To accompany the recent two-part Stephen King episodes of the CineChat podcast, Team CineChat decided to vote on our top 10 movie adaptations of his work. Let us know if you agree or disagree with our choices!
10. Carrie (1976)
Matt: Carrie is definitely one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations. Although I only watched it for the first time last year, I was utterly captivated throughout and I have honestly thought about it every day since! It has a classic ‘high school movie’ feel, spliced with King’s trademark supernatural edge, fantastic performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie in roles that could easily have become parody, a beautiful original score, and it is visually stunning too. All accumulate in an unforgettable final sequence (you know the one) where director Brian De Palma expertly pulls the rug and all hell breaks loose in the best possible way. An absolute joy to watch.
Lee: Errmm… I have never seen Carrie! I know… sorry!
Matt: May a bucket of blood rain down upon you.
Clare: To me, Carrie is not just the ultimate Stephen King film, but also one of the ultimate horror films. Carrie White is both hero and antagonist, and whilst it’s hard to find her likeable rather than pathetic, the dynamic between Spacek and Laurie as Matt says is truly a highlight of the film. De Palma’s direction, the tense use of sound and the wonderful dynamism of the camera work during the third act elevate this to a hall of fame film. With a final scene that at the times terrified and horrified audiences, Carrie works as a blueprint to many high school based horrors that came afterwards. Justice for Carrie White.
9. The Mist (2007)
Sarah: The Mist was always one of my favourites of King’s short stories, but I always felt a little let down by the rather surprisingly optimistic ending. However, this film adaptation righted this wrong by going in the completely opposite direction and having one of the most depressingly cruel (yet worryingly satisfying) endings I’ve seen on film.
Matt: I feel as though I have known The Mist forever, it must have been the earliest King adaptation I saw as a teenager. And I bloody love it. Any story that takes place in a single location, amidst a crisis, where humanity submits to panic and descends into self-destruction… that’s my kind of story. As much as it is a film about monsters in the mist, it is equally (or more so) about monsters within ourselves; Marcia Gay Harden’s ‘Mrs Carmody’ in particular is an emblem for how dangerous human beings can be. So naturally, she delivers one of my favourite cinematic performances of all time! And that ending… Brilliant.
Lee: The Mist takes its time in setting up its characters and scenario before suddenly dropping them straight into an end of the world situation with who knows what going on outside. What I love about this movie is how both the viewer and characters have no idea exactly what they’re up against or the scale of the threat. “There’s something in the mist!” is the chilling cry that arrives early on, as the mist begins to roll in, and from there the creatures and the threats just continue to intensify, both inside and outside the supermarket. And yes, the ending is just brilliant.
8. Stand by Me (1986)
Lee: Stand by Me featured very highly on my personal top 10 and I’m a little disappointed it didn’t feature higher in our overall top 10, but then every movie here is worthy of a high placing to be fair. I don’t know what it is about Stand by Me but I just find it to be a wonderful coming of age story, with an amazing cast. Four boys, heading out on an adventure together before adulthood sets in and life separates them. Funny, bittersweet, it’s well overdue a rewatch.
Mary: Quite a moving film, again very simple, not a great amount of plot but we all remember being twelve; that informative age where we are starting to understand more about the world and its complexities, some of that innocence we had falling away. This is a film about strong bonds of friendship that are unlike any other types of friendship we will have again, and how we will always remember them and cherish them, even if those friendships no longer remain, as most unfortunately do not. I think this may be King’s most relatable film.
7. Misery (1990)
Mary: This is really quite a simple premise; a woman “helps” a gravely injured man and keeps him in her home helping him recuperate. Add a little detail; he is a writer, she is his number one fan… more interested? Oh, and she is a psychopath who in her past killed babies as a maternity nurse and won’t let him leave. Wow, you’ve got me hooked. Now add Kathy Bates in a truly star-making and Oscar-winning turn and a brilliant James Caan, there is very little else to it yet Rob Reiner (another pro at King adaptations) makes something great out of this. You are rooting so strongly for Caan’s Paul Sheldon to get out of that house. Not only that but to get that mad woman and give her just what she deserves.
