One of the best-known names in horror and one of the 10 highest-grossing American authors across all genres to ever live, Stephen King’s prolific body of work has been adapted numerous times with varying degrees of success. There are 89 books to his name, and his pen name Richard Bachman, and upwards of 70 film and TV adaptations have been made of his writing, with more still in the works. Not every Stephen King movie adaptation has been good but many of them have. Join us in counting down the top 20 Stephen King movie adaptations.
Stephen King Movies List
Criteria for ranking Stephen King films
For this list, we’re taking a look at all Stephen King movies and ranking them based on their overall quality, and scoring their individual film craft, enjoyment factor, and “King-ness,” which is essentially how well it fits into King’s oeuvre based on his common tropes, themes, and eponymous style.
Good STEPHEN KING MOVIES
20. Pet Sematary (1989)
The original Pet Sematary film adaptation is far from being a perfect film but it is miles better than the 2019 remake. Pet Sematary has some interesting ideas with a timeless quality to them and some genuinely creepy moments, but you have to slog through the weak technical craft and bad acting to get to the good stuff. There’s just enough gold here to be worth digging for.
Good STEPHEN KING MOVIES
19. Doctor Sleep (2019)
Both as a book and as a film, Doctor Sleep was facing an uphill challenge from the get-go as the follow-up to The Shining. The success of this sequel will vary from person-to-person as Doctor Sleep proved somewhat divisive.
It’s a film with just as many cons as pros; it does some things quite well but also features a number of distractions and a runtime that overstays its welcome, just a bit. The film is absolutely worth at least one watch for fans of The Shining.
Stephen King movies list
18. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Dolores Claiborne has drummed up a bit of a reputation as the “forgotten Stephen King film” over the years because its quality significantly outweighs its legacy. This might be in part due to living in the shadow of that other Kathy Bates starring Stephen King film, but more about that one later on down this list. Kathy Bates is great in the titular role, and the film works as a solid thriller with an engrossing mystery at its core.
Best Stephen King movies
17. Secret Window (2004)
Secret Window takes a bare-bones, overly-simple premise and executes it pretty darn well. The setup is a familiar one — a writer finds the things from their book happening to them in real life.
It’s not the most original premise and the protagonist is a stock archetype from the Stephen King stable, but there are a few interesting kinks thrown into the narrative. Johnny Depp’s performance is quite good, going so far as to elevate the surrounding material a fair bit. John Turturro gives a memorable performance as well. The film’s one major drawback is its twist ending which is both predictable and cliché.
Top Stephen King movies
16. 1408 (2007)
1408 follows John Cusack as a ghost debunker who travels to supposedly haunted locations and dispels the myths. Within the confines of Room 1408, he finally comes face-to-face with true supernatural terror. The film employs a Groundhog Day-esque framing device that resets the room from time to time as our protagonist tries desperately to escape.
It’s a bottle film for all intents and purposes and a pretty good one in that regard. The scares are creative and the film keeps up a fast pace from beginning to end. Samuel L. Jackson fans, don’t get your hopes up. His face might be huge on the poster but he’s hardly in the film; his role is little more than a cameo.
Stephen King films
15. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
It’s difficult to call Maximum Overdrive a great film but it sure is fun. It’s a real oddity in that it is, to-date, the only film ever directed by Stephen King himself.
Many years later he would say of the project: “The problem with that film is that I was coked out of my mind all through its production, and I really didn’t know what I was doing.” Within Maximum Overdrive’s trashy exterior is a ton of explosive, gory fun all set to a high-powered AC/DC soundtrack.
Stephen King movies list
14. Firestarter (1984)
With a young Drew Barrymore in the lead role, Firestarter tells the story of a girl with pyro-kinetic abilities. Her parents acquired telekinetic abilities of their own through medical experimentation. The story is a little bit on the goofier end of the spectrum, but George C. Scott and Martin Sheen help to class up the joint in their supporting roles.
How many Stephen King movies are there
13. It (2017)
There are now two fully-fledged adaptations of Stephen King’s cosmic clown horror story. One a two-part mini-series from 1990, and the other a two-part film duology released theatrically in recent years. The difference in budget and technical craft tips the scale heavily in favor of the recent films.
But the 1990 adaptation still holds some degree of merit, at least for comparison’s sake, especially Tim Curry’s turn as Pennywise. 2017’s It is a darker, more serious effort with a good cast and inventive visuals.
Stephen King movies
12. Creepshow (1982)
Creepshow is a cult classic horror film and an exciting team-up between horror legends. With Stephen King writing, George A. Romero directing, and Tom Savini doing the special effects, this one was bound for success.
Creepshow may have landed higher on this list if it weren't only a partial King adaptation. Creepshow as a whole was crafted as a tribute to the E.C. Comics of the 1950s, and while Stephen King did pen the original screenplay, only two of the film’s five anthology segments were adapted from King’s pre-existing short stories, while the other segments were comprised of entirely fresh material.
How many Stephen King books are movies
11. The Dead Zone (1983)
The Dead Zone contains flashes of greatness but wraps everything up in a rather uneven package. The concept is strong, and Christopher Walken is excellent in the lead role, but the script may have been biting off more than it could chew in an hour and 43 minute film.
