Movies & TV

The Top 10 Stephen King Adaptations, Ranked

It, The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and more-but which will be number one?
IMAGE Lorimar Productions

The novels and short stories of Stephen King have been adapted for film and TV numerous times. And it's fair to say, with varying results (The Mangler, anyone?).

With the It remake out a few days ago, it's time to rank the very best of King's adaps.

But which will grab the top spot…?

10| Apt Pupil (1998)
Based on a King novella from his collection Different Seasons (also the source material for The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me) and directed by X-Men man Bryan Singer, Apt Pupil is a properly sinister two-hander.

Sir Ian McKellen is an aging Nazi War criminal hiding out under a fake name who is blackmailed by a teenage boy (the late Brad Renfro). Singer called it "a study in cruelty" and talked about his fascination with the infectiousness of evil as the man and boy egg each other on to do increasingly despicable things. Not a horror but disturbing nonetheless.


9| Salem's Lot (1979)
A creepy and influential vampire show, originally made as a two-part miniseries (similar to Stephen King's It), with an edited-down version later released.

Set in Maine (again), featuring a writer (another King "thing"), Tobe Hooper's small-town vamp yarn is most memorable for James Mason's creepy antique dealer, a chief vamp who looks like Nosferatu and that really freaking creepy bit with the little floating vampire boy knocking at the window. It inspired Fright Night (Salem's Lot has a horror-movie nerd who knows how to repel vamps) and loads of scenes in The Lost Boys.

8| The Mist (2007)
The prize for the most abjectly depressing ending of all time goes to The Mist. Frank Darabont's underrated monster movie features a bunch of strangers under siege in a supermarket after a freak fog has brought an array of killer beasties to them. It's actually much less silly than that sounds.

Essentially a character piece, the cast is great: Thomas Jane, Laurie Holden, Toby Jones, Marcia Gay Harden. Darabont's good with King adaps (he also did The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, which only narrowly missed this list). That unspeakably grim ending was Darabont's, though King approved.

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7| Misery (1990)
Kathy Bates picked up a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as psycho superfan Annie Wilkes in Rob Reiner's adaptation of the King novel.

James Caan is the romance author rescued from a car accident by his 'number one fan', who keeps him captive while he writes his next book. The hobbling scene is the one everyone remembers but it's Bates' crazed performance as the cutesy Godfearing nut-job that really hammers the movie home. The dirty birdy!


6| The Dead Zone (1983)
One of David Cronenberg's more reserved films of the era, veering away from his love of body horror and focusing on a moral dilemma. Essentially: if you could go back in time and assassinate Hitler, would you? Christopher Walken is Johnny, a guy who wakes up after a five-year coma to discover the woman he loves is married with a kid and that he can see into the future.

When he accidentally glimpses the destiny of a politician, the question arises: do you sacrifice yourself for the greater good even if it means murder and certain death? Chilly and emotionally complex.

Fun fact: Bill Murray was Stephen King's first choice to play Johnny.

5| It (2017)
It's kind of early to be placing it confidently anywhere in the King canon but we were blown away by director Andy Muschietti's fresh take on the killer clown—and we're already looking forward to part two.


It's both a genuinely scary film with nods to classic horror tropes as well as a great '80s-set coming of age tale that recalls both King's Stand By Me (more on that later) and the recent pop-culture touchstone Stranger Things (itself inspired by King's various coming-of-age tales).

And full marks to Bill Skarsgard for bringing a new, terrifying Pennywise out of Tim Curry's long shadow.

4| Carrie (1976)
Stephen King's first novel generated one of Brian De Palma's best movies (up there with The Untouchables and Scarface—or at least we think so), a study in teenage angst. Fragile, bird-like Sissy Spacek is troubled outsider Carrie, bullied both by her fanatical mother and the mean girls at school, and suddenly beset with barely controllable telekinesis with the onset of puberty.

The pigs' blood scene at the dance is notorious but it's De Palma's swirling dance sequence, where for the first time, Carrie is both happy and beautiful that makes the final prank so painful to watch. We've never wanted to burn a whole school down so much in our lives.


3| The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Constantly hitting the top of "Greatest movies of all time" polls, it underperformed on release but gained a massive following on DVD. Based on King's story Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption (yes! Actually worse than even The Shawshank Redemption as a title!) from Different Seasons, it's an incredibly uplifting story.

An innocent man is sent to prison for murders he didn't commit. Prison sucks but he finds friendship and hope nevertheless and manages to escape via a cunning plan involving a series of movie posters. A film that will stand the test of time for just being so thoroughly good-hearted.


2| Stand By Me (1986)
Another one based on a story from Different Seasons—this time The Body. A coming-of-age tale about four boys on a long walk to find a dead body, Rob Reiner's film is emotional on every level, from Richard Dreyfuss' narration packed with longing, to the amazing performances of all four of the kids.

The soundtrack is perfect. The casting is spot on: Corey Feldman as poor damaged Teddy Duchamp, Kiefer Sutherland as bully Ace Merrill, River Phoenix as Chris Chambers, doomed to die young in both the film and real life. And the dialogue is just gorgeous.

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?" Sob!

1| The Shining (1980)
Based on Stephen King's novel but famously deviating from it and switching the focus from Danny Torrence on to Jack, Stanley Kubrick's movie is a masterpiece, even if Stephen King himself can't see its appeal. With a notoriously torturous shoot, which took over a year to complete and saw Kubrick push actress Shelley Duvall to such levels of stress her hair started to fall out, the movie hums with intensity.


Jack Nicholson is iconic as the writer driven mad by his own demons and the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel, while the tracking shot of Danny on his tricycle traversing the endless corridors only to bump into the creepiest twins ever is just terrifying.

So dense with meaning and symbolism is it, they made an entire documentary about the fan theories.

From: Digital Spy

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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