Katz’s Quick Guide To Stephen King Movie Adaptations

Aaron Katzmarek

With all the recent hullabaloo over the new and mostly redux Stephen King works like The Dark Tower and IT, I thought it appropriate to cover a few of the classic Stephen King movies.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are 15 films that stand out, for better or for worse.


Must See! Can’t Miss! Why Haven’t You Seen This Yet?  5 / 5 Kings

The Green Mile (1999)

Much to the ire of the paying public, this novel was released in a series of six short volumes.  The movie hit theaters in 1999 and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards.  This picture single-handedly launched the careers of Sam Rockwell (“You walkin’ in on ya legs, but you leavin on ya backs.”) and Michael Clarke Duncan.  Oh, did I mention Tom Hanks at the pinnacle of his career?  This is a priceless gem, and should be a canonized selection of high school English curriculum.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The short story was titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and it is one of King’s best non-horror shorts.  The ever-quotable Morgan Freeman plays alongside Tim Robbins as prisoners serving life terms.  By far the best prison movie made to date, and I have seen Cool Hand Luke 17 times.

Misery (1990)

You’re a dirty birdee if you haven’t sat down for this one.  I promise to never use the words “page turner” in this article again, but this book is just that.  You’ll read it in three days, forsaking sleep and probably calling in sick to work on Monday in order to finish.  Rob Reiner grabbed the directorial nod, and snuck James Caan and Lauren Bacall in there, which is noteworthy in itself.  However, Kathy Bates as the the evil, scary, and totally bonkers Annie Wilkes?  If we investigate instances of perfect casting, she by far wins the prize.  And by prize, we mean Best Actress in 1991 for her role in the movie adaptation of Misery.

The Shining (1980)

Stanley Kubrick‘s masterpiece based loosely, and I do mean loosely, off of King’s bestselling 1977 novel. The main character is based off an admitted alcoholic King himself, played to perfection by Jack Nicholson. The film is also perhaps Shelley Duvall‘s finest work. Scatman Crothers drills it as the almost-savior and fellow “shiner.” Not for the faint of heart, this intense journey of a man losing his grip on reality is a visual orgasm. The opening scene of a 1972 VW driving through the mountains is definitely worth the price of admission alone.

Stand By Me (1986)

A short story from the Different Seasons collection (the same that birthed The Shawshank Redemption).  King has a knack for crazy/dangerous small-town bullies and that is on display in local hood Eyeball Chambers.  He’s played by a young Kiefer Sutherland.  This coming-of-age movie stars a litany of fellas skyrocketing up the ladder of 1990’s stardom: Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix, John Cusack.  Narrated brilliantly by Richard Dreyfuss, this is a little piece of on-the-road film about a kid who gets creamed by a train, and the boys who race to find him first.  Along the way, we hear the story of Lardass Hogan. ‘Nuff said.


If You’re Bored and it’s On..Watch it! 4 / 5 Kings

Christine (1983)

A murderous Plymouth Fury (debates abound about which model year: King says ’58; movie says ‘57) that creates a bond with her owners.  She gets passed along to a pimply, gangly teenager.  Director John Carpenter, as always, nails the creepy suspense and the fantastic action.  The rest is largely forgettable.

1408 (2007)

A short story from Everything’s Eventual, 1408 is a genuinely scary movie.  You’ll jump more than a few times.  John Cusack is very good, but the film deals with some pretty large issues, including the hard to digest ending.  However, 90 percent of this film is only John Cusack by himself in a room, and he handles himself pretty nicely.

Carrie (1976)

I won’t go into a large amount of detail, here.  Mostly ‘meh’ except for a handful of absolutely unforgettable scenes.  Piper Laurie as mother, Margaret, is tremendous: “They’re all gonna laugh at you!”  Nope, that’s not laughter, that’s pig’s blood.  See the difference?  Telekinetic flames ensue. There is a 2013 remake, but to be honest, I had to clean the garage that day.

Pet Sematary (1989)

This one gave us memorable lines, but it doesn’t really hold up. The plot is simple, the actors are good enough, but more importantly, we get to see what happens when a zombie four-year-old cuts through someone’s Achilles tendon… They fall over.  A Razzie was also awarded for the worst soundtrack song of the 1989 film year.  The name?  A very clever I Don’t Want to be Buried (in a Pet Sematary).


You Can’t Unsee it! So Bad it’s… Pretty Good!  3 / 5 Kings

The Running Man (1987)

Director Paul Michael Glaser and the writers of this movie glanced briefly at the cover of the novel, then shrugged their shoulders and went rogue.  Not one iota of the novel’s plot line is followed, but it’s still fun.  It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It’s violent.  Watch this sweetheart of a movie for Jesse Ventura playing Captain Freedom; he nails the hunter-of-men-with-a-heart-of-gold character.

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

This one pains me, because it’s adapted for screen and directed by Stephen King.  Ouch.  Still, if you like semi trucks, and you like them coming alive and running people over, this one’s right up your alley.  We do get to see Emilio Estevez in prime form and listen to the soundtrack from AC/DC, so it’s got that going for it.

Children of the Corn (1984)

A young couple is driving along the countryside.  They are very much in love.  Unbeknownst to them, the town just up ahead is populated by a gaggle of tow-haired children intent on sacrificing humans to “He Who Walks Beyond the Rows”, a deity who provides a bountiful harvest.  “Malachai!!!”

Silver Bullet (1985)

First off, I absolutely loved this book.  It is extremely creative, and was also a risky publication.  It’s very short, but was published with beautiful full-page illustrations, and titled Cycle of The Werewolf. A brilliant work from Stephen King.  The movie stars Corey Haim in a motorized wheelchair called ‘The Silver Bullet’ and we go from there.  I suppose they also make a silver bullet to shoot the werewolf with, but that’s too many literal connections for a movie of this simplicity.  Gary Busey is a winner (probably typecast) as the crazy Uncle Red.

Firestarter (1984)

Drew Barrymore is pretty good, of course.  Great death scenes for you B-movie fans out there.  The remake is supposedly in pre-production.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed we get to see more folks tear out their eyes and get launched into trees while burning alive!


Should be Banned! 1 / 5 Kings

Secret Window (2004)

I mean, really!  Great story to work with, Johnny Depp AND John Turturo AND ?  I fell asleep about forty minutes in, and was awoken by an action sequence- my dog was whining to go outside.  I was furious I rented this DVD, let me tell you.


Thinner (1996)

Perhaps I’m against this one vehemently because I liked the book so much that I wrote crappy fan-fiction about it when I was thirteen years old.  The movie plain sucks.  A man eats a cursed pie after running over a gypsy in a parking lot, and then has to team up with gangster Joe Mantegna to track them down and end the curse?  What a plot! What a dud of a movie.

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