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5 best Stephen King adaptations

Posted July 13
Updated October 28

SCARY OLD MAINE — Whether you know it or not a new movie based on a Stephen King novel is headed to theaters this weekend. “Cell” stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, and critics really don’t like this movie so far. Personally I can’t say because I haven’t seen it, but the release of “Cell” got me thinking about the myriad of movies based on King novels.

As the author once wrote himself, “I have written enough novels and short stories to fill a solar system of the imagination,” and a great number of the stars in that system have been made into films. Some good, some bad, some incredible and some terrible.

I decided to compile this list of the best King adaptations for your pleasure and disdain, because I’m about to make some people happy and others so incredibly upset.

Before we start the list I need to explain how I picked these films. I’m not just going off of films that I thoroughly enjoyed, but also films that were solid adaptations of the source material, actual theatrical films and not made-for-TV productions, and I’m actually taking King’s opinions into account as well. So I came to choose these five films based on those three criteria.

Without further delay here are the five greatest Stephen King adaptations:

1408

Let's start off with a film that also stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, "1408." This is a film based off a King short story of the same name. It tells the story of a man (Cusack) who specializes in debunking paranormal occurrences. Cusack checks into room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel, and let's just say he has a tough time debunking this one.

The movie is far from perfect, but it manages to sufficiently creep you out and has enough scares to be a great Halloween-time movie.

King was a fan of "1408" saying, "I imagined a haunting that would literally drive the occupants of 1408 to insanity by exposing them to some sort of alien sensations and mental input people only experience in fever dreams or while under the influence of LSD or mescaline. The moviemakers 'got' this, and as a result produced a rarity: a horror movie that actually horrifies."

"The Green Mile"

The 1999 film "The Green Mile" is a beautiful film filled with hope, sadness and love. The movie strikes a chord that few films due and this is thanks to masterful performances from Michael Clarke Duncan and Tom Hanks, as well as pinpoint direction and a meticulously well-constructed script from Frank Darabont.

The movie is a supernatural tale of guards who work on death row and how a condemned man with a special gift changes their lives. The book itself is a marvel and Darabont does a phenomenal job of adapting an intricate and complex story without losing the heart and message behind its words.

King said he was "delighted" with "The Green Mile," even though he thinks it's the first "R-rated Hallmark movie."

"Misery"

The 1990 films "Misery" can be tough to watch, but it is a terrifying film that isn't just a good horror movie, but a fantastic film.

James Caan plays a famous author who is rescued following a car crash. Kathy Bates takes him back to her home to nurse him back to health, but her intentions are far more notorious than just being a good Samaritan.

The movie will mess with your head, as will the book, and it will leave you squirming. This movie will not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those who like a good psychological thriller that leaves you on the edge of your seat then you'll love "Misery."

"Misery" is a very personal book for King who told Rolling Stone in a 2014 article that it's about his own personal addiction with cocaine. He said the Annie character was cocaine and that she was his "No. 1 fan." In that same article King simple says that "Misery" is a "great film." I'd have to agree.

"Stand By Me"

The 1986 coming-of-age film "Stand By Me" seems to be a staple from many of our childhoods. The story of four friends who embark on a journey to find a dead body and face the skeletons in their own closet along the way is hauntingly beautiful in its own way.

While most of us have never set out to find the decaying remains of a fellow teenager, we have all had to face many of the same demons these boys did in one way or another, and this captures the essence of being young and free — albeit a bit darker than reality usually is.

The film is based on the novella "The Body" from King, which originally appeared in 1982's "Different Seasons." In that same Rolling Stone interview mentioned above King was asked what was the best movie ever made from one of his books. This was his response, "probably "Stand by Me." I thought it was true to the book and because it had the emotional gradient of the story. It was moving."

Fun side note, Rob Reiner directed both "Stand By Me" and "Misery."

"The Shawshank Redemption"

We all knew this was coming, so let's not act surprised. "The Shawshank Redemption" could be considered as one of the greatest movies from the 90s, which is a high compliment considering other movies from that decade include "Schindler's List," "Forrest Gump," "Saving Private Ryan" and "Dances With Wolves," to name just a few.

"The Shawshank Redemption" is a powerful film that will leave you exhausted by the time it's over. It's an iconic film filled with iconic performances from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. These two are commanding on the screen and Frank Darabont, the writer and director behind "The Green Mile," tells the story in a way that few others could.

The film about a man wrongfully accused of murder and serving a life sentence in Shawshank Prison is based off the novella from King titled "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." The novella also appeared in the 1982 collection "Different Seasons" along with "The Body." The book is also a powerful and inspiring tale, and King called it a "terrific piece of work." King went on to say that the film wasn't an exact one-to-one adaptation with some things in the film that weren't in the movie, but that it was a solid film "about human beings."

Why I don't have "The Shining"

I know that most of you have already written off this list because "The Shining" was not on there. I have no doubt that hate mail is already being written and effigies are primed for the fire, but I have my reasons for not including the Stanley Kubrick classic.

Personally I think "The Shining" is an incredibly well-made film that is both terrifying and gorgeous. Kubrick was a perfectionist, and it comes across in every scene of the two-and-a-half-hour spectacle. Jack Nicholson is fantastic as Jack and his descent into madness is strong, but with all of that said, it's not a good adaptation.

"The Shining" is likely my favorite King novel and what makes it so amazing are the relationships and the emotionality of the story. Jack is a loving father who is trying to leave his demons behind and his transformation is depressing, mortifying, and fascinating. This novel is about a family and the force trying to destroy it, Kubrick's phenomenal horror film couldn't construe the same emotional punch the novel did.

If you recall I based my picks on four criteria: films I enjoyed; films that were solid adaptations of the source material, theatrically released films and films that King actually liked.

We already know I enjoyed "The Shining" and that it was a theatrical release. You also know my thoughts when it comes to adaptation from the source material. To me Kubrick's film is more inspired by King's work and not an actual adaptation. As for King's feelings himself, well, suffice it to say he doesn't care for this version.

There are many instances of King's distaste from the movie, but I am going to pull an excerpt from that same Rolling Stone article from 2014 I've already mentioned: "Obviously people absolutely love it, and they don't understand why I don't. The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice. In the book, there's an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he's crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene. I had to keep my mouth shut at the time. It was a screening, and Nicholson was there. But I'm thinking to myself the minute he's on the screen, 'Oh, I know this guy. I've seen him in five motorcycle movies, where Jack Nicholson played the same part.' And it's so misogynistic. I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag. But that's just me, that's the way I am."

For these reasons "The Shining" did not make the list.

Conclusion

There you have it, my list of the best Stephen King adaptations. What would you add or take away? What would you say were the worst adaptations? Let us know.

John has been writing about movies, news, sports and pretty much anything awesome for more than five years. John is the co-host of the Flix Junkies podcast and will always entertain you with his stories.

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