The best Stephen King adaptations and where to watch them
It would be an understatement to call Stephen King one the greatest authors of all time. Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Carrie, The Stand, Misery, Shining — the list goes on. King’s mark on the medium of cinema is just as iconic, dating as far back as his work on George Romero’s CreepshowMany adaptations have been made of his works by Frank Darabont (Brian De Palma), John Carpenter and others.
On behalf of Firestarter, the latest adaptation of King’s 1980 sci-fi thriller by director Keith Thomas, premiering in theaters and on Peacock this weekend, we’ve pulled together a list of some of our favorite Stephen King movies and where you can stream or rent them from home … outside of some of the more super-famous adaptations like Stanley Kubrick’s Shining Available to view on HBO Max. We’re gonna go ahead and guess you know about that one.
We have compiled a list of 11 Stephen King films that you can enjoy at your home.
True horror is going through puberty without a support system (or any warning of what’s about to happen to your body).
Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation brings to life anxieties both natural (being bullied as a teen with a terror of a mother) and supernatural (having uncontrollable super powers as a high schooler). Piper Laurie, Sissy Spacek, and Piper Laurie make memorable leads. —Pete Volk
CarrieYou can stream the video on Amazon Prime Video.
Christine is Stephen King’s infamous story about a car with a thirst for blood and a penchant for mind control. Arnie, a high-schooler lacking confidence, spots a battered Plymouth Fury parked on the side of the road. He is immediately smitten. Despite his friend’s warning, Arnie buys the car and spends his every waking hour fixing it up before it slowly takes over his life — and then starts taking out everyone around Arnie so it’s the only thing he can pay attention to.
It’s a simple premise that could have gone off the rails easily, which is exactly why horror legend John Carpenter was the perfect choice to direct. Carpenter turns the car into a slasher villain with dreadfully eerie shots of headlights closing in on rearview mirrors like it’s stalking prey. Even more impressive is that Carpenter’s effects, like the car slowly rebuilding itself after being destroyed, still look outstanding today. Christine is one of those stories that’s right on the borderline of silly and scary that King’s so good at, and Carpenter’s adaptation is one of the few that grasps that tone perfectly and brings it to the big screen. —Austen Goslin
ChristineYou can stream it on Netflix.
The Dark Half
A classic “twin absorbed in the womb” horror story, George Romero’s The Dark Half The movie, which is about duality and divided personalities, (literal as well as figurative), was directed by Timothy Hutton, an author who wrote capital-L Literature under his actual name, and the best-selling pulp books under a pseudonym. When his secret is discovered by a wannabe blackmailer, he decides to go public with it himself, bringing out his “dark half,” who is more of a sadistic, black-clad second personality than some mere pseudonym.
Highlighted by Hutton’s barely contained dual performance and strong character actors in supporting roles (like Glenn Colerider’s eager photographer, who wants to make a photo book of teddy bears in coffins), The Dark Half is an enjoyable pairing of King’s unnerving story with Romero’s love for gory practical effects. (The opening scene is reminiscent both of King’s unsettling sequence of brain surgery. The Exorcist Malignant, and there’s plenty in here from Hitchcock’s The Birds). While this doesn’t reach the high heights of some of the other adaptations (or Romero’s other movies), the opportunity to watch a Stephen King adaptation by George Romero is too good to pass up. —PV
The Dark HalfAvailable to stream online HBO Max.
The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg’s 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s sci-thriller The Dead ZoneIt is an unforgettable film with memorable performances and frightfully vivid imagery. The editing was also very jarring. Starring Christopher Walken, the film follows the story of schoolteacher Johnny Smith who, following a near-fatal accident, wakes from a five-year coma with the ability to glimpse a person’s past and future simply by touching them. After crossing paths with a rising Senate candidate (Martin Sheen) with sinister ambitions, Johnny is plagued with apocalyptic visions that compel him to save the future — at any cost.
As a director Cronenberg feels uniquely suited for tackling this material, taking King’s original and infusing it with the macabre visuals and existential melancholy that would go on to be his signature. Walken’s performance as Smith is outstanding. He is haunted both by his moral and psychological shortcomings, but also by the ghost of an earlier life. —Toussaint Egan
The Dead Zoneis streaming on HBO Max.
Doctor SleepThis Stephen King book, although one of his most recent, is not the greatest. It was therefore the ideal target for a great adaptation. It is the story of Danny Torrance as an adult, who goes by Dan. He’s put the Overlook’s past behind him along with his own powers, but eventually finds a need for them again when a marauding band of psychic vampires starts tracking down a kid who Shines even brighter than Danny did.
Where the movie finds its absolute best ground, though, is in Dan’s struggles with alcoholism in his slightly younger days, and the way that his own struggles re-contextualize how he saw Jack right up until the end. Mike Flanagan’s adaptation (especially his director’s cut) improves on its source material in every way and, by bringing Danny and Jack closer together, even manages to do the impossible: bridging King’s version of Shining with Stanley Kubrick’s classic film. —AG
Doctor Sleep You can stream it on HBO Max. The director’s cut is available to purchase digitally on AmazonAnd the Play store on Google.
