Home > Newsletter > The Best, Worst, and BESTWORST Stephen King Adaptations

The Best, Worst, and BESTWORST Stephen King Adaptations

Written by Kendare Blake

A couple of months ago, a friend and I were talking about Stephen King adaptations (they were running Stephen King with Story Notes on AMC that week) and got to wondering exactly how many movies had been made from his work. We were able to name so many: Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, Cujo, Misery, The Tommyknockers, Hearts in Atlantis; we could go on and on.

“How many books has the guy written?” my friend wanted to know. “I wonder what percentage have been made into movies?”

So I said, let’s count. “And remember, it’s not only King novels, but short stories that have to be tallied. Movies have been made from short stories, too. 1408, for example. And we might want to track which works have been optioned for film without ever being produced.”

“You’re getting too involved in this,” my friend said.

Based on the rough and lazy count that followed, we arrived at this rough and lazy answer: Stephen King writes a lot of stuff, and a lot of that stuff gets made into movies. Pick up a short story collection, and somewhere inside, a film awaits. The novels are probably optioned before they’re even written. When will we see a movie version of Under The Dome or 11/22/63? The answer?

Someday. Probably. Odds are looking good.

This conversation got me thinking about the best and worst Stephen King adaptations, and I thought I’d share my list, including a special category for the BESTWORST adaptation. And oh yeah, there will probably be spoilers. Here we go.

THE BEST

Stand By Me

Raise your hand if you thought I was going to say The Shawshank Redemption. Ha! Well I didn’t. That would’ve been the obvious choice. Instead I say that this tale, adapted from King’s pensive novella “The Body” does all the things that King does best in his non-supernatural work: it studies the transitory nature of childhood friendships; short-lived but often the most memorable of your life. It’s a beautiful, careful film, carried along by genuine good times and undercut with the constant menace of knowing these kids are in real danger.

THE WORST

Dreamcatcher

Raise your hand if you thought I was going to say Maximum Overdrive. Well I didn’t. I like Maximum Overdrive. It’s hilarious.

No, my vote has to go to Dreamcatcher, a big pile of turd of a movie, complete with horrible CGI aliens that go up your butt and I don’t know, incubate until you poo them out again. If Ridley Scott’s aliens had taken this route, we would never have been able to watch Prometheus, because no other Alien movies would have been made.

Right now, Dreamcatcher is whispering in my ear about how good the acting was, by Jason Lee and Thomas Jane and Damian Lewis and heck, even Morgan Freeman. It’s telling me that the strong childhood friendships are back in abundance. But dammit, no, Dreamcatcher! Just, no.

THE BESTWORST

I was tempted to say Riding the Bullet, because it’s laughably watchable on a Sunday afternoon. And I do recommend you see it, because it’s great watching David Arquette try to make those scary faces. But in my mind, the BESTWORST Stephen King adaptation will always be the 1990 TV miniseries of IT.

I love IT. I own IT, and once a year I order Chinese food and watch IT, and eat right at the part where they get to the Chinese restaurant, because the eyeball in the fortune cookie always makes me giggle. It’s terrible, and fantastic, and features a pre-puberty Seth Green, and a just slightly post puberty John Boy Walton. Is it scary? Not exactly. But Tim Curry flashing between those hanging white bed sheets is undeniably one more reason to distrust clowns.

So there you have it. My list. With so many films based on King’s work, I expect that few will agree with my choices. I invite you to make your case for your own.

It’s important to note that this list is reflective of the movies only, not the works on which they were based. While I don’t doubt that these days King could have a lot of input on how his tales are adapted, I also don’t doubt that for many of these films he had little control, just like most authors. Someday, it would be cool if Anna Dressed in Blood was adapted, and I could be one of those no-control authors. But in case it doesn’t, here’s a short Best/Worst/BestWorst list of possibilities:

Best: Anna Dressed in Awesome: Directed by the dream team of Joss Whedon and Tim Burton, from an adapted screenplay by Neil Gaiman, a dark, visceral tale with undertones the book didn’t even think of and visuals to kill for.

Worst: Anna Dressed in a Red Dress: Anna reimagined as a 1940’s crime noir, in which Anna is a deranged socialite who murders her wealthy stepfather. Hard-boiled private detective Cas Lowood must run down the mystery in a dark coat and one of those hats. Starring an undiscovered Hemsworth brother and a rapidly aging Kardashian sister.

BestWorst: Anna Dressed in Blood: The Musical.

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  1. sftheory1
    August 6, 2012 at 8:41 am

    I recently watched Stand by Me for the first time. Absolutely loved it. Great film.

  2. shelleybear
    August 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Worst?
    “The Mist”, only because arguably, it is the best story king ever wrote and the film completely ruined it.

