A History of Stephen King Film Adaptations


It’s extremely hard to dispute the fact that Stephen King hasn’t had an effect on all things horror since his first novel Carrie was released back in 1974.  In the time since, Stephen King has became an international success and the recipient of much deserved critical acclaim.  His first novel Carrie was also his first story that was tuned into a film adaptation.  Directed by Brian De Palma and released in 1976, the film was a huge success which only made Stephen King and his novels more popular.  Flash forward to today and here we are with over fifty of his novels, short stories, and collections reinterpreted as features for both television and film.

I’m not going to sit here and rank what I feel are his best adaptations, because honestly I haven’t read a whole lot of Stephen King’s work.  What I want to do with this editorial rather, is to talk about some of his features that influenced me.  I don’t want to sit here and compare the films to the book, but rather to say why I enjoyed them and to hopefully show my appreciation for what he has given to all of us as horror fans.

I want to start off with the first Stephen King adaptation that I can remember seeing knowing full out who Stephen King was and what he had done.  It was Stephen King’s It.  Loosely based (from what I hear) on the novel of the same name, it originally aired on ABC back in November of 1990 as a two part miniseries.  Now granted, it was a TV miniseries on a major network so it is obvious that this was a very cleaned up version as compared to the original novel, but as a young boy who was way too young to be seeing even this version, it absolutely scared the hell out of me.  Pennywise was a bit creepy, but that wasn’t the scariest part of the whole miniseries (to me).  The moment that got me was when Young Beverly (Emily Perkins) saw a balloon filled with blood, burst in her bathroom sink.

Stephen Kings IT

When she tells her abusive father, he comes to investigate, putting his hands in the blood and seeing Beverly covered, but he acts like nothing is there.  The thing that just scared Beverly half to death, wasn’t even visible to him, so how could he understand or help her?  It’s a common theme in horror in any format to have the protectors of the community including police, parents, adult figures of authority become completely helpless either by having their power taken away from them or their ignorance to the problem in question.  This was also a running theme in another one of Stephen King’s movie adaptations titled The Shining.

From what I understand, the hard core Stephen King fans aren’t really partial to the Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining (again, from what I’ve heard) because of its many liberties it has taken with the original source material.  I see it as an amazing achievement in cinema as far as horror film, technical execution, and acting are concerned.

This one of the first movies I have ever watched that when viewing the finale, or the events leading up to them, I actually felt the cold that enveloped the outside of the Overlook Hotel.  The portrayed freezing of the characters and the setting, while showing the seclusion of the tenants as well as Jack Torrance’s’ mind being shut out to the outside world was so effective to me that I actually felt cold.  They weren’t just the chills, I actually felt the temperature of my body drop, which made me angry because I hate the cold.  Add that with a bear giving oral pleasure to a butler (which came out of nowhere) which led to the conclusion of the film succeeding gloriously in completely mindf**cking me.

Years of psycho therapy later, I saw a commercial for yet another Stephen King miniseries which wasn’t a novel first, it was a specific screenplay written to be a TV miniseries called Storm of the Century (1999).  Although it was never released on the printed page, you could easily tell this was a Stephen King story with Stephen King’s characters in a Stephen King world.  It was 1999 and in both TV and film mediums at the time, I have never seen a character to intimidating and creepy as Andre Linoge.  He knew everyone in the town forwards and backwards expending their deepest and darkest secrets left and right as soon as he didn’t immediately get his way.  When he needed to resort to violence, he did and boy was it swift and unrelenting.  Again, another made for TV series that was frightening and also relatively gore less.  The Mist on the other hand, well that’s a whole other story.

storm of the century

I am one of those people that absolutely loved The Mist.  Directed by Frank Darabont (who also directed Stephen King adaptations Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) the film version of the Mist was another one of Stephen King’s stories that had his style and character development all over it. Some people who disliked the movie felt that it was a bit unrealistic; while I can see their point, I still completely disagree with.  The film went a little bit far with the idea of telling us how panicked and scared people get in a time of crisis whereas they will turn to anyone or anything that provides answers.  Anyone who works in any field that interacts with customers can no doubt attest to a disgusting side of humanity that rears around its head the second they feel that things haven’t completely gone their way.

Trust me, I could sit her all day and have a conversation about horror works based on Stephen King’s material.  Just because I haven’t mentioned them here, Cujo, Pet Sematary, Christine, The Tommyknockers, The Stand, and more all have at least some great moments in them worth watching.  Not only have these movies and miniseries influenced our horror culture, but the books and the man himself have influenced countless people’s lives.

So now that I’ve talked a little bit about my favorite Stephen King movies, I want to know more about your tastes.  Do you agree with me?  Do you think the movies I picked were terrible?  Do you have a moment in a Stephen King influence movie or miniseries that just scared the hell out of you?  Share your Stephen King love/hate in the comments!


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      1. Steven June 9, 2014 at 8:33 am

        Most of the films I have seen based on Stephen King books are good, but nothing can compare to his novels! Everyone I have read is far better than the movie version!

      2. AndyPat. June 10, 2014 at 1:10 am

        Nobody seems to agree with me, but the Mist was one of my favorite movies of all time. The cast, crew, composition, soundtrack, lighting, camera angles… Everything was flawless. Even the ending, it showed such deep desperation and helplessness that other people don’t seem to “get”. I Loved it in and out. As well as most other King adaptations. cannot wait for the new The Stand adaptation.

