If you’ve ever tried reading or watching Stephen King‘s stories, you know it’s easier said than done. After all, the man has written over 80 books (even more if you consider his short stories and novellas separately). And as impossible as it may sound, the number of adaptations from his story crosses the 100 mark. We also have some upcoming movies like Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (from “If It Bleeds”) on Netflix. Do you get what we’re dealing with here now?
From the big screen to television to graphic novels to stage, the number of his adaptations is just way too many to count. Stephen King remains a master storyteller even after all these years. This is why this article and the list below are made to help ease your way around his world of fascinating stories and characters. We look at some of the best movies and TV series that have been adapted from his books and stories.
Best Movies/Series Adaptation Of Stephen King Novels!
Expect to find vampires, clowns, murderers, psychopaths, and several other characters in these iconic stories. And within these lay themes and stories that reveal the deepest and most fundamental of human nature and psyche. After all, we are our truest selves in the most uncomfortable moments: frighteningly, primitively so. Without beating around the bush any further, let’s jump right in:
In my opinion, this book is also one of the best entry points into King’s work. It’s short and has brilliant characterization, which is one of the strongest aspects of his writing; it’s more sci-fi than horror, which means those too scared of the genre can pick this one up too. The story explores themes such as religious fanaticism and bullying, which, combined with the epistolary format of the story, lends it a realism that keeps you turning on to the next page, one after another. The novel has been adapted thrice into movies (1976, 2002, 2013) and thrice onto the stage (1988, 2006, 2012), but the 1976 adaptation is generally considered the definitive one.
It’s regarded as one of the finest Stephen King adaptations of all time, and not without reason. Brian De Palma captures the different aspects of the original story with mastery, be it the coming-of-age aspect or the high school drama. From the brilliant set pieces in the climactic scene to the camera movements, the movie never loses its momentum at any juncture. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie shine in their portrayal of the titular character Carrie White and her mother, Margaret White. You can get the book here! 📖
The next entry we have is the very next book that King wrote, a piece that would establish him as a horror novelist in readers’ minds everywhere. It’s the story of a writer, Ben Mears, who returns to his hometown to find inspiration for his next novel. But something powerful and sinister is brewing in Salem’s Lot that would change the lives of its residents forever. There have been two television adaptations of this piece so far (1979, 2004), with a motion picture slated to release in 2023.
The adaptation we’re talking of here, however, is the 1979 movie, directed by Tobe Hooper and released as a television miniseries (don’t worry, we’re going to look at more recent adaptations of his works as well, okay?). James Mason deserves a special mention for perfectly enacting the role of the antagonist, Kurt Barlow. Despite the constraints that the TV medium places on a creator, Paul Monash (screenplay writer) and Tobe Hooper (director) bring alive the claustrophobic atmosphere of the book aptly. The setting and the music further heighten the story’s eeriness and make it a successful adaptation. You can get the book here! 📖
Easily one of the most popular of his books (and adaptations), The Shining is a horror classic through and through. Be it the exploration of the human psyche or the disconcerting seepage of the supernatural into reality, the book balances reality and fantasy perfectly. The story follows Jack Torrance, a struggling writer, who accepts a position as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. He takes his family, including his son, Danny, who possesses psychic abilities, to the hotel for the winter.
But as the history of the place begins to unravel, the family of three is trapped inside for the hotel to play its games. Thrilling and scary at the same time, the book also sets up themes and elements that become a part of his later stories. Although there have been multiple adaptations of the book, including a TV miniseries (that remains faithful to the source material), an opera, and a stage play, we look at the Kubrick movie here.
If you are a fan of horror movies in general, the chances are high that you’ve already watched this one, regardless of whether you’re a King fan or not. Despite mixed critical reception during its release, the film has succeeded in winning over everyone with the passage of time, audiences and critics alike. Jack Nicholson’s enactment of Jack Torrance and Kubrick’s cold and calculative complexity stands out particularly, and the simplistic elusiveness of the production keeps drawing viewers to it all these decades later. You can get the book here! 📖
While there has already been a film series of the same name, the first of which was entirely written by Stephen King, we’re going to look at the TV series here, which premiered in 2019. The series was a direct continuation of the film series and was received favorably by both critics and viewers alike. Unlike the Creepshow movie, however, the series adapted both original and previously published stories by different writers.