  3. August 6, 2012 at 10:00 am

    The Mist isn’t the worst? I’m surprised.

  4. August 6, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Close behind Stand By Me I’d put the film version of The Dead Zone, a quiet, melancholy film with some really good performances.

  5. August 6, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Nothing regarding Hearts in Atlantis? They did to that what they did to Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany — unwatchable, without reason, utterly stupid and insipid.

  6. August 6, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Interesting list. I loved the part about comparing the Dreamcatcher aliens with the Ridley Scott aliens. I also get what you mean about It. Great book. Bestworst is the best way to describe the TV adaptation. Let’s see how the Dark Tower adaptation (if it ever does get made) fits in that list.

  7. ruslana
    August 6, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Seriously? Stand by Me and Shawshank over Misery? Both of those movies are Stephen King sanitized and simplified for public consumption – the titles alone show this, never mind the movies. Misery, now, there’s nothing they could have called it (except maybe: “Bitch be crazy”) – best performance Kathy Bates ever gave, and a minimum of sentimental claptrap, if any. Misery is his best book, with its meta discussion of the nature of authors, novels, and writing, and it was made into his best film, a chilling little horror story about obsession.
    I will leave you with my favourite Kathy Bates/Annie Wilkes lines, prompted by Paul saying that everybody swears and curses:

    “THEY DO NOT! At the feedstore do I say, “Oh, now Wally, give me a bag of that F-in’ pig feed, and a pound of that bitchly cow corn”? At the bank do I say, “Oh, Mrs. Malenger, here is one big bastard of a check, now give me some of your Christ-ing money!” THERE, LOOK THERE, NOW SEE WHAT YOU MADE ME DO! “

  8. Brok
    August 6, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I think that there’s really little if any kind of a good/right way to do this. Maybe as a top ten list (top ten best, worst, bestworst) instead. There have been some great King movies, there have been some lousy ones, but picking out just one is practically impossible. How about picking the ones we’d love to see made but never will be. I’d love to see a film made of The Long Walk, maybe directed by Norman Jewison (the novel has a very Rollerball feel to it). It’ll never happen tho. And if it did, it would never be done with the bleak, brutal despairing violence found in the book.

    • Brok
      August 6, 2012 at 11:16 am

      Can’t edit my comment, so continuing in the same mental thread. It’s like the movie The Expendables. As near as I could tell, people had more fun sitting and arguing back and forth who *should have* been in the movie, than they did actually watching the movie.

      • August 6, 2012 at 11:20 am

        That’s how you know the film wasn’t all that great! What a wide-open category!

  9. ~ap~
    August 6, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I did love Shawshank… I also loved The Green Mile. I was so impressed at the high percentage of dialogue that was lifted right from the book(s). It’s probably at the top of my ‘best’ list. Or at least tied with Shawshank. ;o)

    I also agree with shelleybear that The Mist adaptation was HORRIBLEOHMYGODSOHORRIBLE! While Idk that it’s the best story he’s ever written, I was struck the first time I read it (and many times thereafter) by how amazing it would be on the big screen and they absolutely BUTCHERED it. I actually left that movie angry–exTREMEly angry-and sad that everyone in that theater with me would probably never know how that story SHOULD HAVE ended. *smh*

    • ~ap~
      August 6, 2012 at 11:22 am

      Oh, yes… how could I have forgotten the absolute disaster that was the Bag of Bones TV miniseries? I had recently listened to it on audio for the first time after several rereads in previous years, and I was SO looking forward to the adaptation. And they mutilated it as badly (dare I say worse?) than The Mist. *sad*

  10. August 6, 2012 at 11:32 am

    “It’s important to note that this list is reflective of the movies only, not the works on which they were based.”

    You can’t do that when talking about adaptations. The above comments show as much.

    • ~ap~
      August 6, 2012 at 12:08 pm

      The only people who could have a conversation based on movies only would have to be people who have never read any of the books that have been adapted.

      Still… I think some of the best and worst people have mentioned might still be listed among a best/worst list that non-book readers might compile.

  11. Amethyst
    August 6, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    I don’t like most of Stephen King’s movie adaptations. The only two that I like are Stand By Me and Misery. I’ve never seen Green Mile, but I’ve heard good things.

    • Amethyst
      August 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm

      Oh… I forgot about The Shawshank Redemption. Love that one.

  12. August 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Honestly – He has a ton of great adaptations. Pet Semetary will holds up today as a great Book > Film translation. Dream Catcher is really the worst of the bunch. The MIst – meh, it gets points for Dark Tower references. There are a lot, but a top ten list of best and the top ten worst would make for a great article.

