- 07 Nov 19
With Doctor Sleep having just arrived in cinemas, we take a look at the best and worst Stephen King adaptations.
It’s been a good year for movies based on Stephen King books, with Doctor Sleep having just been released and IT: Chapter Two cleaning up at the box office. But which King adaptations have worked and which haven’t? The duds are unfortunately plentiful, including Brett Leonard’s adaptation-in-name only The Lawnmower Man. The movie proved so horrendous King actually sued New Line Cinema, forcing them to remove his name from the title.
Not that the author underestimates the difficulty of filming his work; King’s first and only directorial outing was his 1986 adaptation of Maximum Overdrive. The overlong effort featured a never-more-boring Emilio Estevez, in what was a disaster movie in every sense (though the AC/DC soundtrack is pretty killer). Other stinkers include Dreamcatcher, The Mangler and The Night Flier – but the real challenge is picking the finest King adaptation.
While The Shining is a cinematic classic, we can’t in good conscience give top billing to a film that King himself expressed a deep dissatisfaction with. The author felt the film lacked the emotional complexity of the book and criticised Jack Nicholson’s casting and performance. Emotionally, Stand By Me is a much more faithful adaptation of King’s nostalgic coming-of-age story, and the performances by the young actors, including River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Wil Wheaton – not to mention Kiefer Sutherland as their older tormentor – are all remarkable. Misery was critically acclaimed upon its release in 1990, but its story of a crazed obsessive (a magnificent Kathy Bates) feels even more relevant now, due its examination of toxic fandom and the dangerous sense of ownership and control that passion can breed.
The Shawshank Redemption, meanwhile, is now one of the best-loved movies of the past few decades, which makes it surprising to remember that the prison-set story of friendship, survival and resilience had very little impact upon its initial release. But the film’s grittiness, poignancy, and the superb performances from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman retain their emotional impact today.
Other highlights include The Dead Zone, Dolores Claiborne and IT, but our vote for the best King adaptation will always be the first: Brian de Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Carrie. Featuring an excellent Sissy Spacek in the title role, de Palma captures the elements of gendered oppression, teenage cruelty and supernatural horror that made the novel so powerful. Suspenseful, vicious and tense, Carrie always held the power.