The Best Movies Based on a Stephen King Story

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan

I always remember a good spell of spin bowling in test cricket when I think of a typical Stephen King novel. The bowler does not look to get you with the first ball or even the second. He weaves a spell, tossing the ball all over the place and tiring you down by keeping your concentration levels high till you finally tire and drop your guard. Boom! Suddenly your off stump is off the ground.

Stephen King is like that. There is never an urgency to his novels. If he needs to tell you about the cow, he will start by telling you about the rope that ties the cow to the tree, the tree and its siblings within the orchard and the travails of the owner of the orchard. But rest assured. He will tell you about the cow. By the time we reach the end of the tale (no pun intended), you will know the thoughts of that cow better than any cow in your life.

And that is where King gets you. He is no narrator of horror stories. He just guides you to a beach chair and makes you sit alongside him and watch the darkness as it unfolds, turning you from an innocent viewer into a co-conspirator of his imaginative inner demons. 

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel

I figured that while there are plenty of lists all over of the 'Best novels of Stephen King', something worth exploring would be the movies based on his novels.

The best tales of the maestro have all been converted to movies, no doubt. But in an era (the 80s and early 90s) where special effects were schlock-y at best, a lot of the written word got lost in translation. It does not help that Stephen King shows us the characters of his stories via their thoughts and anecdotes more often than not, something that becomes very hard to replicate on celluloid. 

Not that directors the world over have not tried, mind you! I don't think any other author has as many movies based on his novels as the King. The movie based on his first published novel Carrie was released in 1976. Which means we have been watching Stephen King movies for no less than 40 years! Can you imagine that? 40 years? So how many movies do you suppose are there based on a Stephen King story? How many TV shows? TV show episodes?
10? 20? 30? Hold on to your Pennywise orange pompoms.

  • 64 movies.
  • 25 complete television shows or movies. 
  • 6 single episodes in shows such as The Twilight Zone and The X-Files.

So, of the 60 odd movie adaptations that reached the screen, which are the best to date?

Worth a Watch

Secret Window 

This psychological thriller stars Johnny Depp as an author facing a divorce who moves to his lakeside cabin to get some peace of mind. Unfortunately for him, a besotted stranger appears who begins to stalk him, claiming that the author plagiarized all of his work.
My View: - There is a 'Hitchcock-ian' element to this movie as certain scenes acquire a new interpretation as we move to the final third. 
The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel Secret Window

Apt Pupil

When a affluent young boy finds out his neighbour is an ex-Nazi war criminal in hiding, he starts to blackmail the old man into revealing the things he did during the Holocaust. Reliving the past ignites the old hatred in one heart while nurturing a young twisted mind on the other.
My View: - This is more of an atmospheric drama that creeps you out from within than an outright horror. 2 years later, director Bryan Singer (whose previous movie was the iconic The Usual Suspects) would combine more famously with the old man to give us the super popular X-Men series with Ian McKellen - ironically, this time as a victim of the Holocaust - as Magneto. But as a conflicted Nazi war criminal, he delivers perhaps a more award winning performance.

Gerald's Game

Having accidentally killed her husband while role-playing in bed, a woman is left tied to a bed with no way of getting help. That is, until the visions start to appear.
My View - I never expected this movie could be made. The book had the protagonist tied naked to a bed post for 90% of the story. And yet, the movie has done a brilliant job as a psychological horror film, being both claustrophobic and cathartic as the past meets present for the hapless woman.

The Dark Half

When a successful author decides to end his long running series by symbolically burying the pen-name he was writing under, he finds out that 'the other half' has become a living being now, hell-bent on destroying his life.
My View - Yes, it is one of those fantasy - horror movies. But it is fun. 

Pet Semetary

A family moves into a new house that seems ideal for them, except for one small thing - a pet cemetery behind the house that holds a secret. When the family pet dies in an accident, the head of the family decides not to heed the warning of a dying man and buries the pet in the cemetery. The next morning, the pet is back in their living room, only this time it does not seem the same.  
My View - No disrespect but in the hands of a better director, this would have been a terrifying movie that really played with your mind. There is definitely an 80s movie vibe to this which makes it just watchable in the end.
The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel Pet Semetary

Keeps You Hooked

Stand by Me

Four young boys decide to go hiking after hearing a rumour that there was a dead body of a missing person deep in the wild. 
My View - If ever you ask for a coming-of-age movie about friendship, this would always be on my list. It would also show you a facet of Stephen King movies that would surprise the novice reader. He is not always about horror. The best stories (including some further down this list) are about character growth and friendship. Stand by Me (91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) captures the innocence and the naughtiness of childhood in a poignant heartfelt manner as the adult version of one of the four relives an incident from his younger days that changed him.   