Two of these stories have been written by King: Gray Matter, which is included in his short story collection, Night Shift, and Survivor Type, included in his Skeleton Crew. Gray Matter involves a man who’s injured in a work accident and is given permanent leave with compensation. Alone and secluded, he confines himself to his apartment, drinking bottle after bottle of cheap beer. What lies now there? Is it a human or something else entirely? Just wait and see.
The second story, Survivor Type, is the story of a surgeon who finds himself on a tiny island in the Pacific after trying to smuggle heroin on a cruise ship. Despite being the author, even King found its hideousness “a bit too far.” Written entirely in the form of diary entries, the story follows our protagonist as he falls into the pits of mental insanity. You can get the books here: Night Shift 📖 | Skeleton Crew 📖
The Dead Zone
The story through which King unintentionally predicted the arrival of Donald Trump, a political event that would shake the world almost 4 decades later, The Dead Zone is a sci-fi thriller with philosophical undertones. The story revolves around Johnny Smith, who gains supernatural abilities to sense the past and future of people and things by mere touch. Somewhere else, a corrupt and emotionally unstable politician, Greg Stillson, rises in power. Would you kill someone before they’ve committed a crime? Would you kill Hitler as a child if you could?
Such questions lie at the heart of the story as Greg figures out what to do with something that no one else can understand. The book has been adapted twice so far, once as a film and the other time as a television series. We look at the movie adaptation here that came out in 1983 and is one of the best King adaptations to date. What stands out is David Cronenberg’s direction and Christopher Walken’s enactment of the protagonist. Walken captures the nuances of Johnny and his struggle to come to terms with his life beautifully, and Cronenberg keeps you at the edge of your seats, awaiting some doom just around the corner. You can get the book here! 📖
After a harsh thunderstorm in a small Maine town causes a power outage, a group of people, which includes our protagonist David Drayton, gathers in a mall to collect supplies. But a strange mist surrounds the city, and monsters, both real and imaginary, lurk in the shadows. And it’s not only about what’s on the outside, as the group has fanatical members as well. With tensions rising and self-preservation being of utmost importance, it’s only chaos that lies ahead.
Religious fundamentalism and fears, both man-made and otherwise, form a crucial part of this story. A classic in its genre, the book has been loved by critics and readers alike. There have been two adaptations of the book so far, a film in 2007 and a television series a decade later, in 2017. We look at the film adaptation helmed by Frank Darabont here. Darabont’s direction adapts King’s story to his vision and takes it into darker and more creative and political alleys.
Even the few changes made to the original story make it more sinister and psychological, which works in the movie’s favor. The film was an overall success, owing to its stellar cast and mostly positive reviews. While the film was released in color in theatres, it was released in monochrome on DVDs and Bluray, which was Darabont’s preferred version. You can get the book here! 📖
Stand By Me
Part of his 1982 novella collection, Different Seasons, The Body, is the story of Gordie LaChance and his three friends in the city of Castle Rock. An adult Gordie looks back on his childhood, specifically the summer of 1960 when a body was found near the railway tracks. All four friends came from dysfunctional families, and it is in the course of their search for the body that they come to terms with some of the harsher realities of life.
The novella was adapted into one of the most critically acclaimed King movies, Stand By Me, directed by Rob Reiner. It was nominated for the Academy Awards and also won two Golden Globes. Not just that, King has, time and time again, shown his approval and admiration for this adaptation and for truly capturing his voice. A coming-of-age story that is simultaneously charming and nostalgic, the movie has something for everyone who chooses to watch it. You can get the book here! 📖
A part of his 1982 collection of novellas, Different Seasons, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a tale of perseverance, corruption, injustice, and hope despite every obstacle. If you’re someone who stays away from King’s books because of their horror factor, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this novella. Entirely narrated from the point of view of Red, a prisoner who meets the protagonist Andy, the story is, in a way, about the various ways the criminal justice system works in our society.