  13. August 6, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I can only presume you’ve never seen The Lawnmower Man, because I’m sure it would have made worst, or at least bestworst.

    • August 6, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      Oh, p.s., I now really want to see Anna Dressed In Blood, The Musical. Because the party scene would be awesome.

  14. August 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I really hated The Mist so hard that it hurt, but Dreamcatcher didn’t bother me so much. Yes, it was annoying that it was soooo different from the book, but whatever. I think the BESTWORST for me would have to be The Stand. It’s fairly terrible, but I enjoy watching it.

  15. Brok
    August 6, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    To be fair, you have to consider: 1. Quality of the source (the book, short story, etc.) 2. Quality of the movie. 3. How well the movie adapted the story.

    Example: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is a good, though not brilliant short story by Phillip K. Dick. Total Rekall (the original, since I haven’t seen the remake) was a great movie. The movie had nothing to do with the original short story (despite what they say with the new one, neither does the new one).

    With King, Tommyknockers was a shamefully terrible film, but the book wasn’t all that great either. It was a bad movie which did a poor job of telling the story from a bad book.

    How about The Shining? The original, not the made for TV one. Good book, good movie, movie had little to do with the book.

    All that said tho, filmmakers can get really disgustingly full of themselves with adaptions. When Burton made the remake of Willy Wonka, he kept explaining how his work was closer to the original artist’s vision. But the script for the original movie was written by Roald Dahl, the author of the books. Be fair, you don’t get much closer to the artists vision than when the artist writes the script.

  16. Dan
    August 6, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    Totally agree with the worst and the bestworst, they butchered “It” in terms of the novel, but they did it in the most entertaining manner. The best adaptation, in my opinion, was the Green Mile. It was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and it was true to the book in most ways except for a few, the main character’s age by the end (which I don’t understand why they had to change that) just to name an example.

  17. mrk
    August 6, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    Since Dreamcatcher was such a terrible book it’s no surprise it made an awful movie.

  18. mrk
    August 6, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    The bestworst for me would be Silver Bullet 100% guilty pleasure

  19. Barbara
    August 8, 2012 at 5:45 am

    Did you know Running Man was an adaption of one his books? Terrible stuff. Just awful.

  20. Ed Hitch
    August 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Why do people dislike The Mist i thought it was a well told tragedy..Perhaps people were looking for the typical good feeling ending?

    • paigevest
      August 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm

      Compared to the novella, the movie had an absolutely horrible ending. Now, the novella didn’t have a “typical good feeling ending”, but it did have a great feeling of the human will to survive, despite the odds against it. It showed the survivors of the supermarket venturing out into the world in search of other survivors and/or an end to the mist, and it was full of hope. It certainly wasn’t ridiculous and pointless like the movie ending.

      • Brok
        August 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm

        I wouldn’t call the ending to the novella “full of hope” by any stretch, but it is a good ending. Not a happy ending, but a good ending. The ending to the movie felt more like “We can’t think of a real ending, so we’ll just throw something together to piss people off and tell them it’s their fault for not understanding it.”

        I don’t ask for happy endings. I ask for good endings. I’m rarely more delighted with a story than when it assumes that I am an adult and can accept that not everything in life is wrapped up neatly, people don’t always go off happily into the sunset, etc. But it has to play fair. In the movie, there was no particular need for the characters to end the story the way they did, and I can’t say that it really fit with the characters or the story.

    • Game
      August 10, 2012 at 6:17 am

      I thought the Mist’s ending was perfect and King loved it too. Rather than simply have the characters venture off into the unknown in search of hope as is in the book, the movie demonstrates the bitter consequences of giving up on hope, through the despair caused by its eponymous antagonist. In the end it wasn’t the monsters that got to them. Great horror movie. Granted I didn’t read the book ending until later…

  21. August 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Wow, great post! My fav is actually 1408, although I haven’t read the short story 🙂 but I have this thing about John Cusack 😉

    And wow, directed by Joss Whedon & Tim Burton, and adapted by Neil Gaiman – I think I died & went to heaven – at least that’s how it would feel like 😀 it would be so beyond awesome 😀

    And hahahahahaha for the worst 😀 and I agree a musical would be BestWorst

  22. September 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Not only was Lawnmower Man terrible, it was so bad that Steven King sued to get his name taken off of the credits:

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=886&dat=19920529&id=Lu0xAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qX0DAAAAIBAJ&pg=6686,8379215

  23. September 5, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I totally agree with you: Dreamcatcher was awful. Loved the book. Hated the movie.

    I would love to see Anna Dressed in Awesome. I think it would full of Awesome!

  1. August 6, 2012 at 8:42 am
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  3. August 6, 2012 at 9:03 am
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  5. August 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm
  6. September 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

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