Even if you’re a somewhat regular reader or a newcomer to horror movies, you’ve still likely heard of Stephen King. The prolific author of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, suspense, and supernatural has written 58 novels and counting (which have sold over 350 million copies), over 200 short stories, nearly 20 novellas, screenplays, and more. His output hasn’t slowed down at all either, with multiple published pieces being released a year. So, there’s a deep well to pull from when it comes to translating his work to screen, big or small. And there’s been a lot. Seriously, a lot. Even without TV series like Castle Rock, Mr. Mercedes, and more factored in, watching all of King’s adaptations is a daunting task for any completionist. To put into perspective just how much King has meant to the genre, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to his feature film adaptations, which includes miniseries and made for TV works.
Based on: the novel from 1974
It’s only fitting that the first King novel to ever be published was the first to receive a feature film adaptation. And it set the bar high right out of the gate. Sissy Spacek was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her turn as the shy Carrie White, daughter to religious zealot Margaret White (Piper Laurie, also nominated for an Academy Award) and frequent target of high school bullies. That is, until her telekinetic powers are awakened and a mean prank pushes her over the edge. Directed by Brian De Palma, Carrie still remains among the best King adaptations.
The Shining (1980)
Based on: the novel from 1977
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s novel is often considered a cinematic masterpiece, and one of the scariest of all time. Just not by King himself, who’s been vocal throughout the decades of his feelings on Kubrick’s drastic departure from the source material. Whereas Jack Torrance’s descent into madness was much more external thanks to the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel, Kubrick made Jack’s journey more rooted in psychological terror. His vision and surreal imagery haunted in a very different way.
Based on: two segments are based on the short stories “Weeds” from 1976 and “The Crate” from 1979, the rest King wrote for the film.
Directed by George A. Romero, this anthology is one big homage to horror comics of the ‘50s, and plays out like one. Bookended by little Billy (played by King’s son Joe) getting scolded for reading a horror comic, The Creep appears at his window for assistance. From there, five segments unfold of horror and humor. All very colorful in a comic book aesthetic, and all very King. King even appears in the segment “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” based on his short “Weeds” for his film debut. The icing on the cake is special makeup effects handled by master Tom Savini.
Based on: the novel from 1981
A friendly St. Bernard becomes a vicious beast thanks to a bite from a rabid bat. Enter housewife Donna (Dee Wallace) and her young son Tad (Danny Pintauro), who’ve arrived on property to get the family car repaired, unaware that the rabid dog has killed its owner. It sets off an intense fight for survival, with the car the only safe haven from the unrelenting animal and no help in sight. This also means that the elements are a big issue, too. This adaptation is fairly faithful, but it drops all supernatural elements from the novel and offers a much more uplifting ending. Book spoiler: Donna finally defeats Cujo mere moments from help arriving, but young Tad had already died from dehydration and heat exposure.
The Dead Zone (1983)
Based on: the novel from 1979
Directed by David Cronenberg, this adaptation stars Christopher Walken as John Smith, a young school teacher who slips into a coma for five years due to a car accident. When he comes to, he finds his lady love has moved on and a new psychic ability that gives him insight into anyone he touches. A genre-bender that streamlines King’s novel, The Dead Zone isn’t one of the best adaptations but one that remains timeless. The novel also inspired a TV series that ran for six seasons beginning in 2002.
Based on: the novel from 1983
King’s popularity was so immense by this point that production for this adaptation began before the novel was even published. So, naturally, there are some narrative differences between the novel and film. This wasn’t a passion project for director John Carpenter, but one he needed to make from a career standpoint following the box office failure of The Thing. It was our gain, as his vision of King’s novel brought a very stylized take on the killer Plymouth Fury story.
Children of the Corn (1984)
Based on: the short story from 1977
Young couple Burt and Vicky (Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton) find themselves trapped in a remote town full of homicidal, religious children who have previously purged the town of adults. Unlike the source novel, which sees Burt and Vicky at the end of the relationship and thus constantly bickering, the film has the leads happy and still in love. Until they get to Gatlin, anyway. The adaptation also adds in two new characters, the innocent Job and Sarah, who assist the adults in their survival. King was rumored to be unhappy with these changes, but at least the adaptation gave us memorable villains in Isaac (John Franklin) and Malachai (Courtney Gains).
