Top 20 Stephen King Movies

by Gprime1318 | created - 08 Jul 2011 | updated - 10 Jul 2011 | Public

It's no secret that filmmaker's have found the task of transitioning the King of horror to the silver screen to be, well... Let's be kind and say difficult. However, many have come to unfair conclusion that only Frank Darabont can do it right. Although he may be the most succesful, other director's have also managed to do King justice, as this Top 20 list- Darabont included- will hopefully serve to remind.

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1. The Green Mile (1999)

R | 189 min | Crime, Drama, Fantasy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  
61 Metascore

The lives of guards on Death Row are affected by one of their charges: a black man accused of child murder and rape, yet who has a mysterious gift.

Director: Frank Darabont | Stars: Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt

Votes: 909,652 | Gross: $136.80M

It's a longstanding debate between King fans whether Green Mile or Shawshank is the quintessential King film, with Shawshank usually coming out on top. I myself am on the Green Mile side of the argument, and I'll tell you why. Rita Heyworth and Shawshank Redemption, the story on which the movie was based, was a rather short and unorganized story. Darabont had his work cut out for him to mold it into the proper film formula- scenes were put in chronological order, characters were condensed into composites, and severel of the ideas in the 100 page story were actually expanded upon to create the 2 1/2 hour movie. Much as I liked the original story, the film's quality was as much due to Darabont as King himself. The Green Mile is different. Sure, Darabont is an asset to the film and much like Shawshank the film succeeds on every level, but this story is King's all the way. The film is nearly a word for word and scene for scene filming of the book, as loyal an adaptation as we are ever likely to see. As a result, what makes King King shines through brighter in the Green Mile than in any of the other Movies on this list. King himself said this was one of the almost unheard of instances where the movie was as good as the book, and I would have to agree.

2. Stand by Me (1986)

R | 89 min | Adventure, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
75 Metascore

After the death of a friend, a writer recounts a boyhood journey to find the body of a missing boy.

Director: Rob Reiner | Stars: Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell

Votes: 307,653 | Gross: $52.29M

There are just two words that can be used to adequately argue with a person claiming only Frank Darabont can do King justice... Rob Reiner. Misery was a near perfect film, but Stand By Me is one of those rare movies that for some is more than a movie. For many, this WAS our chilhood, and it is absolute magic to see it portrayed so seemlesly and totaly on the big screen. Rarely, if ever, has a cast of child actors given such uniformly fine performances, and Kiefer Sutherland exudes pure bravado and menace as the despicable Ace Merrill, one of King's iconic characters. "The most important things are the hardest to say, because word's diminish them..." Perhaps that is why I can't properly explain what a triumph of filmmaking this movie really is.

3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

R | 142 min | Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.3/10 X  
80 Metascore

Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.

Director: Frank Darabont | Stars: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler

Votes: 1,916,499 | Gross: $28.34M

What can you say about a film voted by viewers to be the greatest of all time? Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman give the best performances of their storied careers, and newcomer director Frank Darabont displays a shocking level of talent for ANY director, let alone a rookie. There are several changes from the original story and literaly every single one is for the better; Darabont's understanding of what works and what doesn't in the translation to the big screen is downright uncanny. The cast, the script, the location, the editing, the tone... the film comes out firing on all cyliders and hits the bullseye every time. A must see that will leave even the coldest of cynics feeling uplifted.

4. The Shining (1980)

R | 146 min | Drama, Horror

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63 Metascore

A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.

Director: Stanley Kubrick | Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers

Votes: 702,456 | Gross: $44.02M

Not just one of the best films based on a Stephen King Story, but one of the best films of the 80's, if not all time. King himself admits to not being particularly impressed by this adaptation from the legendary director Stanley Kubrick, and that is understandable, as it becomes more of a Kubrick film than a King story in the translation. Still, Jack Nicholsons questionable sanity even before he enters the hotel just adds more layers to the story, and his performance here, alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, is probably his most famous. Despite being more Kubrick than King, the films roots are still quite noticeable, and it becomes a sort of strange three way melding of one of our times greatest writers, directors and actors. Shelley Duvall gives the performance of her career as well.

5. Misery (1990)

R | 107 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
75 Metascore

After a famous author is rescued from a car crash by a fan of his novels, he comes to realize that the care he is receiving is only the beginning of a nightmare of captivity and abuse.

