If I were to ask you the first name that pops into your mind in regards to the one writer whose work has been adapted to film and television the most, it’s highly likely that Stephen King will be the answer. Generally known as the modern master of horror, even though his deeply humanist approach to drama compels some fans to dub him a sort of contemporary torchbearer for literary giants like Charles Dickens, King has been pumping out novels, novellas and short stories since the early ’70s. There are of course many tropes and cliches that come to mind when considering the “typical” King work: a Maine setting; themes of alcoholism and abuse; a protagonist who’s a writer with inner demons to battle; various inanimate objects, no matter how silly or nonsensical, that come to life to devour poor unsuspecting humans; animals previously thought to be benign turning into soulless monsters … the list goes on and on.
Yet as predictable as some of his output over the last four-plus decades might be, he never ceases to surprise us, either in a positive or negative connotation, by stepping out of his comfort zone to deliver something truly unique and timeless. Here’s a writer who’s responsible for some of the most laughably subpar and stale genre work you’ll ever read, as well as literary masterworks that are aleady standing the test of time. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a ranking of movie and TV adaptations of his work covers a similarly extreme spectrum of quality. So join us as we list as many King adaptations as we thought humanly possible, starting from below the bottom of the barrel, all the way to some of the greatest films of any genre that have graced the silver screen or the idiot box.
Before we begin, a quick public service announcement, since a lot of you will more than likely object to omissions of some of your favorite King adaptations: attempting to rank all A/V material that has Stephen King’s name attached to it would have been a damn near impossible task, or should have come with a multi-book publishing deal of its own. Hell, just the amount of sequels to Children of the Corn would have taken up a good chunk. In order to distill the list to as much of the basics as possible, here are some ground rules:
The film/mini-series in question must have been adapted from a published work. This is a list of adaptations, after all, so stories directly written for the screen by King won’t be found here (Sorry, Sleepwalkers.)
The adaptations should at least have some connection to the source material, i.e., characters, plot points, etc. Sequels inspired by original adaptations are not eligible. (Sorry, Eddie Furlong fans, no Pet Sematary II.)
The same goes for original works where almost none of the source material, sans the title, has been taken from King. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see everyone favorite horribly dated early ’90s virtual reality thriller, The Lawnmower Man, in here, since it has nothing to do with King’s original story. (New Line Cinema had the rights to the title, and decided to slap it on an unrelated property.)
Only TV films and mini-series are in contention. (Sorry, Under The Dome and 2017 The Mist.)
Anthology films like Creepshow are not included, since all of them involve at least one story that’s written directly for the screen by King or another writer.
Short films like 2005’s Gotham Café are not eligible.
And finally, this probably doesn’t need to be said but just in case: If we can’t find a way to watch it, it doesn’t go in. For example, there’s a 2007 Indian adaptation of King’s short story, “No Smoking,” that’s not available in U.S.
Now that we got the technicalities out of the way, let’s dive headfirst into the ultimate ranking of Stephen King film/TV adaptations, from the very worst, to the very best.
49. The Langoliers (TV) (1995)
Based on one of the novellas found in King’s massive anthology book, Four Past Midnight, The Langoliers has an interesting premise that resembles one of the most well known original Twilight Zone episodes, “The Odyssey of Flight 33.” After a majority of passengers on an airplane mysteriously disappear, the leftovers find themselves in a barren parallel dimension that keeps shrinking around them. They desperately struggle to find a way back to their reality, but the infighting and paranoia makes this goal increasingly hard. There are a lot of King stories and novels that use the claustrophobic and isolating results of a mysterious supernatural event as an excuse to study how people can revert to their basest urges when they’re cornered and scared. You can find other examples of this much higher on the list, but this shoddily executed and laughably over-the-top three-hour-long bad acid trip should be avoided at all cost. Bronson “Balki” Pinchot’s batshit crazy performance and the awful early ’90s Microsoft clipart CGI of the monsters who are responsible for the phenomena at the center of the story (who look like sunburnt testicles with teeth, by the way) almost turn The Langoliers into a “so bad it’s good” experience, but the long runtime makes it too much of a slog to enjoy it that way.
