The 8 Ball 09.11.12: The Top 8 Stephen King Movie Adaptations
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 09.11.2012
From "The Green Mile" and "Misery" to "The Shining," "Carrie" and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 film adaptations of Stephen King's work!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Fans of Stephen King's Dark Tower series were dealt a blow recently as the planned film and TV adaptation appears to be dead for the moment. It was reported that Warner Bros. has passed on the chance to finance the project, which effectively kills it for the moment. Ron Howard was set to direct and produce the project with Javier Bardem set to star as Roland the gunslinger. It's an unfortunate move, but there is always hope it could pop back up. Stephen King's books have been adapted into dozens of films which have crossed a wide range of quality. While there are several poor to terrible films (Maximum Overdrive, The Lawnmower Man and The Mangler immediately come to mind), there have been many very good to brilliant ones as well. This week I thought I would memorialize the Dark Tower project with a look at some of King's best works, in the hopes that Roland and the Man in Black will get a chance to join them sooner rather than later.
Caveat: The only caveat is that a film needed to be theatrically released and directly based on a Stephen King story, or written by King for the screen. Thus direct-to-DVD adaptations, TV miniseries and the like were not eligible. Richard Bachman-credited books and stories were eligible.
Just Missing The Cut
Cujo (1983) The Mist (2007) Creepshow (1982)
#8: The Dark Half (1993)
First on my list is what I consider to be the most underrated of all the Stephen King adaptations. Published in 1989, The Dark Half was inspired by King's own experiences with writing under a pseudonym, namely that of Richard Bachman. King created the identity early in his career in order to allow himself to release more than one novel a year, which was not acceptable at that time. King convinced Signet Books to allow him to release other works under Bachman's name, which King also said was an attempt to determine if his writing career was "luck or talent" and has Bachman's books released with as little marketing as possible. This also allowed King to write more visceral, less overt horror that dealt with the monstrous nature of mankind instead of the supernatural. His eventual uncovering led to The Dark Half being conceptualized. The film has a couple minor flaws--for one, the script makes the mistake of revealing the unborn twin at the beginning of the film, and for another the special effects are somewhat cheap even by early 1990s standards. But a strong performance by Timothy Hutton in the twin roles of Thad Beaumont and his "other half" George Stark and good supporting work by Amy Madigan and Michael Rooker makes this well worth watching, especially thanks to a screenplay that doesn't get nearly the respect it deserves. It may not be the greatest film of all-time but it deserves much more credit than it gets and has some very legitimately creepy moments.
#7: The Running Man (1987)
Speaking of Richard Bachman, King's pseudonym was the name credited to this novel about a dystopian future in which mankind has allowed a game show to be created in which criminals try to outrun "Hunters," aka professional killers. I remember that when this film initially came out, it was viewed by some as "lacking credibility" and "unbelievable." These days, it's not too far off from being prophetic. Arnold Schwarzenegger's career had clearly taken off at this point, but he wasn't truly considered an A-Lister yet. This film, along with Twins the year after, really helped solidify him as such. Schwarzenegger fired on all cylinders as Ben Richards, the framed man trying to win his freedom against a terribly stacked deck, and Maria Conchita Alonso is also quite good as Amber Mendes. What really makes this one though was the involvement of Richard Dawson as Damon Killian, the ruthless game show host who was the brains behind the whole operation. Obviously Dawson, a game show host himself in real life, was doing work he was very used to but he really handled the villainous aspects of it well. The film looks dated like many science fiction films of the late '80s and early '90s are, but not in a particularly bad way and Jesse Ventura is great as Captain Freedom. It's a film that holds up surprisingly well and when you consider just how far reality TV has come in a relatively short time, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we may get there soon.
#6: Carrie (1976)
It was announced in May of last year that a new adaptation of Carrie was to be produced, with Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore later revealed as the stars with Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) behind the camera. As impressive as that talent group is, they have a lot to live up to. Carrie was King's first novel to be published (although it was his fourth to be written). When it hit paperback it became a huge success sold an initial print run of over a million copies; it has since sold a total of sixteen million copies despite being one of the 100 most frequently-banned books in North America in the 1990s. Two years after its publication the film version hit theaters and horrified America. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are, without exaggeration, pretty much terrifying in the roles of repressed telekinetic Carrie White and her sadistic, zealous mother Margaret. When Carrie finally loses it, her path of bloody vengeance is an absolute thing of film legend. But what really makes it work (and what the ill-advised "sequel" failed to do) was in how Spacek makes Carrie very sympathetic and even pitiable throughout the first half of the movie. This is a girl who you feel bad for an ultimately seems to be incredibly harmless; when she finally unleashes her pain via her psychic vengeance, audiences are horrified but partially because they understand why; in fact, Carrie White was listed among AFI's 100 Heroes and Villains as a hero. This is one of the films that really innovated the idea of "one last scare" to the point that it's actually often referred to as a "Carrie ending."
