Since IT has hit box office gold and claimed the mantle of the highest grossing horror film of all time (not adjusted for inflation), it’s worth looking back to see why Stephen King adaptations from page to screen, have such a hit and miss ratio.
Since King is primarily known as a horror writer, it’s interesting to note that most of the successful movie adaptations have in fact been the non-horror ones. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) would be the first one to come to mind, followed by Stand By Me (1986), and if you’re a real film buff, the 80’s Schwarzenegger classic, The Running Man (1987 – written under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman).
That’s not to say some of the horror ones don’t work either. Carrie (1976), which was his first published book is arguably the best adaptation to screen. Some will say The Shining (1980), even though it differs vastly from King’s source material. So the question is, how come it’s so hard to adapt his books faithfully to film?
The phrase ‘the book is always better than the movie’ gets thrown around a lot and for the better part, is correct. King himself has even directly written screenplays from his novels (the most successful being 1989’s Pet Sematary).
Perhaps it’s the depth and time he puts into his characters that the film medium simply doesn’t have time for. The movies that do succeed however tend to have a longer than average runtime. The Shawshank Redemption clocks in at almost three hours, whilst IT has a 135 minute stretch. There are notable mentions of course, but it seems to be a tricky act translating King’s stories to the screen with enough time to develop the characters and tell the story all at once.
With more Stephen King adaptations already released and on the way this year, it seems there is still a market for one of the most prolific writers in the world to expand his source material into the cinematic universe and hopefully, do justice to what he puts on paper.
With Halloween on the horizon, here’s a top 5 list of Stephen King’s straight horror adaptations to screen, that are worth your time.
#1 Carrie (1976)
King’s first novel is faithfully adapted with a strong lead performance by Sissy Spacek as Carrie. The prom night finale builds unbearable tension thanks to director Brian De Palma.
#2 Misery (1990)
Noteworthy for many reasons, besides being one of the only King movies to receive an Oscar for Kathy Bates’ unforgettable performance as Annie Wilks. Oh, and the hobbling scene of course.
#3 Pet Sematary (1989)
The dark horse on the list. Still manages to hold up well today and is a lot creepier and character driven than its given credit for.
#4 The Dead Zone (1983)
An often forgotten King adaptation starring Christopher Walken and directed by David Cronenberg, The Dead Zone is a solid and often disturbing take on the novel which is definitely worth watching or re-visiting.
#5 IT (2017)
Whilst IT has only just been released this year, it managed to capture the essence of the book in regards to the seven main characters and their confrontation with Pennywise the Clown, portrayed very creepily by Bill Skarsgard (see my review here).
*Pictured top of page: 2007’s The Mist
You can see more of our Stephen King coverage on Janks Reviews here.