THE BEST AND WORST STEPHEN KING MOVIES: THEATRICAL AND DIRECT-TO-VIDEO
With the new Carrie released, I haven't seen it yet, but, as something fun for Halloween this year, I thought it might be interesting to rate all the Stephen King movies I have seen.The following list contains my rankings for most of Stephen King's stories translated to film..This list of theatrical and direct-to-video films doesn't include The Mangler, The Night Flyer, Riding the Bullet, or Dolan's Cadillac because I haven't seen them.The average person probably isn't even aware of them, and even if I had seen them, I would be utterly surprised if they changed the top half of this list in the slightest!
This list also doesn't include anything made for TV.That's another whole list, with titles such as the miniseries of The Stand and It, and full-blown TV series like The Dead Zone and Under the Dome.
I put this list in order from Best to Worst, rather than the the usual Worst to Best, because that's the way I wrote it:
1. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTIONKnown mostly for his ghouls and ghosts, rabid dogs and evil cars, people with powers and dark demonic things, some of King's best material, especially when translated to film, are his stories that don't contain any supernatural elements.The best Stephen King movie ever made was this tale about a prisoner who continues to hang on to hope, centered by two wonderful performances by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.If you have not seen this movie, do yourself a favor and see it!It's not just one of the best Stephen King movies:It's one of the best movies period!
2. MISERYKathy Bates will make a chill run down your spine!A famous writer played by James Caan has grown tired of his romance character Misery Chastain, and has decided to kill her off and write something the critics will actually like.When he suffers a freak accident in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, he's "rescued" by his "number one fan", Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, who plays nursemaid to him while she reads his latest book and picks up a paperback copy of the latest Misery novel.Disliking his unpublished book, she forces him to destroy it, but that's nothing compared to her rage when she discovers her favorite writer has killed off her favorite character!Annie Wilkes is a nightmare character, and Kathy Bates brought her to chilling life.Wait till you see what she's able to do with a few straps, a block of wood, and a sledgehammer, all in the name of "love"!This is one of the best thrillers of the last few decades!
3. THE GREEN MILE
Only the third movie on this list and we already have another Stephen King prison movie!Michael Clarke Duncan is wonderful as the big, strapping, simple and docile character of John Coffey, in prison for supposedly killing two little girls.Before the end, he reveals a miraculous power to Tom Hanks' character Paul Edgecomb and the other guards of the "mile" that saves many, including the Warden's wife, a little mouse named Mr. Jingles, and Paul, but still isn't quite miraculous enough to dispel the horrible evil that surrounds them all, particularly a cruel guard named Percy Wetmore and a frantically evil inmate named "Wild Bill" Wharton.
As I said, I haven't seen the new movie, but the old one starring Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie is a classic of the genre, and is the one that really helped to kick-start Stephen King's career.Screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and director Brian De Palma changed the story to make it infinitely more cinematic, and it paid off handsomely.Without the advent of CGI, De Palma foregoes normal effects for practical magic and camera trickery, employing inventive filmic devices such as slow motion, split screen, sound, and cinematography, as well as great writing and performances, especially from Spacek and Laurie, to make this first version of the tale about a picked-upon girl who unleashes a deadly telekinetic force upon her tormentors unforgettable!
5. STAND BY ME
Another simpler tale with no supernatural elements, centering around the final childhood days of four friends; Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell).The four young boys give outstanding performances in this tale of their weekend adventure to find the dead body of another boy, rumored to have been hit by a train.Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss as the grown-up Gordie, there's not a bit of it that rings false. There's humor mixed with nostalgia, tragedy, and a great story about a pie eating contest that turns into a huge puke-a-thon!What's not to like?