There’s a disjointed nature to the script where one plot thread fully wraps up only for another to begin immediately afterwards. Instead of feeling like a cohesive film, The Dead Zone ends up feeling more like three episodes of a television series stitched together. Turning the concept into a television show makes perfect sense in that regard.
Top 10 Stephen King Movies
10. Christine (1983)
And now, on to the top 10 Stephen King movies. Master of horror John Carpenter’s turn at adapting a Stephen King book came about in 1983 with Christine. One of a number of killer car stories from King, the guy has a thing for deadly motor vehicles. Christine features Carpenter’s trademark knack for tension and atmosphere, excellent special effects, and some surprisingly good acting.
Stephen King films
9. Gerald’s Game (2017)
Gerald’s Game is a Netflix original from director Mike Flanagan. Flanagan has been making quite a name for himself amongst horror directors in recent years, and he might even be carving out a niche as the modern go-to director for Stephen King adaptations with two already under his belt and a third already slated for production.
Check out the recent Doctor Sleep for another Flanagan + King project. Gerald’s Game makes the most of its contained setting and is bolstered by some excellent performances from Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, and Henry Thomas.
Stephen King movies and TV shows
8. The Outsider (2020)
The Outsider is the most recent Stephen King adaptation to make our list and comes to us in the form of an HBO mini-series. At least for the time being it’s a mini-series, but there are talks underway about expanding the show and characters into a second season.
The Outsider plays out as a dark and gritty crime thriller with a creepy, supernatural element at the core. Strong plotting and excellent performances makes this one a must-watch.
Stephen King movies ranked
7. The Mist (2007)
Somewhat infamous for its horrifically dour ending, The Mist released to a mixed reception but audiences have since come around toward more widespread acclaim. In a similar vein to other alternate cuts such as Mad Max: Fury Road - Black and Chrome and Logan: Noire, Frank Darabont’s director’s cut of The Mist is presented in glorious black and white.
The original color release was done at the insistence of the studio and against Darabont’s initial intentions of releasing the film theatrically in black and white. If you’re only going to watch one version of The Mist, make it the B&W cut, it’s an improvement all around. By the way, don’t bother with the 2017 TV adaptation, it stinks.
Movies based on Stephen King books
6. Stand By Me (1986)
Stand by Me is the first film so far on our list with no real horror component to it, though there is still some death in the proceedings. Stand By Me is a timeless tale with a great youthful, adventurous spirit, and some truly iconic scenes.
The chemistry between the young cast members carries a sense of genuine friendship. The script based on King’s original story for Stand By Me earned a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at the 1987 Oscars.
Stephen King books to movies
5. The Green Mile (1999)
From one of the more prolific Stephen King adaptation directors, Frank Darabont, came The Green Mile. This was Darabont’s second King adaptation, second King prison movie, and the second of his to make this list after The Mist.
The Green Mile has just a pinch of magical realism in a gripping tale of life on death row. The performances are fantastic across the board, especially that of the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan.
What was Stephen King’s first movie
4. Carrie (1976)
1976’s Carrie was actually the first film to be adapted from one of Stephen King’s novels, hitting theaters just two years after the release of the book — King's first novel. Carrie is one Stephen King story that has been remade more than once, but most everyone agrees that the best telling of this classic story is this original version from Brian De Palma.
Somewhat early on in the legendary director’s filmography, Carrie saw De Palma furthering and refining his iconic editing and use of split screens which he first played around with in 1972’s Sisters.
Movies based on Stephen King
3. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Here’s the other Frank Darabont + Stephen King prison movie we teased. The Shawshank Redemption is without a doubt one of Stephen King’s most grounded stories, no horror, no overt murders, no supernatural element. Shawshank, being as stripped down as it is, also ensures that it’s one of the legendary author’s most poignant and human. Darabont does masterful work behind the camera, and the Tim Robbins & Morgan Freeman duo is one for the ages.
Stephen King books to movies
2. The Shining (1980)
From master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick came an enduring horror classic by the name of The Shining. An all-time great of the horror genre and a full-fledged masterwork of cinema. A case could surely be made for The Shining to take the #1 spot, but there’s one little hitch: Stephen King hated it.
Kubrick’s film was a very “loose” adaptation of the 1977 novel to say the least. King disliked Kubrick’s take on his material, so much so that he eventually had an alternate, more-faithful version made in the form of a three-part mini-series released in 1997.
If you’re curious, go ahead and check out the mini-series, but know that you’re safe sticking with the Kubrick film.
How many Stephen King Books are movies
Other Notable Adaptations
Before we get to #1, let’s run down a few other noteworthy Stephen King film adaptations. Each of these adaptations is at least memorable, if not precisely high-quality.
- The Dark Tower
- The Stand
- The Langoliers
- Children of the Corn
- Silver Bullet
- Cat’s Eye
- In the Tall Grass
- Graveyard Shift
- Apt Pupil
- Hearts in Atlantis
- Salem’s Lot
And now without further ado...
Best movies from Stephen King books
1. Misery (1990)
The premise is a simple, stripped down concept played to absolute perfection. Carried almost entirely by a Kathy Bates and James Caan double act, there isn’t a single wasted moment in Misery.
A remarkable sense of tension envelopes the entire film which crescendos to a wonderful finale.
The Best Thrillers Ever Made
Speaking of thrillers, if Stephen King’s personal brand of dark storytelling got you in the mood for more thrillers, then be sure to read through our list of the best thriller films ever made.