Stephen King is often referred to as a master of horror. The title is well-deserved thanks to terrifying novels like The Shining, It, Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, and others. He’s also written poignant, coming-of-age stories like The Body, science-fiction tales like The Running Man, dramatic tales like Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and apocalyptic page-turners like The Stand. Many of these have been made into movies.
While there are upwards of 50 different movies and television shows featuring Stephen King books, novellas, and short stories, there are many yet to be adapted (including a few already in pre- and post-production).
With all of these stories making it to the big (and small) screen as well as the soon-to-be-released adaptation of Salem’s Lot in late April, the time is right to rank the 10 best Stephen King books that have been made into movies so far. While I love all of these books, not all the film adaptations have lived up to lofty expectations and should have stayed on the page.
Salem’s Lot would probably land higher on this list if the movie was better than it is. This story of a town taken over by vampires is set to be released once again as a movie. I have high hopes the new version will be much better than the original.
The Dead Zone
The Dead Zone tells the story of a man who wakes up from a coma only to realize that he now has psychic abilities. The book is a real page-turner, but the movie, featuring Christopher Walken as Jonny Smith, is not to be missed. Who doesn’t love an over-the-top performance from Christopher Walken?
The Mist is another novella that made its way to the big screen. While it’s not the best Stephen King adaptation ever, the Lovecraftian monsters that come with the mysterious mist surrounding a Maine town add to the tense, anxious atmosphere of the people trapped in a grocery store unsure of what to expect next.
Carrie is a supernatural tale of torment and anger. It surrounds a teenager who is bullied at school and has to come home to a religious home filled with abuse. It all comes to a crescendo with a prom-related prank involving pig’s blood and a whole lot of destruction. The 1976 movie version starring Sissy Spacek is a must-watch for Stephen King fans.
Pet Sematary was so disturbing to Stephen King that he almost didn’t publish it. This story of sadness-and-grieving-turned-horror has been adapted a few times. None of the movies are amazing, but the 2019 version is better than the one from the ’80s by a long shot. That said, this is one of the common Stephen King scenarios where the book is still much better than any of the movies.
While much of Stephen King’s most frightening circumstances surround the supernatural, there’s something extra scary about an unhinged human. This is the story of Misery, in which a famous author is kidnapped by a deranged fan and tortured in hopes that he’ll agree to bring back a character from one of his books that he unceremoniously killed off. The 1990 movie features great performances from James Caan and Kathy Bates.
While The Shining might be more of an atmospheric nightmare, It features a story about a group of kids (and eventually adults) called the “Loser’s Club” that was tormented by an ancient, shape-shifting evil they refer to as “It” that often takes the appearance of a monstrous clown. The 2017 version was better than the mini-series by a long shot.
If you’re not a constant reader of Stephen King, you might not recognize this one. That’s because the novella featuring a group of friends in the 1950s searching for the body of a child who had been hit by a train was titled Stand By Me when it hit theaters starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and an unrecognizable Jerry O’Connell in 1986.
If you were to rank Stephen King’s books based on overall scares, it would be difficult to beat The Shining. While the otherworldly creature tormenting the characters in It is always hiding around the proverbial corner, the fear involved in The Shining is that Jack Torrance and his family are actually inside of a hotel that isn’t only filled with horrifying ghosts but is a malevolent entity itself.
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
If you’ve never read the novella, you might be confused by the title. Not only is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption one of Stephen King’s best stories, but its 1993 film adaptation (in which the title was shortened) starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman is also arguably the best movie based on one of his stories.