48. Children of the Corn (TV) (2009)
The 1984 theatrical feature version of Stephen King’s short story about a group of murderous feral children who rule a rural town Lord of the Flies-style and an unsuspecting couple who are forced to survive their attacks was far from a masterpiece, but at least it had halfway alluring cinematography and somewhat solid performances from the two leads. This cheapo Syfy channel adaptation pretty much follows that version beat-by-beat, but with an evenly lit gaudy aesthetic, some unintentionally funny over-the-top performances from the child actors, and pretty much nothing substantial to add on the 1984 version. What’s really weird is that the 1984 film spawned seemingly endless sequels that were frequently pumped out up until 2011, so Syfy could have easily shat out another cash grab sequel that pretty much everyone could have easily ignored just like they did the others.
47. Trucks (TV) (1997)
If King’s (to this date) only directorial effort Maximum Overdrive was too goofy (Appropriately in my opinion), what with the premise of trucks coming to life to kill people and terrorize a gas station because they need that sweet, sweet petrol, Trucks goes the opposite way and takes the premise far too seriously in a profoundly misguided attempt to create a legitimate horror project. All this Canadian TV movie has going for it is that it has a surprising amount of gore for the medium and the time period. Even that doesn’t mean anything nowadays, since run off the mill network shows have already surpassed the then-impressive amount of graphic violence that was on display in Trucks. The stock characters, the lame synth score, and subpar acting turns this into a Stephen King adaptation that can be immediately ignored, even more so than Maximum Overdrive.
46. Dolan’s Cadillac (2009)
A straight-to-VOD revenge exploitation flick about a meek average joe (Wes Bentley) who is pushed to his limits by the horrific acts of a psychopathic criminal (Christian Slater) and in turn becomes a force for revenge. This is a story we’ve seen a million times before, and nothing of any unique or original substance is added to it here. If you’ve seen any typical revenge fantasy before, you can predict every single story beat before the opening credits end. Dolan’s Cadillac is an obvious byproduct of one of those situations where a short story by Stephen King was purchased for cheap and rolled into production for name recognition alone. The direction lacks any energy and the technical execution is a smidge above film school levels. You’d think Christian Slater would at least have some fun as the criminal who kills the protagonist’s wife, but even he looks bored as he sleepwalks through his performance.
45. Graveyard Shift (1990)
Graveyard Shift serves as a cautionary tale, a scared straight program for any prospective King adaptation that not every single random word that he farts out is worthy of an adaptation, let alone a theatrical release by a major studio. This was originally a short story from very early on in King’s career, and it shows. What we get is a run of the mill (in many ways literally) B-movie giant monster flick about a mill worker (David Andrews) and his co-workers who are trapped in their workplace and have to battle a ridiculous monster to survive the night. Whichever executive was the first to blurt out, “Let’s remake a textile mill version of Alien where the monster is a giant rat” really needed to lower their daily nose candy allowance. The unpleasantly dark and dirty cinematography makes it nearly impossible to tell what the hell is going on half the time, yet considering the poor design of the monster, this might actually be a positive. It’s fun to see Brad Dourif chew the scenery in full Chucky mode as an asshole mill worker, but that’s not nearly enough of a reason to watch it.
44. The Mangler (1995)
The 1990s was a weird time for Stephen King adaptations, when even 10-page short stories King wrote so quickly that he didn’t even remember their existence until the check to option it was placed in his hand were adapted solely for a quick cash grab via simple name recognition. The inevitable conclusion of studios being so desperate to attach any film’s name to King is The Mangler. The premise of a possessed industrial laundry folding machine that eats people and draws its powers from antiacid chewables (Yep, you read that right) can only work as ZAZ-style self-aware bit of comedy. Co-writer and director Tobe Hooper gets the goofy part right, whether or not that was intentional is up for discussion, but he also takes this head-slappingly stupid idea too seriously. Hooper showed years earlier that he can handle an irreverent and playful horror-comedy tone with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, so what happened here? There are some inventively gruesome kills for gorehounds, and Robert Englund is a delight as the demon child of Foghorn Leghorn and Scrooge McDuck, but the overall film itself is a dud, despite a premise that’s tailor made for a schlock masterpiece.
