a drama than a horror film, and the limitations of its weirdly scary does bog the movie down. Despite this and some bad jump scares, we are left with a pretty great drama with creepy after effects.
Number 7 — It
After seeing how amazing Stranger Things was, Warner Bros decided to use their Stephen King rights to remake the classic 1990s miniseries into a live-action, two0part movie that had been sitting in development hell since 2004. Similar to its sequel, IT, or IT Chapter One succeeds with its tight casting as all the kids deliver astonishing performances and Bill Skardsgard’s Pennywise, who manages to be far more terrifying than Tim Curry. However, since I’m not part of the generation that watched the miniseries and only saw it recently, I have no idea what was so scary about it.
The direction and visuals are so keen and well executed that you can’t help but be engaged with IT’s story. Ditching the 50s elements and instead going with an 80s era of Losers, It: Chapter One surpasses the original miniseries with its HARD R rating, as the film does not shy away from child murder and gore, which is amazing to see when children are involved. IT sounds weird to say, but this aspect makes the film so unique in this modern era of movies.
Unfortunately, some of the visuals don’t hold up due to the smaller budget IT received, and the multiple tones just fail to produce a consistent style. That’s the only draw back of the movie, as it tries to be a horror movie, coming of age tale, comedy, summer story, and survival tale at once. It’s because IT tries to be so much, that IT couldn’t be better. While IT strays from the original source material, the film does so much to make up for it and in doing so, perfectly translates the feeling of the story.
Number 6 — Carrie
Chole Grace Moretz was the best part of this movie… that’s it, onto number 5. Nah, I’m kidding, we’re not talking about the remake that sucked way harder than The Cell. No, we are talking about the 1976 horror classic starring Sissy Spacek.
Where It: Chapter One and Two couldn’t juggle multiple tones and story themes, Carrie manages to do it in one fell swoop, masterfully juggling a horror story with a coming of age tale that will make any man reconsider of what he thinks a woman is capable of doing. Carrie is an almost perfect adaptation of Stephen King’s horrific original work, giving us some of the most thought provoking and terrifying scares that I have ever had the displeasure of seeing (THAT’S A GREAT THING). It also has the greatest pleasure of being the first GOOD Stephen King adaptation as some of his other adaptations up to this point have been… less that stellar. It really is faithful and holds the ability of being rewatched as it is just a good a drama as it is a horror movie.
What makes this film even better is that you can tell that the people that made it cared and really wanted it to be good. With anti-religious undertones, hardcore bullying, and incredible performances with the help of director Brian De Palma, Carrie is an almost perfect movie unfortunately bogged down by its 1976 version of horror. Some of the scares are so laughably weird that it makes you wonder who said yes to this and thought they were okay. It’s the unfortunate side effect of the film being a product of its time, something that will make it harder to watch in the future. But should that distract from how amazing the writing was or how well the acting was? No.
Number 5 — Misery
Down to the bottom five and what better place to start off than with Misery, the movie that put Kathy Bates on EVERYBODY’S radar. Misery was masterfully directed by Rob Reiner and adapted by William Goldman, delivering an otherwise simple, yet effective adaptation of what should have been a very egocentric story. Despite being an obvious daydream that Stephen King turned into a full length book, Misery is quite possibly King’s best work, as it plays upon a fear that is unfortunately too real for many people. Being stalked and kidnapped is something many of us fear and Misery shows us the worst possible scenario that could come from something like this.
The concept is well executed and — for the most part — provides a solid film that is just as engaging as it is terrifying. The flogging scene is something I have never been able to sit through fully, as its executed so perfectly that I almost feel sick just watching. However, some of the scenes drag and there are moments where you wonder why the characters do the things they do. But overall, if you’re going to watch this movie, you watch it for Kathy Bates as her performance of Annie is one of the best out there. It’s iconic and just as innocent and scary on screen as it is within pages of the book. When Stephen King himself praises your performance, you know you’ve done something right.
Number 4 — The Green Mile
In terms of adapters who gets Stephen King and understand what elements of his books to focus on, Frank Darabont is the man for that job. His work on another movie on this list is the perfect example of that fact. But, while that entry is more grounded, The Green Mile focuses more on a fantastical story… that is just as depressing as some of his other works, if not more so.
The Green Mile works as the spiritual successor to Darabont’s previous film and is almost just as good but unfortunately makes a few bad choices along the way. The film is stretched out far beyond what the book originally had (a tactic that Darabont used previously, but to a worse avail this time around) as many scenes seem to go nowhere and things that are added that don’t need to be there. There’s a lot of needless filler that, while not a real problem or even bad, still bogs down the overall awesomeness of this film. It could’ve been better if some scenes were cut down, but that is mainly a personal preference.