      3. Idle Primate June 10, 2014 at 2:30 am

        I think Carrie and Christine are both masterpieces. the most recent adaptation of Carrie was effective too. More recently, The Mist and 1403 were both chilling. The Mist really feels like a perfect film to me and has one of the very best endings to a horror film ever. Timothy Hutton in the Dark Half was moody with a great claustrophobic sense of paranoia. Creepshow is an always watchable classic, with one of the chapters starring Stephen King–a goofy yet tragic 50’s style story, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”, Anyone who hasn’t seen Creepshow should rectify that as soon as possible. I very much hope one day that anthologies become popular again. Firestarter is one of my favourite films and I sometimes forget it’s one of King’s, starring Drew Barrymore, David Keith and a truly menacing George C. Scott. I think Dreamcatcher is an overlooked diamond in the rough that maybe catches flack for trying to balance horror, sci-fi, comedy, surrealism, and sentimental poignancy, which is a shame, it’s what makes it such a satisfying story and so rewatchable. Apt Pupil, starring Ian McKellan is a truly disturbing and brilliant character study. I think Misery, everyone enjoyed, another great creepy uncomfortable story with Kathy Bates and James Caan both shining. I haven’t watched Stand by Me in in close to 20 years, so I don’t know whether it stands up, but it is a wonderful kid’s adventure–the sort of thing we used to see all the time back then but almost never now–children removed from the world of adults, autonomously going on a quest, a voyage with both jeopardy and jubilance. In tv series land, Kingdom Hospital was enormously fun, and Haven(at least the first 2 seasons I’ve seen so far), only very loosely affiliated with anything King is a warm, quaint and quirky seaside x-files, a show i would call cosy.

        Hearts in Atlantis and Secret Window are quality made films, but don’t make it into rewatch territory. Similarly Shawshank was another perfect film, just one I found myself caring little for after the fact.

        I have a soft spot for many of the, let’s just say lesser films: Desperation, Sleepwalkers (with the only ever death by being stabbed in the skull with a cob of corn in a horror movie), both Pet Cemetaries, Silver Bullet, Thinner(a good adaptation yet the book was much scarier, simply because translated to a visual medium it was hard for it not to slip into absurdity), Riding the Bullet almost makes it to the former category, but somehow stays self-indulgently B class.

        And in a special class all of it’s own is King’s solitary effort at directing, the glorious, ACDC pounding mess, Maximum Overdrive.

        I grew out of reading Stephen King somewhere in my adolescence when he only had maybe a dozen books, and my favourites are his earliest works, including the one’s collected as the Bachman Books, written before Carrie but not published until later. I can’t however seem to grow out of revelling in movies of his work.

      4. Tiago September 21, 2014 at 4:06 pm

        I started as a fan of the movies. But as soon as you start reading the novels you realize that they are all better. They all miss something in the adaptation, cause King’s narrative is so dawn good.

      5. Dennis September 22, 2014 at 2:57 am

        The Golden Years- Little known, very long, well worth the time to watch. Also The Mist with it’s fucked up ending that everyone hates… I love! Makes the whole cheesy mess worth watching.

      6. Johnny Scott September 23, 2014 at 12:57 pm

        Dead on about The Shining, but The Mist’s ending was completely over the top. One of my favorites that wasn’t mentioned was “Salem’s Lot.” I saw that one when I was about 10 years old, and the image of the vampire floating outside the window still gets to me…

      7. DK October 24, 2014 at 11:39 pm


      8. DK October 25, 2014 at 7:00 pm

        It appears that there may be an issue with censorship on this site.

      9. DK October 26, 2014 at 6:12 pm

        I’ve had multiple posts that didn’t post to certain articles.

        If ti happens once or twice, I don’t concern myself – I figure it’s a glitch. If it occurs more often I attribute it to design.

      10. ArtH March 31, 2015 at 4:24 am

        The Mist is perhaps my favorite short story of Stephen King and he is the master of horror short stories. Thought the movie did it justice. Felt the same way about Secret Window but I find that particular type of ending is very unsatisfying in Film.

      11. Linda February 18, 2016 at 2:26 pm

        “The Stand” best ever! I’ve read the novel several times I’m hoping they leave it alone it’s a classic. I’m sorry but in my opinion no one would be able to fill these actors shoes.

      12. Becca May 13, 2016 at 5:38 pm

        I really enjoy the King TV mini-series adaptations. Rose Red is one of my favorite haunted house “movies” of all time. I also love Storm of the Century and the 1997 version of The Shining (which followed the novel much better).

        I enjoyed The Stand mini-series, but I did not like Molly Ringwald as Frannie. I felt she didn’t really capture the character that Stephen King wrote and she and Gary Sinise had no believable on-screen chemistry. It was actually painful to watch her scenes.

        I’m kind of on the fence about It. I have an interesting experience with the very first time I ever watched it, which influences my opinion about it. To avoid a long story, let’s just say I accidently watched part 2 before part 1, and before I found out I had actually missed an entire half of the movie, I was more confused than creeped out by what I had watched. Even after I corrected my mistake and watched them in order (thus it made more sense to me), I still couldn’t get over my first impression and that kind of ruined it.