Oh Stephen King. He’s both the butt of many jokes and a visionary that brought some of the most legendary horror novels to the masses. Many of those books have been adapted for the big screen, some by his own hand and some with more creative license attributed to them. Recently details about the newest adaptation of his books, a remake of “Pet Sematery”, have been released which had me reminiscing on the Stephen King films we’ve seen so far. Whether we like them or hate them and whether HE likes them or hates then Stephen King movies have become something of a genre all their own and while not all of them are horror films today I’m going to look at those that are meant to bring the fright today. These are my picks for the Top 10 Stephen King Horror Movies.
For this list I looked at any theatrical movies based on the horror works of Stephen King whether they be short stories, novels or the like. That said no non-horror movies will be seen here, just the horror features so while the likes of “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption” are fantastic films they’re not horror movies and thus are not eligible. Also, as the rules state, King’s miniseries or made-for-television productions won’t apply.
I am limiting this list to theatrical films so Netflix movies are not included. That said though I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend you check out the Netflix release of “Gerald’s Game”. It’s a satisfyingly horrific psychological thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed and gets an honorable mention here.
Now, it’s time to explore the scariest cinematic products King’s bibliography has ever produced. What is your favorite horror movie based on a Stephen King work? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list!
It’s hard to argue against a Stephen King movie directed by the great John Carpenter. Released in 1983 “Christine” is one of many projects responsible for the negative assumption that King just likes to turn quirky things into scary objects. Here the object in question is a sentient Plymouth Fury named Christine that kills violently and is able to regenerate and repair itself on command. The imagination behind this concept shouldn’t be ignored and it makes for a fun and thrilling horror feature that will have you second guessing the next time you crawl behind the wheel of your own vehicle. Despite being considered a retread of sorts, “Christine” earned modest critical praise and eventually went on to become a cult classic. Today Christine herself is among King’s most popular villains and this film remains a standout in a crowded lineup of King films released during the 1980s.
9. “Cat’s Eye”
This was the film that introduced me personally to Stephen King. Released in 1985 this anthology horror film is split into three parts, “Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge” which are both based on King’s short stories from “Night Shift” and a third part called “General” that is a completely original story also written by King just for the film. What ties them all together is a wondering cat, thus the name of the film which implies we are seeing these events from the cat’s perspective. It’s a cool little film with a “Twilight Zone” vibe that doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. While it’s not the only notable anthology film of King’s career (“Creepshow” is another good one) this was the one that always stood out to me and is still considered an underrated gem in this author’s extensive filmography.
8. “Pet Sematary”
Twenty years before the pending April 2019 release of the new “Pet Sematary” Stephen King wrote a film adaptation of the novel that would become a box office hit and spawn a sequel. Based on King’s 1983 novel “Pet Sematary” involves a burial ground that, unbeknownst to the characters, brings anything buried there back to life although they are far from the same as they were before their deaths. “Pet Sematary” was a gruesome and brutal film for its time but still today holds merit as a scary feature playing off the emotional attachment we all have to our pets and loved ones as well as focusing on the consequences of defying the laws of nature. I remember being pleasantly disturbed by the film when I first watched it myself and it remains one of King’s most effective and ruthlessly dark cinematic stories to this day.
While we’re on the topic of pets, “Cujo” was the first of three King films release in 1983 and today is a cult classic. Like “Pet Sematary” a remake is in the works, but the original is still a terrifying experience especially considering the relevance of dogs as “man’s best friend”. The film follows a simple premise on the surface as a mother and son are trapped in their car by a rabid St. Bernard but add in a heat wave and a lack of food or water as well as no way to start the vehicle to escape and you have an incredibly claustrophobic experience and a horror that could actually happen in the real world. “Cujo” may have only been a modest success in its time, but as years have gone by this vicious canine has earned quite a reputation and the film that carries his name is one of the most uncomfortably real King products you’ll ever see.
