Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

The (Stephen) King of Movie Adaptations

A couple of years ago, publishers came up with a way to re-package a small portion of famed author Stephen King’s now rather large inventory into a new volume. The book Stephen King Goes to the Movies showcased five short stories/novellas previously published in other compilations: 1408, The Mangler, Low Men in Yellow Coats, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Children of the Corn. However, let’s call it what it was — a pure promotional device to sell a book by way of introducing the source stories to moviegoers. Very little in new material was involved for King’s fans. While it added some background for each story, as included with 1-2 page introductions written by King himself, there was little of interest for those of us who’ve read these stories before. Still, what was a little more engaging was the last page of the collection: Stephen King’s Ten Favorite Adaptations. His were, in alphabetical order:

  • Apt Pupil
  • Cujo
  • Dolores Claiborne
  • 1408
  • The Green Mile
  • Misery
  • The Mist
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Stand by Me
  • Storm of the Century

Given the number of the tales this author has had adapted to film or television, it’s a thought-provoking list for the what the author himself favors. Although, it was no surprise one work in particular did not make his list. Stephen King’s well-known, and now famous, disagreement with Stanley Kubrick concerning his resulting adaptation* of  his 1977 bestseller, The Shining, was a foregone conclusion. Yet, only two from this book’s short anthology made the author’s list, however (I guess the publishers couldn’t expect total cooperation from you-know-who for their book hustle). If I’d put one together (and is there any doubt?), some would definitely match up with SK, and some wouldn’t. With that said, here’s mine (also, in alphabetical order):

  • Carrie – as I mentioned in my 2010 examination of the novel, movie, and audiobook, this was that rare case where the Brian De Palma film (the one that put him on the map) was simply better than the source text. Plus, Sissy Spacek‘s performance as Carrie White was the stuff dreams (or nightmare’s) are made of.
  • Cujo – I’m glad to see this Lewis Teague work rising in acclaim over the years. It’s really a quite chilling story, one altogether too plausible, that takes man’s best friend and twists him into a hellish torment. Dee Wallace’s performance is nothing short of wrenching. I recommend Sci-Fi Fanatic’s great recent review for a greater examination.
  • The Dead Zone – this one truly was the head scratcher for me in that SK didn’t put this one in his top 10. TDZ really was the first adaptation in a while that received fan and critics praise on first release (since 1976’s Carrie). It’s a haunting story captured wonderfully in spirit by Jeffrey Boam’s screen adaptation, David Cronenberg’s surprisingly subdued direction, and Christopher Walken’s affecting role (see SFF’s splendid review).
  • Hearts in Atlantis (and is based on the Low Men in Yellow Coats novella) – even though it leaves out its Dark Tower series links, this William Goldman screen adapted tale reminds me in feeling and spirit to the last film on my list; plus, it’s one that brings out the boy in me — the one I hide away (see Novroz’s look at this novella)
  • Misery – this is the novel that has, in my opinion, the best and most fully formed villain Stephen King ever created, Annie Wilkes (done in a breathtaking and award-winning stretch by Kathy Bates); it is, by a whisker, the second best Rob Reiner-directed adaptation of an SK work — good to know my colleague and fellow Flixchatter contributor, Ted Saydalavong, thinks similar.
  • The Mist – I’m sure this will come as a shock for some, especially given my chief complaint concerning its ending noted here. But that aside, it really is one great adaptation by Frank Darabont as director/screenwriter (I’ll just end any future disc re-screenings sooner ;-)). I recommend J.D.’s 2008 review, and Will’s movie commentary, with yours truly, for why that is.
  • The Night Flier – this HBO movie took the Nightmares and Dreamscapes short story and hit it out of the park (plus, Miguel Ferrer gave a James Woods-level, and thus great, interpretation for the character of Richard Dees in the piece). I recommend J.D.’s wonderful review of this modern vampire film (by Mark Pavia), one that restores the horror missing from the various teen and TV interpretations of today.
  • The Shawshank Redemption – still the film adaptation of a Stephen King story (one that people didn’t expect would come from the master of horror) that all others are judged by. No matter what followed (The Green Mile, The Mist and other non-SK works), this remains Frank Darabont’s greatest film (btw, Stephen King dedicated this book to the director). My take on the novella, film, and audiobook can be found here.
  • The Stand – while it could use an update given its TV-miniseries roots and SFX that haven’t aged well, it did successfully tackle the pioneering behemoth, 1153 pages for the complete & uncut 1990 version, of a book (originally out in 1978); it’s an excellent adaptation done by Mick Garris (and cast) using an SK screenplay (still the only book of King’s I had to put down because I was sick with the flu at the time).
  • Stand by Me (based on The Body novella from the Different Seasons collection) – I think this was the singular film adaptation that began to change people’s mind about SK as a writer, and not just as an author of horror (itself a genre people tend to ghettoize); writers Raynold Gideon and Bruce Evans, along with director Rob Reiner, proved this was the best of the lot, till Shawshank appeared eight years later (it’s still a strong second, IMO). Moviegeek’s Blu-ray Disc review basically nails why.

