Stephen King’s Top 10 Greatest Movies Ranked
Happy birthday to the true master of horror, Stephen King. To celebrate, we’ve ranked the beloved scribe’s 10 best adaptations.
His imagery, vast and versatile, is timeless; whether it be the smiles and whoops of prisoners watching Gilda, a dancing clown, or a high school girl pushed over the edge.
More than 60 novels, around 200 short stories, and the author’s imagination continues to unfurl in perceptive, incisive ways. Generation after generation, his prose finds home in the dark, perilous corners of the psyche, via both page and screen. All work and no play makes Stephen a scary boy, it seems.
At 73 years old, his grip on the three scares – ‘the gross-out, horror and terror’ – continues to intrigue, shock and amaze. However, crediting solely his morbidity unduly discounts the heart in his work. There’s a reason filmmakers perennially use his stories. So, to mark today’s special occasion, these are his all-time, greatest movies.
10. The Running Man
We’re thrown into America between 2017 and 2019. The nation has become a totalitarian police state, culture activity is censored by the government, riots are breaking out. Dystopia, what a concept!
Based on King’s novel of the same name, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a framed helicopter pilot offered a chance at freedom on a deadly, inhumane game show. ‘I’m not into politics. I’m into survival,’ he says, battling bloodthirsty goons like Dynamo, Buzzsaw and Fireball. Its commentary has only grown riper, its violence more comical, its appeal more prescient.
9. The Mist
A recurring criticism of King’s literature is his conclusions. Rather aptly, one of the greatest films based on his works features an ending he didn’t write – but one he loves dearly.
The Mist sees a small town invaded by otherworldly creatures, roaming in thick fog. It’s a rather brilliant movie, terrifically performed and equipped with Dawn of the Dead lock-in appeal.
However, it’s famed mostly for its finale; the bleakest, most brutally hopeless climax you’ll ever see. In our interview, Thomas Jane recounted the author telling director Frank Darabont: ‘If I had thought of that ending, I’d have written it.’
8. Doctor Sleep
Naively, unfairly, I joined the choirs of balking upon the announcement that a sequel to The Shining was in development. How wrong I turned out to be; Mike Flanagan’s slow-burning, ethereal, horrifying vision was perhaps 2019’s most underrated movie.
It’s near-faultless across the board, but there’s two clear winners: Rebecca Ferguson for her slithering, charming embodiment of Rose the Hat; and Michael Fimognari’s open-screen, glowing cinematography, dream-like in its scope and vibrancy. Do yourself a favour and dig out the three-hour director’s cut for the best experience.
Certain scenes in cinema etch onto the memory, for an array of reasons; whether it be the devastation of Artax’s swamp demise in The Neverending Story, Toy Story 3’s tear-jerking furnace or The Blair Witch Project’s wall-facing reveal.
Then, there’s Misery’s hobbling, a knuckle-whitening combination of visual and aural torture. It’s the movie’s infamous centrepiece act of cruelty, the perfect illustration of fandom turned deadly. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her terrifying performance as Annie Wilkes, still to this day the only Academy Award win for a King adaptation.
6. It Chapter One
Unlike 1990’s miniseries, with Tim Curry as Pennywise, Andy Muschietti’s take didn’t shy away from the violence. We don’t cut away when little Georgie loses his arm in the sewer, screaming and wailing as he’s devoured; from that moment, you knew It was the real deal.
The first chapter is one of the most 2017 movies imaginable, steeped deep in Stranger Things’ 80s nostalgia vibes, with a story invested in the lives, loves and fears of the Losers Club as well as its shape-shifting clown. That purity, relatable and often moving, is the deft touch that enabled the film’s grand-slam success. ‘You’ll float too.’
5. The Green Mile
Darabont makes a second appearance on the list, this time pivoting away from horror, but only in genre, not necessarily content. Ostensibly a hard-floor prison drama, The Green Mile is far more spiritually and magically inclined, with an immensely affecting Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey, ‘just like the drink, only not spelled the same’.
Three observations: it’s absolutely insane it didn’t win a single Oscar; everybody forgets how long the film is, but nobody cares any time it’s put on; and the tears it inspires are perhaps the most universal in all of fiction. As Jesse Plemons says in Game Night: ‘I assume everyone cried during The Green Mile.’
Ah, that well-trodden parental adage: ‘Your school days are the best of your life.’ True for some, a falsity for many. Monsters, clowns, murderers, killer cars and dogs… more overt, sure, but less resonant than the cruelty of bullies. ‘They’re all going to laugh at you.’
Brian De Palma’s 1976 film, starring Sissy Spacek as the titular teen, is an unrivalled coming-of-age horror. As Carrie stands on-stage, drenched in pig’s blood, amid the rattling laughs of the auditorium, her wrath evokes terror, awe, even catharsis. It’s the ultimate revenge movie; the mystical, nerve-racking endgame of institutionalised nastiness, both active and idle.
3. Stand By Me
As King’s body-hunting quartet of sweary, rambunctious boys walk down the railway tracks singing, laughing, chatting about all the stuff you discuss before you discover girls, my heart yearns for the simpler times, and pains for today’s generations who’ve never known such outward bound adventures.
Upon seeing Rob Reiner’s movie, King told him: ‘That’s the best film ever made out of anything I’ve written, which isn’t saying much. But you’ve really captured my story.’ Its legacy lives in one quote: ‘I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?’
2. The Shining
The empirical success of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation, often touted as the best horror movie of all time, seems somewhat ironic on this list. Famously, King hated the film, citing the writing of Shelley Duvall’s character and the director’s handling of the book’s themes.
Nevertheless, one can’t deny how legendary the film would go onto become. Its images – ‘Come play with us’, ‘Here’s Johnny’, the elevator full of blood – have influenced the genre in ways that cannot be quantified, its mystery still conjuring obsession from viewers 40 years later.
1. The Shawshank Redemption
Think about Andy Dufresne standing shirtless in the rain, lightning in the skies, hands in the air. Think about how that makes you feel; the pangs of elation in your heart, the goosebumps. Transcendent.
Darabont round three, his finest work and the best interpretation of King’s words. A prison escape drama, an ode to freedom and, crucially, a love story between two men, two brothers behind bars, two souls intertwined immovably, comforted in each other’s knowing embrace. Not romantic, no, but tender and real.
Long may The Shawshank Redemption reign – an unequivocal masterpiece.
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