One of the most popular and critically acclaimed movies of all time, this Frank Darabont movie (yes, the same director who wrote and directed King’s The Mist) was a box-office disappointment during its initial theatrical run. The multiple Academy nominations and another theatrical release saw the movie gaining popularity among audiences. It’s considered one of the most beloved movies of all time and a classic now. The story and the performances by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins particularly stand out, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography poignantly shows the various aspects of life in prison. You can get the book here! 📖
If you’ve chanced upon this novel or read it, you already know this is King at his horror best. It is a horror classic through and through, one of his longest novels to date. The novel shows how childhood trauma manifests into adulthood in myriad forms as our seven central protagonists try to recover from a childhood incident. In Derry, Maine, an evil entity lurks that uses children’s fears to haunt them.
The perspectives shift alternatively between the present day when our protagonists are adults, and the time when they were children living in Derry. Complex and riveting simultaneously, It makes for a glorious reading experience if you’re a fan of King and all that he writes. The thick tome of a novel has been adapted thrice so far, once as a television miniseries directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (1990), again as a television series in Hindi, directed and written by Glen Baretto and Ankush Mohla (1998), where the story is set in India, and most recently as a movie duology (2017), directed by Andy Muschietti. It’s the two movie adaptations that we talk about here.
The first movie was a success on both the critical and commercial fronts, becoming one of the highest-earning R-rated movies of all time. From its musical score to its cinematography, direction, and acting performances, the movie haunts and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Relatively, the successor failed to replicate the critical success of the former and was criticized for its weaker tones and scares. But overall, Muschietti adapted the book deftly while keeping the essence of the original story intact. You can get the book here! 📖
It’s a simple story. Two characters: a romance writer and his “number one fan.” The writer, Paul Sheldon, is involved in a car accident and finds himself being taken care of by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse and a fan of his works. In no time, he realizes this is no ordinary affair, and he’s being held captive by Annie, who forces him to rewrite the ending of his book series. Thrilling and riddled with metaphors, Misery is devoid of any supernatural elements and yet continues to scare its readers.
The novel has been adapted several times since its release: as a 2003 Tamil film, directed by Balu Mahendra, in 1992 as a play by Simon Moore (which was later adapted by BBC radio), in 2014 as a Dutch musical by Florus van Rooijen, in a 2015 play by Will Frears, and as a 2019 Finnish stage production by Antti Mikkola. But the adaptation we look at here today is the popular 1990 film, directed by Rob Reiner, starring Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes. She got an Academy Award for Best Actress for her chilling performance in the movie.
The movie was a success from its inception, praised by critics and loved by audiences everywhere. King has expressed his love for this adaptation in his essay “Stephen King Goes to the Movies.” The acting performances, in particular, make this adaptation much more chilling and a ride to watch. You can get the book here! 📖
A unique narrative style, horrors rising from social evils, a psychological thriller: this is King deviating from his usual themes and style. But oh boy, does it work! Written as a long monologue, without any chapter titles or paragraphs, or section breaks, the story revolves around a mother and a daughter and the ways their past unraveled into the messy present they have now. The book was the highest-selling book in the US in its year of release. Yep, yet another successful King adaptation featuring Kathy Bates.
Probably the easiest route to a good King adaptation is casting Bates in some role! Jokes aside, the book was also adapted for a 2007 play by David Joss Buckley and a 2013 opera composed by Tobias Picker. We look at the film adaptation directed by Taylor Hackford in 1995, starring Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Judy Parfitt. Bates and Leigh’s performances shine throughout, and the horrors that arise from factors very much rooted in real life and social issues make them even scarier. The movie received acclaim both on commercial and critical fronts and is still considered one of the best King adaptations ever. You can get the book here! 📖
Initially supposed to be a sequel to Dolores Claiborne, the book became its own thing by the time it was written and published. A couple goes to an isolated house for their holiday, but the husband dies of a heart attack. This is when his wife is handcuffed to the bed, with no chance of survival. As any hopes of survival seem impossible at this stage, she lets the nightmares in her head take over.
