17 Stephen King movies you need to see

The Shining (1980)

The movie: A writer-turned-teacher Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), is struggling with alcoholism, so opts to relocate his family to an isolated hotel in the mountains for the winter. The plan? He’ll take on the role of caretaker for the season, work on his novel, and his family can relax. Soon after their arrival, his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) discovers his gift, his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) discovers her husband’s changing, and Jack? Well, Jack’s making friends with the staff...

What it got right: According to Stephen King, Stanely Kubrick got nothing right when adapting the terrifying tale. Yet the director's immaculate chiller has so many well placed scares and unforgettable images that we have to respectfully disagree. This is a masterclass in dismantling a story, and rebuilding it with chosen fragments, intentionally so as to craft a mood of utter terror. And sure, while it strays from the story on the page, it matches the fear beat-for-beat.

Silver Bullet (1985)

The movie: Hands up – who knew King wrote a werewolf novel? Anybody? Silver Bullet turns the author's scrappy Cycle of the Werewolf novella into a campy good time. This Maine-set tale follows Marty (Corey Haim), a young lad in the town of Harker’s Mill, who rallies together with his sister and uncle to track down the bloodthirsty beast savaging the townsfolk. 

What it got right: One of the most overlooked of King adaptations, its brisk pace never affords you the chance to linger on its shortcomings, instead offering us cinema gold, like a scene wherein a werewolf wields a baseball bat and beats a man to death. Or when an entire church procession transforms into wolves. Speaking of, the flick boasts an impressive beast, twisting some of the typical werewolf visuals, like having a gigantic snout, to tremendous effect.

Children of the Corn (1984)

The movie: On their way to Seattle to start their new life, young couple Vicky and Burt (Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton) make an ill-fated stop in a small Nebraskan town. With its empty storefronts and run-down homes, Gaitlin appears to be abandoned, and there’s a good reason why. The pair encounter a group of creepy youngsters who are soon revealed to be working on behalf of a religious cult that serves a deity known as “He Who Walks Behind The Rows.” Not creepy at all. 

What it got right: With its endless stream of direct-to-video sequels, the original Children of the Corn often gets missed from best Stephen King movies lists. This sleek Midwestern slasher is surprisingly tense despite so much of its action happening in the sun-kissed cornfields during daytime.

1408 (2008)

The movie: Mike Enslin (John Cusack) spends his life debunking supposed paranormal occurrences, so he isn’t particularly fazed when he rocks up to his next assignment. The supposedly haunted room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel may sound like just another tourist trap, but when the manager – a superb Samuel L. Jackson – dubs it “f****** evil”, Enslin begins to consider whether the rumours are true.

What it got right: In 2008, King's influence over the big screen was waning. But director Mikael Håfström reminds us how it should be done, stuffing 1408 full of atmosphere and grisly discoveries. The ending may be a letdown, but this is an effective jumper with a handful of decent twists and turns.

Hearts in Atlantis (2001)

The movie: Nabbing its name from a collection of novellas, Hearts in Atlantis adapts the story Low Men in Yellow Coats, which – as King completists will know – has a direct connection to his Dark Tower mythology. Although, you wouldn’t know it based on this film that eschews the sly winks of connectivity for a standalone tale surrounding the mysterious Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), who moves into town, and changes the lives of young Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his mother forever.

What it got right: The casting of Anthony Hopkins adds an extra layer of mystery (and inherent menace) to a character that could have been twee in the hands of a lesser talent. Emotionally complex and moving, this is one of the more low-key King adaptations – that doesn’t boast a mess of blood and guts – and it's all the better for it.

Christine (1983)

The movie: Based on a doorstopper of a book, Christine is a favourite among fans despite its lukewarm critical reception. Like the novel, the movie follows uber-nerd Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon), who isn’t exactly popular, living vicariously through his jock best friend Dennis (John Stockwell). But after Arnie eyes up a dilapidated ‘58 Plymouth tagged Christine, which may have a few secrets hiding under the hood, his life takes an interesting turn.