Of Stephen King’s works, his 1992 novel Gerald’s GameIt was especially difficult to visualize onscreen: Jessie (the protagonist) is held in handcuffs to a bed throughout the entire story and the bulk of it happens inside her head. But with 2017’s Gerald’s Game, director Mike Flanagan successfully translated the novel to film by keeping Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), who dies almost immediately from a heart attack after handcuffing Jessie (Carla Gugino) to the bed, present in Jessie’s hallucinations. The fake Gerald taunts Jessie as she grows weaker from dehydration — and more desperate to escape.
Gerald’s Game is a slow burn of psychological horror that suits Flanagan’s style well. The story does retain some of King’s less palatable go-tos — childhood sexual abuse, in particular, which is arguably not very important to the plot — but also has one of King’s best endings, and Flanagan’s adaptation more than does it justice. It’s the kind of horror that doesn’t fully sink in until the very end, but when it Hits, it hits. —Kallie Plagge
Gerald’s Gameis streaming on Netflix.
It is (2017)
The first half of Andy Muschietti’s two-film adaptation of Stephen King’s It plays just fine as a stand-alone horror film, and it’s arguably stronger as a solo project than the first half of a double feature. The kid crew of the first movie — seven small-town outcast kids who band together to fight back against a supernatural evil — do excellent character work and inject a lot of heart into what would otherwise just be a repetitive CGI fright-fest. You will find some truly creepy moments with monsters in the movie. It, courtesy of Bill Skarsgård’s performance as Pennywise the clown. The more serious threat to the children comes from their everyday lives, which can include abusive fathers and violent bullies. Both cases are handled with a solid cast of children and strong bonding scenes that make this project stand out. Stranger Things vibe — appropriate enough, since Stranger ThingsInspired by horror King-Kid-Bounting stories such as Keep your feet on the ground In the first place. —Tasha Robinson
It is Chapter 1.Watch it streaming on HBO Max.
Paul Sheldon (James Caan), has just completed his new novel. He crashes his car in a snowstorm. Annie Wilkes, an experienced nurse (Kathy Bates), saves him and takes him to her farmhouse to tend to his injuries. She also happens to be his biggest fan — which means she’s not at all happy to read his vulgar new book. And since nobody knows he’s here, she’s got plenty of time to convince him to return to romances while he lies helpless in her care.
MiseryThe reunion between Rob Reiner, director, and William Goldman is fresh from The Princess BrideFor another meta-story on novels, see. But it’s truly Bates’ Oscar-winning performance that makes this contained thriller work. Annie is at turns sweet and sympathetic and terrifying and deranged; Bates’ intensity as she swings from hinged to unhinged makes her one of the most memorable and haunting villains in all of horror canon. —Jenna Stoeber
MiseryAccessible to stream online Showtime.
Pet Sematary (1989).
Not long after moving to a new house by a busy road, the Creed family’s beloved cat Church falls victim to traffic. Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) guides the Creed family’s neighbor and patriarch Louis Midkiff secretly places Church in their pet cemetery. The next day, Church returns, but he’s not quite the same. And of course, pets aren’t the only thing that can be laid to rest there.
Pet Sematary is prime ’80s horror, dripping with blood and unflinching gore, and packed with ominous weirdo side characters; Gwynne’s folksy harbinger has been oft referenced or repeated, but it doesn’t get better than the original. It also suffers from the same vilification of rather generic Native American beliefs that suffuse King’s works, though to a lesser extent than the book.
Director Mary Lambert is probably best known for her music videos, directing classics like Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” and Madonna’s “Material Girl.” The effect can be seen in Pet SemataryThe film is a tightly-woven tale of an individual who takes his good intentions and turns them into a nightmare. Pro tip: Stick around for the credits to listen to The Ramones’ absolute banger, “Pet Sematary,” written for this movie (and skip the 2019 adaptation altogether). —JS
Pete SemataryAvailable to stream online Netflix.
This King story and its adaptation is one of the most action-oriented. Running Man It is both distressingly timely and prescient to depict dystopia in such a way. Ben Richards, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is a cop who attempts to end a police killing of participants in a food-riot. After he’s framed (through smart TV editing), Richards ends up appearing on the hit competition series. Running ManThe show, hosted by Richard Dawson (delightfully unhinged), is about prisoners who escape American Gladiator-styled mercenaries to gain their freedom. The result is a fun 1980s sci-fi action movie with great guest appearances from sports luminaries like Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, and Professor Tanaka, and it’s also one of the better vehicles for Schwarzenegger’s particular flavor of movie stardom. —PV
Running ManThis property is available to be rented for only $3.99 Amazon Apple;Get $2.99 Vudu
Salem’s Lot (1979)
Salem’s Lot follows a writer, like many of King’s best works, who moves back to his childhood hometown to investigate an old house in the hopes of using it as inspiration for a novel. A mysterious Austrian immigrant has bought the house. You can guess what vampiric hauntings will follow. Tobe Hopper also directed this film. Texas Chain Saw Massacre, this adaptation does an excellent job of translating all the creepiness of one of King’s best small towns. Of course, it’s also got terrific vampire design and makeup and a few of the best scares of any King adaptation. —AG
Salem’s LotYou can stream it for free, with no ads. Tubi.
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