Stephen King is arguably one of the most prolific authors of all time, and certainly of our generation. Though many think of him as the master of horror, he is a surprisingly adept weaver of dramas, able to navigate the darkness of the human psyche and relationships with the same ease as he handles killer clowns and zombies.
His laid-back, straight-forward writing style makes his stories easy to understand and follow, and as a result, easy to bring to life on the big screen.
Since 1976, there has hardly been a year that has gone by without a King work making its way into eyeballs, whether through film or television. From Carrie to The Dark Tower, that is a whole bunch of scary stories and suspenseful nights.
So, with that in mind, we here at ScreenGeek would like to bring you the quintessential list of the best of King’s films, ranked from the good to the straight-up mandatory pieces of cinema.
12. Sleepwalkers (1992)
There’s something seriously wrong and seriously right with the Mick Garris film Sleepwalkers. Written by Stephen King himself, the movie follows two of the titular Sleepwalkers. They’re vampire-like shape shifters who feed on the life force of young virgin women.
The movie features plenty of cameos from genre filmmakers and actors, and a rather interesting story. There’s also plenty of cheese and schlock that makes for lots of fun surprises. Of course, it’s a shame the concept wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been. Maybe this is one film that could use a remake. One thing’s for certain, however; the use of Enya’s “Boadicea” is unbelievably awesome. – Jacob Dressler
11. The Running Man (1987)
Written under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman, The Running Man takes place in the miserable future dystopia of 2019. (!) Death row inmates are used for the entertainment of the masses on a sadistic game show, in which they are pitted against flamboyant professional assassins. They each have names and music reminiscent of professional wrestlers, and a unique way of disposing of their prey.
But if a convict manages to survive, he gets a pardon (and a vacation – it is a game show, after all). Worth a shot when you’re facing the death penalty, right? Of course, things aren’t exactly as they seem, when the actual fates of previous “winners” are revealed.
While the basic plot is the same, a great deal of details were changed from the novel to the film. But the sci-fi / action / thriller combination works, thanks to the charisma of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the darkly humorous dialogue, and the dystopian setting (which hadn’t yet been done to death in 1987). This one is a classic slice of gooey 80s cheesy fun. – Jennifer Huneycutt
10. Cujo (1983)
Donna (Dee Wallace) is a stay-at-home mom who leads a pretty ordinary life. She has errands like anyone else, and her kid Tad (Danny Pintauro) has to come with her since he’s too young to leave home alone. Completing the family is their St. Bernard, Cujo. Unfortunately, he gets bit by a bat with rabies and goes from loveable family pet to crazed killer. They all end up in a showdown.
So what’s scary about this film? It’s realistic enough to play on your fears. As a kid, I was terrified of rabies and it didn’t make it better that there were stories going around that the only cure is 18 shots in your belly. There’s also the mother trying to protect her son aspect that will heighten anyone’s sense of threat. The suspense is top notch in this one. – Kelsey Mejiarodarte
9. Creepshow (1982)
An anthology of ghoulishness, featuring five short stories written by Stephen King. Tales range from a jilted lover seeking vengeance, alien takeover, and a crap ton of cockroaches.
Goofy, gross, and, of course, super creepy, Creepshow is what dark comedy is all about. It is deliberately tacky and unapologetically un-artistic, and doesn’t care what the haters have to say. The film is brought to us by the dream (or shall I say “nightmare”, muahaha) team of George Romero and Stephen King. There’s a little bit here for everyone – revenge, love, and, Stephen King in overalls.
Not all of the stories are masterpieces, but, the ones that are great really do stick with you. “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” features the aforementioned Stephen King as Jordy, and who does a phenomenal job. Another stellar performance comes from Leslie Nielsen in “Something to Tide You Over,” who pulls off insane and charming so, so well.
Though not the powerhouse feature of King’s later adaptations, Creepshow is a honest piece of work from a man who loves spooky fun. – Sylvia Maixner
8. 1408 (2007)
Mike Enslin is a paranormal researcher who has become so cynical, even he doesn’t believe the stuff he’s writing. Hearing of a supposedly haunted room at the Dolphin Hotel, he checks in, set on debunking the macabre myth of room 1408.
What follows is one of the most terrifying descents into madness I’ve ever seen on film. You find yourself questioning reality, sanity, and the power of evil, right alongside Mike.
This is one of those rare movies that truly gets under your skin, inside your head, and chills you to the bone. The pervasive sense of dread never lets up for an instant, and even the well-timed jump scares aren’t enough to make you look away.
With a beautifully ambiguous mind-f*ck of an ending, this chiller will have you never wanting to stay in another hotel room again. – Jennifer Huneycutt
7. The Mist (2007)
First and foremost, I think it is apt to begin with the fact that Stephen King himself was “genuinely frightened” by this adaptation. This film, unlike many of its genre, contains a human balance; making the characters believable, which contributes to the ongoing feeling of dread, revived by every scene. By the end, and particularly the end, you are left emotionally exhausted, realising that you were totally and utterly consumed by the film.
A freak storm unleashes a sinister mist over a town in Maine. To the citizens’ terror, inside the mist lie numerous bloody-thirsty creatures, intent on destroying human lives. The citizens hold up in a supermarket, desperately fighting to survive the apocalyptic nightmare.
Having previously adapted two Stephen King novels, director Frank Darabont returns for this. It feels like a refreshing addition to the horror genre, which sometimes becomes little more than blood, torture and gore. This depicts the reality that humanity split and divide in the event of disaster, driving a hint of Lord of the Flies into an already terrifying turn of events.