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel Stand By Me

The Mist

A strange Mist covers an entire city, trapping a man and his child inside a supermarket along with a very diverse group of town folk. Soon, strange creatures appear through the mist, making it impossible to leave. But the biggest danger to all their lives may already be inside the store. 
My View - I will be honest here. I cannot watch this movie a second time. There is a moment in the final act that breaks my heart every time I think of it. Stephen King & director Frank Darabont make a brilliant combination as you will see before this post ends. The graphics are good, the creatures are almost like something from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythology but the hell that really lies within the hearts of the people in the store is something that would make a rational viewer's blood boil. The fact that people like that exist even today scares me. But oh... that ending. A good Hollywood list of 'Shocking Endings' is never complete without The Mist.
The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel The Mist

Dolores Claiborne

When a caretaker is accused of having murdered her elderly employer, her daughter - unconvinced of her innocence - comes to visit her. 
My View - Told mostly through flashbacks, this is not really a horror film. It is a strong evaluation of human nature and how far we would go for the ones we love. 


A horror writer famous for investigating 'haunted houses' decides to spend a single night in Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel to disprove the spooky stories behind it. 
My View - Most of his main characters are semi-autobiographical authors in distressing situations. This one, played by John Cusack, has one hell of a night.  A very underrated horror movie, in my opinion.

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel 1408

Essential Viewing

The Shawshank Redemption

Andy Dufresne is sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife & her lover. He claims he is innocent but it does not matter once you are in Shawshank State Penitentiary. Andy Dufresne is not a man meant for jail though.
My View - The legend behind this movie is worthy of a thesis in itself. Moderately successful when it released in theatres, it started to gain attention for its brilliant acting and story. Empire Magazine voted it 'the best movie of the 90s'. It has been sitting in the number 1 spot in IMDB's Top 250 films of all time since 2008. 

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel Shawshank_Redemption

The Green Mile

Narrated in flashback, a retired prison officer reminisces about his days in charge of death row and the electric chair and how life changed for him and his fellow officers when a huge hulk of a man convicted of raping and killing two innocent girls came to their ward before his execution.
My View - Director Frank Darabont followed The Shawshank Redemption with yet another movie set inside the prison with barely a female in sight throughout the movie. And once more, he hit gold with an immensely beautiful movie about prejudice, racism and compassion. 

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel The Green Mile

The Shining

An aspiring writer takes up the job of winter caretaker for an isolated hotel with a bad history. With only his wife and son with him for the next few months, he hopes to finish writing the novel he is working on. But the hotel has plans of its own. 
My View - Directed by the eccentric Stanley Kubrick, this is still considered one of the scariest movies of all time. It is not because of the shock, blood or gore that you can get in any B-grade horror story. Atypical with its languid pace for a horror movie, it is claustrophobic in that we get a sense of dread from the very opening scene even though we are in a very large hotel. There is no let up to that sense of dread... we watch the dissolution of the minds of more than one character in a very frayed environment. 

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel The Shining


An author meets with an accident and wakes up to find himself recovering in the house of the nurse who rescued him and just happens to be a fan of his books. She is overjoyed to meet him and be the first one to read his new manuscript... until she realizes that he intends to kill his main character - her favourite - off.  
My View - You do not want to make your fans angry, celebrities. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her role as the crazed fan who makes the author her prisoner. There is a scene involving his ankles after she finds out he lied to her... oh boy. You will know it when you see it.

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel Misery


Young Carrie White has just had her first period. It doesn't help that her religiously fanatic mother tells her that it is a sign of her sins. It does not help that she is socially awkward in school. It does not help that a bunch of girls in school decide to target her. It really does not help that she is starting to develop a nihilistic power within her that is fueled by her emotions.   
My View - His first book made Stephen King a name to remember. The movie lived up to the hype. Sissy Spacek portrayed the victim of bullying and teen angst to perfection and the shift in gears as she realized what she was capable of and how she was betrayed made for one of the most memorable  - if a tad too bloody - moments in cinema.

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel Carrie


For the 'Losers Club' of 7 young children, being beaten up by school bullies is not the worst fear on their minds. No, that would be the shape-shifting clown Pennywise, who has returned after a long break, thirsting for blood and having developed a sadistic fixation on the little children of the sleepy town of Derry.

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel Pennywise_The_Clown IT_movie Andres_Muschietti

My View - I was delighted to hear that a remake of the Stephen King story 'IT' was finally coming. Director Andres Muschietti did a brilliant job capturing both the shocking and iconic moments from the book while also rendering a beautiful coming-of-age story that makes you care for the children, while fleshing out their personality . 

So what do you think?

  • What is your opinion of Stephen King as a writer? 
  • What is your opinion of the movies based on his stories?

The best movies based on a Stephen King Novel

Post a Comment


Let me know what you think.

  1. Loved The Shawshank Redemption and The Shining. The Mist, Misery and 1408 were very good. Secret Window and Carrie were good. Have high hopes from IT and I'll watch Green Mile after reading it ;)

    Good post! The man is a legend!

    1. Wow.. Surprised you haven't seen Green Mile. It's a pretty famous movie and quite brilliant, if you ask me.

  2. oh, love you Roshan! Stephen King is one of my most favorite authors. The first book I read was "IT" and I remember never wanting it to end. :) My folks, a family of diehard readers, were stunned to see me devouring King's novels. I have all of them.