The book has been considered “unfilmable” for the longest time, not without reason. How do you create a motion picture from a story mainly about a person losing their grip over reality? Considering all that, what Mike Flanagan’s movie achieves is even more terrific. The film was especially praised for Carla Gugino’s stellar acting as she carries the plot forward almost single-handedly. The way Mike treats the different themes and issues of the original story in his adaptation also stands out, with King describing the movie as hypnotic and horrifying himself. You can get the book here! 📖
Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Nightmares and Dreamscapes was a one-season series with eight episodes, all adapted from stories by Stephen King. While “Umney’s Last Case,” “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band,” “The Fifth Quarter,” “The End of the Whole Mess,” and “Crouch End” were all taken from the titular story collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes, the other stories were part of different story collections. The story “Battleground” is from Night Shift, whereas the remaining stories, i.e., “The Road Virus Heads North” and “Autopsy Room Four,” were taken from his collection, Everything’s Eventual.
The series was praised for being one of the few adaptations that bring out the full scope of King’s imagination in all its glory. By adapting only King’s short stories, the series gives itself the space to fully explore the various aspects of each tale while using special effects to add another dimension. From a hitman being attacked by little toys after he killed a toymaker to a man who’s proclaimed dead but is still conscious as he’s brought for his autopsy, the stories are as varied and imaginative as you’d expect from any King anthology. You can get the books here: Nightmares and Dreamscapes 📖 | Night Shift 📖 | Everything’s Eventual 📖
The Green Mile
The story was first released in serialized volumes before being published as a single book. Set during the great depression, death surrounds every moment of this piece, and concepts of racism and justice in our legal system form the crux of the story. The story follows Paul Edgecombe, a death row supervisor, who meets John Coffey, an inmate with supernatural abilities. Frank Darabont (we’ve already seen him above twice, in case you forgot) adapted the book into a movie of the same name, starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan.
The movie was nominated for four Academy Award nominations and is one of the more socially impactful adaptations of King’s works you’ll ever see. It was praised for how Darabont captured (like in his other adaptations of King’s works) the nuances of the original work with some beautiful cinematography and a stellar cast. The movie’s length allows you to feel the slow and sluggish pace of prison life, and the soundtrack adds to the shifts and turns of the story. Both Hanks and Duncan shine in their performance, with the latter being nominated for the Academy Awards in the Best Supporting Actor category. You can get the book here! 📖
First collected in the audiobook collection Blood and Smoke, this short story was later collected in “Everything’s Eventual.” Mike Enslin is an author who investigates haunted sights, and he rents the titular room in a New York City hotel, intending to investigate it. As he spends time in the room, he realizes he’s trapped in it while experiencing strange occurrences around him.
The story was adapted by Mikael Håfström in a movie that keeps its focus on creating psychological suspense rather than relying upon jump scares and violence. John Cusack plays the character of Mike convincingly and keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what twist lies ahead. With a style and philosophy much similar to King’s stories, the movie thrills and scares in equal measure. You can get the book here! 📖 | You can get the audiobook here! 🎧
First collected in his collection “Full Dark, No Stars”, 1922 is the story of a farmer in the year 1922. He hatches a plan to murder his wife for monetary gains, convincing his son to assist him in his plan as well. But her death is not the ending; it’s just the beginning of a tale as gothic as it is scary. The aftermath of their action comes back to haunt them and forms the heart of this story.