The film deals with the human breakdown of order and martial law, addresses the role of the military, and even throws in religious fundamentalism. If you’re looking to be thoroughly exhausted, as any horror film should leave you, The Mist is quite a choice. – Rory Mcneill
6. Stand By Me (1986)
Stephen King is well known in the horror and thriller world, but he tends to dabble in other genres like drama and, in this case, a coming-of-age story. So, of course, a Stephen King list wouldn’t be complete until we put his classic story about a bunch of kids finding a dead body…I didn’t stick the landing on that one.
So anyway, let’s talk about Stand By Me. If you had a childhood and a television, you probably caught this 1986 film about a set of friends that go out to find a missing girl. What happens is a series of events that would make the kids much closer than they would have ever had expected and forever change their lives.
The film was well shot by veteran director Rob Reiner and feature many stars that would go on to have successful movie careers. What was one of the great things that this film had was the relatable characters that the story focused on.
The dynamic between the kids came off so genuine that you felt you could really follow them for hours on in and get into the minds of each and every one.
Plus, a bonus point for this movie is that it’s one of those classics that, if you were channel surfer and found this, you could watch it at any point of the film and still get a strong sense of heartbreaking emotions. Pop this sucka’ on your television and relive your youth through their youth. You’ll have a good time. –Mark Salcido
5. Carrie (1976)
A mousy teen, Carrie (Sissy Spacek), has trouble with her peers as they bully her and make her life miserable at school. To make things worse, her mother doesn’t understand and is actually nasty toward her. There is no reprieve there. With nowhere to turn, Carrie notices weird thing happening around her and realizes she has the supernatural abilities.
It isn’t often a movie comes out that gets under your skin the way this one did. And much less so that one is considered a classic like this one is. It has stood the test of time because, let’s face it, we’ve all gone to school with that quiet, slightly creepy kid that you didn’t understand and couldn’t be bothered with.
Or you were that kid.
Either way, the realistic circumstance of bullying with the added twist of supernatural vengeance isn’t likely to leave your nightmares any time soon. – Kelsey Mejiarodarte
4. Misery (1990)
A author hurt in a terrible car accident is rescued by a nurse and self-professed fan. However, he soon finds that she is less nurturer and more torturer when she finds out he has killed off her favorite character.
Misery is a classic horror tale, written by an author who himself was facing backlash from an audience who wanted him only to write one way. (King had just released The Eyes of the Dragon, a high-fantasy novel, only to have it shunned by fans who expected horror, and horror only.) As such, Misery has a personal feel, which creates a tense, deeply relatable environment which only heightens the terror.
Misery also served as the breakout role for Kathy Bates, who won an Oscar for her turn as Annie Wilkes, the insane nurse. Her and James Caan, who played the author Paul Sheldon, work excessively well together, and for their performances alone, Misery is a win. – Sylvia Maixner
3. The Green Mile (1999)
Director Frank Darabont knows his way around a Stephen King story, which is evident in The Green Mile. The story of Death Row guards in charge of a condemned man with a beautiful gift, this film will tear your heart out and make you cry for about a week straight.
Though beautifully shot and masterfully paced, the main reason The Green Mile is so successful is due to the performances of its cast. Tom Hanks as guard Paul Edgecomb is quiet, strong, and compelling, and Sam Rockwell is super great as absolutely insane “Wild Bill” Wharton.
However, the best of the bunch is Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey, a soft-spoken giant of a man on death row for a horrendous crime. The chemistry between him and Hank’s Edgecomb is undeniable, (not in a sexy way, you perverts), and their relationship and revelations are done with a soft, unexpected way that pulls you right into the story.
This one is a long one, clocking in around three hours, but it is absolutely worth the journey. – Sylvia Maixner
2. The Shining (1980)
Of course you were going to see this movie on the list – did you think you wouldn’t? The Shining – or what The Simpsons would call The Shinning – is well known as a classic among Cinephiles and Kubrick fans.
If you don’t know, the plot is pretty much Jack Nicholson spiraling downward into insanity as he’s locked up in a large hotel with his wife and child. The haunting influences of the hotel affects him and his family, drastically, and what ensues is some of the most memorable scenes ever in movie history.
Stephen King has gone on record several times professing his vitriol hatred for the movie and for director Stanley Kubrick; and, it’s understandable.
The film throws a lot of great material from the novel out, like some great interaction Danny has with his “imaginary” friend Tony and a bit more details into Jack’s mind. Nonetheless, the film is a beautiful sight to see. The eeriness of being trapped for months on end brings a level of terror that makes it fully realistic.
Plus, who can forget the classic “Here’s Johnny” scene? The book was great and having Kubrick do the adaption is something to behold for any fan of the author or filmmaking. Give it a watch if you haven’t already. – Mark Salcido
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
You know damn well there was going to a case to be made for this movie to be on the number one slot on our list. Before I get ahead of myself, this was another case of Stephen King writing really great drama and stories that didn’t include some possessed killing machine, an evil clown, or the end of the world coming at a biblical level. This movie is borderline perfect.
I won’t waste time explaining the film other that it followed the life of Andy Dufresne; an average Joe banker that gets locked up for the murder of his wife and how the prison life affects him.
This film by director Frank Darabont was so well done that King himself absolutely loved it and would later give the director first dibs on any of the author’s adaptations from there on out.
It’s filled with classic scenes and lines that stick with you well after the movie has ended. The acting is superbly done by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. It’s one of those movies that you can watch on repeat with no problem at all.
And on a personal note: growing up in high school, this was one of those movies the students and teachers at my school could talk about all day together. You know, I think I’m going to find my copy and watch it right now. – Mark Salcido
What do you think of our list? Did we get the order wrong or missed a movie entirely? Let us know in the comments!