6. THE SHINING
Real King fans consider this version of The Shining to be more Stanley Kubrick than Stephen King, and they'd be right.However, despite the drastic changes made from the novel, director Kubrick does an excellent job of deepening the claustrophobic terror of the hotel with all its ghosts and secrets, including the over-the-top performances from Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Cruthers, and all the ghosts and spooks of the now infamous Overlook, including the creepy woman in the tub and those two disturbing little ghost girls! The soundtrack, most of which comes from Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, is one of the creepiest you're ever likely to hear for any horror film, and goes a long way towards heightening the tension and the creep factor!
7. THE DEAD ZONE
This is one of director David Cronenberg's best, and most subdued, films.It also happens to be one of Christopher Walken's best performances.The story centers around Johnny Smith, a small town English teacher who is thrown into a five year coma when his little Volkswagen bug collides with an oil tanker, and when he wakes, he suddenly has the ability of second sight.Already grieving over the fact that he's lost five years and that the love of his life has moved on with a family of her own, his ability seems to be sucking the life out of him, yet he still uses it to help the local sheriff track down a serial killer and save a little boy from a horrible accident.Then he happens to shake hands with a ruthless presidential hopeful and sees the destruction of the world.What's a disillusioned psychic to do now?The low-key soundtrack music and "Norman Rockwell" look manage to make this quieter little thriller a real treat!
John Cusack's character of writer Mike Enslin makes his meager living debunking haunted motels and hotels.He's a writer of true-to-life ghosts and hauntings that doesn't believe in such things anymore, if he ever did.The scariest thing he ever sees in any of these drab, ho-hum travel accommodations is the bill.When he comes across the rumors and internet chatter surrounding the famously haunted room 1408 from New York's Dolphin Hotel, he treats it the same as all the others, even though he's been warned that people usually don't even last an hour in there.He just no longer believes in ghosts.What he discovers is that he should.There really ARE ghosts, and this hotel room IS haunted, and he'll be lucky to survive an hour, if he can get out!The tensions and scares, and psychological mind games, come fast and furious.If you're looking for a good ghost story for Halloween, this one is certainly one of the scariest, and without being too gruesome and bloody!
9. SECRET WINDOW
"You stole my story!"It's an accusation that country bumpkin John Shooter (John Turturro) makes to Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), and an accusation that writers sometimes have to deal with: Crazy people coming out of the woodwork to claim authorship for past books, and to accuse the writer of plagiarism, a very serious charge among the publishing crowd.In this case, the accuser won't leave it alone, even when Mort obtains proof.And yet these two share a secret past that will eventually be revealed, and it's one of those delicious twists that allow for additional viewings.Although it's one of his less "showy" roles, Johnny Depp gives a fine performance.
10. DOLORES CLAIBORNE
This is feminist literature presented as an unassuming Stephen King chiller.Kathy Bates once again takes center stage as the title character, the put-upon Dolores Claiborne, who had already been accused of the murder of her abusive husband Joe years ago, and now stands accused of the murder of the pompous woman she's been caring for since then, Vera Donavan.Facing a world of arrogant, powerful men all her life, from her no-good husband to the bank manager who lets Joe empty her bank account to Det. John Mackey, who would like nothing more than to see Dolores behind bars, she manages to stand up to each and every one of them.Along the way, despite some somewhat strained relationships, she finds common ground with the other women in her life, be it the haughty Vera or her own chain-smoking, depressed daughter Selena.All concerned give great performances, from Kathy Bates as Dolores to Judy Parfitt as Vera, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Selena, David Strathairn as Joe, Christopher Plummer as Det. Mackey, John C. Reilly as the local constable (the only man sympathetic to Dolores in the whole movie), and Ellen Muth as a young Selena.
11. APT PUPIL
Falling just outside the top ten, this is still a riveting tale about the alluring nature of evil.A young boy and straight-A student named Todd Bowden becomes obsessed with the Nazi's and World War II after reading about them for school, and then discovers a former Nazi war criminal just happens to be a neighbor.Blackmailing the old man, he forces him to recount horror stories about the concentration camps and the horrible deaths they metered out upon the Jews and other 'inferiors" they rounded up, until he winds up awakening an evil that had been asleep for a long, long time, and soon this student finds himself in so deep, he may not be able to find his way back out.It's a tale about the dangers of playing with fire, and the masks we all wear, no matter who we may be!
