Stephen King Films Ranked

2019 has been an outstanding year for Stephen King fans. Not only was his latest novel, The Institute, released in September, but several movies and television series based on his work have come out. From films such as the Pet Sematary and It Chapter Two, to the television adaptations of Mr. Mercedes season three, to Castle Rock season two, and Creepshow season one, Stephen King works really are everywhere. With the upcoming release of Doctor Sleep (the long-awaited adaptation of the sequel to The Shining), it’s as good a time as any to rank Stephen King’s films. 

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10. Cujo

While Vic’s (Daniel Hugh-Kelly) advertisement for a cereal begins to fail, he discovers his wife Donna (Dee Wallace) is having an affair. While their marriage is being tested, the St. Bernard, Cujo, contracts rabies after being bitten by a bat and goes on a killing spree. When Vic goes out of town for business, Donna and their son Tad drop off their car at a mechanic’s home. While there, Cujo traps Donna and Tad in their broken-down car.

While Cujo has many flaws, there are a lot of great aspects to the movie that makes it a memorable classic. Great practical effects, an infamous car scene, a timeless story, and simple, yet effective scares all come together to help make this movie a classic.

Let’s start with some negatives. Despite having the movie named after him, Cujo’s role is quite minor. The main focus of the movie is on Vic and Donna’s relationship and their many struggles. At times, this can get boring and begin to drag, making you want to get to the killer dog part of the story. The acting is not spectacular and the characters are not very memorable. The movie also suffers from pacing issues, especially considering that it takes a while to eventually get to Cujo.

Despite all of that, the movie’s story still holds up well today, and the characters work well enough within the movie. The stand-out of the movie is, of course, Cujo himself. When Cujo does show up, he doesn’t disappoint. The ending with Cujo attacking the car is still suspenseful and freighting at times. The practical effects with the dog still hold up well today and carry the movie, making it one of the better King adaptations. It might not be a great movie, but it certainly is an entertaining watch and a lot of fun.

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9. Pet Sematary (1989)

In what Stephen King considers to be his scariest novel, Pet Sematary follows Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) and his family as they move into a new house where they meet a kind, elderly man, Jud (Fred Gwynne). After Church, the Creed’s cat gets killed and Jud introduces Louis to a pet cemetery near their house that has the power to bring the dead back. At first, the pet cemetery seems like a good idea to Louis, but he soon finds out that there are consequences that come with playing God. 

It is quite apparent that this movie is a product of the ’80s. A majority of the practical effects are dated and Midkiff’s performance is a little questionable. The movie was a faithful adaptation of the novel for the most part, but it didn’t go quite as dark as the novel. It touched on the themes of death but didn’t explore them as deep as it could have. It almost felt like they were too afraid to completely commit to the weird darkness that filled the book. The movie, at times, also switches tones, which didn’t mix well with the rest of the movie. For example, there’s a scene in the movie where a dead child comes back dressed in a fancy dress, top hat, and cane with no explanation. The scene felt strange and out of place, which threw off the tone the scene was building. The movie does this a few times, which makes it hard to follow.

One of the major highlights of the movie was Gwynne as Jud. This was perfect casting, as he captures the spirit of Jud from the novel and is by far the best performer. The movie shows how death affects everyone differently through the characters Louis, Jud, and Rachel (Denise Crosby). They all have different ideas about death and what happens after we die.The idea of a place that brings the dead back isn’t necessarily new, but these movies’ approach brings a freshness to that idea. All of these elements deliver an overall entertaining movie.

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8. Secret Window

Mort Rainey is a struggling writer who has retreated to a cabin in the middle of the woods after discovering his wife had been having an affair. While Rainey is going through his divorce, a man by the name of John Shooter accuses him of plagiarizing one of his short stories. After reading the man’s short story, he discovers that it is almost identical to his own story. Rainey claims he wrote the story before Shooter did, so Shooter then demands proof. 

Coming off of his success as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Carribean, Johnny Depp brings another great performance. At times, one can see a little bit of Jack Sparrow’s quirkiness in his performance of Rainey. He pulls off the tired, sluggishness of the character dealing with many problems in his life. The movie does a great job of keeping the audience engaged—with both the storyline and Rainey—leaving the viewer wondering what will happen next. John Turturro also gives a great performance as Shooter, giving off a sinister, yet mysterious vibe.

The major downfall of the movie is the ending. They try to pull off this big, surprise ending, but it felt predictable. There are countless plot holes in addition to keeping viewers from being able to connect the dots in the story. It also suffers from too many one-dimensional characters. Only the main character has been fully fleshed out; however, these things don’t hold the movie back too much and still make for an engaging, entertaining movie. 

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7. The Mist

Directed by Frank Darabont, the same director behind The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, The Mist follows a group of survivors held up in a supermarket while a heavy mist falls over a small town. Within the mist are terrifying monsters of all shapes and sizes, waiting to get to the survivors trapped inside. 