    The Apt Pupil, like all of King's books, was like a really cold hand slowly squeezing the heart, only we don't feel the cold right away - it seeps in stealthily, yet surely.

    Shawshank Redemption? Oh, a classic!

    I am thrilled to hear Pennywise is coming!

    Delightful post!

    1. Not many have either watched or read Apt Pupil and yes, it is one of those claustrophobic novels where you feel a domino effect occurring with events.
      I think Shawshank Redemption will be on atleast half the public's favorite movies list. And yes, I have my hopes high for IT too

  3. Some of these I would never watch but others are my favorites. Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Shining, Misery, and Stand By Me were some of my favorites.

    1. And that is a wonderful selection too :) truly beautiful inspiring and poignant movies.

  4. I loved The Dead Zone (the book) and The Green Mile (both the book and the movie, each in their own way). Also Carrie (the book) his first but predicted his future greatness. For movies - hands down, The Shawshank Redemption. I think it's one of the best movies ever made. And when I first saw it, I never even knew it was Stephen King (that came a few years later).

    1. Damn. I forgot about the Dead Zone. There was a successful movie based on it but I haven't seen it.
      And yes, I remember a conversation with a friend from over 2 decades ago where they were surprised to find out that Shawshank was by King :)

  5. Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies. 1408 is very spooky and I like it. I preferred the book The Shining over though movie, though have to admit that Jack Nicholas did a fantastic job in the movie. Haven't seen the others yet. Stephen King knows how to write horror and I enjoy his books.

    1. Many, including Stephen King himself openly prefer the book to the movie when it comes to the Shining. And yes, 1408 which he loved works brilliantly as a scary movie

  6. And I have only managed Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. :-( Will check out the rest.

    1. You have seen two of the most heartfelt of his works. In that sense, try out Stand by Me. Or if you like the combination of director and author, then their third collaboration was The Mist.

  7. I am always drawn in by your writing. The way you review 'stuffs' with such in depth detailing ... See I can't even find a word to describe what I am trying to describe. You are amazing with your writing. You should have been a professional reviewer!!
    Coming to King - his books are no doubt absolutely thrilling, I have only watched Carrie and Shawshank Redemption and have seen trailers of few others. Why do I always miss out on watching good stuffs!!
    There is a hindi adaption of Misery, I remember watching it on DD1 long time back.
    You have given me one more to do list now!!

    1. OK I didn't know there was a Hindi version of Misery. The story does allow scope for a Hindi version since there isn't much of a need for graphics. The only Bollywood movie of his which I know is the one by Kashyap - No Smoking.
      And thanks for the compliment. Movies and TV shows come easy to me...

  8. Stephen King has been a all time favorite. I have read more than watched though. I am so glad you wrote this all in one place will read and watch of what's left. ;)

    1. I actually hated most of his books the first time I read them. The one I first loved was Night shift, his short story collection. From there, ice had the chance to review them a decade and a half later and realized it had more to do with my own impatience to some extent.

  9. I got acquainted with Stephen King pretty late in life perhaps because I steer clear of horror. Yet now you tell me he wasn't only about horror. I read Carrie and found it such a sad story. I never did get around to watching the film. Time to set that right.

    1. Early King was all about the monsters and terror. There is a later King 2.0 that is all about inner emotions. It was there in many of his novellas in the past but after a road accident in '99 his style of writing changed to a style more reflective on life rather than anything really related to terror

  10. 1408, Carrie and Shawshank Redemption- they top my list of Stephen King movies! :) This is a great compilation. Sadly, I haven't seen quite a few from the list and I would pick them up after my husband is done with seeing his collection of horror movies! Oh btw, many thanks to you! :/

    1. hehe... oops. I should probably inform him of 'IT' which is releasing next year... could you be a dear and tell him for me :\

  11. nice list i have watched Shawshank Redemption which was very nice movie

    1. If you liked Shawshank, you will love Green Mile and Stand By Me

  12. Carrie was the my first Stephen King book and I simply loved it despite it being so sad and scary. I still remember the dread just kept building page after page... I am so keen to re-read this book and watch the movie too. The Stand has been sitting in my Kindle for a while now, and I have to read it before December as part of the Reading Challenge. Must pick that up soon and others from your list too!

    1. The Stand is a labour of love... its ranked very high and is a huge book at over 1000 pages. I'm not a big fan of it (as compared to some other of his books like Misery, IT, Salem's Lot) but the public does rate it highly so what do I know :)

  13. The problem with me is I don't have the patience to go through the 1000 page King novels. But I do love the movies though, even though they may not capture the essential component of Kings novels. Apparently, King wasn't a huge fan of his book adaptations.
    Coming to the movies, The Cat's eye was probably the first movie I saw. The Shawshank Redemption, Green mile, Misery are among my favourites. I could also not afford to watch The Mist for the same reason as you have stated. Of course, The Shining is a special movie there.
    Also, I think The Dead zone and Dolores Clairborne also deserve a mention here.

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