We’re taking on a huge task here at Wicked Horror that nobody asked us to do. It’s massive to the point that you don’t even realize how huge until you’re right in the thick of it. That’s right, we’ve decided to rank every single Stephen King film for no reason other than your pleasure. Of course, it’s easier said than done considering that at this point King takes up about half of the genre.
Being the living author with the most adapted works, plus writing a few original things himself, there’s a lot of material to mine through. You won’t be getting it all in one piece, either, for both of our sakes. But when an author has that many movies being made based on his works, there’s bound to be a lot of good and a lot of bad. But hey, that’s what keeps things interesting, right?
Before we start, let’s set our parameters. We’re only counting film and television movie/miniseries adaptations. No shorts, no TV series, no miniseries that are an entire season of a show, i.e. 11.22.63. We won’t be counting sequels unless they were specifically based on a Stephen King novel or story, but we will be counting remakes as they are also adaptations of a specific work.
Last time, we took a look at the entries on the bottom of the list. This time, we at least move ourselves toward the middle and break into territory ranging from bland, to pretty decent, to surprisingly good.
40. Big Driver
As much as Big Driver tries to class things up and be better than it should for the time and money that went into it, it still can’t shake that Lifetime Original Movie feeling. Still, it’s an archetypal horror, to the point where the story almost feels like an urban legend being retold. The novella was part of his 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars.
Rose Red is a miniseries that has its fair share of admirers, but it doesn’t hold up as strongly as some of his other works in that format, including his original material. King had already done his own version of The Haunting of Hill House before Rose Red, and as fun as it is, it certainly doesn’t top The Shining.
38. Quicksilver Highway
Quicksilver Highway is a little jarring, just for being an anthology featuring only two segments. But they’re at least bridged together by Christopher Lloyd doing his best Crypt Keeper. One segment is based on a story by King, the other by Clive Barker. The central concept of pairing those two together for a movie is great, but it’s far from Mick Garris’s best King movie.
Mercy is a pretty recent one, an adaptation of one of King’s absolute scariest stories, titled “Gramma” from the collection Skeleton Crew. It’s a pretty loose adaptation, however, and seems to lose interest in the source material pretty quickly.
While Desperation is a great novel, there’s something about the scope and size of it that really doesn’t translate to a TV miniseries. Ron Perlman gives an awesome performance, but his character—in this incarnation, at least—doesn’t stick around nearly long enough.
35. ‘Salem’s Lot (2004)
In some places, the 2004 version is closer to the novel than the original miniseries, but in others, it’s drastically different. There are some great performances, particularly by Rutger Hauer and James Cromwell, and some genuine scares too, but it doesn’t recapture the atmosphere of the first and some of the changes to the book don’t really make sense, especially turning heroic town doctor Jimmy Cody into kind of sleazebag, so that we can’t properly mourn him later on.
34. The Running Man
The Running Man gets points taken away, of course, for being so very different from King’s novella. In fact, it almost feels like how that story would be retold within the Running Man universe. It’s exactly the kind of sensational violence that the book was a comment on. But it’s also an action classic of the 1980’s, as absurd as it is.
33. Secret Window
Secret Window is a moody thriller with some great performances. Johnny Depp and John Tuturro are both excellent in it. But as deep as the movie tries to go, there’s really not a lot to it. The twist is not only obvious, it actually makes the whole thing much less complex.
32. Carrie (2002)
I thought, given the length of the book, that Carrie absolutely did not need to be a miniseries. But this mini is so close to the source material that I almost cheered in places. We get a great flashback to Carrie’s childhood and Angela Bettis is perfectly cast as the titular character. The structure is as close as you could get to adapting the way the book was told. But it all falls apart at the end, when Carrie doesn’t die because they were hoping to spin this off into a TV series.
31. Sometimes They Come Back
Sometimes They Come Back is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of one of the creepiest stories in one of King’s best collections, Night Shift. It’s also helmed by the underrated Tom McLoughlin. The only real flaw of the movie is the low budget, which causes for some limitations and unavoidable cheesiness in spots.
30. Needful Things
Needful Things is a solid adaptation, but it’s a shame they couldn’t include Stand by Me antagonist Ace Merrill, who plays a large part in the book. Still, aside from a few spots here and there, it does an overall solid job of adapting the novel’s darkly humorous tone. Max Von Sydow is also excellent.
Firestarter is a fun but flawed movie in which Drew Barrymore plays a little girl who can start fires with her mind. The premise very much draws comparisons to Carrie, but instead of an abusive mother, Charlie has a father who will do anything to keep her safe from a government shadow organization called The Shop.
28. Dolores Claiborne
After the huge success of Misery, there was an immediate need to capture that lightning in a bottle all over again, and that’s the only place where Dolores Claiborne—otherwise a hugely compelling mystery—suffers. Well, that and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s attempt at a Maine accent. Kathy Bates, however, gives a showstopping performance totally different than the one she played in Misery.
27. Hearts in Atlantis
Anthony Hopkins is great in this solid drama that wavers between coldness and an overabundance of optimism. It’s also great to see on the screen for its Dark Tower connections, but it’s just not as gripping as even the other King-based dramas are.
26. The Dark Half
George Romero was attached to direct several Stephen King adaptations around the time he did Creepshow, including Salem’s Lot and Pet Sematary, but The Dark Half was the only one that ultimately came to pass. It lacks the punch one would normally expect from both Romero and King but is otherwise a really solid adaptation with great performances.
25. Tales from the Darkside: The Movie
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is a great anthology. “The Cat from Hell” is the segment based on a King story and while it’s the weakest of the three, it shouldn’t work even half as well as it does. Overall, it’s a totally underrated, slick anthology with a great cast and is seen by many fans as the true Creepshow 3.