43. The Tommyknockers (TV) (1993)
The original novel that this misguided mini-series is adapted from is so silly and derivative, that it could have worked on the small screen as an unintentionally funny bit of camp. Unfortunately it’s too languidly paced and full of soap opera filler to work in any capacity. The Tommyknockers is basically Needful Things with aliens, where the addictive items that make the townspeople happy while stripping them of their humanity are created by an ancient species of extraterrestrials instead of the devil in a Max Von Sydow costume. First of all, neon green is not a scary color. Every time someone’s supposed to die horribly from the alien-made evil inventions, they glow this color, which says “Nickelodeon slime nostalgia” more than “gruesome horror death.” Add to that ridiculous set pieces like a character being attacked by a horde of old-timey dolls and a death-by-soda-vending machine-explosion, and Tommyknockers turns into a distinctly awful, but awful nevertheless, experience. (And hey, if you want a more inventive soda vending machine death, you’ll have to wait until we get to Maximum Overdrive.) That being said, Tracy Lords’ alien-controlled sultry nurse sucking two cops into her green neon laser-spewing alien lipstick is kitsch gold.
42. Big Driver (TV) (2014)
This was a Lifetime Channel movie, so what can you possibly expect from it? As much as I’d like to say the fact that it was based on a Stephen King story at least gives it some edge, that’s not really the case here. The flat, evenly lit execution, the cheesy music, the melodramatic performances (even from Maria Bello, who deserves much better material), all make it obvious that this is a lot more Lifetime than it is King. Sure, there’s more graphic violence than your standard bored housewife time waster—the story is about a writer (Bello) who gets raped and vows revenge on his truck-driving redneck caricature rapist. However, the generic revenge fantasy premise makes every story beat, just like with Dolan’s Cadillac, as predictable and stale as it gets.
41. The Night Flier (TV) (1997)
The Night Flier is usually listed as a theatrical feature. It was meant to be released in cinemas while it was in production, but was summarily dumped on HBO after it was finished. Since it was never released theatrically, it counts as a TV movie. A lot of Stephen King short stories would have made for perfect 22-minute episodes for a horror anthology series. The Night Flier is one of them. It’s essentially a Tales from the Crypt/EC Comics style morbid morality tale where a greedy and narcissistic reporter (Miguel Ferrer) who profits off of others’ misery gets his comeuppance by a vampire who travels in a small plane to dispose of his victims across the country. The film’s fable-like twist could have paid off better in a shorter format, but when it’s stretched out to a feature, we’re left with a whole lot of useless filler during the second act, enough to disengage the viewer from whatever clever climax that the story has in store for them. Ferrer (RIP) steps up to the plate as he always did, but his irredeemable jerk character is a one-dimensional cartoon without any depth. The design of the vampire is pretty creative, with more of a lizard look rather than the usual giant bat we’re used to, but that’s not nearly enough to give The Night Flier a shot.
40. Salem’s Lot (TV) (2004)
There are enough tonal and plot differences between this version and the 1979 Tobe Hooper miniseries, so if you’re a hardcore fan of that one, you might find some surprises in the 2004 adaptation of King’s seminal vampire melodrama. A priest character (James Cromwell), who was a relatively minor figure in the 1979 miniseries, gets a much more beefed up presence here, and since a lot has changed concerning the amount of adult themes that can be explored in television between 1979 and 2004, this version can more openly deal with issues like child molestation. This Rob Lowe-starring take on the story of a writer struggling from writer’s block—what else could you expect from a King protagonist?—moving back into his hometown in search for inspiration, only to find out that the whole place is crawling with vampires, has an attractive and spiffy-enough look to work as a background curiosity for three hours. As much as it pushes the limits of basic cable violence, I still prefer the Tobe Hooper take, mainly because it uses the many limitations of network television of the time to deliver a melancholic soap opera/horror in tune with Tod Browning’s 1931 Dracula. This one tries to be too spiffy and cool, like a CW show for the middle-aged audience, but since it was on TNT, it still can’t really deliver on many of the intense horror elements that it attempts to capture. James Cromwell seems to be having fun as a vampire priest, but the rest of the cast looks downright disinterested.
