Stephen King is considered by many to be the “master of horror,” and there have been plenty of truly scary movies made based on his collection of writings. The key here is that we’re looking at “horror movies.” That means that the movies made from Stephen King’s more straightforward and dramatic works are not on this list. Beloved movies such as Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are not to be found here. But that shouldn’t bother you if you’re a true Stephen King fan and love the author’s scary side.
10. The Mist (2007)
One of the more recent adaptations of a Stephen King work was 2007’s The Mist, directed by Frank Darabont, who today is best known for developing The Walking Dead television series on AMC (Thank you, Mr. Darabont). Before focusing on the undead, Darabont specialized in adapting Stephen King books for the big screen. He is the guy who directed the much loved movies The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. And, in 2007, he directed a movie based on the 1980 King novella The Mist into a movie starring Marcia Gay Hayden, Thomas Jane, and Laurie Holden. It turned out to be a really good movie. The plot is about a haunted mist that spreads across a small New England town following a thunderstorm. It traps a group of local residents in a grocery store, a situation that eventually devolves into a Lord of the Flies type scenario, where everyone turns on one another. This movie also has a great, and rather surprising, ending. Critics loved this film when it was released. To date, it is one of the best reviewed Stephen King movies, and definitely worth checking out.
9. Christine (1983)
It’s no secret that Stephen King is a “car guy.” Over the years, the author has written a lot of books and short stories that have to do with cars. However, his best known and most loved book about a car has to be Christine, which was adapted into a pretty creepy film in 1983 by celebrated horror director John Carpenter. At the time, Carpenter was one the hottest horror directors in the industry, having made classic scary movies such as Halloween and the remake of The Thing staring Kurt Russell. Halloween basically invented the slasher film genre and made babysitting a hazardous profession. Christine is about a haunted 1958 Plymouth Fury that slowly possesses its owner and wreaks havoc on the inhabitants of a small town. While some fans and critics view the book version of Christine to be one of Stephen King’s lesser works, the movie is really good. Many people think the movie is better than the novel on which it is based. Plus the movie has a great cast of 1980s stars such as Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, and Harry Dean Stanton.
8. Misery (1990)
Misery is a one of Stephen King’s best books, and it was made into a phenomenal movie in 1990. While it is not the scariest movie on this list, the story of a popular writer who is held captive by an obsessed fan is creepy enough to make the cut. Plus, actress Kathy Bates gives a truly unhinged performance as the obsessed fan, and the scene where she “hobbles” the author, played by actor James Caan, using a sledge hammer is one that you will never forget once you see it. While not a horror movie in the traditional sense, Misery, directed by Rob Reiner, is hard to watch at many points in the film, and the acting in the movie is really great. So good, in fact, that Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her performance.
7. Children of the Corn (1984)
Probably the only movie based on a Stephen King work that is a true slasher film, 1984’s Children of the Corn is about a young couple who get stranded in a remote farming community where a dangerous religious cult of children believe that everyone over the age of 18 must be killed. Naturally, they have taken it upon themselves to murder all the adults. If that sounds like a scary premise, it is! And this movie adaptation is truly terrifying and contains a number of bloody scenes – notably one in a diner where the knives literally come out. Starring a young Linda Hamilton of Terminator fame, this movie is one that will keep you up at night. And the producers of this film go out of their way to make the kids in this movie super creepy. Actor Courtney Gains as cult leader Malachai is a standout for all the wrong reasons. Not a movie to watch at a sleepover.
6. Silver Bullet (1985)
Maybe we have a soft spot for werewolves, but we really like the 1985 movie Silver Bullet, which is based on the Stephen King novella Cycle of the Werewolf. Starring a never-better Gary Busey, along with then-child actors Corey Haim and Megan Follows, Silver Bullet is a great werewolf story that has some decent frights and combines some religious overtones in the form of a priest who the kids suspect may be more than he seems. The fact that Corey Haim’s character is confined to a wheelchair only serves to ratchet up the tension at crucial moments in the film. And while some readers here may find that Silver Bullet is not the scariest movie to be made from a King story, we would point out that the movie starts with a railroad worker getting decapitated. So, yeah, there’s that.
