After mentioning my Stephen King Dollar Baby documentary that I am running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to make, I thought I would look at actual feature length Stephen King movies. Here is a look at my Top 10 favorite Stephen King movies based on his work. (click here to learn more about my Kickstarter campaign)
10. Pet Sematary
There are a lot of movies that I really like by Stephen King that other people might think are not that good – movies like Maximum Overdrive and Children of the Corn. I actually got to see Children of the Corn in the theater a couple of years ago with the director in attendance. However, when picking out this 10th choice, I am going with Pet Sematary. There is still something about that scene at the start where little Gage dies that still hits me hard (Cujo would have been 1,000-times better with the book's ending) and then the movie just entertained me for the rest of the way through. It is not a horror masterpiece, but I still really like Pet Sematary.
9. The Dead Zone
There have been some solid TV shows based on Stephen King's work, but I really thing that The Dead Zone was the best of them all. It wouldn't have been possible really without this David Cronenberg directed Stephen King adaptation in 1983. In the movie, Christopher Walken plays Johnny Smith, a man who can see psychic visions when he touches things after a car accident when he almost dies. The film is a murder mystery, where Johnny has to help solve the murder of a girl, that turns into a political thriller when Johnny realizes that a political candidate named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen) will bring about Armageddon if elected. Plus, unlike Cujo, this movie doesn't take the cowards way out with a tacked on happy ending.
With the new version of Carrie about to come out (and I think it's going to be great with Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore in the lead roles), the original version is still an instant classic. There wasn't a better choice that Sissy Spacek as Carrie White and Piper Laurie was perfect as her mother. Honestly, as positive I am of the new movie version, it will be hard to match up to these two actors in the original. Brian De Palma was at the top of his game when he made Carrie and it still holds up well today and has the same shock ending that Friday the 13th ripped off four years later.
This movie shocked the hell out of me. I was listening to a podcast from the guys over at Outside the Cinema and they were counting down a list of movies they did not expect to be any good, but were surprised to find out that they loved them. If I made a list like that, I think I would add this movie as at least a possibility for that list. John Cusack stars as a paranormal debunker who checks into a hotel room to prove that it isn't haunted. Unfortunately for him, it is haunted and he is terrorized by visions of his dead daughter. The movie has two endings on the DVD, one where he lives and one where he dies – and both are great. This just ended up being a solid ghost haunting movie and just surprised me with the quality.
6. The Mist
Frank Darabont has three movies on this countdown. The first is The Mist, a story that I did not first discover by reading. I heard that it was one of the best audio books ever made, so I wanted to experience it as an audio book before reading it. People weren't kidding, as the audio book used actors and sound effects instead of someone just reading the book to you. Darabont had already made three King movies, starting with his dollar baby movie The Woman in the Room. This one was released by the studio in color, but if you want to experience the film in the best way possible, watch it in Darbont's black and white version. It looks amazing and has one of the most downbeat endings you could ever imagine. I love movies that take chances and The Mist is a daring movie that is just about perfect.
5. The Green Mile
The second Darabont movie on this list is The Green Mile, based on a serialized group of short novellas by King about a death row inmate wrongly convicted of murder and the lives he changes. Michael Clarke Duncan played John Coffey, a large black mentally slow man who is arrested for the murder of two young white girls and convicted, sentenced to die on death row. We meet other death row inmates, including the real killer (a white trash Sam Rockwell), as well as a sadistic prison guard played by Doug Hutchison who turns out to be a real bad guy, even among the killers. Yeah, Tom Hanks is the star here, but it is his supporting cast that makes this movie great. Ignore Spike Lee's racially based complaints about the story, this is an updated version of the classic Of Mice and Men and is a great movie.
Darabont may have three films on this list, but Rob Reiner has his experience with Stephen King adaptations as well. He has two movies on the list, and the first is Misery. Kathy Bates plays one of King's scariest antagonists as Annie Wilkes, a fantastic fan of author Paul Sheldon (James Caan). When Sheldon is in an accident, Annie finds him and brings him back to her house to burse him back to health. It is at this time that she learns that he plans on killing off her favorite fictional character and ending the series and goes ballistic. She takes him captive and orders him to change the story and let the character live … or else. It is a very scary look at fandom and how dangerous and psychotic some fans can be. It is also a fantastic movie (although I wonder if they should have used the axe instead of the mallet like the book did).
3. Stand by Me
The second Reiner movie on the list is Stand by Me, which is based on the short novella The Body. This is the one movie that most people never knew was based on a Stephen King story. It shows the coming-of-age story of four boys, played fantastically by Corey Feldman, Will Wheaton, Jerry O'Connell and River Phoenix. The four boys learn that there is a dead body out in the woods and set out to find it, while avoiding the older, sociopathic Ace Merrill (played by Kiefer Sutherland). There is nothing horrific about the movie outside of normal situations (bullies, running from a train, finding a dead body, leeches on your nether regions), and it might be one of the best King stories he ever wrote, and one of the best movies based on his work.
2. The Shawshank Redemption
The final Frank Darabont story on this list is often considered one of the best movies ever made. Despite that, it still ranks second on my list. Just like Stand by Me, this is not a horror movie (and it is from the same collection – Different Seasons). In this one, Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of killing his wife and her lover. Much like The Green Mile, someone ends up in jail who could help him gain his freedom (in this case it was someone who knew who the real killer was), and in this case no one ever learns the truth because the warden has him killed before he can tell anyone. This is a story about redemption and Andy doesn't get an easy way out and has to earn everything including his own freedom. This is easily one of the most inspiring redemption stories ever made and one of the best movies out there.
1. The Shining
BUT, my favorite Stephen King movie remains Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Yes, I understand that King hates the fact that Kubrick changed the villain into a Jack Nicholson that was unbalanced from the start instead of a good, although nowhere perfect, man who is influenced by a haunted hotel. King also feel the movie is cold and you don't feel for anybody, but I don't agree with that. You are solidly behind little Danny from the start (although to Kubrick's credit, neither Danny Lloyd (who played Danny) nor Shelley Duvall (who played Wendy) were worth a damn as actors). This movie was all about the atmosphere, which Kubrick delivered in spades. The film opens with the giant wide helicopter shot, showing the wide open space, and then uses a tracking shot into the hotel that transforms the location from the wide open space into a claustrophobic location. He also uses sound and color to perfection, and if you watch carefully, everything that is ghostly or in Jack's mind is silhouetted in white light. This movie may not be a completely loyal adaptation, but it is a masterfully made horror movie and proves that horror can be art and entertaining. This is one of the best horror movies ever made – Stephen King adaptation or not.