39. Thinner (1996)
Director Tom Holland is responsible for some of the most iconic horror classics of the ’80s, with the original Child’s Play and the vampire/comedy classic Fright Night on his résumé. That’s why it’s a bummer that the quality of his output strongly diminished during the ’90s. Thinner is nowhere near as awful as The Langoliers, which he also helmed, but it represents yet another silly premise that tries too hard to be taken seriously as a product that’s genuinely supposed to scare audiences. The story of a dickbag attorney (Is there any other kind in movies?) played by Robocop 3’s Robert John Burke (now that’s star power!) who shortchanges a gypsy and is rewarded with a curse that makes him, wait for it, thinner until he shrivels up and dies, is prime material for a Simpsons Treehouse of Horrors episode. But as a straight horror piece, it leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, since the anti-hero protagonist is supposed to be obese at the beginning, in order to take full advantage of the striking visual changes he goes through during the story, Burke is fitted with one of the most cartoonish-looking fat suits this side of Fat Bastard. Holland seems to have been unaware of just how sub-par the prosthetics looked, since he has the brass balls to show the character naked in a brightly lit shower scene. The super-thin side of the make-up fares better, and the overall mediocre performances and execution prevents Thinner from being altogether awful, but this stupid or genius premise, depending on how you look at it, deserved a more exuberant take.
38. A Good Marriage (2014)
The premise of A Good Marriage is ripe for a sinister and mischievous dark comedy: An upper middle-class wife (Joan Allen) who’s been in a happy marriage for three decades finds out that her seemingly devout and levelheaded husband’s (Anthony LaPaglia) been cheating on her. She finds a way to forgive him, as long as he promises to never cheat again. However, the husband’s appetite might not be so easy to suppress. This is a type of domestic melodrama we’ve seen many times before, right? But here’s the twist: Take the above plot description and replace every instance of the word “cheating” for being a BTK-style serial killer, and you have the grounds for a weird and delightful dark comedy, full of scenes where the couple calmly discuss around the dinner table whether or not the husband can keep on brutally murdering innocent women and still maintain a healthy marriage. Give this material to a provocateur like John Waters and watch it shine. Unfortunately, this film, with a screenplay by King himself, takes this wild premise at face value as it attempts to build a traditional thriller out of it. Allen and LaPaglia are game as they bring out the absurdity of the situation their characters are in via admirably straight-faced performances. LaPaglia is especially chilling as he discusses dismembering his victims with the same calm tone of a suburban husband droning on about his recent fishing trip. The overall execution, with a borderline Lifetime Channel cinematography and flat direction, makes A Good Marriage deserve its status as a straight-to-VOD product.
37. Mercy (2014)
Yet another Stephen King short that’s effective mainly because of its briefness turned into a convoluted mess in feature form. The original story, “Gramma,” is creepy because we don’t know how a cranky grandmother turned into a demonic spirit that ends up possessing her grandson. It’s a lean and effective campfire tale with a hair-raising finale. There was a way for this feature adaptation to retain the unsettlingly ambiguous tone of the original story while expanding the confines of the simple but promising premise, but it succumbs to the usual traps of such a project, adding a slew of unnecessary and predictable back-story and random supernatural mumbo jumbo to explain the mystery at the center of the story with annoyingly obvious and gratuitously overlong exposition. The bland digital cinematography, as if the “brooding” filter was turned on in iMovie, makes this supposedly studio-backed production look like a DIY film student project. Mercy is nothing more than a standard example of the possession horror sub-genre. If you’re aching to see a trippy movie centered on the unorthodox relationship between a boy and his grandma, watch David Lynch’s short film, The Grandmother, instead.