Director: Rob Reiner | Stars: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen

Votes: 151,672 | Gross: $61.28M

Who could have predicted that Misery would be both a financial and critical success? It had no young attractive stars, took place primarily in a single isolated indoor location, starred an unknown actress and a lead actor who hadn't had a hit in years, and came from a writer who's works had resulted in such films as Children of the Corn and Tales From the Darkside. Yet succeed it did, and is often regarded as a classic in the suspense genre. As well it should. Misery has an almost Hitchcockian feel to it, but has it's own unique feel as well. First and foremost it is a character drama, and despite the powerful script, the films success or failure really comes down to the actors. Despite rumors that he was not even in the filmmakers top ten choices for the part, James Caan gives a brilliantly understated performance that plays wonderfully off his co-star, and it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the part. It is, however, at the time relative unknown Kathy Bates as the intelligent, sweet natured, manic depressive, utterly pshycotic Annie Wilkes who steals the show, and became just the second heavyset woman in history (after Marie Dressler) to win a best actress oscar.

6. The Dead Zone (1983)

R | 103 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller

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69 Metascore

A man awakens from a coma to discover he has a psychic ability.

Director: David Cronenberg | Stars: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom

Votes: 50,384 | Gross: $20.77M

Canadian Filmmaker David Cronenberg, known for his rather strange sci\fi and drama films, tried something a little more mainstream than his usual fare, and ended up with one of his best. That's not to say that The Dead Zone is a typical mainstream movie. Christopher Walken is not your average leading man, and his somewhat odd appearence and mannerisms are perfect for a tortured character like pshycic John Smith. The picture is less a typical three act story than a series of events in John's unique life, and you find yourself really caring about the character and wanting more when the movies done. Cronenberg's interesting directorial style is well suited to the dramatic yet supernatural story, and he was a perfect choice to direct, nailing both the suspenseful and slower, quieter scenes with ease. A scenery chewing Martin Sheen in also noteworthy as a magnetic politician. The Dead Zone is a first class treatment of one of Kings best.

7. Hearts in Atlantis (2001)

PG-13 | 101 min | Drama, Mystery

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55 Metascore

A widowed mother and her son change when a mysterious stranger enters their lives.

Director: Scott Hicks | Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, Mika Boorem

Votes: 32,629 | Gross: $24.19M

For some reason, many viewers found this film to be manipulative, designed more as a series of attempts to make the audience gush than a genuine story. What can I say but to each his own, and that of all the films on imdb, this is the one that shocks me most by it's relatively low approval rating. I found this film to be succesful in everything it tries to get across; the relationships between young Bobby and his man hating mother, his girlfriend and a kindly old man who becomes the parent he should have had are all expertly crafted and brilliantly put across to the viewer. The child actors are outstanding, and Hopkins gives another stellar performance as Ted Brautigan, a character every bit as kind and sincere as his Hannibal was vicous and manipulative, and just as worthy of the Academy's notice. A beautiful, moving bit of old fashioned cinema appropriate for young and old alike... a rare King movie you can (and should) watch with the whole family.

8. Christine (1983)

R | 110 min | Horror

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57 Metascore

A nerdish boy buys a strange car with an evil mind of its own and his nature starts to change to reflect it.

Director: John Carpenter | Stars: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky

Votes: 56,948 | Gross: $21.20M

John Carpenter is a true curiosity.How could the man who so horrified us with Halloween have come back to insult us so thoroughly with the godawful Ghosts of Mars? How could the man who so badly flubbed an Invisible Man re-imagining have so adeptly nailed down the tone and characters of King's Christine? Despite his recent failures, there was a time when Carpenter was THE horror director, and Christine is him at his best. The characters and dialog are believable, effects marvelous, and the horror comes from the atmosphere, with little to no gore present or even needed, much like Halloween. And, much like Halloween, this is a superior horror film of it's time, all the more envolving because of the extra emphasis put on the development of the characters. You'd think a movie about a haunted car would be intolerably far fetched, but the film never feels that way, and this is a testament to both King and Carpenter.

9. Creepshow (1982)

R | 120 min | Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
59 Metascore

An anthology which tells five terrifying tales based on the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s.

Director: George A. Romero | Stars: Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, E.G. Marshall

Votes: 34,204 | Gross: $19.73M

Probably the single greatest anthology horror film of all time, Creepshow is the original horror/comedy that inspired as many rip offs and retreads as just about any movie out there. Taking on the nearly impossible task of capturing on film the creepy, goofy magic of the horror comics of the 50's, Creepshow succeeded with surprising flair. A pairing of two of horror's most celebrated names (King and Dead Trilogy's George A. Romero), Creepshow nailed the tone of the comics it was based on better than most of today's comic book movies by quite a large margin. It was eerie, funny and most of all fun, and the filmmakers love and respect for their subject matter was apparent from beginning to end.

