Stephen King has been terrifying readers for 43 years, crafting best-selling novels and short stories that have become iconic works of horror. With these written works have come a plethora of film and TV adaptations – some very good, some (many, actually) not so good. King adaptations are experiencing a sudden boom – The Dark Tower recently hit theaters and a new, highly anticipated adaptation of It will arrive in theaters this week. On the horizon, a Netflix adaptation of Gerald’s Game will arrive near the end of the month and a TV series, Castle Rock, is currently in pre-production.
In honor of the many new King adaptations, I decided to do something really scary. I’ve gone back and ranked every single Stephen King film. Here are the rules I stuck to: films and miniseries only, and no sequels unless the sequel in question was a direct adaptation of something King wrote (i.e. Creepshow 2). So, sorry Children of the Corn sequel fans, only the initial Corn adaptations will be here. Without further ado, let’s rank the film adaptations of Stephen King.
Based on: The novel Cell published in 2006
Oh boy, let’s get this garbage out of the way first, shall we? This adaptation of King’s novel about cell phones that turn people into zombies was troubled and long-delayed – the film was completed in 2014, but not released until 2016. The final result is the as-of-now worst Stephen King film adaptation. A lifeless husk of a film that lacks even the basic understanding of how storytelling works. Avoid this thing like a cell-phone triggered plague.
How faithful to the source material is it? About 50%, although it’s worth noting that Cell is one of King’s lesser novels, so it’s no surprise it didn’t make for much of a film.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? Nope.
58. GRAVEYARD SHIFT
Based On: The short story “Graveyard Shift” published in 1970 and featured in the collection Night Shift.
This is perhaps the most forgettable Stephen King adaptation. So forgettable that even though I’ve seen it multiple times, mostly on late night cable TV, there’s almost nothing to report. A group of textile mill employees working over the weekend to clean up the mill’s basement find themselves facing off against a giant bat. This was the feature directorial debut of Ralph S. Singleton, who never directed another film after this.
How faithful to the source material is it? It sticks pretty closely to the short story while also fleshing it out to feature length.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? He plays the giant bat (note: this may not be true).
Based on: The short story “Trucks” published in 1978 and featured in the collection Night Shift.
Maximum Overdrive is famous, or perhaps infamous, for being the only film that Stephen King directed. It’s not very good (more on that later!), but at least it has something of a personality, schizophrenic though it may be. That’s not the case for Trucks, another adaptation of the same short story that inspired Overdrive. You know the drill: cars and trucks become sentient and rack up some road kill. With no AC/DC or Emilio Estevez to distract us, this is a big fat yawn.
How faithful to the source material is it? The general idea is pretty much the same, but King is very good at making silly ideas sort of terrifying with his prose. That doesn’t translate so well to film, however.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? Negative.
56. CHILDREN OF THE CORN (2009)
Based on: The short story “Children of the Corn” published in 1977 and featured in the collection Night Shift.
For some strange reason, no Stephen King story has spawned more films than Children of the Corn. There are approximately ten zillion Corn sequels, and then there’s this 2009 made-for-TV remake, which is as forgettable as they come. Director Donald P. Borchers really wanted King to be involved with the film in some capacity and sent the author a copy of the script, only for King’s attorneys to send it back with a note explaining King couldn’t care less. And neither should we.
How faithful to the source material is it? This is actually a lot more faithful to the source material than the original film, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? Did you actually read the paragraph above?
Based on: The short story “Gramma” published in 1984 and featured in the collection Skeleton Crew.
Although featuring Shirley Knight, Mark Duplass, Dylan McDermott and Frances O’Connor, this 2014 adaptation of King’s spooky short story “Gramma” has been mostly forgotten, and probably for good reason: it’s your standard direct-to-VOD horror. The short story, about a young boy home alone with his terrifying, possibly supernatural grandmother is a great exercise in slowly building tension and horror. The film is just blah.
How faithful to the source material is it? The film adds a bunch more supernatural stuff to flesh out the short story, and none of it is as effective as the less-is-more approach that King’s brief tale takes.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? No.
54. THE LANGOLIERS
Based on: The novella The Langoliers from the collection Four Past Midnight, published in 1990.
The terrifying story of a group of plane passengers who fly right into an alternate dimension and find themselves attacked by cartoon meatballs was adapted into an endless (note: actually 180 minutes) miniseries in 1995. There’s some super talented people involved with this thing, including Dean Stockwell, David Morse and Balky himself, Bronson Pinchot, and was directed by Fright Night and Child’s Play helmer Tom Holland (no, not the one who plays Spider-Man). But it’s a dull, unengaging story that doesn’t so much unfold as it does slowly tick out like a dusty grandfather clock located somewhere in the den of smelly, moldy house full of un-emptied cat boxes.
How faithful to the source material is it? This is actually pretty faithful to the story, which suggests that you should probably avoid ever reading it.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? He does! He shows up in a dream sequence playing Pinchot’s boss, Tom Holby.
53. A GOOD MARRIAGE
Based On: The novella A Good Marriage from the collection Full Dark, No Stars, published in 2010.
Joan Allen is a happy, upper class woman who discovers that her husband of 25 years (Anthony LaPaglia) may in fact be a BTK-style serial killer. It’s a neat premise, and Allen and LaPaglia turn into pretty good performances. But the end result is a plodding Lifetime-style thriller (appropriate enough, since the film premiered on Lifetime).
How faithful to the source material is it? King wrote the screenplay for the film himself, so it’s fairly faithful.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? No.
52. BIG DRIVER
Based On: The novella Big Driver from the collection Full Dark, No Stars, published in 2010.
The criminally undervalued Mario Bello stars in this unpleasant rape-revenge tale playing a mystery writer who is brutally assaulted by a truck driver and then plots violent payback. There’s a frankly bizarre comedic undertone to the whole film, which just doesn’t work at all. Maria Bello and the audience both deserve better.
How faithful to the source material is it? Faithful to a fault.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? He does not.
50. SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK
Based On: The short story “Sometimes They Come Back,” published in 1974 and featured in the collection Night Shift.
Tim Matheson is a high school teacher haunted by the ghosts of the evil greasers who murdered his brother in the 1960s. Yes, it’s as silly as it sounds, and while forgettable, it’s not offensively bad, which keeps it from being at the very bottom of the list.
How faithful to the source material is it? Fairly faithful for the most part, but it nixes the more ambiguous, unpleasant ending from King’s story.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? No.
49. THE LAWNMOWER MAN
Based On: The short story “The Lawnmower Man,” published in 1975 and featured in the collection Night Shift. Only not at all.
I debated even including this film on the list since it’s not really a Stephen King adaptation. In fact, King successfully sued to have his name removed from the film, since it bore no resemblance to his story at all. This film is bad, but it’s bad in a very special way. Pierce Brosnan is a doctor who experiments on an intellectually disabled man (Jeff Fahey) using virtual reality. The experiment turns Fahey’s character into an all-powerful, evil cyber-god, and lots of complete bullshit follows. Filled with special effects which seemed cutting edge in 1992 but are beyond laughable now, The Lawnmower Man is kind of a trashy treat to watch. Kind of.
How faithful to the source material is it? Not faithful at all. The story is about a landscaper who turns out to be a malevolent demon who eats grass clippings and works for the god Pan. It’s really stupid, yet somehow not as stupid as the movie.
Does Stephen King Have a cameo? Hell no.
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