36. Desperation (TV) (2006)
Forget whether or not it deserved to be adapted into a movie, I’m not sure if Desperation, a half-baked random sampling of various supernatural horror tropes King threw at us during his prolific career, should have been published in the first place. With a slew of uninspired and atonal melding of King cliches, an ancient demonic presence that corrupts the souls of men, children with telepathic abilities, people discovering their inner monsters when trapped in a closed space, etc … , awkwardly crammed into a single story, Desperation gets as close as Stephen King gets to writing Stephen King fan fiction. King’s works command a small group of directors who have pretty much dedicated their careers to adapting his material. To this date, out of all the feature films that Frank Darabont directed, the only non-King adaptation is The Majestic. Mick Garris is the TV equivalent of Darabont, and Desperation is his worst and least-focused adaptation. The story of a woman (Annabeth Gish) who gets busted for marijuana possession by a demented sheriff (Ron Perlman) and taken to a town where everyone is dead in the middle of the street starts off promisingly enough, but soon devolves into a convoluted series of nonsensical and disconnected supernatural events, all of which are caused by an ancient demon named Tak (I wish I was making this up). Ron Perlman’s over-the-top performance, where he grawls like a zombie on heroin, and some of the ridiculous twists and turns during the third act makes Desperation weird enough to consider watching. Yet at over two hours, it’s too long-winded and slow-paced to work as a silly distraction. Garris commands a sleek style, as much as can be allowed on a made-for-TV project, save for an unintentionally hilarious sequence where silent film footage that’s supposed to be from the early 20th Century is achieved via the scratchy sepia filter on the Mac Photobooth app.
35. The Shining (TV) (1997)
As much as pretty much everyone else on the planet consider Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining to not only be one of the scariest films ever made, but a great work by a master filmmaker still in his prime, King himself was, to put it mildly, underwhelmed by this adaptation of one of his most beloved and acclaimed novels. So when the opportunity presented itself, he jumped at righting Kubrick’s “wrong” with a reboot of sorts in miniseries form. As opposed to many other miniseries based on his work, King himself was hands-on with this project, writing the teleplay adaptation himself and picking longtime collaborator Mick Garris to direct this four-and-a-half-hour behemoth. We all know the story by now: Jack Torrance (Steven Weber), a writer struggling with alcoholism, brings his meek wife, Winifred (Rebecca DeMornay), and his psychic son, Danny (Courtland Mead), to work as a caretaker at an isolated hotel as a desperate attempt to get over his writer’s block. After a couple of hits of insanity, partly brought on by the ghosts in the hotel, Jack turns into an exceptionally unhappy camper with an appetite for chopping his family up into itty bitty pieces. One of the most fascinating aspects of Kubrick’s version lay in how little of an explanation he gives about the supernatural elements of the film, which in turn allows the audience to gradually step into Jack’s paranoid mind. With a much bigger canvas to work with, King decides to explain pretty much everything, stripping the story of much of its mystery. Did you know that Danny’s alter ego, Tony (Wil Horneff), is actually an apparition of Danny’s future self? More importantly, do you care? The performances are a step above usual TV fare from the era, and one of the legitimate pieces of criticism from King to Kubrick, namely the fact that Jack doesn’t have much of a character arc in the original, is somewhat remedied here. As a mediocre miniseries, the 1997 Shining could have been mildly enjoyable, if it wasn’t so colossally overshadowed by the greatness of its predecessor.
34. Sometimes They Come Back (TV) (1991)
Based on a fairly short King story, Sometimes They Come Back was supposed to be part of the anthology film Cat’s Eye, until producer Dino DeLaurentiis decided to turn it into its own feature. A lot of King’s shorts adopt the mood and structure of spooky campfire tales, and Sometimes They Come Back fits that narrative approach with its premise about a group of menacing ghosts seeking revenge from a family man who they think has wronged them. Tim Matheson is perfectly adequate as an everyman who returns to his hometown, only to be forced to face a dark secret from his past that involved a quartet of greaser bullies who caused the death of his brother. As the ghosts of the greasers begin to haunt him, he has no choice but to fight them in order to protect his family. Director Tom McLaughlin showcases notable talent for stretching the tension during the first two acts, before the whole thing turns into unintentional camp as the ghosts transform into greaser zombies. Sometimes They Come Back is not altogether terrible, but it’s not necessarily memorable either.