Based on: the novel from 1980
The plot sees a couple gaining telekinetic abilities after volunteering for medical experiments, and then go on to have a child, Charlie (Drew Barrymore), who is born with pyrokinetic abilities. The facility responsible wants Charlie back. Firestarter was directed by Mark L. Lester (Commando, Class of 1984), but it very nearly would have been directed by John Carpenter. Yet again, the financial flop of The Thing altered the trajectory of his career, as he was slated to direct Firestarter but was replaced post The Thing release. Lester hired Stanley Mann to adapt King’s novel to screen, eschewing the two Carpenter commissioned scripts- one of which was written by Bill Lancaster (screenwriter of The Thing) that King had given his seal of approval.
Cat’s Eye (1985)
Based on: two segments based on the short stories “Quitters, Inc.” from 1978 and “The Ledge” from 1976, “General” was written specifically for the film
This anthology connects three segments of horror and suspense together by a traveling cat on a quest to save a little girl. Written by King, and directed by King favorite Lewis Teague (Cujo), Cat’s Eye is the first film to really play with the universe in the way King does in his novels. The ninth theatrically released film (tenth if you count made-for-TV movie ‘Salems Lot), there’s a lot of Easter eggs and overt nods to other notable characters and places that indicates just how relevant to pop culture King had become.
Silver Bullet (1985)
Based on: the novella Cycle of the Werewolf from 1983
Cycle of the Werewolf was originally intended to be a calendar, with illustrations by comic book artist Bernie Wrightson. But King wasn’t satisfied with the limited space for his monthly vignettes to accompany the art and turned it into a short novel (Wrightson’s illustrations included). So, the novella plays out like an extended calendar; each month a story of the werewolf’s latest victim. King wrote the screenplay for the adaptation, as well, dropping the monthly format in favor of one cohesive narrative that followed paraplegic hero Marty (Corey Haim), his uncle Red (Gary Busey), and his sister (Megan Follows) as they solve the mystery behind the werewolf attacks.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Based on: the short story “Trucks” from 1973
A comet causes inanimate objects to become sentient and homicidal, resulting in a group of people banding together at a truck stop to evade the attacks and survive. Not only was the screenplay written by King, but Maximum Overdrive also marks the writer’s first and only directorial credit. It also didn’t fare well financially or critically, earning both King and lead actor Emilio Estevez Golden Raspberry nomination. As evidenced by his prolific writing, King is also an overachiever, and you can spot him in the film as a man at the ATM.
Stand by Me (1986)
Based on: the novella The Body from 1982
Some of the most critically adored adaptations of King’s works aren’t horror at all, but drama. Such was the case for Stand by Me, a coming of age story in which four friends embark on a journey to find the body of a missing boy. Directed by Rob Reiner early in his directorial career, he opted to hone in on one of the boys, Gordie, and make them a central character to give the film version more focus. The move resulted in Stand by Me winning many awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Director and an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Creepshow 2 (1987)
Based on: one segment based on the short story “The Raft” from 1982, the other two were written specifically for the film
Like its predecessor, Creepshow 2 was meant to include five segments. Budgetary cuts meant that two were trimmed, though one was later used in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie – “Cat from Hell.” The best segment, “The Raft,” was based on King’s short, while the rest he wrote treatments for. From there, George A. Romero wrote the screenplay. The director’s reigns were handed off to Creepshow and Day of the Dead cinematographer Michael Gornick for this sequel.
The Running Man (1987)
Based on: the novel from 1982 under pen name Richard Bachman
This Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi action vehicle follows a wrongly convicted man, Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger), forced to play in a deadly gauntlet as a form of public execution via live reality TV game. Much lighter and different from the source novel, this adaptation has a much happier ending. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen this one, or not at all, then there’s no better time than this year to watch, since most of the narrative is set in 2019.
Pet Sematary (1989)
Based on: the novel from 1983
One of King’s most terrifying novels was originally intended to be directed by George A. Romero, who’d previously purchased rights in 1984. But due to being tied up in another project, he pulled out of the production. Later, due to a looming writer’s strike, Paramount needed screenplays already ready to go to avoid major gaps in their release schedule. Enter King’s screenplay. This, combined with director Mary Lambert’s strong vision which included her insistence on casting decisions of Miko Hughes as Gage Creed and Andrew Hubastek as Zelda, this faithful adaptation is an all-timer.