I'm with King on this one.Although it fell just outside my top ten, and garnered some negative reviews from film critics and other writers, Stephen King himself has indicated that he liked this film adaptation.Many years ago, when some of my brother's kids were in their teen years, I showed them a double creature feature of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Lewis Teague's Cujo.They were actually bored by the Hitchcock classic, but found Cujo quite terrifying!The beginning of the movie is all a slow build with a lot of elements that might play better in a Soap Opera or a made-for-TV movie for the Lifetime Channel.But I still found the characters well drawn, and the build up was good, with Cujo contracting rabies and getting steadily worse, and the main characters' families starting to disintegrate.After killing his owner, Cujo then lays siege upon a mother and her young son, stuck in a stalled car in the middle of a distant farmyard in the "dog days" of August.I thought the way the director built up the tension in that car was handled with expert aplomb.
13. PET SEMATARY
Okay, this IS Stephen King, the Modern Master of Horror, we're talking about here.So you want scary, huh?This movie delivers, and then some!King was once asked what scared him the most, and the answer was to lose one of his young children.In the book, which was a real page turner, he wrote to that fear.What could be worse than losing a child?How about having that child come back, as something dark and wicked, that looks like that child, but is actually something that isn't human, something totally malevolent and evil?How about not only losing your child, but having to kill that child - or, that is to say, a vile demon thing disguised as that child?The acting in the movie, especially early on, from any of them, isn't always the best here (Blaze Berdahl as young Ellie Creed is one of the whiniest little actors you're ever likely to see), and the pacing is strained, keeping the film from breaking into the top ten, yet the film hints at the horror to come when the family cat comes back, and after a tragic middle act sets up the ending, it's both terrifying and tragic at the same time, with at least one very shocking death at the hands of the nasty little tyke who comes back!
This is the evil car one, and we're starting to get into the territory now where the book was definitely better.Some of the changes they made for this movie didn't do a whole lot for the story.Still, Alexandra Paul was a knockout as Leigh Cabot, John Stockwell was interesting as the best friend Dennis, and Keith Gordon gave a memorable performance as Arnie, the geek who becomes transformed once he buys an old, beat up 1958 Plymouth Fury painted red, named Christine, and begins falling in love with her. John Carpenter, after successes with the theatrical horror films Halloween, The Fog, and The Thing, showed that he was still in fine form for this film about a demonic car.She's hell on wheels!
Stephen King loves horror.That's one reason he writes so much about it.He knows the classic old stories like "The Monkey's Paw" and "The Lottery", and the classic writers like Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and the classics of the film genre as well, from the old Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur films of the 40's to Roger Corman cheapies and the Hammer studio films of the 50's and 60's, and the film magazines that went with them, such as Famous Monsters of Filmland and Fangoria.And going right along with all of that is the old EC Horror Comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror.Long before HBO made a (rather vulgar) series out of Tales from the Crypt, King teamed up with director George Romero to make this film as a loving tribute to those old horror stories about revenge and perfect comeuppance.The comic book style here is right on target, and it has yet to be beat, and the six tales told here (including the wrap-around tale about a little boy and a voodoo doll) seem to be right out of the pages of one of those old comic books.If you're a fan of horror, especially those old horror comics, and have not seen this original Creepshowmovie, what are you waiting for?
Yes, the book was better.And given some of the acting caliber here, such as George C. Scott, Art Carney, Louise Fletcher, and Martin Sheen, I guess I was expecting more.The story is still interesting, and I liked the relationship between Drew Barrymore as young Charlie McGee and David Keith as her father Andy, on the run from a government agency who wants to exploit her fire making mental abilities.Yet compared with the book, it falls flat.Many scenes were full of wild shlock and bad acting, and the screenplay had major problems with plots and characters, even with such a good book as a blueprint.In the end, though, it does deliver with some action and some fantastic fire stunts.It was just okay as it was, though it's far from the best.If it were ever remade with some better acting and a better script, it could be quite a good movie!
