Honorable Mentions: The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Dead Zone (1983), Cujo (1983), Carrie (1976), Under the Dome (2013-), John Carpenter's Christine (1983)
5. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Maximum Overdrive is, so far, the only movie that King has actually directed. The movie is based on his short story "Trucks," and concerns a group of people trapped in a diner while the world's machines go batshit insane. Soda machines, lawn mowers, electric knives, cars, trucks, walkmans, automatic car windows, video games; you can't trust anything. The first part of the movie is excellent. Watching the machines come to life and take down every living thing in their way (adults, kids, dogs, everything) is horror movie fun of the highest order (I love it when the kid gets run over by the steamroller). The movie starts to peter out towards the middle as the tension from the beginning goes away and King tries to engage in some serious drama hooey, but then the last quarter is all action and the movie ends on a high note. Pat Hingle is outstanding as the human bad guy, the scumbag diner owner/piece of shit gun runner Bubba Hendershot, and Emilio Estevez does a decent job as the hero of the story. And any movie that has a soundtrack by AC/DC has to be considered automatically cool. It just does. It's AC/DC, man.
4. Creepshow (1982)
This anthology horror flick is the first collaboration between King and director George A. Romero, and it is still nothing short of amazing some thirty plus years later. It's five killer stories plus a wraparound tale featuring Stephen King's son Joe getting pissed off at his asshole father brilliantly played by Tom Atkins. Inspired by the notorious EC horror comics, Creepshow acts as a comic book come to life and works as both a series of solid horror stories and a series of dark comedies. My favorite of the five main stories is "They're Creeping Up On You," the cockroach story featuring E.G. Marshall as a rich weirdo with germ issues. The Leslie Nielson segment is a close second (the Jordy Verill segment starring King is okay but not as good as the cockroaches). I'm shocked that this movie hasn't been turned into a TV show yet. The first sequel was pretty good, but the second sequel, Creepshow III, has no business being a Creepshow movie.
3. Stand by Me (1986)
Directed by Rob Reiner, Stand by Me is probably the first adaptation of the author's work that didn't feature the author's name in the advertising. Stand by Me, based on King's novella The Body, isn't a supernatural horror story. It's a story about four friends going on a trip to find and see a real life dead body (a kid that was hit by a train while picking berries or something like that). We get to see the friends (played by Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell) bond further during the trip, and we get to see just how generally messed up three of them are (O'Connell's Vern comes off as the least messed up, at least that's the way it's always seemed to me). I think, to a certain extent, it's still a story that everyone can relate to, and a prime example that King isn't "just a horror writer."
2. Misery (1990)
Misery, the second Stephen King adaptation directed by Rob Reiner, is a nasty thriller about obsession. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for playing Annie Wilkes, the wacked out "number one fan" of novelist Paul Sheldon, expertly played by James Caan. Wilkes rescues Sheldon after a terrible car crash seriously injures the novelist and "allows" him to recover in her secluded home. Reiner, who hasn't made a thriller since (didn't he announce not that long ago that he wanted to make another one?) cranks up the tension as the movie progresses and we find out just how psychotic Wilkes really is. The movie is still unsettling twenty-three years later. I mean, would you want to be trapped in a house with a heavily armed, batshit insane Kathy Bates? She has a pet pig for the love of God.
1. The Stand (1994)
Directed by Mick Garris, The Stand is an epic miniseries tackling King's biggest single work outside of The Dark Tower. Because it's allowed to essentially take its time setting up the post apocalyptic world that has the survivors of a military created super flu facing off against eachother (good guys with Mother Abigail, bad guys with Randall Flagg), The Stand is probably the most complete adaptation of a King novel. It feels like the novel, even if it, like all adaptations, takes what it needs from the source material and discards the rest. It's such a massive story I'm not sure anyone could realistically boil it down to its essentials and get away with it. Gary Sinise gives one of his finest performances as Stu Redman, and Jamey Sheridan earns TV immortality as the evil Flagg. I haven't seen this miniseries in a while. I think it's time I check it out again.
The Long Walk- Kings best short story. Still never adapted into a film. Darabont owns the rights. In my dreams it's awesome. Storm Of The Century- Joe Hackett just nudges out Brian Hackett to make the honorable mentions. Helen Chapel - balls in your court. Yes, that's a "Wings" joke. Thank You. 'Salems Lot (original), Carrie (original), The Dead Zone, Pet SemetaryThe Mist, Cujo - tie because I like all of them, so just like youth soccer everyone gets a medal!