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
Based on: one segment based on the short story “Cat from Hell” from 1977
Remember how Creepshow 2 had two more segments that were cut due to budgetary constraints? This is where one of those cut stories ended up. The middle segment, “Cat From Hell,” was based on King’s story treatment and adapted by Romero, and followed a wealthy old man who hires a hit man to kill a cat. The hitman doesn’t believe the old man’s stories of how this cat is responsible for a string of murders but is willing to accept the high fee anyway. This segment has a lot of dark humor up until its grisly, gory end.
Graveyard Shift (1990)
Based on: the short story from 1970
This adaptation makes some drastic departures from the short story it’s based on. A creature feature that didn’t fare well with critics, Graveyard Shift follows new hire Hall (David Andrews) tasked by his mean boss Warwick (Stephen Macht) to assist with the insane rat infestation beneath their mill. They find something much most monstrous as the cause. Though the film was panned, it’s a fun creature feature with an always welcome appearance by Brad Dourif as the intensely eccentric exterminator. The film also opts for a happier ending, whereas (spoiler), the story sees both Hall and Warwick getting devoured by the mutated rats, the crew in the upstairs mill none the wiser.
Based on: the novel from 1987
Getting into a car crash is only the beginning of Paul Sheldon’s nightmare when he realizes his savior is an obsessed fan who refuses to let him leave at any cost. Director Rob Reiner once again proves masterful in adapting King’s works for screen, this time tapping talented novelist and screenwriter William Goldman (Magic, The Princess Bride) to adapt. Another award-winning feature, but this time the focus was on actress Kathy Bates, unknown prior to her star turn in Misery.
The Lawnmower Man (1992)
Based on: the short story from 1975 – in name only
This adaptation is a bit of a doozy. It wasn’t initially conceived as an adaptation at all; originally titled Cyber God, the story followed a simple greenskeeper rendered intelligent due to virtual reality experiments. But New Line Cinema had rights to King’s short story, and decided to combine the story with Cyber God, to be titled Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man. King successfully sued to have his name removed; this adaptation had very little in common with his story at all. This movie isn’t even acknowledged on his official web page, but I’m including it for its brief connection and as an incentive to seek out the short story, which is much more gruesome and, well, better.
Based on: Original screenplay based on an unpublished short story
The first of many King’s works to be directed by horror master Mick Garris, Sleepwalkers is an original screenplay written by King. A wacky twist to vampire mythos, the film centers around two incestuous shapeshifting vampires (Brian Krause and Alice Krige) who feed off virgins. Their latest victim is Tanya Robertson (Madchen Amick), a sweet girl who finds an unexpected ally in the Sheriff’s cat, Clovis. Look for many notable horror cameos; John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, and King all make appearances in this underrated creature feature.
The Dark Half (1993)
Based on: the novel from 1989
Directed and adapted for screen by George A. Romero, The Dark Half follows Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) an author attempting to bury his more successful pen name George Stark. But George doesn’t want to be buried and becomes a physical presence that terrorizes Thad’s friends and family. The novel was written after King’s own alter ego, Richard Bachman, was outed, and even dedicated the novel to “the late Richard Bachman.” If there’s one subject that King loves most, it’s tortured writers. The Dark Half may be slow in pace, but it’s far better than it was given credit for and Hutton is clearly having a ball playing dual roles.
Needful Things (1993)
Based on: the novel from 1991
The mysterious Mr. Gaunt (Max von Sydow) arrives in Castle Rock to open a shop that grants its patrons their deepest desires. But with it comes a very steep price. The 960-page novel was a lot to condense into a feature-length film, which is why there was an extended, 3-hour cut (including over an hour of footage that was trimmed from the theatrical cut) that aired on TBS three years later, in miniseries format. No home release has included this extended cut of the film. This is probably for the best, as the pacing meant the two-hour version is plenty.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Based on: the novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption from 1982
As if we needed another reason to love A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, it was the first screenwriting credit that Frank Darabont received, giving him the confidence (and money) to return to King, with whom he’d worked on adapting short story “The Woman in the Room” for a short film, to purchase rights to his novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Darabont didn’t immediately adapt it, writing the screenplay five years later. He expanded the story and characters, adding in a shady warden as a primary antagonist. The screenplay was so good that Rob Reiner wanted to direct, offering to finance any other project in exchange. Darabont held strong, and the result is one of the greatest movies and beginning of Darabont’s work with King’s stories.