17. THE RUNNING MAN
Who'd have ever thought that a Schwarzenegger action film would ever come from the mind of Stephen King?Writing as "Richard Bachman", Stephen King wrote this early story about futuristic gladiators fighting a televised battle to the death for ratings.On a role, the powers that be thought this would be the perfect vehicle for Arnold Schwarzeneggerand they were right!Adding a sleazy Richard Dawson as the game show host of "The Running Man" was a bit of a clever stroke.When Arnold spouts his trademark line, "I'll be back," Dawson counters him with "Only in a rerun."It's all cheesy 80's sci fi/action, but as such, it shows Schwarzenegger smack-dab in the middle of his action film heyday!
18. SILVER BULLET
It's actually sad to see what eventually became of some of these young gifted actors from Stephen King movies!The very talented River Phoenix of Stand by Me and Brad Renfro of Apt Pupil both died very young of drug overdoses, and the same thing happened to the very gifted Corey Haim, who plays the young, wheelchair bound Marty in this film about a brother and sister on the trail of a werewolf, based on the heavily illustrated novelette Cycle of the Werewolf.The film isn't as good as An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, in either tension, scares, or effects, but what it lacks in these areas it tends to make up for in the acting.Not only Haim and, surprisingly, Gary Busey as the weird ol' Uncle Red, but Megan Follows as Marty's sister Jane did a wonderful job in this cheesy genre piece, long before taking up the title role of Anne of Green Gables. Not the scariest movie you're ever likely to see, but this was still a pretty good werewolf film.
19. NEEDFUL THINGS
This film was a bit of a mess.Edited down to 120 minutes for the theatrical release, it severely gutted the story.I've since seen the expanded 183 minute version on TV with most of the edited stuff added back in, and it was almost like I was watching a different movie.It finally made sense!So I do recommend this movie about a mysterious man who opens a curio shop in a small New England town, but only the longer version.It's something akin to Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes," and Max von Sydow brings an unnerving presence as the shopkeeper Leland Gaunt.As a quieter piece, it's able to sustain an interesting story and mood, but only in the extended cut.Bonus points:The fight between the two women Nettie and Wilma, played by Amanda Plummer and Valri Bromfield, is one of the best knock-down, drag-out fights between two women in cinema history!
20. CAT'S EYE
This one came out shortly after Creepshow and Firestarter, forever linked with those two movies for being another Stephen King horror vignette, and starring Drew Barrymore.The three tales here are more low-key than the ghouls, ghosts, cockroaches, and vicious things in crates from Creepshow.The first is a black comedy about a guy who wants to stop smoking, and enters a facility fronted by the mob.The second is about a cheating tennis player who is forced to walk around the ledge of a skyscraper by his lover's jealous husband.And the third is about a little girl menaced by a breath-stealing troll.There is some enjoyment in these Stephen King tales, and the production is just enough to make it rise above the single King segments of other vignette movies like Tales From the Darkside: The Movie and Quicksilver Highway, or single episodes of such shows as Monstersand The Outer Limits.
21. THE DARK HALF
Stephen King often likes to explore some of the conventions dealing with his writing.In Misery, his main character was a famous writer who suddenly found himself at the mercy of his psychotic "number one fan".In Secret Window, his main character finds himself confronted by a bumpkin with charges of plagiarism.In 1408, his main character is the tired writer of ghost stories who suddenly discovers it's all real.Gordie Lachance from Stand by Me is a writer, and so is Jack Torrence from The Shining, mirroring Stephen King's own bouts with the bottle.In this story, he explores his pseudonym "Richard Bachman".Like himself, and Paul Sheldon from Misery, the main character here, Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) attempts something more noble than his usual critic proof pulp fiction, and puts his pseudonym, "George Stark", to sleep.He even stages a grave marker for George while shooting a magazine spread.This time, what the main character discovers, is that this pseudonym is as real, and as dangerous, as the ghosts in 1408and The Shining.Although some of the performances are good, and a few scenes involving thousands of sparrows hint at what could reallybe done these days with a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, this is far from one of King's most thrilling movies, and it quite often falls flat.
