Stephen King, the face of the literary horror world, has churned out a whole lot of pages throughout his incredible forty-two year career. So it’s hardly shocking when you look through the filmography of his work and see that just about everything the man has written has been put to celluloid. Some have been incredible works of cinema, which I will be touching on shortly. Others have been true clunkers- hey, you can’t get them all right. Today, I take a look at the five best film adaptations of King’s work.
In compiling this list, I have decided to leave out Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, not because it isn’t an awesome horror film that I watch as often as possible, but because King himself has given the film the ultimate thumbs down. This negative reaction from Mr. King stems from the fact that Kubrick’s Jack Torrance is simply a cardboard cut-out of Crazy. The heart Jack displays in the novel, as well as the depressing descent into madness that eats him up at The Overlook, are omitted entirely in the film version. All we get is Crazy Jack Nicholson playing Crazy Jack Torrance in the film, and that just isn’t what Jack Torrance is truly about.
This list focuses on how well the film sticks to the source material. Shock value also plays a role in the three horror films on this list- a gut-wrenching ending, an incredibly hard to watch scene of a child near death and one of the worst scenes of human torture in popular cinema push these three films over the top.
But King isn’t all bats and spooky haunted houses, and to confirm this, two of these films are zero percent horror and, in fact, two of the most heartfelt films created in the last twenty-five years.
Without further ado ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the list that is in no particular order…
Based on a short story about a small coastal town besieged by a blinding mist and the terrifying inhabitants that emerge from it, THE MIST was a spectacular film. Thomas Jane, Andre Braugher, Marcia Gay Harden and a trio of The Walking Dead fan favorites (Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn and Melissa McBride) flesh out these characters perfectly. The claustrophobic environment of the tiny grocery store is only matched in anxiety by the sprawling vastness of terror that is waiting outside. Straight out of the depths of H.P Lovecraft’s mind, the monsters that lay waste to the horrified humans are simply nightmare fuel.
Then there’s the ending. Oh, the ending! King himself even applauded the film’s heartbreaking finale, stating that he wished he had come up with those final moments actually. Director Frank Darabont has three of his King works appear on this list- the man is truly in sync with King’s writing and how it translates to the big screen.
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
If you’ve never seen this 1994 cinematic masterpiece, you haven’t turned on a cable television over the last decade. The film is on seemingly every other day on one film channel or another, and for good reason.
Darabont hits it out of the park again when he films the story of two imprisoned men who form a bond thicker than blood during their time at the infamous Shawshank Penitentiary. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman portray Andy Dufresne and Ellis “Red” Redding, respectively. Darabont favorite William Sadler and Jeffrey DeMunn star in this film, too, along with Clancy Brown among others. Nominated for seven Oscars, two Golden Globes, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the winner of multiple Best Foreign Film awards from other countries, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION will pull at every heartstring you have and actually instill some faith in humanity within you. Not too bad from the Master of Horror, eh?
THE GREEN MILE
Darabont’s third installment on this list, THE GREEN MILE is my personal favorite of his here. Set in 1935 in the deep south of America, the film is simply perfect.
Tom Hanks is Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard in charge of the Death Row block Cold Mountain State Penitentiary. Residents of Death Row here refer to the block as The Green Mile for the green linoleum they see as they make their last walk of their lives to the electric chair. Tasked with an eclectic bunch of the worst of the worst, Paul and his guard’s lives are changed forever when John Coffey enters The Green Mile. Coffey, a giant of a man played masterfully by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, is ultimately an innocent soul both inside and out, being put to death because he is a black man found with two dead white girls in his arms. Seriously, get the tissues ready. Both the book, which was released as an awesome serial story project by King, and the movie are beautiful and quite possibly the best adaptation of King ever.
The ultimate anti-Lassie, 1983’s CUJO is absolutely terrifying. The quintessential cinematic mother Dee Wallace stars as Donna Trenton, a young mother who finds herself stranded in her beat up Pinto as it has broken down in the driveway of a local mechanic. With her son in the passenger seat and a rabid St. Bernard lurking amidst the empty plot of land, Donna is forced to defy the odds and take on horrific acts of heroism to ensure both she and her child get out of this nightmare alive.
Danny Pintauro plays Tad, the young boy in the film, and he is just as captivating and phenomenal a performer as Ms. Wallace. In a recent interview I conducted with Dee, she actually says that Danny is her favorite cinema child due to the incredibly hard work and physically demanding roles the two were put through during the film’s shoot. Pintauro’s portrayal as he begins to succumb to heat stroke and dehydration is truly heartbreaking and if you don’t fist pump the air when Donna is finally able to kick some ass and save her boy, well, you may be just as sick as Cujo himself.
Do you know what hobbling is? You soon will learn…
Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of King’s novel by the same name, MISERY, is a psychological gut punch from beginning to end.
James Caan is Paul Sheldon, a famous author who finds himself trapped in the home of his “biggest fan”, a psychotic woman named Annie Wilkes. This is one of King’s best books, probably because he put so much deep rooted personal fear into the tale of a writer who gets into a car accident and is, ahem, rescued by a woman who is completely obsessed with not just his books, but the author himself. Kathy Bates is the ultimate baddie in this film, a former nurse who has just a little bit of blood on her hands from years of psychosis and maniacal schemes.
The film is taught with suspense and the audience is thrown completely down into the rabbit hole of Annie Wilkes when she becomes completely unhinged and decides to make sure Paul won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Hence, the most stomach churning ankle breaking scene in the history of movies. No matter how many times I see it, I still squeeze my eyes shut when sledgehammer meets bone.
Honorable mention definitely goes to Brian De Palma’s CARRIE, another of my all-time favorite horror films that just barely missed the cut for this list.
So there you have it. My five best Stephen King film adaptations. Let us know what you think and what films make your list in the comments below!