Film Lists

Stephen King: the best movie adaptations of his work

For a writer who is so synonymous with the horror genre, movie adaptations of Stephen King’s work have been mixed to say the least. All one has to do is look at 2017. For the wonder that is IT we also got The Dark Tower. Suffice to say, when King’s prose does work on the big screen, the effect is magical, terrorising and emotionally engaging in the most brilliant of ways.

With 1922 fresh out, Gerald’s Game not long before and The Shining back briefly in cinemas, we present the five best adaptations based on the works of the master of horror…

The Shining (1980)

Without doubt one of the most iconic and famous of King’s adaptations, and the one that has made its mark the most on popular culture, famously Stephen King is on the record as hating Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his haunted hotel tale. Being a Kubrick production, The Shining is a very visceral experience, with an intense visual style, atmospheric music and sound, while pioneering the use of a steadicam, revolutionary in 1980 and which has now become common place.

Featuring intense performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, as well as sympathetic support from Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers, the film boasts a record for the most takes of a single scene, whilst Nicholson’s ad-lib of “here’s Johnny” has become one of the horror genre’s most iconic and famous moments.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The ultimate word-of-mouth-success, Frank Darabont’s adaptation of King’s short story from his Different Seasons collection has become one of the most popular films of all time, doing so after intially being a box-office flop, but finding an audience on home video.

Beautifully moving, and featuring magnificent lead performances from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, Darabont’s script and masterful direction is both darkly intense and very moving. With photography from Roger Deakins and a beautiful score from Thomas Newman, the film is regarded by many as one of the greatest ever made, and they may not be wrong.

The Green Mile (1999)

Frank Darabont again, the second of three adaptations of King stories, the third being The Mist which is unremittingly dark and grim compared to the magical realism of this and hopeful optimism of The Shawshank Redemption. Not only was The Green Mile Darabont’s second King adaptation, it was his second film overall, and also, once again, a prison movie.

Based on a serialised work that was published in six volumes, the movie boasts a long running time, but is truly worth it. With Tom Hanks in the lead, and a beautifully soulful, Oscar nominated supporting turn from the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan, the film brings the dark, fantasy tinged prose of King’s serial novel to the screen in a masterful way, and whilst The Mist and The Shawshank Redemption have higher reputations, The Green Mile has slipped through the cracks somewhat, and might be a tough proposition for some, but is worthy of reappraisal.

Carrie (1976)

Like The Shining, Carrie has become one of the horror genre’s most iconic productions. Opening the door to the mainstream for Brian De Palma, who brought many of his usual flourishes to the material (Pino Donaggio score, split screen, borderline soft-core nudity) after having directed Sisters and Obsession, many of the film’s scenes and set pieces have become synonymous with both the horror genre and film history.

Based on King’s first published novel, it has seen a sequel produced in 1999, a remake which was in actuality a pilot for a television series in 2002, and a big screen remake in 2013 by Kimberly Pierce and starring Chloe Grace Moretz, not to mention a disastrous Broadway musical which shut down after only five performances. None of them have been able to match the visceral and emotional impact of De Palma’s film, or Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie’s mesmerising performances.

IT (2017)

First produced as a made for television mini series in 1990, which made a considerable impact on the pop cultural landscape itself via Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise the Clown, Andy Muschietti’s film adaptation of King’s epic horror thriller may only have just been recently released, but has made a sizeable impact on box office records as well as instantly being regarded as one of the best films taken from a King source material.

Focusing on the childhood angle of the story for the first of two parts (much like the mini-series) and fantastically cast, with Bill Skarsgard stepping into the formidable toes of Tim Curry brilliantly, the film transplants the novel’s events to the 1980’s, but still retains the horror and coming of age narrative of King’s novel superbly. A great cast of young actors, a wonderful music score and fantastic jump scares mean the film has the potential to become a perennial horror favourite for years to come, whilst the sequel will surely be eagerly awaited.

What is your favourite Stephen King book to movie adaptation? Let us know.


  1. Loved ‘Carrie’ it was actually better than the book, also ‘Shawshank’ & ‘Green Mile’ I didn’t care much for ‘The Shining’ Nicholsons over acting and the over loud overbearing film score ‘IT’ was pretty good too.

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