It’s impossible to turn on Hulu, Netflix or an old-school cable TV network these days without finding a Stephen King movie somewhere. The popular author’s novels and short stories have been adapted into dozens of films and TV series; some have been adapted two, three or more times. Some of these adaptations, such as The Shawshank Redemption, are classics. A few are dreadful. Most fall somewhere in between; if you’re scrolling through Hulu, Netflix, etc. many fall into the category of “Is this worth my time, or not?” Here are 10 King adaptations you should see, based on my personal observations as a longtime fan of King and good movies.
10. Stand By Me (1986)
A group of young boys ventures off into the wilderness to search for a dead body. Don’t let that macabre premise scare you away. This is a great coming-of-age film about friendship and adolescent struggles. The 1950s setting gives it a timeless appeal.
9. The Stand (1994)
Based on a novel that is one of the greatest works of post-apocalyptic fiction, The Stand follows the adventures of survivors of a flu that wipes out almost all of humanity. King’s 1978 novel is widely regarded as his magnum opus, but many fans were critical of this miniseries. Really, there was no way it could have lived up to ridiculously high expectations. Critics generally give it positive reviews. Rob Lowe, Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald and many other familiar faces help keep the huge cast from the novel straight.
8. The Dead Zone (1983)
Christopher Walken owns this movie with his portrayal of Johnny Smith, who awakens from a five-year coma and discovers he has psychic abilities. It would be hard to imagine this film with King’s first choice to play Smith — actor Bill Murray.
7. The Green Mile (1999)
Set in a prison death row in the 1930s, The Green Mile is very watchable, thanks largely to the presence of lead actor Tom Hanks and a nice supporting cast of actors from the “I don’t know his name, but I’ve seen him in a lot of movies” class. One of those actors, Michael Clarke Duncan, earned an Oscar nomination for his role in this film, and it was nominated for best picture. Be forewarned: the running time is a little more than three hours.
6. It (2017)
This has become an instant classic for horror fans, but its reputation has spread beyond horror buffs into pop culture. The boy-peering-into-the-drain scene has become a meme and been parodied on Saturday Night Live. No disrespect here to actor Tim Curry, who did a fine job as the original Pennywise the Clown in the 1990 miniseries, but this Pennywise is terrifying, and the film has a more ominous feel. The 2017 It also earned the affection of critics and audiences.
5. The Shining (1982)
“Heeeere’s Johnny!” Most everyone is familiar with that image of Jack Nicholson’s character busting through a door with an axe to terrorize his wife, but there’s so much more to this Stanley Kubrick-directed film than that iconic scene. Some parts seem a bit slow judged by today’s movie-making standards, and with a 2:24 running time chances are it would have been cut slightly if it had been made today. But overall the movie has aged well.
4. 11.22.63 (2016)
The date needs no explanation — it’s the day JFK was assassinated. But what if you could somehow go back in time to stop that tragic event? It sounds like a simple premise, only time-traveling English teacher Jake Epping (played by James Franco) doesn’t expect to fall in love in 1963, which complicates matters. Franco co-produced the eight-part miniseries for Hulu with J.J. Abrams. This series is an extremely satisfying mix of history, love story, mystery and science fiction.
3. Misery (1990)
This is the role Kathy Bates was born to play. It’s ironic that of all the terrifying settings in King’s many stories, one of the scariest involves a man (James Caan) stuck in a bedroom. Bates won an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes. You’ll certainly never look at a sledgehammer the same way after seeing this movie.
2. The Mist (2007)
As we’ve noted here before, The Mist is a vastly underrated horror film that is faithful to the original novella, which King first published in an anthology in 1980. A group of people are trapped inside a Maine grocery store as a mysterious mist surrounds the building. This being a King creation, you know something terrible awaits in the fog. The surprise is that something even worse arises inside the store. King once again tackles one of his most common themes — humans are capable of being just as scary and deadly as any fictional creature he could imagine. We much preferred the ambiguous ending in the original story to the film’s finale; it’s one you won’t forget.
1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Some people who read the quick synopsis or watch the trailer might be turned off by the fact this is a “prison movie.” But the movie transcends that grim genre. Many of King’s best books and stories don’t translate well to the silver screen, but King fans generally agree this film is better than the novella that spawned it (which appeared in Different Seasons). Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have two popular and accomplished actors head the cast (Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins).