Home Movies Movie Lists

Top 30 Stephen King Movies, Ranked

From haunted hotels to prison-yard blues, ‘Carrie’ to ‘Christine’ – the major adaptations of the iconic author’s work, from worst to best

In honor of 'The Dark Tower' and 'It' films, we rank the top 30 Stephen King movies, worst to best – from 'The Shining' to 'The Shawshank Redemption.'

Rex, Everett Collection (2)

Back in 1973, when Stephen King sold his first book Carrie to a publisher (the manuscript of which he’d originally thrown away, and was rescued by his wife Tabitha), the up-and-coming, already published author might have thought: I may actually be able to make it as a professional writer. He probably didn’t think: I will also eventually end up one of the big bestselling authors of the next few decades, a highly decorated man of letters, a brand-name – and a one-man cottage industry for the movies. So many of his now-canonical horror novels, as well as his non–spooky-story output, have been fodder for filmmakers far and wide; the phrase “a Stephen King movie” carries with it it’s own expectations, parameters and conventions. And with not one but two big films coming out in the next month – the long-awaited blockbuster take on The Dark Tower hitting theaters on Friday and a reimagining of the kids v. evil clown epic It coming on September 8th – the King movie remains a bankable category unto itself.

And like any genre, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. Originally, we’d planned to do a comprehensive worst-to-best ranked list, but the “ugly” proved to be too much for us – the last 10 years alone seem to have brought a wave of adaptations that run from questionable to “Unclean! Unclean!” There’s rewatching The Mangler, and then there’s straight-up masochism. Life is really too short for Dolan’s Cadillac.

So we’ll leave those completist lists for other folks. Meanwhile, we’ve gathered 30 of the best-known, most notable Stephen King movies, and ranked them from worst to best. A few things to note: We’re not including TV shows, TV miniseries or TV movies, so a hearty “sorry” to Salem’s Lot, the best of the latter by a longshot. We’ve concentrated primarily on adaptations of his work, though there is one entry that fudges that notion a bit … but that we could not bear to leave out. And finally, we ranked these movies on a dual scale of the quality of the movie itself and how well it worked as an adaptation of King’s work. (Please keep this in mind when you get to No. 5. Don’t @ us, people.)

Get busy readin’ or get busy dyin’.

Everett Collection

2

‘Misery’ (1990)

Given that the writer takes defiant pride in penning books for fans and not critics, it’s more than a little ironic that his one Oscar-winning movie is about a reader who loves an author way too much. Kathy Bates took home the Best Actress prize for her alternately funny and terrifying performance as a rural nurse who saves the life of her favorite novelist (James Caan), then forces him to write a novel that indulges her fangirl whims. (King noted that the bestseller was both influenced by and written under the influence of some addictive substances. “Misery is a book about cocaine,” he claimed. “Annie Wilkes is cocaine. She was my number-one fan.”) Rob Reiner not only captures the original’s comic and waking-nightmare elements; he also gave the world a film that ended up predicting the increasingly toxic artist/audience relationship that’s developed in the the age of the internet. And that “hobbling” scene? Hoo boy. NM

William Katt, Sissy Spacek

Everett Collection

1

‘Carrie’ (1976)

Brian De Palma’s film version of King’s first published novel
is a masterpiece that stands on its own – both deeply unsettling and one of the more compassionate horror flicks you’ll ever see. Could we even
call it horror? Before it gets there, the movie goes through everything else: coming-of-age story, family drama, high school movie, social allegory, vigilante
thriller. As the shy, repressed teenager tormented by her fellow students on
one side and her deranged, Bible-quoting mother (Piper Laurie) on the
other, Sissy Spacek is appropriately haunted and anxious – her intense performance
has the quality of an exposed nerve. We feel for this girl and understand the impossibility of escaping the emotional
prison that she lives in. 

Meanwhile, De Palma’s
stylization is both lush and forbidding: His swooping camera moves and sly editing
tricks mix sentimentality and suspense, so that, much like Carrie herself, we
never quite know where any given situation is headed. And the film
sustains its tense, hesitant tone for so long that by the time the climactic
prom night massacre arrives – resulting in one of the great shock-and-awe set pieces of all time – even those of us who’ve seen the movies a dozen times are on the edge of our
seats. The bestselling author’s literary debut got the inaugural cinema du King film it deserved. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.  BE

Show Comments