What are the best Stephen King adaptations? Almost from the moment Stephen King penned the final words of his first paperback, there’s been a Hollywood executive keen to snap it up and turn it into a horror blockbuster. “Based on the novel by Stephen King” has appeared on the credits of a plethora of TV shows and movies for the past few decades.

The horror author has often delved into our darkest fears – both as adults and children. We’ve seen everything from undead pets to psycho fans; shape-shifting clowns to a blood-soaked prom night. And, with Firestarter hitting cinemas on Friday 13th May, fans are offered more of King’s thematic staples such as conspiracy theories, the ability to control things with your mind and nefarious authority figures.

With so many Stephen King adaptations to choose from, it’s hard to narrow down just ten King adaptations that have made their mark on both the box-office and cinema goers. In a closely run race, here is our top ten best Stephen King adaptations.

The best Stephen King adaptations are:

  • 1408
  • Dolores Claiborne
  • It: Chapter One
  • Carrie
  • Doctor Sleep
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • The Shining
  • Stand By Me
  • Misery
  • The Green Mile
The best Stephen King adaptations: John Cusack in 1408
Jasmine Jessica Anthony (Gracie) and John Cusack (Mike Enslin) star in Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408.

10. 1408 (2007)

Kicking off the list is 1408, a proper jump-scare horror from director Mikael Hafstrom. John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a cynic of the supernatural who sets out to disprove the rumours swirling around room 1408 in The Dolphin Hotel. Samuel L, Jackson, Tony Shalhoub and Len Cariou are just a few of the names making up the rest of the cast. Currently streaming on Netflix, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable mystery-thriller kind of horror with lots of twists.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Kathy Bates in Dolores Claiborne

9. Dolores Claiborne (1995)

King often enjoys playing with your expectations as to whether or not a character is one to root for. This is particularly evident in Dolores Claiborne, where Kathy Bates plays the titular character who has been accused of murder. Taylor Hackford directs the likes of Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, and John C. Reilly in a film that definitely is more crime drama than horror. Bates gives a complex and nuanced performance here.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in It: Chapter One

8. It: Chapter One (2017)

Grab your red balloons because we all float down here. Director Andy Muschietti really amped up the horror elements in It: Chapter One. Bill Skarsgard – complete with unsettling gaze – is positively terrifying as the shape-shifting clown haunting the town of Derry. It: Chapter One has all the aspects of a great King adaptation – childhood friendships formed through a sense of being outcast, uninterested adults and a proper “villain”. It felt weirdly nostalgic, too, which really drew you in to the fate of the characters.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Sissy Spacek in Carrie

7. Carrie (1976)

High school can be rough. Carrie White has no friends, a religious zealot for a mother and is left
utterly humiliated by a prom night prank. So, of course, she unleashes her telekinetic powers in
order to wreak revenge. Sissy Spacek is quite hypnotic in the titular role. Her wide eyed gaze seems to go through the screen. Carrie is a horror classic and still stands up to this day as being genuinely scary (and good fun to watch). There’s also the joy in watching it with a first time viewer for that final scene.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Rebecca Ferguson in Doctor Sleep

6. Doctor Sleep (2019)

The sequel to The Shining was something of a surprise hit back in the days before Covid closed
down cinemas across the world. Starring Ewan McGregor as the adult Dan Torrance, Doctor Sleep focuses on his desire to protect Abra Stone from the nefarious cult of the True Knot. Rebecca Ferguson gives an impossibly seductive yet sinister performance and director Mike Flanagan goes all out to deliver a contemporary King classic.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption

5. The Shawshank Redemption (1995)

Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins turn in two career-best performances in this early 90s Frank
Darabont movie. It’s possibly one of the most well-quoted, well-known films of all time, never mind Stephen King adaptations. The Shawshank Redemption regularly tops film lists and is perhaps the standard for all Stephen King adaptations to be held against. It’s not just another prison drama, it’s layered with self-discovery, trauma, friendship and – of course – hope. It’s difficult to pin point a favourite scene or moment in a film that is littered with stunning performances from the entire cast.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Jack Nicholson in The Shining

4. The Shining (1980)

From one iconic piece of cinema to another, The Shining is a Halloween favourite, a horror
favourite, and a fan favourite. It’s one of these insidious films that manages to get right under your skin, thanks to the disturbing performances of Jack Nicholson and company. The geometric orange carpet, the creepy twins and the feverish cry of “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” all contribute to the film’s status as a cult classic. Director Stanley Kubrick notoriously pushed his cast to the limits – the results of which are laid bare on screen.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Stand By Me

3. Stand By Me (1986)

There can’t be many people left on earth who haven’t seen – and immediately fallen in love with – Stand By Me. On the surface, it’s the story of how friendships are forged over a long summer break. The film uses feelings of nostalgia and innocence to explore death, dysfunctional families, feelings of loneliness or being outcast and child abuse. The young cast, featuring the likes of Kiefer Sutherland and River Phoenix, are thoroughly watchable.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Misery

2. Misery (1990)

There must be more than a hint of King himself in James Caan’s Paul Sheldon. He’s a writer trapped in the clutches of super fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) as she insists he pen another novel for her favourite character. The scenes of physical abuse in Misery don’t get anywhere near as graphic as the novel, but it’s tense and frightening enough. Kathy Bates truly brings Annie to life – making her both pathetic and psychotic.

The best Stephen King adaptations: Tom Hanks in The Green Mile

1. The Green Mile (1998)

If you can make it through The Green Mile without sobbing yourself into a state of dehydration,
there is something seriously wrong. Michael Clarke Duncan stars as John Coffey – like the drink, only spelled differently – a man who has been falsely accused of two child murders and is on death row. There are so many excellent performances to choose from, from the likes of Tom Hanks, James Cromwell, and Sam Rockwell. And despite the overt and often over-egged allegory, this is the best of the best when it comes to Stephen King adaptation ever made.

There you have it, the best Stephen King adaptations of all time! If you want more horror lists, check out our list of the best A24 horror movies. Or, if it’s Stephen King adaptations you want, Firestarter is in cinemas May 13, 2022.