#5: Stand by Me (1986)
Not all of Stephen King's stories are about horror, monsters and the supernatural. Some of his best work is his dramatic stories, and we'll see a few of those. The first one that caught America's attention was The Body, written and published as part of his Different Seasons novella collection. The tale of four boys from King's famous fictional town of Castle Rock who go on a trek to see the body of a boy killed by a train is one of his best stories. When Rob Reiner got a hold of it, he turned the film into one that stands the test of time. Reiner was working off an exceptional script by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon and cast the film perfectly. This was a movie that launched the film careers of four great young actors: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O'Connell. The script and the film as a whole treats these characters with respect and Reiner got the best performances possible out of the actors. The film is funny, touching and tragic at various points and one of the better films for young adults of the 1980s. This was the first rated R film I ever saw, as a side note. King considered this film to be the first successful translation to film of any of his works and while I think there were other successful ones beforehand, you can't disagree with this one's success.
#4: The Shining (1980)
King rather famously dislikes this adaptation of one of his most beloved novels. King has been often quoted as saying that he said it was the only adaptation of his novels that he could "remember hating." The reason for this is because he felt the film's themes of filial disintegration and alcoholism were ignored in exchange for the thriller conventions; he also didn't like how the film's supernatural element was toned back. He has also said that it is a good horror film though, just not a good adaptation of his novel. I can agree with that in that there are many changes to the source material that were perhaps not necessary. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that Stanley Kubrick created a chilling film featuring a glorious performance by Jack Nicholson, as well as Shelly Duvall and Danny Lloyd. The film's ghost and psychic elements are somewhat downplayed to be sure, but are certainly present and they contribute very nicely to the film. Kubrick's famously picky attention to detail paid off in spades as every frame of this film contributes to the growing tension as the hotel becomes increasingly hostile. Despite the building's size and space, it seems very claustrophic toward the end of the film when Wendy and Danny are trying to escape. It's perhaps not the best adaptation of a King story, but a great film made from a King book nonetheless.
#3: Misery (1990)
I can never trust Kathy Bates in films. Even when she's playing the friendly, down-home trustworthy types, I never trust her. Because like many, this was my first big introduction to Bates and she created such a memorable role that I have trouble imagining her as anything else. And gods forbid that she ever get anything remotely resembling a sledgehammer in her hands. Bates won an Oscar playing Annie Wilkes in this film, an obsessed fan that saves novelist Paul Sheldon but makes him a prisoner after she learns that he has killed off her favorite character Misery Chastain in his new book. Bates is so spellbinding as Wilkes, it is a revelatory performance that brings to mind the likes of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector. But the film isn't just about her; James Caan is also very good as Paul and Rob Reiner again proves that he's great when he has King material to work with. Reiner, much like Kubrick did, makes the film's tension rise with the increasing claustrophobia of the film as Paul is stuck in his room. And much like Spacek did with Carrie, Bates makes Annie's transition from friendly to disturbing to outright scary very believable and unnerving to watch. It's a great thriller and my favorite film based on a King work that is designed to frighten.
#2: The Green Mile (1999)
There is only one man better suited to handling Stephen King than Rob Reiner, and that man is Frank Darabont. Darabont has been behind the lens of three Stephen King adaptations, and two of them are absolute classics (the other, The Mist, is an Honorable Mention on this list). The first of these classics is The Green Mile. The film is based on the novel of the same name, which was originally published in six serial portions. It could be argued that this is as high as it is on this list because of Michael Clarke Duncan's passing, and to be sure it was the first that came to mind because of that news. But I am confident that it would be just as high either way. There was some concern by people that the story would not be able to carry over to the screen properly, particularly the fantastic elements. However Darabont clearly knew what he was doing, and he cast it beautifully with the likes of Duncan, Tom Hanks, Doug Hutchison (before he became a creepy fifty-one year-old married to a sixteen year-old), David Morse and James Cromwell. Darabont truly hit this one out of the park in every respect and it only misses #1 because of the greatness of the film that tops it, not any fault of its own.
#1: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Five years before Darabont made The Green Mile, he had never directed a film before. In fact, he was best known as the writer of Trancerrs, the remake of The Blob and Nightmare on Elm Street III. So people reacted to his being chosen as the director of The Shawshank Redemption with skepticism. That skepticism was unfounded, clearly. Shawshank is regularly considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made. Not just the greatest King film, but the greatest film EVER. I won't go quite as far as the latter, but I cannot disagree with the former. This film hits a near-perfect note in every aspect. Casting? Try Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins doing some of the best work of their career. Writing? The dialogue is nothing short of sublime. The editing, the score, the cinematography? All were nominated for Oscars and all were robbed of them. It's a truly epic piece of film making and proof that even a "lowly horror writer" as many have unfairly labeled King throughout the years can produce something of true brilliance and transcendence.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Three (1965 - 1966) Episodes Watched: 567 Last Serial Completed:The Gunfighters - The Doctor, Steven and Dodo head back to the Old West and arrive in Tombstone, Arizona. But Dodo and Steven's joy at being in the time of cowboys is dampened when a toothache sends the Doctor on a path that involves Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, the Clanton boys and the OK Corral. Surviving Episodes Remaining: 61
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.