In the world of horror and fiction, no name is better known than Stephen King. With a career spanning over four decades and multiple books making record breaking sales upon release, it’s no wonder that his properties are some of the most sought after for TV and film adaptation. Over the years, many filmmakers have tried their hand at a King adaptation with mixed results. However, some films manage to do the author’s work justice, providing an enjoyable experience for both moviegoers and hardcore fans of King’s work alike. Below I’ve compiled a list of some of what I think are the best King adaptations based on faithfulness to the source material and overall quality.
Cujo works on multiple levels. On the surface it’s a simple horror story where the ax murderer is replaced with a savage dog, but upon further review, the audience can find a more complex story about the strength of the human spirit and how well people can perform when faced with a deathly challenge. While Cujo is an enjoyable movie to watch, it ranks low on this list due to the major changes it makes to source material. In the novel, the dog is implied to be possessed by an evil spirit that lives in the main character’s closet, while in the movie the dog goes feral from rabies contracted from a bat. The most noticeable change comes from the film’s ending. In the book, the little boy Tad is supposed to die, unable to be saved by his mother. In the film however, Tad manages to pull through, adding a much softer end to a dark tale.
#4: The Shining
As far as King adaptations go, The Shining is probably the most divisive. While it’s praised for being a cinematic masterpiece, many fans of the King’s work hate the film for how it butchers the source material. Everything from the hedge animals being turned into a maze to Jack Torrance not redeeming himself in the end — but rather dying as the psychopathic murderer the hotel had turned him into — all result in a movie that lost the true essence of the book. That being said, director Stanley Kubrick nailed the overall look and feel of the characters, setting, and atmosphere of the story. The Overlook hotel felt as it did in the novel, and Jack’s slow descent into madness is displayed with brilliance and terrifying grace. While it may not be the best true-to-source adaptation in King’s repertoire, The Shining is a masterclass film that embodies the general nature of a Stephen King horror novel.
#3: The Shawshank Redemption
Director Frank Darabont is no stranger to King adaptations; having directed The Green Mile and The Mist, which both were critically well-received, it’s no wonder that his take on one of King’s most popular novellas is so beloved. Chalk it up to great casting or a strong story, but Shawshank nails the very essence of the source material from King’s Different Seasons short story collection. While some fans gripe that both main characters in the movie are vastly different appearance-wise, and that certain elements of the major plot points are altered, it’s generally agreed upon that Shawshank is one of the best King movie adaptations out there. This is further realized with standout performances from Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, who bring main characters Andy and Red to life with maturity and grace.
#2: IT (1990 TV miniseries)
Already standing as an outlier in that it’s an exceptional miniseries, IT also stands as one of the only decent King TV adaptations. Due to the nature of the storytelling in the book, it helps that the story of the Derry kids and Pennywise the clown was broken up into two parts. This gave the writers a chance to flesh out the characters and events in a way that properly follows the book, and gives the audience a genuine taste of King’s storytelling prowess. It goes without saying that several key moments from the book were left out of the TV adaptation, and rightfully so. While it’s always important to follow source material when adapting someone else’s work, in the case of IT some things are better left cut out. Several scenes from the book involve concepts that are either too outlandish or downright uncomfortable for the big screen, so it’s completely justified why they were thrown to the wayside. With this in mind, IT stands as not only a great Stephen King adaptation, but also a fantastic work of TV production.
Christine takes our top spot not only for its dedication to King’s original novel, but for the perfect way it transitions emotions and thematic elements from the book to the screen. Helmed by horror master John Carpenter, the film nails the slow onset of dread and fear that flows throughout the book as the story plays out. The chemistry between cast members is fantastic, and further adds to the depth of the story. Furthermore, the creative ways in which the titular 1958 Plymouth Fury goes about killing her victims is an iconic part of film history. Given its immortal cult status, it’s safe to say that no film has done better at perfectly nailing the feel of King’s original source material than Christine.