The Mangler (1995)
Based on: the short story from 1978
One of the wackiest of King’s adaptations, this one sees an industrial laundry press develop a taste for human flesh. Yes, you read that correctly. Directed by Tobe Hooper, The Mangler stars Robert Englund as the press owner and Ted Levine as the police officer called in to investigate the machine’s first victim. At least the adaptation doesn’t dare get as surreal as the story- which sees the mangle unhinging itself from its anchors to roam the streets in search of new victims. It spawned two sequels, none of which are connected to King’s story or other works.
Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Based on: the novel from 1993
A big city reporter heads back to her small home town in support of her mother, who’s been accused of murdering the elderly woman she works for as a maid. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kathy Bates, in what she’s described as her best role, Dolores Claiborne is an engaging adaptation that’s been tough to nail down in terms of genre. Mostly referred to as a psychological thriller, it’s also been classified as drama, gothic romance, and straightforward horror. No matter what you define it as, it’s all around great. There are more supernatural elements in the novel, and a major connection to another King novel – Gerald’s Game.
Based on: the novel from 1984 under pen name Richard Bachman
Directed by Tom Holland and adapted by Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice), Thinner didn’t win over critics or the box office at time of release. It had an uphill battle to climb; lead protagonist isn’t exactly an endearing character that’s easy to root for. Billy Halleck is an upper-class lawyer with a talent for defending criminals. It doesn’t take long before his misdeeds piss off the wrong gypsy, who curses him to lose weight at an unhealthily rapid weight. A mean spirited and macabre story adapted faithfully, it’s enhanced by great special effects.
The Night Flier (1997)
Based on: the short story from 1988
Ok, so this was dumped onto DVD by New Line Cinema and not released theatrically, but it wasn’t made-for-TV either. This also makes it one of the lesser seen King adaptations, which is a shame. Miguel Ferrer stars as sleazy tabloid reporter Richard Dees, eager to get the scoop on a serial killer that travels to airports to slaughter victims. Dees suspects the killer thinks of himself as a vampire, but the truth is more horrifying. The adaptation is pretty faithful, but the addition of a budding reporter character alters Dees ultimate fate.
Apt Pupil (1998)
Based on: the novella from 1982
A thriller that involves a teen boy blackmailing his neighbor after discovering that he’s a Nazi/fugitive war criminal. As all good boys do, of course. It begins an unhealthy relationship between the boy and the Nazi, and their lives spiral out of control from there. Directed by Bryan Singer, and starring Brad Renfro and Ian McKellen, the film and novella have widely different endings, though thematically both leave teen boy Todd in a dark place. A film that unnerved critics and didn’t fare well financially, it was further marred by scandal when a lawsuit was filed against Singer by a 14-year-old extra.
The Green Mile (1999)
Based on: the novel from 1996
Frank Darabont’s second King adaptation, of which he both directed and wrote the screenplay, was a major award winner. Set during the Great Depression, it’s a supernatural drama that sees the lives of the prison guards of a Death Row known as the “Green Mile” irrevocably changed upon the arrival of prisoner John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a gentle giant with a mysterious gift. This adaptation demands that you have a box of tissues handy while watching.
Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
Based on: the novella Low Men in Yellow Coats from 1999
This adaptation takes its name from the collection that included Low Men in Yellow Coats. It follows single mother Liz (Hope Davis) and her son Bobby (Anton Yelchin), who take in an elder stranger, Ted (Anthony Hopkins). As Bobby bonds with Ted, he discovers he has telekinetic and psychic powers, and the friendship changes his life. No, this isn’t horror, but the source novella was written as a tie-in to King’s popular Dark Tower series. Ted is on the run from “low men” who work for The Crimson King, a major entity of evil in the series.
Based on: the novel from 2001
Often touted among the worst of King’s adaptations, Dreamcatcher is a puzzling head scratcher for sure. Directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark), written by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (Magic, Misery), and featuring a cast of A-list talent, there’s an unspoken expectation that the film would offer much better dialogue than lines like, “Jesus-Christ-bananas, some fuckarow this is turning into.” As for plot, the extraterrestrial invasion by way of infectious parasite that catches four friends in middle, it’s a wackier one to begin with. But the grand scope of the bizarre invasion means we never get time to get to know the characters well enough to buy into the madness.
Secret Window (2004)
Based on: the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden from 1990
Sharing some major similarities to The Dark Half, successful writer Mort (Johnny Depp) is stalked by a stranger accusing him of plagiarism amidst a painful divorce with his wife. His wife is seeing another man, played by The Dark Half’s Timothy Hutton. Of course, the stranger stalking Mort has a lot more in common with him than identical writing, or this wouldn’t be a King story. Adapted and directed by David Koepp (Stir of Echoes), the film version favors Mort, making his ex-wife an antagonist and drastically altering the fates of both characters.