10. The Mist (2007)

R | 126 min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller

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58 Metascore

A freak storm unleashes a species of bloodthirsty creatures on a small town, where a small band of citizens hole up in a supermarket and fight for their lives.

Director: Frank Darabont | Stars: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Andre Braugher

Votes: 245,386 | Gross: $25.59M

This is the point in my top 20 where I began to have difficulty deciding in which order to place the films. The Mist is a viscous little combination creature feature\morality tale with some surprisingly large aspirations for an admitted B movie. Think Lord of the Flies meets Them and you'll get an idea of the downright weird storyline involving customers holed up in a grocery store surrounded by the mist of the title. Marcia Gay Harden is utterly loathsome as a character who gains power through fear and thinly veiled threats while claiming to have the religous right on her side, making a story about giant killer bugs written in the 80's surprisingly relevant to our society of today.

11. Secret Window (2004)

PG-13 | 96 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
46 Metascore

A writer is accused of plagiarism by a strange man, who then starts haunting him for "justice."

Director: David Koepp | Stars: Johnny Depp, Maria Bello, John Turturro, Timothy Hutton

Votes: 160,705 | Gross: $48.02M

Surprisingly, this film reminds me of The Running Man. Though different in tone, storyline, genre (and just about everything else you can think of), both films took a fun to watch leading man of the time period and turned him loose on an oddball Stephen King story. However, where The Running Man was an intentionally goofy action flick well suited to Arnold's questionable acting ability, Secret Window is an interesting pshycological thriller, sometimes lighthearted and others extremely dark, and succesful on both fronts thanks to Depp's masterful performance.John Turturro is also fine in his supporting role, but this is Depp's show and he's really at his best here. One of those rare occaisons when a star vehicle actually perfectly showcases it's star, give me Secret Window over any of the Pirates' sequels anyday.

12. Carrie (1976)

R | 98 min | Horror

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
85 Metascore

Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother, unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom.

Director: Brian De Palma | Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta

Votes: 140,211 | Gross: $33.80M

Carrie is one of those movies that people seem to forget about when they say the big screen can't do justice to King's work. The movie that established Scarface director Brian De Palma as a filmaker to be reckoned with -before The Missions (Impossible and To Mars) un-established him twenty years later- Carrie was a well acted, atmospheric supernatural thriller that started John Travolta well on his way to superstardom. Carrie is unique in that the untold levels of violence and mayhem that occur are not the result of evil or greed, but the all too relatable feelings of pain and angst felt by a regular highschool outcast with a very irregular ability. Often immitated but never duplicated, Carrie is the quintessential teenage revenge fantasy.

13. Pet Sematary (1989)

R | 103 min | Horror, Thriller

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38 Metascore

Behind a young family's home in Maine is a terrible secret that holds the power of life after death. When tragedy strikes, the threat of that power soon becomes undeniable.

Director: Mary Lambert | Stars: Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby, Fred Gwynne, Brad Greenquist

Votes: 72,656 | Gross: $57.47M

"I'm coming for you, Rachel..." I saw this move when it first came out at the age of eight, and have never been so frightened of a movie before or since. Both my sister and I refused to stand next to our beds until our early teens, and even the title became somewhat of a dirty word in our house. It wasn't until eleventh grade that I worked up the nerve to watch the film again and found that I quite enjoyed it. Dale Midkiff was a bit stiff in the lead, but Fred Gwynne was made for his role and Miko Hughes unparalleled cuteness becomes heartbreaking in the second act and downright horrifying in the third. As for Zelda... well there is a thread on imdb claiming she is the scariest character in the history of cinema, and no one has offered a serious argument saying she isn't. If the purpose of a horror movie is strictly to horrify, than this is that genre's Citizen Kane.

14. The Running Man (1987)

R | 101 min | Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller

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45 Metascore

A wrongly convicted man must try to survive a public execution gauntlet staged as a game show.

Director: Paul Michael Glaser | Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown

Votes: 122,807 | Gross: $38.12M

Stephen King meets The Govahnator... What's not to like? Though not particularly loyal to King's source material, The Running Man maintanes enough of King's original story to do it justice, and though EXTREMLEY silly and over the top, it's still a hell of a lot of fun. Arnold is always fun to watch, and the source material brings it a step above his usual shoot 'em up material. Richard Dawson gives an iconic performance as, what else, a sleezy game show host.

