Anyone who wants to watch a well-loved movie and Googles the top 100 best films of all time will most likely see a handful of movies based on Stephen King’s works. While some might attribute the success of these movies to their directors and cast, such as director Frank Darabont or actress Kathy Bates, their source material — that is, King’s imaginative and diverse subjects — is what sets them apart. Whether it’s tears, laughs, frights or a combination of the three, King adaptations stimulate a range of emotions where the majority of other films strictly tend to evoke one in particular.
With “It Chapter Two” becoming yet another King-adapted box office hit, making over $1 billion worldwide, it’s beneficial to reflect on previous successful King adaptations to appreciate just how much King’s stories have dominated past and present pop culture. Here are the top four films inspired by King’s works showing his prowess across multiple genres, along with some best picks of the upcoming projects set in the author’s vast multiverse.
A fan of King’s more gory and disturbing works like “Carrie” or “Cujo” might watch this film and question whether or not it was adapted from a story by King, mainly for its lack of supernatural or horror elements. In place of pyro/telekinetic women, possessed automobiles and Lovecraftian creatures, “The Shawshank Redemption” has an “obtuse” warden, abusive prison officers and innocent or repentant prisoners that culminates into a story about friendship and freedom.
Adapted from King’s novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and directed by Darabont, the story follows Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who is sentenced to Shawshank prison after being falsely accused of murdering his wife and her lover. In spite of his innocence, Andy endures cruel mistreatment at the hands of fellow inmates and guards alike, though not without the help of his friend Red (Morgan Freeman), who gives him advice on how to deal with his abuse. After Andy realizes that he can either “get busy living or get busy dying,” he starts doing favors for those who hurt him, setting him down a path that speaks to the film’s central theme: redemption.
2. “The Green Mile”
Another likely film adaptation that might not align much with King’s reputation as the master of terror, the emotional depth of “The Green Mile” makes it among the most distinct of King’s works, while still containing subtle allusions to the supernatural. Also directed by Darabont and starring Tom Hanks and the late Michael Clarke Duncan, the film at its heart is about the unfortunate reality of bad things happening to good people. When Hank’s character, Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard who makes his living strapping convicts to the electric chair, meets John Coffey (Duncan), who’s charged with the murder of two girls, he is forced to reconsider the guilt of this man whose gentle and timid nature betrays any possibility of him being a killer. After witnessing firsthand what Coffey is capable of, Paul and the other prison guards develop an emotional attachment that makes them do whatever it takes to ensure Coffey never sits in the chair.
A film that best articulates a writer’s worst nightmare, “Misery,” starring Kathy Bates and James Caan, is more attuned to what fans have come to expect from King’s novels. Annie Wilkes’ (Bates) crazed obsession with writer Paul Sheldon’s (Caan) novels can be compared with other lunatics created by King, such as Mrs. Carmody in “The Mist” and Margaret White in “Carrie,” who all are perfect inflictors of misery in their own right. While many writers would love to have a number one fan, King distorts that desire when Annie makes the injured and bedridden Paul rewrite his latest story after killing her favorite character (whose name is Misery) and holds him captive in her house until she is satisfied. Though many people have the capacity to be an Annie Wilkes who surfaces whenever someone doesn’t do what they want or say, King shows what this vindictive part of ourselves is capable of, prompting viewers to repress this side as much as possible so as not to become another Annie.
4. “The Shining”
Earning a spot as one of the best King adaptations with the help of director Stanley Kubrick’s original, artistic style of filmmaking, “The Shining” is the best choice for people to understand King’s association with the psychological horror genre. Even if King himself isn’t too happy with the way Kubrick adapted his book, calling it “a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it,” at least Kubrick’s directorial signatures, seen in other his works “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “A Clockwork Orange,” are enough to evoke the same eeriness King employs in his books.
Like with “Misery,” “The Shining” concerns another writer, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), who while acting as caretaker of the Overlook Hotel with his family gets infused with madness and attempts to kill his wife and son. At its core, “The Shining” entertains the idea of some evil force tempting someone to harm those closest to them against their will. King and Kubrick demonstrate how losing one’s autonomy, whether it’s through possession of a malevolent entity or mind-altering substances, make one not fully in control of their actions.
Best Upcoming King Adaptations
Coming to theaters on Nov. 8, “Doctor Sleep” is the sequel to “The Shining,” revolving around Nicholson’s character’s son, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who refuses to use the “shine” — the ability to communicate with others telepathically and to see the past and future. After meeting a girl who shares Dan’s psychic powers, they face a group of people belonging to a cult called the True Knot, who feed on the shine of others to grant them immortality.
Soon to premiere on CBS’s new streaming service, CBS All Access, “The Stand” will star Amber Heard, James Marsden and Whoopie Goldberg, who survive in a post-apocalyptic world where a malicious man with supernatural abilities, Randall Flag (aka The Dark Man and a familiar face to fans of other King stories), devises their doom.
Season 2 of “Castle Rock”
Releasing on Hulu on Oct. 23, Season 2 of “Castle Rock” (a fictional town composed of many different King elements, settings and characters) will feature a younger version of the one and only Annie Wilkes (now played by Lizzy Caplan) who assumes her former nursing role where the building blocks of her insanity are exposed.
While the common saying “out with the old, in with the new” applies to many instances where people or objects become obsolete, these top five classic King adaptations, however, deserve to remain in the minds and hearts of King and film lovers alike, not neglected and lost to the void.