Here are my favourite Stephen King film adaptations from 10-1, number one of course being the best.
10. Needful Things (1993) – I’m picking this one because I don’t often see it getting talked up. And because I loved the book. It was one of my absolute favourites. The film isn’t a classic, but it has a nice vibe to it. I’ve read it described recently as Twin Peaks-lite. And I like that. Also: Ed Harris. Bonus. I definitely need to see this again. Though the worry is that a rewatch will bump it off the list.
9. Carrie (1976) – the first of King’s books to be published became the first to be turned into a film. It’s significant beyond that – but for that it should be on any list anyway. Add to that, it’s a Brian de Palma movie, it features a wonderful turn from Sissy Spacek (just perfect in the title role) and has frightening support from the often-brilliant Piper Laurie. A young John Travolta is well-cast, mugging away and hamming it up. The music is sublime (well, of course, it’s Pino Donaggio) and the movie would go on to be a hugely influential horror. And pave the way for so many more King movie adaptations. One thing I must add, do not bother with the 2013 remake. It’s terrible!
8. The Dead Zone (1983) – another that I need to see again. But I’m holding off because I never ever read the book and I recently picked up a nice First Edition Hardback. So I’ll have a hoon through that over summer, hopefully. And rewatch The Dead Zone. As with Carrie and de Palma, you can watch this because it’s a David Cronenberg film – and I’m sure some people arrived at it because of that, rather than the Stephen King source material. It’s also got a score that I now spend a lot of time with (by the wonderful Michael Kamen; he helped out on many scores as arranger and orchestrator but I don’t know that he wrote many, this might be his only one actually). Outside of that, my memory of this film is that it’s a great concept – well told. And brilliant casting of Christopher Walken. Possibly one of the first times I saw him in a film (after seeing him as a Bond villain of course).
7. It (1990) – again, I loved this because I loved the book. And the sense of achievement from reading the 1100 pages was backed up by a similar sense of achievement watching the film (actually a TV mini-series). At three hours, it was – at that time – the longest film I’d seen. It’s by no means perfect (and I do like the recent two-part remake) but the tone and feel of this film captures enough of my experience reading the book. And I’ve rewatched this a couple of times in recent years and it’s been a bit part of what has got me hooked right back into the worlds Stephen King creates. Another shoutout for the score. I don’t know that Richard Bellis did very much else along these lines but his soundtrack for It is exquisite. So much so I recently forked out for the triple-vinyl reissue. And it’s been one of the most played records in the house this year.
6. Gerald’s Game (2017) – I wasn’t alone in wondering how on earth they would actually pull this off. And I think that’s why I like it so much. Unfilmable novel gets filmed. It works. It works pretty well. Also, I really loved this book – one of my favourites.
5. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – I’ve simply seen this film too many times to rank it any higher. There was a time when this was right up there. Number one or two always. But a recent rewatch has pushed it down the list. At the time, everything about it was perfect. It also did that rare thing: It introduced me to the book (novella). I hadn’t read this story until after I’d seen the film. Usually I watched the movies after reading the books.
4. The Mist (2007) – I, erm, missed this at the time. I had read the story, way back – but I didn’t see The Mist for the first time as a movie until last year. I’ve watched it three times. It is a brilliant realisation, with a new ending. An ending so good that King gave the filmmaker his blessing, saying even that he’d wished he had thought of that ending. This is a dark, depressing film. I love the relentlessness of the mood.
2. Stand By Me (1986) – as with Shawshank, I hadn’t read Stand By Me (The Body) before I saw the film. In fact, I had seen the film a bunch of times before I finally read the novella. I had no idea it was based on a Stephen King story and I already considered it a favourite movie. I have watched it a couple of times recently and I love it even more. I have my own memories of watching it, loving the songs from it, rewatching it…and now I’m making new memories re-watching it with my son.
1. The Shining (1980) – one day I’ll write more about this movie. Because it’s one of my all-time, most favourite, most-watched films. But I have to select it as number one here because I love the fact that Stephen King hates this version. To me this highlights how you can make a different story through filming a book; some things that work in a book will not translate to the screen; sometimes the filmmaker’s instinct to take themes and extrapolate is sharper than the writer’s need to have their work fully translated. For further proof there is a terrible TV mini-series from 1997 which King scripted. It does not work.
So that’s my list of Top 10 King adaptations. I think I’d be happy enough having Cujo at number 11 or Christine.