2017 has felt like the year of Stephen King, and we here at GEEK have no problem with that. We consider ourselves avid fans of the prolific author, including many of the adaptations that have come from his works. Given that The Dark Tower came and went with considerable hype but weak delivery and the large-looming presence of the forthcoming IT, we decided now is as good a time as any to rank our favorite Stephen King films. Just like any list, this one will have obvious omissions but we hope there are also a few surprises because not only did we take into account the theatrical, feature-film adaptations but also the countless mini-series that have aired on TV throughout the years (and more still to come with The Mist and Mr. Mercedes both airing now). We polled the staff and this is what we came up with…
Take a look as GEEK counts down our favorite Stephen King movies ever, starting with a 3-way tie for 10th place:
10. The Dead Zone/Creepshow/The Stand
The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg’s 1983 adaption of King’s novel remains one of the quieter of King’s horror or thriller novels. An incredibly nuanced performance from Walken, who awakens from a coma to realize he has psychic abilities, The Dead Zone represents the ethical dilemmas and ultimate costs of psychic abilities. Walken’s character is then quickly thrust into a political conspiracy, which could spell the end of the world…Dead Zone has aged very well, and with current world and domestic events in the shape they’re in, Cronenberg’s movie remains prophetic and thrillingly reserved. – Mitchell Corner
The only film on this list that isn’t based directly on one of King’s novels or short stories, Creepshow represented the first collaboration between the prolific author and horror maestro George A. Romero and is one of the best anthology films in the genre. Combining elements of dark humor with an aesthetic representative of the old EC Comics that both Romero and King read when they were younger, Creepshow is a horror comic come to life and bursting with such stylistic flourishes that it has haunted and thrilled young viewers for decades. Starring the likes of Ed Haris, Leslie Nielson, Adrienne Barbeau, Ted Danson, Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall, and King himself with set pieces involving a birthday party, the living contents of a certain crate, a rising tide, and cockroaches. Creepshow still remains a highlight of King’s live-action film work. – Mitchell Corner
First released in 1978, The Stand is a huge tale (one of King’s largest) and easily one of my personal favorite books from Stephen King. Quite simply, the book tells the tale of the end of the world due to a weaponized version of the Flu virus that creates a pandemic, killing nearly all of humanity. The survivors then have to face off in the ultimate battle of good vs evil, a battle that was brought to life in the 1994 TV miniseries that aired on ABC. The series starred names like Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Jamey Sheridan, Laura San Giacomo, Corin Nemec, and many more. While the TV series still makes this list for the sheer greatness of the story still being told, a more modern and faithful adaptation has been in the works for years and would be welcomed by fans of the novel. You can check out the Marvel comic series by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa with art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin for yet another faithful retelling of the iconic storyline while we wait for the inevitable cinematic adaptation. – Scoot Allan
9. The Running Man
Now The Running Man is quite possibly the worst adaptation on this entire list. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved it since I was a kid and it’s a fun movie with definite King overtones, but it took the general premise of the original source material – actually written by Richard Bachman, a pseudonym King used for a number of novels – and condensed, erased, and rewrote a large part of it. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a wrongly convicted good guy caught in a corporate cover-up and forced to fight for his life on reality television. The film actually introduced a bit more likeability into the main character of Ben Richards, making him a hero for the crowd to cheer for instead of just another guy down on his luck fighting for his family. it also centralized the action in the TV studio, whereas the original novel featured a world-hopping chase, like The Amazing Race, only with more fatalities.
Schwarzenegger’s Richards, along with Alien favorite Yaphet Kotto and 80’s staple Marvin McIntyre, have to play a deadly game as “Runners” to appease the masses and keep all eyes away from the workings of the evil corporations that have brought the world to its totalitarian status quo, something explored much more in the original novel than in the film. The Runners face off against the brightly colored “Stalkers” who compete with Schwarzenegger in a never-ending one-liner competition as he dispatched them one by one, moving through actors and wrestlers like Professor Tanaka, Erland Philip Peter Van Lidth De Jeude (in the last film before his death), Jim Brown, and even Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
The Running Man also features a spot-on performance from Richard Dawson as Damon Killian, host of the hit reality series The Running Man. Dawson plays a parody version of himself as the host of The Family Feud, complete with sweet-talking the female members of the crowd. He serves as a great figurehead for the resistance tthat has built up around the show to rally against. The Running Man is a rare non-horror hit for King/Bachman and serves as one of the few adaptations that some fans consider to be better than the book, which more than earns its spot on our list. – Scoot Allan
8. The Mist
Stephen King is known for many things, but subtlety is not one of them. With 2007’s The Mist, director Frank Darabont was already familiar with King’s writing and understood exactly how to maximize his penchant for anvil-heavy metaphors and familiar character types. The mist is a physical force that pulls a small town together into a grocery store, and once inside, as inter-dimensional horrors ravage the town and chip away at the store’s safety net, conflict ensues. It’s a pulpier, more digestible version of Carpenter’s The Thing, where the major threat isn’t the alien horror itself, but the rising tension and distrust that comes to light when a hostile threat slowly encroaches on a group of strangers from every angle.
