Stephen King’s career in Hollywood is just about the same length as his career as a novelist. The legendary author notably had his first book published in 1974, and it was just two years later that work got turned into a movie. In the decades since, the relationship between King and the big screen medium has continued, and the results include some of the best horror films of all time.
But which titles are truly the cream of the crop? That’s not the easiest call to make, but if we had to identify the best of the best, these are the five titles that loom the largest in the legacy.
The 1976 film based on Stephen King’s 1974 book mentioned above is none other than Brian De Palma’s CARRIE, which left a massive mark on cinema as soon as it arrived in theaters, providing the genre with some iconic sequences and images that have persisted for decades. Sissy Spacek gives a legendary performance as the titular telekinetic outcast, and the final scene remains one of the best jump scares in horror history.
For the longest time, it was believed that Stephen King’s "It" was a novel impossible to adapt in feature form (instead of an expanded miniseries, like the one from 1990), but director Andy Muschietti proved everybody wrong with his amazing two-film epic, IT and IT CHAPTER TWO. Not only do the movies successfully capture the incredible scope of King’s original work, but they manage to be both super entertaining and scary. Whether they be kids or adults, the casting of the Losers' Club is superb, and Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the dancing clown is truly one of the great big screen King antagonists.
Because of the bias that exists against the horror genre, Stephen King movies have typically never been big when it comes to Hollywood’s award season. But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences had to make an exception when Rob Reiner’s MISERY arrived, and voters got to see Kathy Bates’ brilliant turn as the psychotic Annie Wilkes. This is a very simple story about an author being kidnapped and tortured by his biggest fan, but that high concept ultimately led to the creation of one of the best movie versions of a King novel.
Pet Sematary (1989)
PET SEMATARY is unquestionably one of the most disturbing works ever published by Stephen King, tracking a descent into madness propagated by a father losing his son in a horrible accident. In 1989, director Mary Lambert did a brilliant job adapting the story for the big screen. Fred Gwynne delivers an iconic performance as friendly neighbor Jud Crandall, warning the story’s protagonist about the consequences of bringing life back from death, and it all culminates in what still holds up as a brilliant and tension-filled third act.
Despite the fact that Stephen King notoriously despises Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING as an adaptation of his book, no list of the greatest King movies would be complete without it. It’s definitely not a total facsimile of the novel it’s based on, but from a cinematic perspective, that’s an easy detail to overlook given all of the genius in play. Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers all put on truly iconic performances, and primarily thanks to its legendary use of Steadicam, this movie is filled end to end with some of the best cinematography in film history.
All of these titles and more can now be found on AMC Theatres On Demand.