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Top 10 Stephen King Adaptations

& where to watch them

By Amanda Cleveland • August 31, 2023

With another new Stephen King book on the horizon (by the way, don't miss our Holly giveaway), and the darkness of the northwest settling in, Stephen King talk is all abuzz in the office again. This got me thinking, "Stephen King movies would make a great fall marathon."

So I set to find out what are the best of the best for this marathon. With any adaptation there's a lot to consider. Was it true to the book? Was it a great film regardless? Do you include all eleven Children of the Corn movies? The musicals? How do you decide? Cop out time, I decided that I wouldn't decide. Everyone would.

I went online to every ranking site I could think of to conclude what the internet considers the true Top 10 Best Stephen King adaptations. Aggregating opinions from Reddit threads, IMDB forums and comments, Buzzfeed, Screen Rant, AV Club, and more, here are the most consistently highly ranked and beloved Stephen King stories on film, from both book fans and film fans. Plus, where to watch them. Try to act surprised by number one.

10. Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Watch it on: Max

Based on the book: Dolores Claiborne

Presenting the first appearance of Kathy Bates on this list! Taking spot number 10 is Taylor Hackford's adaptation of Dolores Claiborne, a psychological thriller focused on Dolores (Bates), who is accused of murder, and her daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who comes to help despite being uncertain about her mother's guilt. People rave over Bates' performance and the perfectly paced slow-burn to terror.

Does Stephen King approve? Yes! King is not shy with opinions when an adaptation of his work doesn't meet his standards, but Dolores did. He wrote the book with Kathy Bates in mind for the main character after her stunning work in Misery.

9. The Green Mile (1999)

Watch it on: DVD, or you can digitally rent on Youtube, Prime, Google Play, or Apple TV

Based on the book: The Green Mile

Not a horror, this crime drama with fantasy elements was directed by Frank Darabont, and stars Tom Hanks as correctional officer Paul, who longs to save the life of gentle giant John (Michael Clarke Duncan) who possesses a gift of healing, yet is set to be executed. It's a tender story that resonates with both King fans and general drama fans.

Does Stephen King Approve? Yes. King said in a DVD commentary that this film is the single most faithful adaptation of his work there is.

8. The Mist (2007)

Watch it on: Amazon Prime and Pluto TV

Based on the book: The Mist

Earning spot number 7 is King's tale of strange creatures that lurk in the fog, directed by experienced King favorite Frank Darabont, who previously adapted The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Darabont took a chance and changed the ending of the book for his film, to much division. Some feel it completely ruined the film, while others think it was genius.

Does Stephen King approve? Yes. He even liked the changed ending, praising the nihilism of the film.

7. It (2017)

Watch it on: DVD, or you can digitally rent on Youtube, Prime, Google Play, or Apple TV

Based on the book: It

Clown-shaped villain Pennywise, who haunts the town of Derry, may be Stephen King's most iconic monster, so a strong performance is key and Bill Skarsgård's chilling performance lives up to the legend. Surprisingly, It: Chapter One was much preferred over its sequel, which rarely made best of or top 10 lists. Consensus is that part one seems to capture a magic of youth that the second didn't.

Does Stephen King approve? Yes. "I was not prepared for how good it really was," is what he told Bloody Disgusting.

6. The Dead Zone (1983)

Watch it on: Paramount+ and MGM+

Based on the book: The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone stars Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Hairspray) in a David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers, The Fly) directed adaptation of a Stephen King action thriller about a psychic who feels cursed by his power. Such good ingredients which create an amazing film. Not to be confused with the 2002 television show, which is also pretty good if you like serials.

Does Stephen King approve? Probably. I was unable to find any quotes or opinions from the man himself. Considering what he said about Firestarter around the same time—"worst of the bunch…like cafeteria mashed potatoes"—I reckon he would have said so if he didn't like The Dead Zone.

5. Stand by Me (1986)

Watch it on: Tubi and Amazon Prime

Based on the novella: The Body, also included in the collection Different Seasons

Four boys look for a dead body. A tale as old as time? Maybe not, but the way King tells it, with the easy direction of Rob Reiner, and the natural acting of the group of kids, you really do feel this happened. All elements combine to make this nostalgic story of growing up a truly great film.

Does Stephen King approve? Yes, it may even be his favorite. Director Rob Reiner told Gene Siskel that King said it was "the best film ever made out of anything I've written."

4. Carrie (1976)

Watch it on: Pluto TV and Tubi

Based on the book: Carrie

A tale of revenge and, ultimately, tragedy, Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) has been bullied and abused her entire life. At 16 she develops powers and can start to fight back, though it may be too late. The power of this Brian De Palma film comes from its leading performances, Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as the mother from hell, Margaret. While not reviled (it's no Children of the Corn: Revelation), the 2013 remake does not see nearly the same love or appreciation online that the original does.

Does Stephen King approve? Yes, he does. Though he wishes that Carrie could have destroyed the whole town on film as she does in the book.

3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

Based on the novella: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, also included in the Different Seasons collection

Directed by Frank Darabont and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, this story of two convicts who form a friendship and long for Zihuatanejo is often called one of the greatest films of all time. There seems to be equal love from all for this Oscar-winning film.

Does Stephen King approve? Yes, he loves this one! Who doesn't?

2. Misery (1990)

Watch it on: Pluto TV

Based on the book: Misery

This film is all about Kathy Bates, whose performance is the number one praised element of the adaptation, for good reason. My personal favorite of the list, Misery is a tale of dark obsession. When a popular writer (played by James Caan) is rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes (Bates) after a car crash, things take a turn for the dark and hobbling when she discovers he is killing her favorite character in his next book. Annie will not let that happen, no matter what.

Does Stephen King approve? Yes he does. In fact, King puts it in his own top 10 adaptations list in Stephen King Goes to the Movies.

1. The Shining (1980)

Watch it on: Showtime

Based on the book: The Shining

A controversial conclusion to come to, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is certainly the most well-reviewed King adaptation to this day, topping best of lists all over the net and is considered a classic. While the film is not faithful to the book, what I found overall is that despite drastic departures, nearly no one dislikes this film. Even the Stephen King subreddit, a home to some of the most diehard fans, seems to concede that it's a bad adaptation but a masterpiece of horror nonetheless. The book is always better anyway.

Does Stephen King approve? No. Not at all. He was so bothered by it that he made his own miniseries in 1997. King told Writer's Digest in 2009 that it was the only adaptation he could remember "really hating."

My perfect movie marathon is officially all set and I am left with only one question: are the Children of the Corn movies really as bad as they say? Stay tuned, I might watch them all just to find out.

Remember, lists and opinions are all subjective. While this is what I found to be a general consensus across internet articles, it is not every opinion, and I'd rather hear from ThriftBooks customers. You tell me what you think is the best and what are the most egregious omissions from the list!

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