5. The Dead Zone (1983)
Wow, 1983 was a good year for Stephen King movie adaptations. In addition to Cujo and Christine being released that year, you can add The Dead Zone to the list. Directed by noted horror movie master David Cronenberg and starring Christopher Walken as a school teacher who awakens from being in coma to find that he has psychic powers and can see into the future, The Dead Zone has some pretty frightening flash forward scenes – none scarier than when a boys’ hockey team falls through a frozen pond and is trapped under the ice. The subplot involving a hunt for a local serial killer is also pretty gruesome. But, in the end, it is the direction and acting that carries this movie. Cronenberg does a masterful job directing the action and keeping the story grounded no matter how fantastical it gets, and the actors in the movie are great from top to bottom – especially Martin Sheen as an unscrupulous politician. This is one of the very best movies to be made from a King novel.
4. Pet Sematary (1989)
This movie about pets makes Cujo look like Lassie. For sheer terror, you won’t find a scarier movie adapted from a Stephen King work than 1989’s Pet Sematary. Based on the 1983 novel of the same name, Pet Sematary plays on a fear that confronts most people in their life – what to do with a beloved pet when it dies? The novel was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1984, and many people consider this one of the writer’s best works. In the book and movie, the Creed family buries the family cat, named Church, in a local pet cemetery (misspelled as sematary) where the town’s animals go when they die. However, Church returns from the dead after being buried, only not quite the same as before. Things really get out of hand when the Creed’s two-year-old son Gage is hit and killed by a truck, and the father decides to bury him in the pet cemetery too, hoping to bring the boy back to life. It works, alright. But what happens when baby Gage returns is truly terrifying. And gross.
3. It (2017)
The newest entry on this list (you can read our review here), King’s second longest novel and one of his most popular finally received a proper feature film adaptation in 2017 (the 1990 miniseries technically isn’t a movie, which is why it doesn’t appear on this list). While we’ll have to wait until the second part of director Andy Muschietti’s It adaptation is released to judge this as a complete work, the first installment is so good that it has quickly jumped into consideration as one of the best adaptations of King’s work ever, horror or otherwise. While some will definitely still prefer Tim Curry’s Pennywise over newcomer Bill Skarsgård’s, Muschiett’s film is much stronger than the aforementioned miniseries, delivering a terrifying viewing experience that feels true to King’s novel, despite the time period switch to the 1980s rather than the ’50s. The film’s R-rating affords Muschietti the ability to double down on the graphic imagery found in King’s text (though thankfully, the infamous child orgy is omitted), but the blood and gore doesn’t stand in the way of the film’s central coming-of-age story, brought to engaging life by a group of talented child actors.
2. The Shining (1980)
It is well known that Stephen King hated the 1980 movie adaptation of his novel The Shining. But we don’t care. For our money, this film directed by Stanley Kubrick is one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King work ever, and one of the best horror movies ever made. Starring a wicked Jack Nicholson as a writer who holes up with his wife and young son in the Overlook Hotel high in the Rocky Mountains during the winter months, only to find that things are not what they seem and the hotel is haunted. The movie version of the Shining is a true classic. Not only is it creepy, scary, and contains plenty of blood, but the direction by Stanley Kubrick is first rate and Jack Nicholson basically cemented his reputation as a crazy dude with his performance in this film. Plus, it has one of the best endings in movie history. While Stephen King may feel that the film strayed too far from his original novel, we can appreciate this movie on its own cinematic merits.
1. Carrie (1976)
Directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie White, a mild mannered teen who possesses telekinetic powers, Carrie was both the first novel published by Stephen King and also the first movie made from his work. And the movie is great. The prom scene at the end is enough to earn this film the top spot on this list. But the way the whole film unfolds makes it a superior horror movie. From the mean girls at school (played by actresses Nancy Allen and Amy Irving) to Carrie’s abusive religious fanatic of a mother (played by actress Piper Laurie) to the delinquent John Travolta in an early supporting role, this movie builds slowly to Carrie’s inevitable breaking point – and what a breaking point it is. Plus, the final scene of this movie is one that still makes people watching it jump out of their seats. A classic flick worth seeing again this Halloween.