Marcia Gay Harden plays the religious nut (a staple of King’s writing) far bigger and louder than should be necessary, but amidst the never-ending parade of monsters – each more disgusting than the last – her villain feels right at home. The scares reach gratuitous levels by the end of the second act, especially the gore, and there’s little time or attention left for three-dimensional, interesting character work between the mingling town residents. Thus, cliched characters like Harden’s, which are broad and big enough to be seen from space, make the perfect alien fodder, taking away much of the guilt that you’d expect to come from enjoying on-screen eviscerations and dismemberment.
The infamous twist ending, which even won King over, is always the focus of any discussion about The Mist, and we completely understand why. It’s certainly one of the more unexpected ways to end a movie. But on reflection, the ending works so well because of how it undoes all of that satisfying pulp popcorn voyeurism in a single sequence, and quietly leaves us to reconcile our choice of entertainment for the night. – Daniel Woizinski
7. It (1990)
While the impending release of the new It theatrical version is getting plenty of hype, it’s also drawing some unneeded negative reviews of the original ’90s mini-series, and I won’t hear it anymore. The fact that this movie is checking in at number 7 on this list, and not in the top spot is all the evidence you need to know this ranking was run democratically, as opposed to my usual iron-fisted dictatorial rule. But this is where we are, and we’re going to focus on the positive aspects of the film.
Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown alone is enough to make up for most of the flaws that shown through in this made-for-TV project. His delivery is chilling and allows a pale visage to become exceedingly sinister as the story develops. And the very concept of an eternal being that awakens every 27 years (mini-series in 1990; new feature 2017!) to feed on children sauteed in fear is scary enough, but when the town’s adults remain willfully blind to the disappearances, it empowers the creature to play with his food more. The flashback where he encounters Stan while wrapped in bandages, an encounter that takes place AFTER his supposed defeat still gives me goose bumps to this day. Some questionable special effects and uneven acting from a very unbalanced cast (which included talents like John Ritter, Seth Green, Harry Anderson, and Annette O’Toole) was enough to take some people out of the frights, but the parts that were done well were done exceptionally well.
Some questionable special effects and uneven acting from a very unbalanced cast (which included talents like John Ritter, Seth Green, Harry Anderson, and Annette O’Toole) was enough to take some people out of the frights, but the parts that were done well were done exceptionally well.
I’m every nightmare you’ve ever had. I’m your worst dream come true. I’m everything you ever were afraid of.
Indeed. – Brian Kronner
6. Carrie (1976)
Although the epistolary elements of King’s original source novel were abandoned for a more direct approach, Brian De Palma’s Carrie is one of the few horror movies that lends totally sympathy for its main protagonist even when they are pushed to the edge of sanity. In the case of Carrie White, when she unleashes her telekinetic powers on all the inhabitants of her high school for years of brutal bullying.
The main set-piece in the gym is total cinematic opera – something De Palma excels at – and culminates in one of the greatest shock endings of all time. When it comes to a Stephen King adaptation, this one succeeds and even excels because of the sheer amount of tact, talent and craft from all those involved. We mustn’t forget Piper Laurie’s traumatic performance as Carrie’s religiously fanatical mother, Margaret. Laurie’s performance is still as haunting and intimidating as ever, made all the more powerful because you truly feel for her even when you’re hating her. It’s really the key to the whole movie. Plus you have early John Travolta when he was doing some of his best work (later on he would reteam with De Palma in what might be his best film, Blow Out). Even better is how Carrie plays like a horror version of Grease.
The film would be remade nearly 40 years later with Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore in Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie’s famed roles, but the movie never really reaches the heights and eccentricities that De Palma’s does. Feeling a little too cookie cutter without the same ability to sympathize with the characters to the degree of the original cast. It doesn’t help that so many of the casting choices (maybe outside of Moore’s Margaret White) feel slightly misconstrued. Nevertheless, we always have the first version of Carrie (worth mentioning the TV miniseries from the early 2000’s, too), one that is instantly rewatchable, complete with some of the most perfect moments in horror cinema. – Mitchell Corner
Images: Columbia Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment, Warner Bros., MGM, Universal