Riding the Bullet (2004)
Based on: the novella from 2000
When George gets a phone call that his mother is dying, he decides to hitchhike over a hundred miles to see her. He’s picked up by an ominous stranger with a deadly secret. Directed and written by Mick Garris, this adaptation of the novella is fairly faithful, only speeding up the timeline of the character’s fates for added urgency. It stars Jonathan Jackson as George, and David Arquette as the ominous stranger, George Staub. Riding the Bullet received a very unsuccessful limited theatrical release before dropping onto DVD, making it one of the lesser-known adaptations.
Based on: the short story from 1999
John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a cynical author who specializes in debunking the paranormal. Despite warnings from hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samual L. Jackson), Enslin checks into the haunted room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel. That skepticism changes to unbridled fear when the room preys on his grief over his lost daughter, and more. Director Mikael Håfström opts for psychological and surrealism terror over a straightforward haunted fare, and manages to make The Carpenters’ song “We’ve Only Just Begun” a menacing theme for the mean-spirited entities lurking in the room. Håfström shot four different endings for this film, attempting to recapture the ambiguity of King’s short, though none of them match the story’s ending.
The Mist (2007)
Based on: the novella from 1980
Most of King’s works tend to end on a relatively uplifting note of hope. Leave it to screenwriter/director Frank Darabont to swap out The Mist’s hopeful ending for one of soul-shattering bleakness, and boy does it work. With a talented cast lead by Thomas Jane, The Mist follows a group of citizens stranded in a grocery store when a strange storm hides a horde of deadly creatures within its mist. More than just a well-made creature feature, it’s an examination of humanity when faced with catastrophe, and possibly even the end of days. Marcia Gay Harden is chilling as the fervently religious Mrs. Carmody.
Dolan’s Cadillac (2009)
Based on: the short story from 1993
King’s crime-thriller twist to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, Tom Robinson (Wes Bentley) embarks on a quest for vengeance against crime boss Jimmy Dolan (Christian Slater) following the murder of his wife after witnessing Dolan in the act of committing a crime. Whereas King’s story is haunted tale of revenge spanning years, the film speeds it up to rev up the action. This one went direct-to-video.
Based on: the novel from 1974
The third adaptation of King’s first published novel, this time starring Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie White, and Julianne Moore as her mother Margaret. Directed by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry), this version of Carrie comes with a talented cast that delivers great performances (Moore is very effective as the unhinged Margaret). The only problem is that it doesn’t really bring anything new or different to the fold, and was critically panned in large part because of that.
A Good Marriage (2014)
Based on: the novella from 2010
Adapted for screen by King from his own novella, A Good Marriage stars Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia as longtime married couple Darcy and Bob Anderson. After 25 years of an idyllic marriage, Darcy uncovers a shocking secret of Bob’s, one that drive’s her to equally shocking lengths to protect her family from that secret’s exposure. Directed by Peter Askin, and also starring Stephen Lang, this psychological thriller is surprisingly light on thrills.
Based on: the short story “Gramma” from 1985
A Blumhouse Production film loosely based on King’s short story that appeared in Skeleton Crew, Mercy stars Frances O’Connor as a single mother with two boys who help her care for their ailing grandmother. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, grandma isn’t all there. She also has a lot of sinister secrets, and only her favored grandson George (The Walking Dead’s Chandler Riggs) truly gets her. Adapted for screen by Matt Greenberg (1408, Reign of Fire), this makes drastic departures from King’s original story but does retain a lot of the Lovecraftian mythology. It released on VOD and home release simultaneously, making this another lesser known adaptation.
Based on: the 2006 novel
John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson look to recapture the magic of 2007’s 1408, this time with a screenplay by King himself. Needless to say, this one didn’t fare so well. A mysterious signal emitted through cell phones renders people insane and homicidal. Cusack leads as Clay Riddell, a man joined by a group of survivors while in route to reunite with his estranged family. King rewrote the ending based on criticisms of his novel’s ending. Directed by Tod Williams (Paranormal Activity 2), but Cell was very nearly directed by Eli Roth until he walked away due to creative differences.
