Even if you aren’t a fan of his, Stephen King is a name you’ve definitely heard attached to the horror genre. We all know about The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, and IT, these are widely regarded as his most famous adaptations and certainly some of his best, but with so many adaptations being churned out, it’s easy to miss some of them. Don’t worry though, here are some of the best Stephen King adaptations that you might not have heard about.
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1. Doctor Sleep
Starting things off, we have Mike Flanagan’s (Haunting of Hill House) 2019 sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The story follows an adult Danny Torrance, struggling not to become his father, while protecting a young girl who also shines from a group of monsters who want to harvest her.
For some time, this had been seen as a tough project to take on since Kubrick’s film differs greatly from King’s original novel but any sequel adaptation not based on one of the most famous horror films ever made simply would not work.
Thankfully, Flanagan already has a great track record of adapting King’s most unadaptable (see Gerald’s Game further down) and his Doctor Sleep is made with the precision and thoughtfulness of someone who holds both versions of its predecessor in high regard, translating King’s story into the world of Kubrick’s film.
2. The Mist
Frank Darabont is another Stephen King veteran having already adapted The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. His final King collab was 2007’s The Mist. A story about a group of New England townsfolk who find themselves trapped in a supermarket after a giant wall of fog rolls in, fog that contains nightmarish, otherworldly creatures.
Darabont has always been fascinated by the social and political ecosystems that develop when humans are confined together against their will and in that way The Mist is no different from Shawshank and Green Mile. This one just has more of a Lovecraftian spin to it (Far more tentacles than his other two movies combined!)
3. The Outsider
Originally published in 2018 and adapted into a miniseries for HBO in 2020, the adaptation of The Outsider has a lot of powerful talent attached to it. Created by Richard Price (The Wire) and produced by Jack Bender (The Sopranos) and Jason Bateman, who also stars in it, alongside Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Erivo.
In The Outsider, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) is convicted of murdering a child while having eye-witness testimonies of him being in both at the scene of the crime and hundreds of miles away at a conference. The story plays like The X-files but is done with the gravitas and darkness of True Detective. The show does make several changes to certain characters and plots beats that, honestly, make King’s book look like a first draft (said with all the love in a King fan’s heart).
4. Gerald’s Game
If it wasn’t already clear by the first entry, Mike Flanagan is an enormous Stephen King fan and his first foray into adapting King’s work shows it. King wrote Gerald’s Game in 1992 and until 2017, it had been seen as unadaptable due to the fact that the entire story takes place in one room from the perspective of a lone woman handcuffed to a bed.
Stories starring only one character in one location who isn’t speaking but rather thinking to herself about what she can do, is a premise that works for a book but not for the visual medium of film. Much like Doctor Sleep, Flanagan changes the story enough to fit a movie format while ultimately remaining almost entirely faithful to the original source material.
Of all the King adaptations on this list, this one is probably the most underrated. It was released on Netflix the same year as Gerald’s Game (The late 2010’s truly was a Stephen King Renaissance thanks to 2016’s IT.) 1922 is an American period piece that follows the consequences that befall Wilfred James (played by Thomas Jane) after he decides to kill his wife (played by Molly Parker) for threatening to divorce him and take their house.
While Wilfred is technically our protagonist, he is not the character that we root for. It’s an extremely dark, almost Edgar Allen Poe-type story that give us an untrustworthy narrator with feelings of guilty paranoia that exist in stories like The Telltale Heart and blends that with King’s ability to reveal the dark and perverted underbelly of Americana and the The American Dream.
6. The Dead Zone
This might make some King fans bristle because of course they know about David Cronenberg’s 1983 adaptation of The Dead Zone. But the general movie going crowd might not (Or maybe you do cause it’s Cronenberg, who knows. Regardless, not enough people talk about this one).
The movie stars young Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith. A man who, after a five year coma finds himself with a brand new set of clairvoyant abilities. It’s not a horror story, rather, it’s a supernatural love story about making up for lost time as well as a political thriller starring Martin Sheen as a cartoonishly loud and corrupt political outsider who may potentially start World War III.
7. Silver Bullet
Another King adaptation that feels rarely talked about but is, in fact, extremely good is 1985’s Silver Bullet. A pulpy, 80’s practical effects extravaganza that’s based on a story King originally wrote in the form of a calendar. The story, named Cycle of the Werewolf is about the small town of Tarker’s Mill being plagued bya werewolf. The book/calendar is split up into twelve chapters, each chapter being only a page or so long and each one representing one month and one full moon.
The movie on the other hand is told more like a werewolf slasher film, again, with plenty of that sweet 80’s practical gore. Out of all the adaptations on this list, this one might be the most fun movie to gather a bunch of friends over and make a party game out of it.
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