What it got right: There's a pulpy charm to John Carpenter's haunted vehicle pic, with the auteur's characteristic focus on, er, characters keeping the engine purring nicely. Carpenter's score is also another streamlined beauty. The best film about a haunted car you're ever likely to see. Take that, Transformers.

Firestarter (1984)

The movie: A shady organisation offers college students serious cash to participate in experiments where they are dosed with a hallucinogen. Andy and Vicky (David Keith and Heather Locklear) meet during these sessions and it’s only afterwards they realise they’ve acquired skills: he can change people’s will and she can read minds. Once their young daughter Charlie (Drew Barrymore) turns 9, she exhibits pyro-kinetic abilities: she can start fires with her mind. Once “The Shop” – the agency behind the experiments – realises, they’ll do anything to capture her...

What it got right: Casting Barrymore, hot off E.T., as the young Charlie is a masterstroke and it’s largely her performance that makes this early ‘80s thriller worth a watch. A mish-mash of King’s tried-and-tested subjects – telekinetic ability in young women, paranoia, and shady government projects – Firestarter’s a blast. 

The Running Man (1987)

The movie: The one where Arnie wears lycra. In a post-apocalyptic future, it’s hard to tell where the government ends and pop culture begins. Convicts compete on a reality TV show where they must run to escape the clutches of Gladiator-like opponents. Not for fun, you see, but in order to avoid being horribly butchered by these professional hitmen. Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former cop set-up by the government, is one contestant whose only chance of freedom is to endure the savagery of the arena.

What it got right: Its premise was light-years ahead of its time (Hunger Games, anyone?) and director Paul Michael Glaser did well to bag an on-the-rise Schwarzenegger as his profanity-screaming hero. Sure, it's B-movie schlock at heart, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Creepshow (1982)

The movie: Not a straight-up adaptation, per se, as the author penned the original script as an homage to EC Comics. Two of the tales told in Creepshow, “Weeds” and “The Crate”, are both based on short stories, while the rest of the gore-soaked vignettes are new. The subsequent film gave us this collection of five stories to chill the spine, all courtesy of King and director George A. Romero.

What it got right: Its ambition is up there, by trying to achieve that same sensation of what it’s like to actually read a comic, by throwing up interstitial comic panels between segments. And let’s not forget the biggest win of all: uniting those two prolific horror names, of course. If the end result isn't quite as earth-shaking as you were hoping, there's always the thrill of having King and Romero together in the opening credits.

Pet Sematary (1989)

The movie: Based on the most shock-filled, horrific novels of King’s career, the big screen version pulls no punches either, choosing to delight in the terror of the Creed family’s predicament. Having moved cross country into a new home, the family soon learn that the ground near their abode is “sour.” When the family cat Church dies, dad Louis (Dale Midkiff) decides to bury it in a cemetery near their residence, starting a chain reaction of events that begin when it comes back to life...

What it got right: Director Mary Lambert isn't afraid to shove the gore up front and centre with this grizzly offering, a film that goes to surprising extremes, not least in the dead kid department. Like all good King pics, it’s unnerving in all the right places.

The Mist (2007)

The movie: Artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane)’s day starts like any other. He works on a few pieces, then heads out to the store, waving a casual goodbye to his wife before hitting the road. And then, everything promptly goes to hell. He holes up in a supermarket with a mixed assortment of townsfolk when a freak storm descends on his town, bringing with it godforsaken nasties.

What it got right: Director Frank Darabont's third stab at a King text resulted in this rip-your-own-eyes-out-because-its-just-that-depressing mood-killer. The atmosphere is palpable, Marcia Gay Harden gleefully cuts everybody around her down with poisonous barbs, and the finale will haunt you for days. It’s still hard to believe that the ending was even approved by the studio heads...