The Dark Tower (2017)
Based on: The Dark Tower series
One of the most highly anticipated adaptations, and one of the biggest disappointments, The Dark Tower film was a mess before it even made it to theaters. Considered a sort of continuation of the popular novel series, which contained eight novels and multiple tie-ins. Being passed around through various studios and filmmakers, including J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard, throughout the years, it finally moved forward with director Nikolaj Arcel and screenwriters Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner, who reworked the existing screenplay entirely. The result is a messy film bearing little resemblance to one of King’s most beloved series.
Based on: the 1986 novel
The second adaptation of King’s massive novel, but first theatrically released, It: Chapter One is only the first half of the story- Chapter Two is scheduled to conclude the story this year. Revolving solely around the childhood experiences of the Loser’s Club with the evil simply dubbed It, director Andy Muschietti made a very different version of King’s novel than the 1990 made-for-TV mini-series and updated the setting to the ‘80s. The result was a critical success and a box office juggernaut. Not only did it become one of horror’s all-time most profitable films, but one of the biggest box office earners across the board for 2017. The success the frenzy for adapting King’s works into overdrive, one that hadn’t entirely gone away in the first place.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Based on: the 1992 novel
The original novel is set mostly inside the mind of lead protagonist Jessie Burlingame, a woman handcuffed to the bed and stranded once her husband dies of a heart attack. Because of this, it was widely considered “unfilmable.” It just needed the right visionary to convey the horrors both real and imagined in Jessie’s story. Enter Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush). With his clever direction and updates to the story, Carla Gugino’s fantastic performance, and truly spooky moments -that degloving scene, ugh- Gerald’s Game was yet another stellar adaptation released on Netflix just a month after It.
Based on: the 2010 novella
Less than a month after dropping Gerald’s Game, Netflix also released 1922, another King adaptation; this one based on a lesser known novella. Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, 1922 is a slow burn story of the haunting consequences of a man’s decision, with his son’s assistance, to kill his wife for her money. Thomas Jane stars as Wilfred James, the stubborn farmer unwilling to give in to his wife’s (Molly Parker) desire to move to the city. That stubbornness and pride proves to be his entire family’s undoing. Mark Patton, of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle fame, composed the film’s score.
Salem’s Lot (1979)
Based on: the novel from 1975
Thanks to Paul Monash’s script, which turned Kurt Barlow into a menacing cousin of Count Orlok from Nosferatu, and Tobe Hooper’s excellent direction, which gave us iconic scenes of terror, this adaptation transcends its TV mini-series status. Hooper may have drawn inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock in creating this story about a New England town inundated by vampires, but in turn, he created one of the most influential vampire films to date.
Based on: the novel from 1986
It took just over a decade for King’s works to return to the small screen, and what a return it was. Despite the miniseries length, much was trimmed from the source novel in this adaptation, which isn’t much of a surprise considering some of the more salacious parts of the novel would never have made it past TV censors. Writer Lawrence D. Cohen (Carrie) and director Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III: Season of the Witch) retained the core essence of the story and kept Pennywise front and center. It was this move that made the miniseries so memorable; Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise instilled nightmares in viewers for generations to come and instantly birthed a horror icon.
Sometimes They Come Back (1991)
Based on: the short story from 1974
This short story adaptation very nearly ended up as a segment in Cat’s Eye, but producer Dino De Laurentiis felt it was strong enough to warrant a full-length made-for-TV film instead. Directed by Tom McLoughlin (One Dark Night, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives), this adaptation stars Tim Matheson as Jim Norman, a school teacher who witnessed his older brother getting murdered by a gang of greasers during childhood. The greasers died soon after in a train accident. When he takes a new teaching gig in his hometown, he’s perturbed to discover students that resemble the greasers, and others begin dying around him. This made for TV version does give his brother’s return a much less demonic background than the story.
Golden Years (1991)
Based on: none; completely original miniseries
Considered by the author to be a novel for television, Golden Years isn’t an adaptation at all but an original seven-part miniseries written by King. It centers on an elderly janitor who ages backwards following an explosion at a secret army lab. When they send someone to cover up their secrets, i.e. kill the janitor, he goes on the run. King wrote the first five episodes, and outlined the last two. It was intended to launch a regular series, thus ended on a cliffhanger, but the network that aired the miniseries never picked it up. King’s request to complete the story in a future miniseries went unfulfilled.
