The release of IT Chapter Two brings the number of Stephen King screen adaptations to 70, a remarkable achievement, the breadth of which makes compiling a top ten list extremely difficult. But I’ll try anyway.
10. Pet Sematary (1989)
A decent adaptation of a well-regarded novel which proves conclusively, if further proof were needed after Alien, that hissing cats can always be relied on to deliver the best jump scares.
9. Cujo (1983)
An exercise in endurance in which a rabid Saint Bernard besieges a mother and son in their car. An appealing performance by Dee Wallace can’t quite cancel the fact that even heavily daubed in movie blood and drool, Saint Bernards are inherently unterrifying.
8. IT (2017)
Successfully explores two of King’s favourite themes: the enduring bonds of childhood friendships and the hidden perils of outwardly idyllic American small town life.
7. Salem’s Lot (1979)
Ably directed by Poltergeist’s Tobe Hooper, this blood-sucking miniseries made a huge impression on contemporary viewers. Novelist Ben Mears (David Soul) discovers sinister goings on in a small New England town connected to the mysterious Richard Straker’s (James Mason’s) business activities.
As townsfolk start disappearing, Mears sharpens the stakes and stocks up on garlic. As ancient master vampire Kurt Barlow, Reggie Nadler delivers a couple of jump scares that are still causing heart flutters for those who watched this terrific two-parter.
6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
A prison drama that successfully balances brutality and humanity, Shawshank probably no longer lives up to its reputation but it’s a good film nonetheless. Morgan Freeman’s lyrical narration as veteran convict Red Redding has been so often imitated it is almost cliché. But the scene where Red finally earns his parole by not having any more s–ts to give is a lump-in-throat highlight.
5. Stand By Me (1986)
A touching, robust film in which a writer recounts a boyhood journey he and his friends took one summer to search for the body of a missing boy. River Phoenix made an immediate impact in the film that largely introduced him to moviegoers. But it was also the film that launched Keifer Sutherland’s career, so viewers still exhausted by eight seasons of 24 might have other ideas about this ranking.
4. The Dead Zone (1983)
An engrossing entry from horror director David Cronenberg, The Dead Zone is a strange hybrid of sci-fi thriller and police procedural. Christopher Walken’s Johnny Smith wakes from a coma to discover he has psychic powers, including being able to read the future of ambitious presidential aspirant Greg Stillson.
After his much-revered turn as President Jed Bartlet on The West Wing, it’s a guilty pleasure watching Martin Sheen portray a president of almost unimaginable craziness. Well, previously unimaginable.
3. Misery (1990)
King had a swing at his obsessive fans with Misery and Rob Reiner’s superbly controlled adaptation did justice to his vision. Centered on flawless performances from James Caan as the crippled writer and Kathy Bates as his saviour/captor/tormentor, Misery scored with critics and audiences. Bates won a well-deserved Oscar while planting the insult ‘You dirty bird!’ firmly in the zeitgeist.
2. Carrie (1976)
Arguably director Brian De Palma’s best film and Sissy Spacek’s best performance, Carrie depicts a troubled teen with telekinetic powers avenging herself on her tormentors in spectacular fashion. Set in what appears to be a version of Grease’s Rydell High from Hell, Carrie is another King vehicle that has infected all levels of popular screen culture, from 30 Rock to Netflix’s Derry Girls.
1. The Shining (1980)
Any list that includes a Stanley Kubrick film should expect that entry to finish near the top. Not many horror films improve with age but The Shining is an exception, just as unsettling as it was on release and more well-regarded by critics. King himself disliked the adaptation apparently, as Kubrick removed many of the stranger plot devices of the novel, concentrating instead on the threats emanating from the writer’s-blocked mind of author Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson).
With too many classic moments to list, from blood soaked elevators to frozen mazes, this, the best adaptation of a King novel, is among the best films of the 1980s and one of the greatest horrors of all time.
My son has predicted that the exclusion of The Green Mile will raise the most objections.
It was a deliberate decision, not omission. The movie is long and ponderous with unbelievably courtly humane prison guards. It might have snuck into a top 12, behind Christine at number 11.