Authors of great books frequently have the privilege of seeing movie adaptations of their works. Stephen King is no exception, especially given the number of works he’s published over the last few decades. For over 40 years his books and short stories have given rise to culturally significant films. While not all their production values were high, most of these movies are well remembered.
With respect to their age, here are some great movies that we have Stephen King to thank for.
1. CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984)
CHILDREN OF THE CORN was actually based on a short story written by Stephen King. Little did anyone know at the time that it would spawn a small franchise of films based on the original plot. The basic point of the story is simple: A cult of children worships a supernatural force that lives in the corn field. They also perform ritual sacrifices to appease “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.”
While it may be presumptuous to call this movie “great,” the real significance lies in the sheer number of sequels that have followed since its inception. To this date, there are eight box office films, with one following the next. Few films can lay claim to such a feat, especially when the source material is so brief.
2. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
After a title with such poor reception, it’s only natural we’d follow with a film that is quite literally “critically acclaimed.” Our next title, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, clocks in at over 90% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and it deserves every point of that rating. This film follows the life of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) after his incarceration for murder.
Most stories about prison are intrinsically interesting to begin with, but this one goes the extra mile by examining corrupt prison politics, covering everything from cheap exploitable labor to money laundering and murder. It’s a plot that doesn’t deserve to be ruined—you should definitely see it for yourself. Forewarning that while it can be a bit depressing, it has a fantastic ending.
3. THE SHINING (1980)
Almost everyone knows about THE SHINING. But despite that, it deserves its own special place because it really is that good. The movie combines a stunningly well put together plot by Stephen King with an excellent cast of actors. Between the fantastic filming and eerie soundtrack, this movie still gives me goosebumps.
The story unfolds with Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his family moving to the Overlook Hotel for the winter to work as caretakers. There, Jack undergoes a startling mental transformation as a mixture of alcoholism and evil forces change him from a struggling writer into an ax-wielding psychopath.
Much like the final entry on our list, THE SHINING also acts as a metaphor for Stephen King’s own life and troubles. Our protagonist is a writer suffering from drug problems and writer’s block, not so different from one stage of Stephen King’s own life.
This adaptation left us with several notable cultural moments, from Jack smashing his way through a door with an ax, to the twins in the hallway. If you still somehow haven’t seen this film, it’s an absolute must. Be warned: This movie doesn’t use “jump scares” to create terror. It truly doesn’t need to bother.
4. IT (1990)
As winner of the “shortest title ever” award, IT carves its place into our list by presenting us with the eeriest character of the last century: Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry). It should come as no surprise that a clown is capable of being terrifying, but the addition of well-done makeup, pointy teeth, and the usual clever writing helps solidify this monstrosity.
IT is unique in that while it serves as a single movie, it originally aired in two separate installments on TV. The first half of the film follows a group of children and their dealings with “It” (Pennywise), while the second half focuses on facing their fears as they soon meet up as adults once they realize that “It’s back.”
Generally, the first of the two movies is probably the “better half,” but the whole film is still worth watching. Things get a little strange in the second part, but the message remains strong: clowns aren’t always what they seem to be.
5. MISERY (1990)
The final installment in this saga of Stephen King films is one that really hits close to home with the author himself. MISERY is all a metaphor for King’s struggle with drugs and his feeling of being trapped by a single genre of writing. Naturally, the film’s events are much more literal, as the protagonist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) quickly realizes the woman who saved him from a car accident is actually holding him captive.
His struggle to escape is fraught with perils as the nurse, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), turns out to be a psychopath that is enraged over the recent installment in the author’s line of books about the character Misery Chastain (whom he has decided to kill off in the final installment).
This is another film where the combination of good actors and great ambiance help absorb you into the fantastic world that is MISERY. It’s worth checking out any time of day, and I’d put it low on the list of “films likely to cause recurring nightmares.” That’s more reserved for IT.
Where to Watch?
Most of these films are available on either Netflix or Hulu. You can probably find quite some them in the bargain DVD section of big box stores as well or online on sites such as Amazon.
Do you have a favorite Stephen King movie? Let us know in the comments section below!
About the Author: Cassie Phillips is a big Stephen King fan, especially when it comes to the classic movies. If you liked this article, please check out some more of her work at Culture Coverage and Secure Thoughts.