Matt: Admittedly I’m not the biggest Kathy Bates fan, but I think that factors somewhat into my fear of Annie Wilkes in Misery. Her temperament is like flipping a coin, there’s a 50/50 chance she’ll either make you a sandwich or throw you down the stairs, she is frighteningly unpredictable and ain’t nobody got time for that! Can’t wait to read the novel though.
6. IT Chapter Two (2019)
Lee: The trailer for IT Chapter Two gave me goosebumps every time I watched it, and I nearly watched it as many times as I watched the trailer for Avengers: Endgame. I ended up booking to see a double-bill of chapters one and two on the opening night of chapter two and while I loved seeing chapter one on the big screen once again, I found chapter two to be a disappointment. The adult cast were all fantastic, with Bill Hader definitely stealing the show, and revisiting the younger cast to watch new scenes which we then see the repercussions of in their adult lives was wonderful. The biggest disappointment though was Pennywise and the lack of scares. The slow brooding, creepy scares that worked so effectively in chapter one are all but lost here. There certainly are still a handful in chapter two, and those do work extremely well, but they’re simply outnumbered by a constant barrage of jump scares and CGI monsters. I lost count of the number of times we got some random CGI creature rapidly approaching us and the over-reliance on CGI is noticeably jarring, even more so in the final act. The use of practical, psychological scares was sorely missed and the whole thing was just nowhere near as scary as chapter one, which was a real shame.
Matt: Shout-out to the “Mrs Kersh” scene and the giant lumberjack statue though! I wet myself.
5. Doctor Sleep (2019)
Sarah: What I love the most about Doctor Sleep is that it both improves on the ending from the book (which is no mean feat when it’s a King story) and also links back to the original ending from The Shining. Anyone who has both read and seen The Shining knows that the book and film are completely different, and Doctor Sleep gave me such an immense sense of satisfaction by bringing the story full circle back to the original book ending.
Lee: My main takeaway from this was just how incredible Rebecca Ferguson was as Rose the Hat. My second takeaway from this was how great director Mike Flanagan is. He snuck this in-between directing The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, two of my favourite shows from recent years and he definitely managed to wring some nice moments of terror out of the source material. There are some wonderfully creepy, even disturbing scenes dotted throughout Doctor Sleep and the way everything comes back to The Overlook Hotel was just perfect. This was a really pleasant surprise.
Mary: I actually really enjoyed this, when I first watched it I’d just finished the book so I marked it down due to some of the changes, however, I have recently rewatched it for the Stephen King podcast episode and time has helped. I rated this higher the second time, I think Ewan McGregor is a great Danny he does a brilliant job of showing the adult Danny unable to cope with his abilities and hitting rock bottom and then finding a new beginning and rebuilding his life. I thought Rebecca Ferguson was superb, such a fantastic villain as Rose the Hat, she was the best thing about this film for me (I will never ever forget the baseball boy scene, that truly traumatised me) except… for one thing… The Overlook, the last section back in the shell of a hotel, rotting away but maintaining all of its menace was truly brilliant. There was something thrilling about being back in that setting, and I think all film fans felt it.
4. IT Chapter One (2017)
Lee: Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise was the benchmark for all future horror movie clowns, the definitive evil clown, so this remake had a lot to live up to. We first meet Pennywise very early on in this version and his initial appearance is shocking and terrifying. Calmly menacing, excellently played by Bill Skarsgård, but sounding strangely like Scooby-Doo as he chats away to poor Georgie, which kind of made him more funny than scary. But his actions manage to strike a strong tone which holds for the remainder of the movie. But as much as Pennywise dominates the story, it’s really all about the group of kids who stand up and fight back against him, and thankfully they are all a joy to watch too. The whole thing gives off a nice Stand by Me (which is probably why I like it)/Stranger Things vibe, dotted with some very effective scares throughout.