The Tommyknockers (1993)
Based on: the novel from 1987
Author Bobbi Anderson (Marg Helgenberger) and her recovering alcoholic boyfriend Gard (Jimmy Smits) stumble upon a strange object protruding from the ground in the woods behind their house. The more they dig up the object, the stranger people start behaving in town, giving way to accidents and even homicides. Bobbi falls hardest under its sway, and it’s up to Gard to save them all. This adaptation has been rumored to have new updates in the works since 2013, and it’s one that could use it. While the large cast is talented, the special effects don’t hold up well at all. This adaptation also has a much happier ending than the novel, which likely doesn’t help the hokey look of the miniseries.
The Stand (1994)
Based on: the novel from 1978
King’s magnum opus was directed by Mick Garris and adapted for the small screen by the prolific author himself. It was a perfect match, as this sprawling epic with a great cast captures the lengthy novel’s larger-than-life battle between good versus evil. After a plague wipes out most of humanity, the survivors split into two factions; one lead by benevolent elderly Mother Abagail and the other lead by the evil Randall Flagg. Aside from great storytelling that spans many states, look for more fun horror cameos from the likes of Joe Bob Briggs, King, John Landis, Tom Holland, and more.
The Langoliers (1995)
Based on: the novella from 1990
Nothing shows age like the CG of the early ‘90s, and The Langoliers is a perfect example. A miniseries written and directed by Tom Holland, the plot sees a group of people surviving the sudden disappearance of most on board their flight only to find the airport they’ve landed at just as deserted. It’s a Twilight Zone-style sci-fi mind-bender with CG creatures that eat everything in sight. It’s the vfx for these creatures that shows this miniseries’ age above all, but the extended, two-part miniseries drags out the story too long, as well.
The Shining (1997)
Based on: the novel from 1977)
Mick Garris and Stephen King once again team up to adapt the author’s works for the small screen, and this time it’s to give a more faithful retelling of The Shining. Those who adore Kubrick’s unique and cinematic take on the novel will likely have their feathers ruffled upon viewing this lower budget made-for-TV take that follows the novel much more closely, including the more supernatural elements that drove Jack Torrance to madness. This adaptation gives a much happier epilogue than penned in the novel.
Based on: the short story “Trucks” from 1973
Of all of King’s novels, short stories, novellas, and more, who would’ve thought that “Trucks” would get not one, but two adaptations? King’s original attempt, Maximum Overdrive, didn’t exactly set the bar high, so perhaps that left the door open for someone aiming higher. Unfortunately, this take on the story fared much worse. If the title is any indication, it’s only the trucks that come to life and terrorize the humans stranded at a truck stop. No crazed soda machines or lawnmowers, just trucks. It’s silly, with really goofy deaths, but at least it tries to up the gore content?
Quicksilver Highway (1997)
Based on: the short story “Chattery Teeth” from 1993 for one segment
Mick Garris wrote and directed this two-segment anthology that sees Christopher Lloyd play Aaron Quicksilver, a traveler with a penchant for telling horror stories to strangers. The first segment is based on King’s short story “Chattery Teeth,” which sees a salesman develop a bizarre kinship with an oversized pair of wind-up chattering teeth during a string of bad luck incidents. The second segment in this anthology was based on a short story written by Clive Barker.
Storm of the Century (1999)
Based on: None, it’s an original screenplay
Another miniseries that King considers to be a novel for television. The story, that sees a stranger come to town and terrorize its residents during a dangerous blizzard, had been in King’s head for a while but he wasn’t sure whether it should be formatted as a novel or screenplay. Obviously, he went with screenplay, and that screenplay was published and released just prior to the miniseries premiere. It was directed by Craig R. Baxley, selected personally by King for the job, and well received by critics upon airing.
Rose Red (2002)
Based on: None, it’s an original screenplay
King initially pitched the idea behind this story to Steven Spielberg in the mid-nineties, intending it as a loose remake of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. But then The Haunting was released in 1999, so he instead expanded it into a miniseries and combined other haunted house elements. For the team of investigators spending the night in the haunted mansion of Rose Red, they discover it has a mind of its own and tends to build upon itself. The author reteamed with director Baxley for this miniseries.
Based on: the novel from 1974
The second of three adaptations of King’s breakout novel, this one was actually intended to be a backdoor pilot for a TV series. Written by Bryan Fuller (Hannibal TV series) and directed by David Carson, actress Angela Bettis (May) assumed the mantle of the titular character in this iteration. Fuller envisioned this as a sort of remake to De Palma’s well-regarded adaptation, trying to modernize it for the current social climate, but it was panned upon release as unnecessary. Being that it was intended to launch an ongoing series, the ending was left open and Carrie survived her harrowing prom night.