33. Riding the Bullet (2004)
and whimsy seldom mix, and Riding the Bullet is apt proof of this. This is like a padded feature-length version of one of those Twilight Zone episodes that uses supernatural imagery but is actually a drama in the end, since the fantasy elements all exist within the protagonist’s mind. Riding the Bullet attempts to mix King’s penchant for 1960s nostalgia with a trippy gory version of Ally McBeal’s daydream whimsy, which yields interesting but ultimately tasteless results. The protagonist is an aspiring painter (Jonathan Jackon, who’s horribly miscast with a superficial CW hunk look, in a role that’s supposed to depict a deeply tortured artist), who, after a botched suicide attempt, has to hitchhike to his hometown after learning that his mother suffered a stroke. During the various rides he takes, his anxiety reveals itself via his shit-stirring alter-ego, as well as various playful fantasy sequences that try far too hard to add King-style gory horror elements into what’s essentially a straight drama about a depressed college kid facing his troubled past. David Arquette’s wild-eyes performance as an angry “ghost” and Barbara Hershey as the free-spirited mother are some of the (almost) saving graces.
32. Needful Things (1993)
I’m going to jump from one Twilight Zone analogy to another here. It might seem like overkill, but King’s penchant for high-concept supernatural/sci-fi concepts with fable-like moral overtones creates a lot of material that resembles Rod Serling’s game-changing show. In the case of Needful Things, adapted from King’s novel about a mysterious salesman (Max Von Sydow, who brings credibility to this silly role with a smooth and charming performance) who may or may not be the devil incarnate (Obvious spoiler: He is) giving people their innermost wishes for the low price of destroying the lives of their neighbors, is really a bloated version of the great Twilight Zone episode “Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” Both are morality tales about a non-human outside source that changes basic comforts in people’s lives to watch them destroy one another through their greed and paranoia. In “Maple Street,” that outside force were aliens who took away humans’ basic amenities in order watch them kill each other. In Needful Things, it’s the “mysterious” storeowner who manipulates people’s egos in order to prove the corruptibility of humankind. The moral of the fable is simple: People are willing to do horrible things to each other if it means getting exactly what they want in return. This point is made very early on, and the rest of the two-hour runtime—three hours if you can get your hands on the TV miniseries cut—consists of episodic sequences where each character is given their wish, along with an evil deed they have to perform on someone else. Once this predictable structure is established, there isn’t much suspense left to hang on to. There isn’t much of a mystery to unravel either, since we become privy to the story’s supernatural premise and tone right off the bat. All that being said, director Fraser C. Heston (Charlton’s son) at least creates an almost satisfying horror-fable tone.
31. Children of the Corn (1984)
The best thing about the first (and clearly the best, if you check out how far back the TV version ranks) adaptation of King’s maize-themed take on a Village of the Damned/Lord of the Flies crossover is that it directly influenced one of the best South Park episodes of all time, where all the kids get rid of their parents by accusing them of being pedophiles, leading to a biting parody of this piece of mediocrity. One of King’s most prominent themes is the destructive nature of organized religion, and the concept of a bunch of murderous kids who kill all of the adults and form a society based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible holds a lot of promise in that regard. Unfortunately, director Fritz Kiersch is more interested in the lazy shock value of showing children dispose of adults in increasingly violent ways, than in any true analysis of how religious dogma can corrupt youth. The kid actors deliver genuinely creepy performances that beg for better material for their talents. Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton play the adult couple tortured by the kids, and it goes beyond saying that they’re a major step up from the cardboard cutouts of the 2009 TV version.