Mary: I loved the aesthetics of this film, the spooky house is perfect, Pennywise’s look is haunting it really looks exactly how a horror film should look. What draws me more to the first part I think is the coming of age story, a bond created between a group of friends, a trope King writes so well. This film has something else going for it (apart from knowing all the things they could do right or better compared to the 1990’s version) it’s the casting. It’s close to perfect, the kids are fantastic and Bill Skarsgård has basically been cast for life in my opinion, he could make 100 more movies but everyone will always remember his Pennywise… childlike but utterly dangerous and psychotic.
3. The Shining (1980)
Matt: Perhaps one of the most innately terrifying films of all time? With every nauseating turn of the Overlook Hotel’s labyrinthine interior, to the unbearable long takes and sinister atonal soundtrack… it is stupidly good. To the point where even the weaker elements of the film seem to be deliberate, inexplicably contributing to the overall feeling that something is really “off”. Stephen King may not have liked it (completely understandable), but you can’t deny it’s still bloody good cinema.
Erika: The Shining is one of two Stephen King adaptations I’ve seen, and one of my favourite movies. From the film score to Jack Nicholson’s delightfully unhinged performance, it’s fantastic. It’s hugely influential, and riffed on constantly, from the extended recreation in Ready Player One, to the Blockbuster South Park episodes. Because of this film, I will be forever terrified of pulling back a shower curtain. Let’s be real, any of us would have snapped if we were around Shelley Duvall for any length of time.
Mary: The Shining is said to be one of if not the scariest films of all time, I never used to understand that statement because it doesn’t really have scares like other films in the genre. But the more I’ve seen the film and the older I get I can understand it, it’s not jump scares or necessarily the visuals themselves, it is the atmosphere that is created and maintained throughout the entire run time; this ominous tension that builds to a crescendo. It’s a skill to maintain a feeling that long and this is paired with amazing performances, mesmerizing shots and unforgettable music. This is a must-watch for film fans, not just horror fans.
2. The Green Mile (1999)
Mary: I’ll repeat what I said on the podcast, there is a real timeless feel to this film it may have something to do with the time in which it is set, all I know is this film does not seem to have dated. The movie really is a journey, one in which we see the best and worst of people the innocence and evil that we are capable of. Tom Hanks is a perfect vehicle for us to experience this story, which on paper feels like it shouldn’t work; how can you mix unexplainable magic with the reality and seriousness of 1930’s death row in America. But somehow it works and we buy into it, believing it completely. I highly recommend this, Frank Darabont knows how to adapt Stephen King.
Matt: There’s something dreamlike about The Green Mile – you can be completely enveloped and captivated by the story for the entire duration, but afterwards it’s like waking up; I never seem to remember everything that happens in the plot, only that it was extraordinary… it makes for a fantastic re-watch, as it’s like slipping back into an old memory and rediscovering a treasure trove of hidden secrets. Or maybe it’s just the length! Either way, it’s one of those “lightning in a bottle” films, completely inimitable.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Sarah: This is one of my favourite films of all time, so I’m glad to see it came out top here. It’s proof that a film doesn’t need to be full of action or over the top special effects to be brilliant. This is really just a simple film about prison and friendship, and it’s incredibly heart-warming and moving. It’s a film I’ll always put on as background noise yet find myself inexplicably drawn to watching for the hundredth time, never getting bored. Absolutely deserving of the top spot on this list!
Matt: For such a quiet and unassuming film, the impact The Shawshank Redemption has is utterly extraordinary. It has a certain je ne sais quoi that seems to resonate with everyone, which must lie in the fact that that it is a fundamentally human story. At several moments in the film, I think “This could have been a true story!” but in just as many moments I think “This is all hypothetical, right?” It makes for an interesting blend of realism and fantasy that perfectly plays into the overarching theme of hope. A deserving #1 on this list!
Lee: I completely agree with the above. This was top of my personal Stephen King top 10, and is also one of my all-time favourite movies. Just a simple story, wonderfully acted and perfectly executed. And one of a handful of movies that always manages to bring tears to my eyes whenever I watch it!