The movie combines terrifying monsters with King’s fantastic storytelling ability. The movie has all the classic signs of a monster movie, while also going deeper with its storytelling. The characters are not as great as the ones in The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile, but they’re still able to stand out on their own and bring something different to the table. The monster designs are also great, with many of them being memorable and terrifying. The action between the monsters and survivors is suspenseful and thrilling in all of its gory, graphic details. The most memorable aspect of this movie is the surprising, twisted ending that will leave viewers speechless.  

One of the drawbacks to the movie is the characters. Some of the characters would have benefited from more character development, rather than just being walking body bags waiting to be torn to pieces by the monsters. The movie gets a little too graphic and gory at times, which may be too much for some viewers. It does steer away from the gory mayhem of the monsters tearing people apart and slows down a few times in the movie, leaving viewers wanting to get back to the monster action. With its few flaws, The Mist is still one of the better monster movies out there, and will leave the viewers’ jaws on the floor from the risky, gutsy ending. 

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6. 1408

Author Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a non-believer of the paranormal and goes to haunted places in order to write about them. He ends up at The Dolphin hotel and rents out room 1408. Here, he meets Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), the hotel manager, and stays in the room, despite being advised not to. There, he experiences strange and paranormal events.

The best way to watch this movie is to go in with little knowledge. What elevates this movie among the rest of King’s work is how well-crafted the story is with a imperfect, yet acceptable ending. There are multiple different endings to the movie, with the director’s cut being my preferred ending. Cusack and Jackson carry this movie and bring terrific performances, with this being one of Cusack’s best. He does a great job at showing both the grief and skepticism in his character, and gives subtle hints that help develop the character of Enslin. Even though it’s not Jackson’s best performance, he still brings something special to the character. Trying to be vague and not give away anything about the movie, there is an eeriness that helps to give the movie an unsettledness to it. This is definitely one of the more scary King adaptations. 

Being based on a short story, the original story’s plot gets stretched out and expanded in order to fill up the run time. Because of this, aspects of the story dragged out a little too much and would have benefited from shaving off 15-20 minutes to tighten up the story a little better. The ending to the theatrical cut is also not the best of the three endings. It works for the movie, but the directors cut is much better, as it was a more interesting and riskier ending. This is a great King story adaptation and one of the better horror stories out there.

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5. Gerald’s Game 

A husband and wife go to a cabin in the middle of the woods for a weekend in order to try to spice things up in their sex life. Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) suffers a heart attack and dies in the middle of sex, leaving his wife, Jessie (Carla Gugino), handcuffed to the bed. With no one to help her, Jessie has to figure a way out of the handcuffs while a starving dog feasts on her husband’s corpse and waits for her to die to feed on her. While all of this occurs, Jessie begins to hallucinate and look back over her life on the events that led her to being in this situation. 

To start off, this is one of the toughest King adaptations to get through. The movie doesn’t hold back on touching on tough subject matter and depicts certain topics in a way that leaves you feeling uncomfortable. Despite that, Gugino and Greenwood give some of the best performances in any King adaptation. A majority of the movie takes place in the bedroom and Gugino is still able to carry the film with her performance, despite her not having much to work with. Both Gugino and Greenwood have to play multiple versions of their characters, and both are able to bring out the best in their abilities. Even though Gugino is the stand-out performer in this film, she doesn’t completely outshine Greenwood’s fantastic performance as her older, snarky husband. With the movie a majority of the time taking place in one location, they are able to build tension and suspense while keeping viewers captivated. 

The major drawback to this film was an introduction of a character toward the end that felt a little out of left field, and didn’t quite mix with the rest of the movie. A more somber, simple ending would have been better than the desperate attempt to make something big out of nothing at all. Desist all of that, the movie is still a clever, suspenseful film with a simple premise.

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4. The Green Mile

After being convicted of murdering and raping two girls, John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is sent to death row, also known as “The Green Mile,” even though he is a gentle, mentally challenged black man who has a deathly fear of the dark. On death row Coffey meets Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) who is the death row corrections officer. Edgecomb witnesses supernatural events once Coffey is brought to the prison, including Coffey curing Edgecomb’s bladder infection. Despite being a strong, hulking man who had the capability to kill anyone, Paul begins to question whether or not Coffey actually killed the two girls.

After The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont proves once again that he’s a master when it comes to adapting King’s work. Just like with The Shawshank Redemption, this is another inspirational movie that brings the emotional punches while also being uplifting. Hanks is as great as always and brings a certain charisma and charm to the role. Duncan also does a fantastic job as Coffey and makes us feel pity for him, wanting to see him gain justice. 

The only downfall to this movie is the over three hour running time. The movie drags a few times and lacks character background, which would have been helpful. Getting to know a little more about some of the characters would help viewers become more emotionally invested. Overall, The Green Mile is a very moving film with great characters, great storytelling, and an inspirational message. 

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3. The Shining

After moving into the Overlook Hotel for the winter, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is placed as caretaker over the hotel while it’s closed for the winter. Jack takes this time to try to cure his writer’s block, while his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) has disturbing visions. Being stuck in the hotel for the winter, Torrance, his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and Lloyd must overcome many hardships while Torrance learns about the hotels dark past, and slowly descends into madness.