5. The Shining 1980
Make no mistake about it Kubricks film is a horror masterpiece. But as a literal adaptation of the Stephen King novel it's a rather poor representation. Nicholson is Nicholson, not quite the caricature of himself he would later become but well on his way at this point. Shelley Duval is plays one of the weakest heroines (the lady kind, not the injectable kind) I can think of. Kubrick though, genius that he is, is still able to craft one of the scariest films of all time. Filled with images that will haunt you for years after you've seen it (the twins in the hallway, the elevators filled with blood, "Here's Johnny," The Shining is a master filmmaker teaching a class on how to scare the crap out of people.
4. The Stand
It's hard to imagine in today's television landscape how epic the Stand mini-series was. Now every network has some sort of tent pole "horror" franchise. But back in the mid-90's horror was still a dirty word and the name Stephen King wasn't as revered as it is today (more on that later.) The Stand was an event. Many folks though it couldn't be filmed. Enter Mick Garris. Love him or hate him for what he's done since, he will always have a place in my heart simply based on what he was able to accomplish with The Stand. At one time it was thought that The Stand was too big, too epic. Advances in CG technology have made that thought process a laughable one, but it was very real at the time. There's a theory out there that I wish I had come up with but sadly did not, that states due to the density of the source material, King novels usually work better as miniseries, where as his short stories and novellas lend themselves better to feature length films. Nothing illustrates that better than The Stand.
Rob Reiners first real foray into horror is usually remembered for Kathy Bates Academy Award winning performance as Annie Wilkes, obsessed fan of author Paul Sheldon. Sheldon is of course played by James Caan, whos tremendous performance unfortunately gets overwhelmed by Bates. Sure some will gripe about a few subtle changes. The film is told from Sheldons perspective where as the novel switches back and forth between the two main characters point of view. And then there's the hobbling scene. Certain folks quibble over the change that Reiner and genius screen writer William Goldman made, but there are few scenes in film that are as disturbing as watching Wilkes bring that sledgehammer down on Sheldons ankle. Then Reiner, great director he is holds the shot - just for a second. So our minds register the image, but not well enough to fully process what we've just seen in that moment. A great film that is essentially two great actors playing off each other for two hours.
2. Stand By Me
Consider this run of films : This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men. That's Rob Reiners body of work from 1984 to 1992. It's a struggle to find a director as commercially and creatively successful over such and extended period of time as Reiner was here. Plugged right in the middle of that run is the #2 film on my list. Stand By Me is a very personal film for me, no not because I was a child in the 50's (I'm old but not that old.) I discovered that film right around the time I was 12. I had a group of friends kind of like these guys. We were probably part of the last generation of kids who were allowed to play outside unsupervised. We explored the woods around our houses, spending entire days walking to god knows where. Hell, there was even a tressel very similar to the one the guys run across in the film about a mile and a half from my house. The film gave me pause for the first time in my life. It was the first time I ever took a step back and just appreciated the situation I was in. It's something that I look back on fondly. Then there is the ending. The Mist be damned this is the saddest ending to any King adaptation.
1. The Shawshank Redemption
Is there really any other answer? Shawshank has been called the ultimate "dick flick" and in a sense that's correct. Really what it does is take the themes of friendship and never taking what you have for granted that were presented in Stand By Me and made it about two guys in prison. Throw in the greatest performance of Tim Robbins career, Morgan Freeman being Morgan Freeman and Clancy Brown and you the the recipe for this great film. With a last scene that makes me misty eyed every time I watch it, Shawshank not only put director Frank Darabont on the map it did something for Kings perception as well. There's a tipping point for Kings career. A tipping point that happened around the time of Shawshank. Up until right around this point King had been looked down by the generally snobbish writing establishment as trash, one step above a harlequin romance author. Something happened after Shawshank started to seep into the consciousness though. The learned elite were forced to acknowledge something we as King fans had known for a long time - the man is just a great writer, regardless of genre.
Shawn S. Lealos
Honorable Mentions: TV series: The Stand, Cat's Eye, Salem's Lot, It, Storm of the Century Other Movies: Carrie, The Mist, 1408, The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary Guilty Pleasures: Maximum Overdrive, Children of the Corn Dollar Babies: Umney's Last Case, Paranoid: A Chant, Last Rung on the Ladder, Gray Matter
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 be one of the most prolific Stephen King adapters, 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 second 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
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.