1922 (2017)

The movie: A truly surprising adaptation that burns slow until revealing its horrific underbelly. In 1922, Nebraska Wilf James (Thomas Jane) struggles to deal with his wife Arlette’s (Molly Parker) aspirations. After inheriting a large plot of land, her plan is to sell it so they can move to the city with their son. Wilf, a rancher at heart, is reviled by her plans, so plots to kill her and ropes in their kid to help. This is not your typical King adaptation.

What it got right: Forget the slobbery and evil beasts that you might expect from King – 1922 isn’t concerned with an outside source of villainy. Instead, the movie looks towards the darkness inside men and what they can be driven to do. Plus: you’ll do a double take when you realise that that totally is Thomas Jane. 

The Green Mile (1999)

The movie: Less emphasis on obvious horror, The Green Mile hews closer to Shawshank Redemption (more on that later). Outside of the obvious prison comparisons, it shares thematic similarities, dabbling with the good verses evil of men. Gentle giant John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is on Death Row, but as he gets to know the guards, in particular Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), and they learn of his unusual powers, their opinions of him begin to change. 

What it got right: In short, heartstring-pluckage. Long-time King fan Frank Darabont handles the source material with obvious reverence, and his film is a tender, moving portrait of miscarried justice. Great performances, too.

The Dead Zone (1983)

The movie: Happy and in love, New England school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) heads home from a date with his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and has a horrific car accident. When he wakes up from a coma five years later, he discovers that he's developed psychic abilities: with a mere touch he can learn a person’s secrets and details about their future. Skyrocketing to fame due to his skills, he becomes an unwitting overnight celebrity. Mind-bogglingly on point is Martin Sheen’s character, the right-wing politico with ambitions to kick start World War Three. 

What it got right: Telekinesis as body horror? With director David Cronenberg on hand, that's what we get here, though the gore and violence is notably more restrained compared to the filmmkaer's other work. There’s also Christopher Walken playing manic like only he can. Delicious.

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The movie: Undoubtedly a King adaptation that will continue to garner more fans with age. When she's accused of killing her old employer, a senile millionairess, Dolores Claiborne's (Kathy Bates) estranged daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) returns home to help. But as the case proceeds, flashbacks abound, stirring up long-buried secrets that reveal the brutality of their lives.

What it got right: Five years after she blew our minds as Annie in Misery, Kathy Bates nails it with another King property, bringing her A-game as the eponymous Dolores. Convincing as both the old and young Dolores, Bates wraps her tongue around some fantastic lines and manages to earn genuine empathy. An overlooked classic.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The movie: It’s hard to believe Frank Darabont's film was a flop in cinemas, but this modern classic found its audience on home entertainment, with King fans and non-King fans alike lapping up this tale of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker wrongly charged with double homicide. He befriends Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman), and a handful of other inmates, yet it’s his ambitious goal to break out of prison, which serves as the main driving force. As fans will attest, this is more than a mere 'prison break' movie. 

What it got right: If the film’s two leading turns aren’t enough to satiate your movie needs, then what of the film’s central lesson, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’”? What's not to love about this movie?

Misery (1990)

The movie: Considering King cranks out a lot of books featuring authors as the main character, it’s quite a feat that he barely retreads the same terrain. Take Misery, for example: a tense, nerves-shot-to-hell horror that puts the writer in a very unfortunate position. After a horrific car crash, author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is rescued by his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Convalescing at her home, Sheldon soon realises that fans aren't always the nicest of people and would quite like to completely take over his life. 

What it got right: Hiring Kathy Bates, for a start. As the hobblesome fanatic, she's terrifyingly believable not least when lurching from crazy-happy to plain crazy-crazy. It's a testament to director Rob Reiner that the single-location ploy doesn't get stale, too, in fact, it aids the tense, claustrophobia Paul experiences when trying to escape Annie’s clutches. 


From The Shining to The Mist