This was originally written as a "Bachman Book", and the premise certainly sounds like reliable entertainment.In the movie, a fat, gluttonous lawyer is cursed by gypsies and soon discovers that he loses weight no matter how much he eats.Fans of Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell will now how horrible those old gypsy curses can be - or just old gypsies, for that matter!At first, he's thrilled to lose some fat, but after only a short while, he soon discovers that it won't stop.He gets thinner, and thinner, and thinner The film concerns itself with this lawyer character discovering that his cronies at the court have also been cursed with various maladies, and he attempts to track down the gypsies to reverse the curse, and also discovers at the same time that his wife has been cheating on him.Although the premise is interesting, and the end is straight out of the EC Horror Comics, dealing with the lawyer, his wife, the doctor she's been cheating with, the lawyer's innocent daughter, and a gypsy pie, the rest of the movie doesn't live up to the hype, and actually finds itself meandering in the middle quite a bit.
23. GRAVEYARD SHIFT
This is a B movie about killer rats infesting an old textile mill.As such, it simply cannot compare with some of the other movies on this list thus far.Yet for being a B movie about rats, it actually isn't all that bad.
24. CHILDREN OF THE CORN
This is the original movie with Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton running afoul of a town full of creepy, murderous children who have killed all the adults and now worship something inhuman that lives out in the cornfield.They are led by the short but domineering and ever watchful Isaac (John Franklin) and the tall, lanky, red-headed murderer Malachi (Courtney Gaines).Despite the seemingly endless cycle of sequels and a remake, like the Friday the 13th legend of Camp Crystal lake, these corn kids are now rather iconic, and though this film still embellished upon Stephen King's now classic original short story, it kept enough of the creep factor to still be worth a look, if you've never seen it.
25. CREEPSHOW 2
The only sequel on this list, simply because these were all original Stephen King tales, not just "based on his characters," it pales significantly in comparison to the original.To begin with, although they spent some money for the animated sequences in the first one, the animation here is verysub-par, and that includes the dumb wrap-around tale about a boy growing giant, carnivorous Venus Fly-traps.Then there's the live action stories:There are only three this time, instead of five, about one of those wooden drugstore Indians coming to life and going on the warpath, a slime monster attacking a group of teenage idiots on a raft, and a hitchhiker menacing a pretty lady driver who killed him while she was on her way home from an affair ("Hey, thanks for the ride, lady!")That last one played the best, and they all had a scary moment or two, but there's nothing in here as delicious as any of the segments from the original (except maybe the one starring Stephen King, "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill")
26. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS
In trying to be something different than the usual King tale about killer kids, giant rats, gypsy curses, and evil arriving in a coastal Maine town, the filmmakers here adapt a quieter story about a bullied little boy connecting with a strange but somewhat magical old lodger who is being chased by mystery men.Anton Yelchin is very likable as the little boy, along with a sweet, endearing performance from David Morse as the boy all grown up in the wrap-around tale, but Anthony Hopkins seems to be missing some of the endearing qualities he had as C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands.They had some good material to work with here it seems, but the end result is actually been-there-done-that King, with less drama, tension, magic, or nostalgia than we've seen with this kind of thing before in films like Apt Pupil, It, and Stand by Me.Hearts in Atlantis is a film that deals more with emotions and feelings than plot and story, but it wound up feeling empty and hollow, far from the films at the top of this list.It's a film I really wanted to like, and then I have to ask how come I didn't.