30. Silver Bullet (1985)
Want to see a pretty cool coming-of-age drama about a likable disabled kid (Corey Haim) who finds his self-worth through a heavily modded badass wheelchair/motorcycle given to him by his loving family get marred by a shitty werewolf movie with uninspired off-screen kills and the lamest wolfman costume you’ll ever see? You’re in luck. The selling point of Silver Bullet, which tells the story of the disabled kid and his precocious sister (Megan Follows) battling a local werewolf that’s terrorizing their small town, is of course the monster itself. That makes it so much more ironic that the only parts of the film that truly work are those that have no relation to the supernatural story whatsoever. The scenes that show the boy struggling to maintain a loving relationship with his sister as he also deals with the growing pains of being an early teenager, harking back to King’s deft handle on adolescent angst found in his better works like Carrie and The Body, would have made Silver Bullet a must-see, if the sub-par werewolf make-up didn’t constantly rear its ugly head. It’s downright embarrassing that Silver Bullet came out four years after An American Werewolf in London, which revolutionized werewolf transition effects and design at the time. Here, when the monster is finally revealed, it looks like a teddy bear on steroids.
29. Carrie (2013)
King’s first novel obviously made quite a splash upon its release, and is still one of his most defining works—it currently holds the distinction of being adapted more than any of his other literary output. Director Kimberly Pierce’s 2013 take is the least satisfying out of the (currently) three versions, for two clear reasons: First, the casting choices are misguided at best, poor at worst. As much as Chloe Grace-Moretz had previously proven herself as a naturally ominous presence in impressive horror fare like Let Me In, she’s too attractive and has too much of a charismatic aura to work as the emotionally scarred and isolated title character with a rather original view on what constitutes a successful prom. Contemporary Hollywood feels forced to cast conventionally attractive actors in roles that call for plain-looking nerdy characters—remember Shailene Woodley as the “ugly” geek in The Spectacular Now?—and this most recent <<i>Carrie flatly falls into this trap. Add to that the personality-free vanilla blandness of Ansel Elgort’s presence, and you get a pretty underwhelming cast. Julianne Moore tries her best as Carrie’s abusive fundamentalist mother, but she’s no Piper Laurie. Pierce’s second mistake lies in the way she tries make the famously shocking climax look as cool and spiffy as possible, which undermines the inherent haunting creepiness of the sequence. Pierce always brings a certain level of professionalism and talent, so Carrie isn’t a total loss, but also it doesn’t present much of a case about why it needed to exist in the first place.
28. Dreamcatcher (2003)
Two words: butt monsters. King himself admitted that his meandering and mostly batshit crazy novel about, among many other things, a psychic disabled kid who communicates through Scooby Doo quotes, an alien-related major government conspiracy led by a murderous madman, a bunch of telepathically connected frat buddies with the ability to hide their egos inside their library/warehouse minds, and of course, slimy worm monsters that gestate in human bodies until they get violently pooped out into the world, is far from being one of his best works. That’s why it’s especially baffling that prestigious Hollywood names like writer William Goldman and director Lawrence Kasdan decided that this was the one King book that deserved a big-budget adaptation. With impressive names like these behind the camera, it should be no surprise that Dreamcatcher maintains an ominous tone while delivering some well-crafted set pieces. I’ll be the first to admit that this misstep by Kasdan and Goldman is an unholy mess of a film, but as a lover of pure schlock, it’s impossible for me to downright dismiss this ridiculous B-movie with an A-list Hollywood polish. Say what you will about Dreamcatcher, but at least it’s downright unapologetic about its silliness.
27. Firestarter (1984)
Firestarter combines two of King’s favorite subjects: innocent people with psychic powers they can’t control, and the abusive overreach of government authority. Director Mark L. Lester’s take on King’s bestseller briefly criticizes the government’s self-destructive paranoid tendencies, as evidenced by the overzealous captain played efficiently by Martin Sheen, but he’s mostly interested in exploiting then-groundbreaking pyrotechnic effects as he pulls off a fairly average retelling of a telekinetic father (David Keith) protecting his daughter (Drew Barrymore), who can create fire with her mind, from evil secret agents who want to dissect said mind. Just like in the novel, all of the story beats are predictable, especially if you’ve seen your share of “pure-hearted civilians run from the horrible government” thrillers, but Drew Barrymore’s haunting presence and a striking midpoint set-piece that shows her burning a bunch of agents in her front yard turn it into a halfway decent time waster.