Top 10 Best Stephen King Films

By Parker Otto

Just two years after Stephen King released his first novel, “Carrie,” in 1974, a film adaptation, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek, was made. Ever since, the works of Stephen King have been adapted into various films, television series and miniseries. This includes four films with 2019 release dates: “Pet Sematary,” “It: Chapter Two,” “In the Tall Grass” and “Doctor Sleep.” So, just after “It: Chapter Two’s” release, here are the 10 best films based on King’s work.


10. “It” (2017)

Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, “It” takes place in 1989 and focuses on a group of young children known as the Losers Club who have to endure the torment of a mysterious, shape-shifting demon, known as It, that can turn into their deepest fears.

The characters are well defined, the scares are simultaneously terrifying and hilarious and Bill Skarsgård gives a million percent as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It’s favorite form.

“It” became the highest grossing horror film of all time, with a box office gross of over 700 million dollars, according to Box Office Mojo. The film also serves as a reboot of the iconic 1990 miniseries, and with the film’s sequel released Sept. 6, it’s clear that “It” has become a staple of popular culture.

9. “Carrie” (1976)

As stated earlier, “Carrie” was the first film based on King’s work and, with a tragic and haunting story, showed the world just how effective King was both on the page and on the screen. “Carrie” focuses on the titular teenage girl, played by Sissy Spacek, who is bullied at school by her peers and at home by her fanatically religious mother, played by Piper Laurie.

However, Carrie begins to discover that she possesses telekinesis and tries to learn more about her powers. But when her peers push her too far on prom night, Carrie goes on an iconic rampage.

The film’s biggest accomplishment is how it creates sympathy for the tortured protagonist which makes her fall even more tragic. Director Brian De Palma also utilized split screen technology for the climax, which helps boost the uncomfortable atmosphere that looms over the entire film. 

8. “Pet Sematary” (2019)

While the 1989 adaptation of King’s novel is a horror masterpiece, the 2019 remake contains a level of atmosphere that keeps the viewer constantly nervous. “Pet Sematary” follows a family that lives near land that can bring the dead back to life, but evokes dark consequences for those who try to meddle with nature.

Every frame feels organic and invasive and serves to make the viewer uncomfortable. The film also makes changes to the original story that both enhance the plot and keeps those who have seen the original film or read the book on their toes.

With a great performance by John Lithgow as Jud Crandall and an adaption from a novel that Stephen King himself was afraid to publish, “Pet Sematary” reminds those who watch it that “sometimes dead is better.”

7. “The Mist”

Based on a 1980 novella by King, writer/director Frank Darabont took one of King’s lesser known works and, with a much darker ending, transformed it into a heartbreaking, character driven drama.

“The Mist” tells the story of a town plagued by dark creatures after a mist consumes the town.Held up in a grocery store, a group of survivors have to deal with something more terrifying than the creatures outside: themselves. The film contains a strong sense of character and never sacrifices storytelling which separates this film from most horror films.

6. “1408”

Telling the story of a writer, played by John Cusack, trapped in a haunted hotel room, “1408” is a pure trip into madness. The film displays psychological torment in the most uncomfortable way, and the viewer shares the pain the protagonist goes through.

This room is almost like a character thanks to the strong atmosphere the film projects. “1408” is like King’s version of “Inception” with the viewer, at times, not knowing what the difference is between fantasy and reality. 

5. “Stand By Me”

“Stand By Me” tells the story of four young boys, played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell and Corey Feldman, going into the woods to find a dead kid’s body. Despite the morbid concept, “Stand By Me” is one of the greatest coming of age films ever.

This is due to the fantastic screenplay based on Stephen King’s novella “The Body” and the strong performances by the main actors. Director Rob Riener could have easily made the film a simple dive into 50s nostalgia, but instead chose to portray the childhood of these four characters in a realistic manner. “Stand By Me” balances the innocence and hard truths these characters face, which makes it among the greatest films based on Stephen King.

4. “The Green Mile”

The second Frank Darabont film to appear on the list, “The Green Mile” stars Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard responsible for death row. When a gentle giant prisoner, played by Micheal Clarke Duncan, is scheduled to be executed for a horrific crime, Edgecomb begins to question his place in life.

While containing King’s trademark supernatural elements, the film mainly tells a grounded story of love and hope. Clarke Duncan’s performance is magnetic and makes this film worth a watch.

3. “Misery”

This film essentially shows every writer’s worst nightmare. Author Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan, has his life saved by nurse Annie Wilkes, played by Kathy Bates, following a brutal car accident. Annie happens to be the “number one fan” of Sheldon’s book series centered on misery. But after she reads the latest book where her favorite character dies, Annie goes off the deep end and proceeds to make Sheldon’s life miserable.

Director Rob Reiner of “Stand By Me” perfectly reflects the isolation of Sheldon and creates a thriller Alfred Hitchcock would envy. “Misery” remains the only Stephen King film to have won an Oscar for Kathy Bates’ performance and this film absolutely earned that gold statue.

2. “The Shining”

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s novel is notoriously hated by King, who took issue with the film’s deviation from the source material and the depiction of Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson.

Despite this hatred from the author, “The Shining” is one of the finest horror films of all time from one of the greatest directors of all time. From the opening shot, this film is determined to keep the viewer in a constant state of suspense. Technically masterful and enjoyably uncomfortable, “The Shining” will keep anyone who views it up all night in terror.

1. “The Shawshank Redemption”

The first of three King adaptations by Frank Darabont, “The Shawshank Redemption” is one of the most iconic films of all time. It tells the story of Andy Dufrense, played by Tim Robbins, who is sent to prison for murder. While there, Andy suffers as a result of the harsh warden, abusive guards and is sexually assaulted by a gang of prisoners. But with the help of fellow prisoner Red, played by Morgan Freeman, Andy finds hope within the prison walls.

While the novella “Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is a fine story, the film is a massive upgrade with its developed characters and strong dialogue. Every scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” is so strong that one could start watching from any point in the film and it would keep the interest of the viewer. It’s one of the finest films ever made and it’s the greatest film based on a work by Stephen King.