27. THE MIST
This film, starring Thomas Jane, was actually pretty darned good all the way through.They had a very interesting story for a sci fi/horror film, well executed all the way through, with some sort of mist descending on a town from a nearby scientific lab where a hole may have been created leading to some otherworldly plain of existence, and allowing some bizarre and very dangerous creatures to pass over into this world, concealed in the mist.A group of survivors holds up in a grocery store, battling all kinds of weird, grotesque beasts.Then one of them, Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), the freaky religious nut, gets it into her head that they have to sacrifice the main character's son, and manages to convince several other people in the store to sacrifice him too, sowing seeds of prejudice and discord among the chaos (you know, pretty much like what would probably really happen!).The effects, the pacing, the characters, the scares and shocks, all made for a pretty thrilling horror film.
and then they tacked on that awful, horrible, terrible, atrocious, nasty ending!It was sickening the way it ended.I've never seen such an otherwise good movie with such a dreadful, ghastly, hideous, repugnant, revolting, nihilistic ending!It was shockingly horrendous and inexcusable!I can't even begin to tell you!
Another Thomas Jane stinker!Well, at least the previews made it look interesting.Four guys are caught off guard in the wilderness by some sort of alien ship crash landing, somehow infecting all the animals of the area, and the military is called in, led by Morgan Freeman.Sounds exciting, huh?But then, previews can make just about anything look interesting, if it's edited right.This one had a silly ending, centering around Donnie Wahlberg as a mentally challenged character named Duddits that was tormented years earlier by these four guys.Not to give anything away, but remember how Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ended (if you've seen it)?That was, hands down, the worst of the Indian Jones movies, and this film has a similar ending, but it's even more ridiculous!And although the ending wasn't as repulsively vile as the one in The Mist, at least The Mist was exciting up until that nauseating ending.This one, despite the interesting premise of alien parasites and visuals to represent one character's immense internal struggles (Damian Lewis as Jonesy), it doesn't work, making this one a considerable disappointment.
As silly as the ending of Dreamcatcher may be, if you really want silly, try this story, written directly for the screen by King, about a teenage boy and his strange mother who are Cat People.Unlike the suspense and suggestiveness of the original Cat People (1942) or even the style, sexuality and wild cinematic visuals of the 1982 remake, this one is all cartoonish crap.I've really liked Alice Krige's otherworldly menace in movies like Ghost Story and Star Trek: First Contact, but not THIS one!The filmmaking qualities are at a low level here, the makeup effects are ridiculous, particularly towards the end when these two cat people actually look like human panthers - or something - and then there's that scene where some poor slob is stabbed in the back with a corn on the cob!That's right, I said a corn on the cob!
30. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE
This is, without a doubt, the worst of the theatrical Stephen King films I've seen, and is it just a coincidence that it just so happens to be the one that was directed by Stephen King himself?I think not!The guy should stick to writing!He's not really a good actor (evidenced by Creepshow in particular) and this film shows he's not a good director.This one is based on his short story "Trucks", about machines coming to life and trying to take over the world (or at least a small town and a gas station).That premise has some possibilities, but this horrible movie about a group of idiotic characters we don't care about isn't it!And just whose idea was it to stick a big green goblin face on the front of the "leader" of the menacing trucks?
Other than anything made for TV and the five theatrical or direct-to-video films I haven't seen, the above list also does not include all the shorts & student films, or unfinished, unreleased, or generally unknown films, or films with difficult releases (Everything's Eventual, Willa, or an earlier, unfinished version of Apt Pupilstarring Ricky Schroeder), theatrical movies with just a single segment by King (Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, Quicksilver Highway), theatrical movies using King's name, but not really based on his stories (The Lawnmower Man), or any sequels not written by King, but based on his characters (The Children of the Corn franchise, the Sometimes They Come Back TV movie sequels, A Return to Salem's Lot, The Rage: Carrie 2, Firestarter 2: Rekindled, Pet Sematary 2, and The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer).