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The best Stephen King movies made from Stephen King books (and where to watch them)

If you're scared of clowns or haunted cars, this isn't the list for you

The Shining movie still
Moviestore Collection / Getty Images

The only thing more thrilling than a Stephen King book is a film adapted from one of his novels. The long-time author is one of the most successful writers of his generation, and his spooky, cinematic settings have served as inspiration for some of Hollywood’s most esteemed creatives. The best Stephen King movies often use the source material as a basis for the film, and then the directors put their own twist on the story to pull the audience in even more. From Stanley Kubrick to Rob Reiner, famous filmmakers have operated within their own framework to turn otherwise forgotten Stephen King books into some of the most beloved of the last 40 years. These are the best Stephen King movies made from the best Stephen King books. These pictures range from coming-of-age stories to horrifying science fiction classics.

11. The Running Man (1987)

11. The Running Man
101m
Genre
Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Stars
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, María Conchita Alonso
Directed by
Paul Michael Glaser
Watch on Amazon

It’s hard to imagine a Stephen King movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but The Running Man actually fits quite a few traditional aspects of the author’s style into the story. King loves to analyze alternative universes, and this film places Schwarzenegger into a Hunger Games-esque zone where the action star vies for freedom against violent criminals on TV. The dystopian vibe remains the strong point of an otherwise loosely plotted affair.

10. Doctor Sleep (2019)

10. Doctor Sleep
152m
Genre
Horror, Thriller, Fantasy
Stars
Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, Rebecca Ferguson
Directed by
Mike Flanagan
Watch on max

A rare sequel for Stephen King follows the story of the boy from The Shining. Doctor Sleep isn’t as well-known or acclaimed as its predecessor, but Ewan McGregor gives a strong performance in the role of adult Dan Torrance. The themes and genre tropes used here revolve around immortality and cultism and the power of manipulation over individuals who are different in some way from the rest of society. King often focuses on these types of outcasts to make a big deal about contrarian points of view. 

9. Cujo (1983)

9. Cujo
93m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
Stars
Dee Wallace, Danny Pintauro, Daniel Hugh Kelly
Directed by
Lewis Teague
Watch on max

A canine is a man’s best friend, so what happens when your BFF starts attacking the town relentlessly? Shelter in place inside your car and get creative like the mother-and-son team in Cujo! The film’s use of a rabid dog antagonist horrifies audiences because it takes a benign, beloved pet and alters our perception of what evil that being is capable of. Stephen King believes Cujo stands above most other adaptations of his work, which isn’t necessarily a good sign since he criticizes some of the best films on this list.

8. Misery (1990)

8. Misery
107m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
Stars
James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth
Directed by
Rob Reiner
Watch on Apple TV+

Misery brilliantly dives into obsessive fan culture through Kathy Bates’ character, Annie Wilkes. She manipulates her favorite author, Paul Sheldon, to her will by violently trapping him after a car accident off the grid from civilization. Bates plays one of the best female characters in any of King’s works.

7. The Dead Zone (1983)

7. The Dead Zone
103m
Genre
Thriller, Horror, Science Fiction
Stars
Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt
Directed by
David Cronenberg
Watch on Amazon

The Dead Zone dives into all sorts of philosophical dilemmas through Christopher Walken’s character, Johnny Smith. The man wakes up after a car crash with prophetic powers, and his decisions to change the future based on his supernatural abilities make the movie a true classic. Walken has been a supporting character actor through most of his recent career, so this is a nice change of pace to see him in the starring role!

6. Stand by Me (1986)

6. Stand by Me
89m
Genre
Crime, Drama
Stars
Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell
Directed by
Rob Reiner
Watch on Netflix

The outstanding cast of child actors in Stand By Me is what allows the coming-of-age film to defy time and age gracefully no matter what audience is viewing it. Four precocious boys get into more trouble than they expect when they adventure through the Oregon wilderness to find a presumably dead child in the late 1950s. Viewing a period piece that was made almost four decades ago almost feels like an Inception moment, as you get a fun look at what people thought of a time from the past, and those people are now old themselves in 2023. River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton give the best performances of the film, indicating the success that would follow for both actors.

5. The Green Mile (1999)

5. The Green Mile
189m
Genre
Fantasy, Drama, Crime
Stars
Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse
Directed by
Frank Darabont
Watch on Amazon

One of Tom Hanks’ best performances see him depict a man who oversees a prison and must contemplate the meaning of the fantastical elements enrobed into the jail. The late Michael Clarke Duncan gives an outstanding supporting performance. The film makes people think about the implications of life inside the slammer through the lens of King’s supernatural aesthetic.

4. It (2017)

4. It
135m
Genre
Horror, Fantasy
Stars
Jaeden Martell, Bill Skarsgård, Sophia Lillis
Directed by
Andy Muschietti
Watch on max

Not many horror films reach a mainstream audience the way It did back in the late 2010s. Pennywise terrorized not only the children of Derry, Maine but also the viewers on the other side of the screen. Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard is one of the standout child acting performances in the film, which received a sequel in 2019.   

3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

3. The Shawshank Redemption
142m
Genre
Drama, Crime
Stars
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
Directed by
Frank Darabont
Watch on Amazon

The compelling prison-set Shawshank Redemption seems to grow in popularity as the years pass since its release due to inarguably great qualities like the chemistry between Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Due to it being based on a novella, many people didn’t even know this movie was adapted, and now it stands tall as one of the best Stephen King movie of all time.

2. Carrie (1976)

2. Carrie
98m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
Stars
Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Directed by
Brian De Palma
Watch on max

Carrie was the first book King ever published, and this famous adaptation came only two years after the fact, demonstrating the immediate positive reaction to the author’s work in the pop culture zeitgeist. Carrie is the classic story of a rejected teenager who becomes even more of an outcast after she realizes her supernatural powers lend her the ability to fight back against her abusers. Almost 50 years later, this film endures as an epitome of 1970s horror filmmaking. 

1. The Shining (1980)

1. The Shining
144m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
Stars
Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers
Directed by
Stanley Kubrick
Watch on Amazon

One of the movies that deviate the most from Stephen King’s source material, The Shining is the classic Stanley Kubrick horror film that showed the director’s ambition at the turn of the decade and the brilliance of Jack Nicholson in the lead role. Jack Torrance remains an all-time haunting antagonist as he stalks his family in the confines of the supernatural inn, the Overlook Hotel.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek, Quote.com, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
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