This movie helped secure Stanley Kubrick as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. The Shining has gone on to be a staple in the horror genre, with many of the movie’s iconic moments being replicated in other media. Even those who haven’t watched the movie have probably heard the famous line, “Here’s Johnny!” as Torrance sticks his face through the broken door. The ending of the movie has even gone on to become iconic, with people still debating to this day about what it truly means. There are many great things to love in The Shining, from Nicholson’s great performance, to how unsettling the movie can be. We also get one of the best child actor performances from Lloyd. Kubrick did a fantastic job at slowly building the tension and suspense throughout the entire movie, leading to the explosive and insane climax. The movie is not only visually frightening, but is also psychologically scary. Watching a man slowly descending into madness throughout the course of the movie is even more unsettling than the naked lady in the bathtub, the creepy twin girls at the end of the hallway, or the river of blood spewing from the elevator. The look and feel of the hotel itself also helps to give an erie, creepiness to the whole movie. There is also great camera work in the movie that helps elevate it; many of the shots in the movie glide across the screen

One of the biggest drawbacks of the movie was the performance from Duball as Wendy. She works well enough for the movie, but at times her character can get a little annoying and her performance is not as strong as Nicholson’s or Lloyd’s. The movie does drag a little, especially in the middle. Despite its few flaws, The Shining is definitely a must-watch for horror fans and is certainly worthy of being one of King’s best adaptations.  

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2. IT (2017)

When an entity takes the form of a clown known as Pennywise, it begins to terrorize a group of kids in the town of Derry, Maine. After the kids band together and call themselves “The Losers Club,” they try to discover a way to fight back against It, and rid it from their town.

Being the movie that helped kick off the newly-found interest in adapting Stephen King stories to the big screen, It has many amazing aspects to it. First, Bill Skarsguard as Pennywise is not only the best King villain in any movie, he is one of the best movie villains in general. He brings a certain unsettledness to the character that makes your skin crawl, while making you want to see more of the character. He has a great on-screen presence that demands the screen every time he’s on. The kids that make up “ The Losers Club” are also some of the best child actors in any movie. The movie is also not necessarily a horror movie, but rather a coming-of-age story that just happens to have a killer, man-eating clown trying to terrorize kids. It’s reminiscent of Stand By Me, but with a killer clown.

Of the few negatives, one would be that the movie isn’t quite as frightening as it could have been. Being advertised as a terrifying experience, the movie doesn’t have many flights to it. Most of the terror in the movie doesn’t come from the killer clown, but rather the disturbing adults that make up Derry, Maine. The movie could have also benefited from being ten to fifteen minutes longer, fleshing out more of the story. It would have benefited from having more of Pennywise and having his origin explained, instead of waiting to explain it for the sequel. Some of the main kid characters could have benefited from explanations of their lives and past. Viewers would have benefited from a deeper understanding of Stanley and Mike. If the movie was longer, it could have explained the two more and given audiences a bigger reason to care for them in the sequel. Overall, the movie is one of the best King adaptations that also created one of the best, most memorable movie villains. 

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1. The Shawshank Redemption

After being found guilty of the muder of his wife and lover, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is sentenced to serve two life terms in Shawshank prison. He claims he was innocent, but no one believes him since the evidence pointed to him as the killer. While in Shawshank, he meets Red (Morgan Freeman), and the two form a close friendship. As Dufresne adapts to prison life, he experiences the hardships of being there while helping others along the way. 

This movie is the second-highest rated movie on IMDB—right behind The Godfather—and is definitely worthy of that title. One of the major stand-outs in this movie is the cast. This is definitely one of, if not the best performance from Freeman in his entire career. He brings a certain charm to Red that dominates the screen every time he’s on it. He’s easily the best character in any Stephen King adaptation. Being the best performance of his career, Robbins also brings charisma to the character, but in a different way from Red. 

Besides the performances, the story they tell is one of the most inspirational, yet devastating in King’s library. They do an incredible job at showing how terrible prison can be, yet how it also changes the people inside so much to the point that they forget how to function out in the real world. Everyone inside the prison wishes to be on the outside, yet when they do get to the outside, many of them wish to go back. An example of this is when a main character is finally released from Shawshank after being in it for most of his life. The film shows how he’s unable to adjust and how he wishes to be placed back within its walls. The story following Dufresne through his time in prison is also great to see. A clever and inspirational story has been crafted for him, keeping viewers invested while spreading a great message. The writing and dialogue is top-notch, with an entire movie crammed full of quotable lines. With a great story, clever dialogue, inspirational message, and memorable characters, The Shawshank Redemption is the best Stephen King adaptation, and one of the best movies of all time. 

With Stephen King being the author with the most film adaptations of his work, we have seen a mixed bag of terrible, mediocre, fine, and great movies. We have some great gems of a movie, like The Shawshank Redemption, yet also have the terrible movies like Children of the Corn. With the countless other adaptations in the works, it’s likely we’ll continue to receive more for a while. One thing’s for sure: there appears to be no shortage of stories to adapt from King’s enormous library.


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