6. “The Mist”
Honestly “The Mist” is not among my favorite Stephen King movies, but its popularity with critics and fans as well as its shocking ending earn it a spot on this list. “The Mist”, released in 2007, is based on King’s 1980 novel of the same name focusing on a small town in Maine (shocking) overrun by a mist containing strange creatures. This film feels much more mainstream than a lot of other King adaptations with Frank Darabont writing and directing the film as a passion project of sorts. It’s also one of the few King adaptations where the ending is actually darker than the novel, a decision made with King’s blessing. This makes for one of the most shocking and depressing final scenes in the entire genre. For what it’s worth “The Mist” is a solid King adaptation. Fun fact, the cast includes numerous actors who would go on to star in “The Walking Dead” including Jeffrey DeMunn, Laurie Holden and Melissa McBride.
Now we’re getting to the real heavy hitters. Although considered more a thriller than a horror to many, “Misery” is one of the most famous Stephen King movies for Kathy Bates’ Oscar and Golden Globe winning performance alone. She plays Annie Wilkes, an obsessed fan to finds her favorite author after a car crash, takes him in to heal him and then tortures him partially out of spite for his planned ending to his book series and partially out of her obsession and longing to keep him around. The idea alone is pretty creepy and while “Misery” may not provide the same creep factor as most other projects on this list what it does provide is an uncomfortable atmosphere and some brutal moments of body horror including the famous “hobbling” scene often cited as one of the scariest movie scenes of all time.
This is my personal favorite Stephen King adaptation and one I truly believe is criminally underrated. This 2007 psychological horror film is based on King’s short story of the same name and follows an author famous for debunking allegedly haunted locations who becomes trapped in an infamous hotel room that turns out to actually be haunted. This film gives me chills even a decade later after its release with intense and mind-bending imagery and a story structure that keeps you guessing right along with the main character from start to finish. It utilizes fake out endings and sensory overload to keep you on your toes the whole time. It’s a fun play on the haunted hotel cliché and yet still feels like one of the most original movies to ever come from a Stephen King story. If you have not had the chance to watch this trippy and unsettling gem make time because it’s worth every minute.
While the miniseries doesn’t qualify for this list thankfully the big screen adaptation does. The first of two “It” films both based on the same novel originally released in 1986 the theatrical “It” perfects everything that was great about its predecessor and builds on it resulting in an epic and legitimately unsettling experience that made it a critical and box office darling. A breakout cast, including Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise, makes “It” a fun experience and a spooky thrill ride that plays off of numerous fears in the way only a Stephen King narrative can. “It” quickly became the highest grossing horror movie ever and for good reason. With a highly anticipated sequel on the way in 2019 to complete the duology and cover the adult years of the film and novel’s protagonists this is one King movie you don’t want to pass up. Want proof? I did a review of the film which you read here (shameless plug).
Not only was “Carrie” Stephen King’s first published book, it was also the first movie to be based on one of his works way back in 1976. The film follows the titular Carrie who discovers she has psychic abilities which are brought on by the abuse from her classmates and from her starkly religious mother. This eventually leads to the infamous prom incident where Carrie takes revenge on those who wronged her, a horror movie scene often included in many all-time “scariest moments in film” lists. “Carrie” eventually received a remake in 2013 which I personally enjoyed but others thought was unnecessary. Regardless the original stands the test of time as a masterpiece and today is still among King’s most popular film adaptations. It would probably be THE most popular if it weren’t for another legendary cinematic masterpiece that King actually hated.
1. “The Shining”
It was tough for me to decide between “Carrie” and “The Shining” for this list’s top spot, but in the end I had to go with a film considered by many to be among the greatest horror movie achievements of all time. Sure, King himself wasn’t impressed with it and even went on to make a miniseries in his own vision but there’s no denying the impact Stanley Kubrick’s legendary take on King’s 1977 novel has had on the medium. “The Shining”, released in 1980, was only the second film based on King’s works and features countless quotable lines and iconic scenes that are today staples of the horror genre and pop culture as well as defining moments in the careers of many involved in the film. “The Shining” is still analyzed and discussed today for its symbolism, techniques and its impact on pop culture. So while King may not enjoy this adaptation of his novel, countless others do and its lasting and even still growing legacy earns it the top spot on this list.