Zak Hilditch adapted the story as a film and released it on Netflix. It was received positively by critics and viewers alike. There’s a slowness to the movie that aptly captures the grim and menacing nature of the story. Add to that the career-best performance by Thomas Jane, who plays the lead character, Wilfred James, and you get one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date. You can get the book here! 📖
Any avid reader of King would tell you how 11.22.63 is simply one of his best-published works. And there’s a reason for that. For one, it dips its feet into genres of historical fiction, sci-fi, thriller, mystery, and more. Two, it involves more historical research than probably any of his other works, and it’s apparent in how he succeeds in bringing the mid-twentieth century to life. It’s the story of a man who goes back in time with a singular purpose: to prevent Kennedy’s assassination on 11/22/63.
The book was adapted into a 2016 Hulu series that generally got favorable reviews across all quarters. James Franco’s portrayal of the main character stands out the most in this thoughtful and compelling series. Interestingly, James wanted to act in this movie before being hired for it. His performance perfectly shows his thought and commitment to the character throughout the show. You can get the book here! 📖
The sequel to his bestselling “The Shining”, Doctor Sleep follows a grown-up Danny Torrance, a man with psychic abilities struggling with the traumatic memories of childhood. Alcoholism is a central theme of the novel, much like its predecessor, and King’s personal history often shapes and shifts this book in varied ways. The movie’s a direct sequel to both the novel and the Stanley Kubrick adaptation. This project was written and directed by Mike Flanagan (the same director who adapted Gerald’s Game), who wanted to limit the gaps between the book and movie versions of The Shining.
Flanagan’s adapted version of the story and his direction ensures the sequel doesn’t disappoint. It’s more fun, more thoughtful, and perfectly balances serious themes with scenes that scare and haunt. The cast is incredible, with Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran’s performances standing out in particular. Probably the film’s biggest achievement is that it doesn’t fall in the shadows cast by its predecessor, oft considered a horror classic today. You can get the book here! 📖
Mr. Mercedes, the first part of the Bill Hodges trilogy, follows a retired detective Bill Hodges who receives a letter from a man claiming to be Mr. Mercedes, a man who ran over and killed several people. Hodges is alone and suicidal, but the letter intrigues him and sets him on the path of finding this murderer. But such games have effects that affect other people in turn, and with each step, the game becomes riskier and deadlier.
The book, along with its sequels, was adapted by David E. Kelley into a series that was released on Audience (and later picked up by the platform Peacock). It was renewed for two further seasons before Audience was shut down. All three seasons were received positively by critics and viewers without no reason. The cast is brilliant, the setting and soundtrack creepy and atmospheric, with the dialogue and suspense always keeping you on your toes.
If you’re looking for a relatively longer adaptation of King’s works to immerse yourself in, this just might be the perfect series for you out there. The series has something for fans of different genres, whether you prefer watching horror or are a die-hard mystery thriller enthusiast. You can get the books here: Mr Mercedes 📖 | Finders Keepers 📖 | End of Watch 📖
In the last entry of our list here, we have a kid murdered in front of trustworthy eyewitnesses. The man, a Little League coach, Terry Maitland, is arrested based on further forensic evidence. However, he has a solid alibi confirming he was somewhere else that day. From there, the story takes new twists and turns as macabre and supernatural forces come out to play. At its core, this is a story of good vs. evil, of how innocence and faith can triumph over anything at the end of the day.
Developed by Richard Price, the television adaptation of the novel turned out to be a hit, critically and otherwise. The setting and design of the adaptation are atmospheric, which, in turn, is both intense and chilling. The episodes directed by Jason Bateman are particularly eery and thrilling. The entirety of the cast gives some of their best performances here, with Cyntia Erivo and Ben Mendelsohn standing out. You can get the book here! 📖
I hope you’ve now got at least a few adaptations of King’s works that intrigued you enough. Or even better, you can read the source material first and then see how a director envisioned that story in their imagination. You can sign up for free Prime Video trial and watch some of these Stephen King movies. We have various debates about books vs. movies/series. But, no matter which way you go, the universe of King’s stories is wide and compelling enough to keep you up for days (and nights, of course)! Have fun.
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