While a lot of scenes and dialogue feel unnecessary, they are still done effortlessly by actors who are clearly happy to be there and are giving these performances their absolute all. Tom Hanks and Sam Rockwell are great but they are second to the REAL star of the film: Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffrey. IF Kathy Bates gave us the most terrifying Stephen King character performance, then Duncan’s is the most heart wrenching. His portrayal of a gentle giant with a gift is one of purity and grace with a side of sadness as the infamous ending is ingrained to all who watch it. His line “Don’t put me in the dark” is still hurtful even years later and the man’s Oscar nominated performance is well-deserved here.
What really sells Duncan’s performance is that he makes you feel for the character. No actor in years has been able to translate the purity of a character than what Darabont and Duncan give Coffrey. If you’re able to walk away from this movie without a single tear leaving you, then you have no soul, because that’s what really makes this movie shine: it has the biggest soul.
Number 3 — Stand by Me
Stephen King is known to be the mater of suspense and horror, and rightfully so. Most of his tales leave you looking over your shoulder, hoping what you read is just fiction rather than fact. But then there are the few gems that he cranks out that aren’t horror, but dramas that we all relate to at a fundamental level. The Green Mile was one of them, but, in terms of adaptation that leave you longing for the days of your childhood, that really capture the dream of the future that we all had, a story that realizes the moment we leave childhood behind and become adults, is none other than Stand by Me.
Child actors are not always a gamble; sometimes they’re better than most adult actors working both alive and dead, and the cast of Stand by Me prove that as none of the child actors give a bad performance. Jerry O’Connell and River Phoenix can be pointed out as the best amongst the cast, but that’s not really important in the long run. The story of four boys going on a quest to find a dead body is simple, probably the simplest of King’s entire story catalog. The dialogue and acting truly sell this movie, as no line seems unnecessary and no performance seems weak. It really is a rare gem with no faults to be found. The only reason it’s number 3 is because the next two are just better, but that should not detract the fact that this movie is a masterpiece and has no faults. None that I can see, at least.
Number 2 — The Shining
As mentioned before, Stephen King is the master of horror and suspense, so who better to translate that than the master of movies himself: Stanley Kubrick. Now, this entry is somewhat controversial, as The Shining is notorious for being despised by King himself, calling it a false interpretation of his work, and that does hold some merit. Some. But if the miniseries is anything to go by, it’s that sometimes you shouldn’t take Stephen King at his word because he wrote that miniseries and no one likes it. Well, no one with a brain at least.
We talked early about capturing the feeling of a book and the Shining does that (2nd) better than any of the movies mentioned prior. It’s unsettling, it’s intriguing, it’s scary, it’s exhausting, but best of all, it’s just so damn good. Kubrick’s direction combined with the ambient musical score makes for an experience unlike most horror movies of the past, present, and foreseeable future. It’s a classic by every means of the word with little to no flaws.
Like the best scary stories, the right amount of information is told to us while the rest is left for us to interpret. From Jack Nicholson’s unsettling depiction of Jack Torrence’s madness to an (unfortunate) Shelly Duvall, all the performances are damn near perfect — if there even is such a thing. But no matter how good this movie is, it is nothing compared to the “King” of all adaptations.
Number 1 — The Shawshank Redemption
I mean, could it have been anything else? Not only is this the best Stephen King adaptation, but one of the best films of all time. To this day, it sits at #1 on IMDb’s Top 250 films of all time, beating both Godfather movies and Citizen Kane. The Shawshank Redemption tells the full tale of King’s short novella while adding upon it in all the right ways. Not a single performance is bad, not a single line of dialogue is wasted, the music is where it needs to be, the direction is perfect, the writing is even more so. On a technical level this movie is a masterpiece, on a film level it’s a masterpiece, and overall, it is just a perfect movie.
While movies like The Godfather can only be watched once, The Shawshank Redemption can be rewatched endlessly as its story is continuously captivating and heartfelt even when you know what’s going to happen. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins share a chemistry that I wish I shared with my real friends. Its themes of friendship, freedom, right and wrong, institutionalism, and even race all fall into play here, conveying a message that all of us can understand. We all want to be free and we all want to have that friend who looks out for us and makes us want to be the best man possible.
This really is Stephen King’s accidental best story, as I am sure he never thought this would be anything more than just a simple story story of a man in prison. It’s Stephen King’s best work, Frank Darabont’s best work, and, in my personal opinion, the best film ever made.