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Top 10 Best Stephen King Movies

Top 10 Best Stephen King Movies
He’s the master of horror, but sometimes also the master of drama. Never has the quality of adaptation of an author’s work varied so widely – his books have been turned into truly wretched films (‘Graveyard Shift’, ‘Maximum Overdrive’) and bona fide classics. Here are the top 10 best Stephen King movies ever made.

10. The Running Man

Loosely based on King’s novel, ‘The Running Man’ sees criminals in the near future trying to escape death on Live TV. It’s the ultimate 80s movie with Schwarzenegger caught in a net, stripped of his Hawaiian shirt and thrown into an arena to take on various mad dog wrestlers with lethal ‘powers’ such as deadly ice hockey or the ability to fire electricity bolts and sing opera. Arnie dispatches them with the help of some incredible one-liners – why did those have to go out of fashion? ‘The Running Man’ is also a commentary on voyeuristic TV, which becomes ever more accurate with every passing year.

9. Secret Window

A personal preference, ‘Secret Window’ is essentially a Johnny Depp one man show, and there’s no one more entertaining to spend time with. It’s the perfect movie if you’ve ever sat down to write a screenplay or a novel, it nails what the process is like and presents the lifestyle I’d personally love to live (‘near total isolation’ – check). Maybe without the murders. John Turturro turns up on Depp’s door accusing him of plagiarism and it leads to his life unraveling. The twist at the end is a bit old, but it’s still fun to see it play out.

8. The Green Mile

A great movie that would have stood taller were it not overshadowed by other Stephen King prison drama ‘The Shawshank Redemption’. ‘The Green Mile’ is strong character work mixed with gruesome executions. Never has a sponge looked more sinister. It’s also quite a depressing exercise as it essentially involves a series of nice people being put to death:

7. The Dead Zone

David Cronenberg + Stephen King + Christopher Walken. Now that’s a formula. Walken is at his unpredictable-nervous-tick best in this story of a schoolteacher who awakens from a coma to find he has psychic powers. He can see anyone’s past, present and future with just a touch – so the tormented Walken sets out to assassinate Martin Sheen before he can become a dangerous U.S. President. In the end he only delayed it until ‘The West Wing’.

6. Carrie

While not a particular favourite of mine, ‘Carrie’ was the first Stephen King novel to be published, the first to be adapted into a feature film, and it opened to much critical acclaim. Sissy Spacek plays the socially outcast girl who discovers her telekinetic powers after going through puberty. When the teasing from her peers, including John Travolta, gets too much she snaps and goes on a murderous rampage. Personally if I was the prankster at her prom I wouldn’t have chosen a bucket of blood, it’s low on laughs. A good wedgie would have done it.

5. IT

TV mini-series technically, but the production values are up there with most theatrical releases anyway. Tim Curry may be a cheeseball now but he gives an amazingly dark and haunting performance as Pennywise The Clown, a demon tormenting a set of children. Stephen King’s work often focuses on a group of kids and then jumps those characters into adulthood to have them revisit their roots – ‘It’ proves what a powerful and poignant story telling device that can be.

4. Stand By Me

The ultimate coming of age film, that taps into everything a boy wants a boy’s adventure to be all about. Richard Dreyfuss is the writer recalling the time in his childhood he and his three friends set off to find a body, in the hopes it would make them famous. I myself once found a dead body with my siblings and it set off a day of adventure, that included us hiding from a police boat, ‘Stand By Me’ makes that day seem much more innocent and nostalgic than it might otherwise have appeared.

3. Misery

What makes Kathy Bates so frightening in this movie is that we’ve all met someone who’s kinda like her – a fanatical personality with no sense of humour, no love in her life and an unbreakable moral code that’s not firmly attached to reality – the horror feels quite plausible. Let’s hope Stephanie Meyer never takes a tumble in her car and needs rescuing. Kathy Bates won an Oscar and James Caan gives arguably the best performance of his career too, especially considering he can’t tell her what he’s really thinking and so has to communicate it to us through other nuances.

2. The Shawshank Redemption

Flip a coin between this and the number 1 for the top spot. Comparing the two movies is like chalk and cheese anyway, they are both top of their respective genres. ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ has been voted the best movie ever made on IMDB and it’s hard to argue with that, but I just did. The wiser Morgan Freeman seems, the better the movie, and here’s he is at 100% wisdom. An amazing story of hope and triumph against the system, this feels like it could have been made in 40s, 50s, 60s, it’s timeless cinema at its very best.

1. The Shining

Ok, so Kubrick did alter it a great deal from the book (so much so that King himself hated the film) but the core elements remained. Arguably the most frightening horror movie ever made, ‘The Shining’ remains just as powerful today because of how unique it is. Kubrick’s visual style is so distinctive that other horror directors don’t seem to want to go near it and the incredibly effective techniques have rarely, if ever, been imitated. It was as if Kubrick invented a whole new, brilliant language for horror cinema that no one picked up on. That’s what leaves ‘The Shining’ a cut above every other film here.