The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer (2003)
Based on: the novel by Ridley Pearson from 2001
Based on The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red, this King adaptation is unique in that it’s based on a book not written by him. But that book is based on his screenplay, therefore it’s still a King adaptation. Once again directed by Baxley, this prequel to Rose Red follows the construction of the mansion and the tragic events that plagued the Rimbauer family, leading to its eventual haunting. This one dropped the miniseries format in favor of a leaner feature-length runtime.
Salem’s Lot (2004)
Based on: the novel from 1975
The second adaptation of King’s novel, a miniseries for TNT, wisely opts to not attempt to follow in the same footsteps as Hooper’s made-for-TV version. Updating the story to a modern setting, this take on the story makes its own changes to the novel and stands apart from any other version. Rutger Hauer plays Kurt Barlow, making the big bad closer to the character in the novel, and Rob Lowe plays the protagonist Ben Mears.
Based on: the novel from 1996
Rob Perlman plays Collie Entragian, the deranged desert town sheriff that arrests numerous people passing through for nefarious means. That group must band together to survive before the sheriff kills them all. Frequent collaborator Mick Garris once again reteams with King, who wrote the teleplay for this adaptation. Also starring was Tom Skerritt, Steven Weber, Annabeth Gish, Charles Durning, Matt Frewer, and Henry Thomas. Though conceived as a two-part miniseries, it aired in its entirety on one night.
Nightmares & Dreamscapes (2006)
Based on: eight short stories
This eight-episode miniseries is partially based on short stories from the Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection, which includes “Umney’s Last Case”, “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”, “The End of the Whole Mess”, “The Fifth Quarter” and “Crouch End”. The remaining stories were adaptations of “The Road Virus Heads North”, “Autopsy Room Four”, and “Battleground”. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop provided the special effects. The writers, directors, and cast featured a lot of repeat King collaborators like director Mikael Salomon (Salem’s Lot), writer Lawrence D. Cohen (Carrie, It, The Tommyknockers), actors Steven Weber, Henry Thomas, and more.
Children of the Corn (2009)
Based on: the short story from 1977
Set in the ‘70s, this adaptation adheres a little more closely to the short story, though King wanted no part in this adaptation. Written, produced, and directed by Donald P. Borchers, an original producer of the 1984 film, this iteration sees couple Burt (David Anders) and Vicky (Kandyse McClure) as they were in the short story- near the end of their relationship and in a constant state of unhappy bickering. Seeing it in this context makes it easier to understand why it was changed for the original film; they’re much easier to root for when being attacked by the creepy children of Gatlin. Also updated was that the children were actually played by minors, as opposed to adults playing teens.
Bag of Bones (2011)
Based on: the novel from 1998
The reigning champ of King collaborators, Mick Garris, helmed this adaptation featuring one of King’s favorite subjects; a tortured writer. Pierce Brosnan stars as Mike Noonan, a best-selling novelist suffering from writers block after the unexpected death of his wife. His subsequent nightmares about her death and the summer home they shared prompts him to take a trip there, where he becomes inundated by a haunting presence that unravels a mystery of its own. Regular King adaptation actors Annabeth Gish and Matt Frewer also appear.
Big Driver (2014)
Based on: the 2010 novella
Based on the novella that appeared in Full Dark, No Stars, Big Driver stars Mario Bello as Tess Thorne, a crime writer who’s brutally assaulted during a short cut home from a fan event. Left for dead, she instead decides to enact her own vengeance rather than going to the police. Directed by frequent King collaborated Mikael Salomon (Salem’s Lot, Nightmares & Dreamscapes), Big Driver also stars Joan Jett, Olympia Dukakis, and Ann Dowd. This feature-length adaptation aired on Lifetime.
Based on: the novel from 2011
This eight-part miniseries was executive produced by J.J. Abrams, and created for TV by producer Bridget Carpenter (Westworld, Dead Like Me). James Franco starred as Jake Epping, a school teacher given the opportunity to travel back in time. He’s tasked with the mission to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but finds himself attached to the life he builds there instead, threatening both his safety and the mission. Airing as a Hulu original miniseries, 11.22.63 was well received by critics and audiences alike.
The adaptations of King’s works aren’t slowing down any time soon, with many more already on the way. Neither is the author, who continues to churn out novels, short story collections, and more at an insane rate. Which King film and novel is your favorite?