15. Apt Pupil (1998)

R | 111 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

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51 Metascore

A boy blackmails his neighbor after suspecting him to be a Nazi war criminal.

Director: Bryan Singer | Stars: Ian McKellen, Brad Renfro, Joshua Jackson, Mickey Cottrell

Votes: 31,355 | Gross: $8.84M

People tend to remember director Bryan Singer for his criticly acclaimed The Usual Suspects and blockbuster X-Men franchise. However, for some, it is the disturbing and all too believable Apt Pupil that is Singers true masterpiece. Extremely frightening, though by no means a horror film, Apt Pupil is a study in the roots of evil and it's ability to feed upon itself. Ian Mckellan is a revelation, and if not for it's dark subject matter, this would surely be the role for wich tragicly underrated actor Brad Renfro would surely be remembered. A difficult and challenging movie in which the true horror comes from the characters themselves instead of the supernatural.

16. Cujo (1983)

R | 93 min | Horror, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  
57 Metascore

Cujo, a friendly St. Bernard, contracts rabies and conducts a reign of terror on a small American town.

Director: Lewis Teague | Stars: Dee Wallace, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Danny Pintauro, Christopher Stone

Votes: 31,230 | Gross: $21.20M

I never really understood how a film so universally well known could also be so often panned by both critics and audiences alike. Simply say the name Cujo, and people instantly know what you're talking about. Perhaps the films main problem is that it is not particularly enjoyable. It is scary because it plays upon very real fears instead of supernatural ones. A parents inability to protect their child from a very real monster makes for gripping, yet extremely difficult viewing. The omitting of the books supernatural elements actualy works in the films favour, and both Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro are exceptional. Any movie that can turn a friendly household pet into one of film's all time famous movie monsters must have done something right.

17. Silver Bullet (1985)

R | 95 min | Horror

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
26 Metascore

A werewolf terrorizes a small city where lives the paralytic Marty Coslaw, his uncle, and his sister, the story's narrator.

Director: Daniel Attias | Stars: Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Corey Haim, Megan Follows

Votes: 19,012 | Gross: $5.40M

This movie may not hold up as well today, especially in the effects department, but back in the 80's it was great fun to watch Gary Busey and Corey Haim in their prime, and remains so today for those who enjoy a bit of nostalgia with their horror flicks. Despite it's flaws and often unintentional humor, the cast is quite likable and the movie manages an undeniably atmospheric quality missing from most creature films, and the lead characters short comings- one is a cripple, the other a drunk- really adds to the suspense. Arguably a classic in the 80's horror genre.

18. Dolan's Cadillac (2009)

R | 89 min | Crime, Thriller

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A young man attempts to seek to avenge his wife's death after she is murdered by a Las Vegas mobster.

Director: Jeff Beesley | Stars: Christian Slater, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Wes Bentley, Greg Bryk

Votes: 6,187

This movie seems to have been sunk before it was ever released, thanks to an abnormal amount of bad will towards it's star Christian Slater. Alone in the Dark not withstanding, people seem to forget that with the proper casting, Slater was capable of turning in quite an effective performance in his day (Heathers, anyone?). He does so here, and his portrayel of the brutal yet human Dolan really made the movie. Wes Bentley was also effectively creepy as Robinson, and the script benefited from a rather straightforward revenge plot, never becoming needlessly overcomplicated as movies in this genre have been known to do.

19. Maximum Overdrive (1986)

R | 98 min | Action, Comedy, Horror

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24 Metascore

A group of people try to survive when machines start to come alive and become homicidal.

Director: Stephen King | Stars: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Yeardley Smith

Votes: 25,537 | Gross: $7.43M

This is an unabashed B-movie and the only one directed by King himself, who is one of it's loudest critics. Still, I think the man doth protest too much. This is a fun slice of 80's cheese with inventive special effects and storyline, as well as some foot tappin' beats from rock legends AC\DC. Watch it with no expectations and you should be pleasently surprised.

20. Cat's Eye (1985)

PG-13 | 94 min | Comedy, Horror, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
70 Metascore

A stray cat is the linking element of three tales of suspense and horror.

Director: Lewis Teague | Stars: Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan

Votes: 19,037 | Gross: $13.09M

Okay, the movie is far from great, and one of Drew Barrymore's early performances is um... interesting(read: awful), but the movie does fairly well playing up common fears; addiction, heights, the thing under the bed. Chances are you'll be able to identify with one of the first two stories, and the troll effects in the third are quite impressive even today. Include a stressed out James Woods, who's always fun to watch, and you've got a decent, underrated anthology flick.