Honourable Mentions
The Mist, 1408, Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, The Stand, Children Of The Corn, Storm Of The Century

Which do you think are the best Stephen King movies? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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  • stevenlecter said

    thanks bro for the hub. Appreciate it. I’m still confused that i shud buy shawshanks redemption ….is it a movie worth watching based on the plot or the characters ??

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  • Selene Borealis said

    Good list!

    ‘It’ got me scared of clowns my whole childhood. I still own an original copy of the movie and I still love it.

    The Shining was also scary. Will not forget the twins and the word REDRUM. Ü

    I loved 1408 too, The Green Mile, Rose Red, Pet Sematary, Firestarter (the 1st one with Drew Barrymore), and The Langoliers.

    I found some movies silly, like Running Man (well at least during this era), The Mist, and Salem’s Lot.

    Oh and I would love to see a remake of Sleepwalkers. I think modern special effects and 3D would give the book more justice…

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  • Liz Gonzalez said

    I definitely think The Green Mile should have been higher up on the list. Perhaps not one of his scariest films, but the acting is amazing and it’s probably one of the best adaptions as far as King movies go, besides Shawshank. The Mist, though great with the effects, wasn’t that great, in my opinion (although their shout-out to The Dark Tower and Roland almost made me like it). However much it pains me to say this because I’m a huge King fan, this list could probably have been cut down to Top 5 without losing anything, because frankly most King movies aren’t very good. I think it’s the writing, because all of his books are character-driven and very psychological, something that film can’t seem to create. It’s nobody’s fault, but let’s face it, King’s novels mix with movie adaption like water mixes with oil.

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  • Joker said

    Very good list. Just get ready to modify it when Dark Tower hits theater’s.

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  • sylvia said

    I thank the stand is the best stephen king ever but I LUV all stephen kings movies.

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  • angie said

    I just got done reading The Regulators and I think Steven King should make it into a movie. It would make a great movie sort of like sci fi but more cruesome.

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  • theresa said

    strom of the century was the chillest

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  • lacey G said

    books r better then movies

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  • Jonny D said

    I can’t believe no one commented on the lack of Pet Sematary in this list that was by far one of his best adaptations next to The Shining. Back when I was a kid we used to have season tickets to the Red Sox and Stephen King sat in the seat right in front of us. I think he still has the same seats near third base. Too bad we don’t get those anymore haha. Sometimes if your walking through Boston you will run into him. My friend saw him on the street before. Hes always out and about in the city. Anyways though I can’t believe no one mentioned Pet Sematary I love that movie.

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  • Geo said

    My top 5 King stories-to-films are, in order of release:

    The Shining
    The Dead Zone
    The Mist

    There are a lot of other ones that I like, but these are my 5.

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  • AGCG said

    Is there any truth to what I thought to be a factoid; that the studio tried to sell The Lawnmower Man with King’s name until he demanded it be taken out? There’s no relation in context, character or story line between King’s short and the film(s) . . . so never really believed it.

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    • Sheridan Passell said
      Sheridan Passell

      According to Wikipedia –

      “Despite the fact that the film was originally titled Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man, the film bears very little resemblance to the short story. King successfully sued the producers for attaching his name to the film and stated in court documents that the film “bore no meaningful resemblance” to his story.”

      As lawsuits go, this is a pretty reasonable claim. I think the lawnmower prop is about the only connection between the movie and the short story I read.

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      • AGCG said

        OK. To whoever it was that told me this way-back-yonder, sorry for calling it a factoid . . .Jack.

        Do agree with a lot of the comments that state King’s books are a hard task for screen-writers/directors to put on screen since much of the content of the original stories is dealt with internally and almost impossible to put on screen without soliloquy, which is a tad gammy.

        IT always disappointed. Always knocks me out of the film when it comes to the end scenes. Something about the monster/demon and the set-up that I find childish (considering the story, probably meant that way).

        The Long Walk would be a tester (if it hasn’t already been done).

        Great list but, for sticking with “context” and King-liness, should Running Man have been even in the 10 spot? Great action film of its self but doesn’t have the Authors tag on it (in my opinion).

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  • dan said

    stephen king rocks. great mind great ability to tell a story.

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  • sutapa said

    Please help me with the name of that Stephen King movie where the author of a novel is transported to the town of his own creation and there is a scene where an old lady is seen riding a bicycle with cards on its wheel spokes.

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    • Andromeda said

      I think you’re describing Needful Things.
      Dolores Claiborne was a pretty good movie. I remember hearing years back that Gerald’s Game would be made into a movie; that would be interesting.
      Also, I agree that The Regulators (along with Desperation) meet the requirements for a possible really good movie.

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  • Sam said

    I’m glad that Pet Sematary was an honorable mention. That movie was one of my favorites.

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  • John said

    Pet Sematary
    Sometimes They Come Back
    Apt Pupil
    The Stand
    Salems Lot
    Children Of The Corn

    King is genius!

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