* for the longest, I was with Mr. King on his belief Kubrick messed up on said adaptation; then, I let that go and began to enjoy the atmosphere and brilliance the director had built with his film — while I still don’t think it’s a good adaptation of the source novel, it’s one damn fine horror movie.

this director also delivered a very good SK adaptation of a couple of short stories in 1985’s Cat’s Cradle — especially its standout piece, Quitter’s, Inc. (with a superb performance by James Woods); I didn’t include it in the above list because it was an anthology (like Creepshow and Creepshow 2) and not a single story film adaptation.

 IMO, 1983 was the greatest year for Stephen King movie adaptations; I mean, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Christine (John Carpenter’s underrated film), and Frank Darabont’s little seen 30-minute TV adaptation of The Woman in the Room (a short story that still haunts me to this day) all came out that year.


What would be your favorite adaptations of a Stephen King tale?

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38 Responses to “The (Stephen) King of Movie Adaptations”

  1. J.D.

    Thanks for the shout-outs! That’s a good list and I agree with many of your picks. You know, I’ve been rediscovering the adaptation of DOLORES CLAIBORNE and really enjoying that quite bit. It flies under the radar a lot of times but has a fantastic cast with stellar performances from the two leads – Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh not to mention supported by the likes of David Straithairn and Christopher Plummer. While it may not be as fantastical or horrific as fans of King’s work come to expect, it is a riveting drama nonethless.

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    • le0pard13

      You’re welcome, my friend. You know I was a fan of those reviews of yours. And thanks for commenting and bringing Dolores Claiborne to my attention. For some reason, it’s one of SK’s books I never read or saw its adaptation on film. That is a great cast. I’m going to have to remedy that… ooh, it’s being streamed on Netflix, too.

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      • Jamie Helton

        The interesting thing about the novel “Dolores Claiborne” is that it happens simultaneously with the action in “Gerald’s Game,” which also deals with women’s issues. King said that he will never sell the film rights to that book because he feels it’s unfilmable. Most of the plot happens while the main character is tied to a bed with her husband lying dead on the floor nearby, and the “action” takes place in her mind. Both books have a scene that takes place during the same solar eclipse, and both women suddenly feel a fleeting connection with each other.

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  2. The Sci-Fi Fanatic

    Boy L13, you’re so right. 1983 was a big King year. I loved seeing your list and reflections on the list. I had no idea what Stephen King liked or didn’t like and I don’t really know the full story on The Shining. Still, like you, it’s just a fantastic film.

    Thank you for the kind mentions. I’m glad I’m in concurrence with the great author and yourself on many of these films. Cujo and The Dead Zone are terrific. I, too, love The Mist and actually wrote on that one as well. It remains one of my favorites. I want to go read JD.s piece and I want to hear your audio commentary with Will one day when I revisit a viewing. That day is coming because I am craving a rewatch of The Mist.

    I also love Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and Misery all selection by you and King.

    As far as King goes, I love his choice of Dolores Claiborne which was was very good and The Green Mile. Anything by Darabont is magic. All of these were terrific choices by King. I have not seen 1408. Apt Pupil was okay. I also found Storm Of The Century entirely too long. I got half way through the film at like 3 hours and felt like it was the longest movie of the century.

    As you know I’m completely with you on The Dead Zone. What a film. I have not seen Hearts. Hopkins is always interesting. The Shining is so good.

    Anyway Michael, thanks for the kindly mentions. This was a wonderfully fun post to read. You’ve got me wondering about a few I’ve missed along the way.

    I’d love to see a film on The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, how about you my friend?

    Nice work,
    sff

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    • le0pard13

      My pleasure on linking to those excellent reviews of yours, SFF. There is a lot of great adaptations out there. I’m really need to schedule time to stream Dolores Claiborne real soon (given your and J.D.’s recommendations for the film). I, too, admire The Green Mile, but had to make some touch choices to limit this to ten. Like you, for some reason, I’ve not seen 1408 (but I have read the short story) — I even have it in BD sitting on the shelf! I thought Apt Pupil just okay, as well. Never saw Storm of the Century, either.

      I really enjoyed The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (I listened to it in audiobook, read wonderfully by Anne Heche, btw). I’m with you in hoping someone will adapt it for the screen. Speaking about that, I recommend a non-fiction read for you: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzalez. I periodically re-read it every couple of years (doing the audiobook of it now with my oldest when we drive together). It shows you how well SK wrote about the survival situation in that story.

      Thanks, my friend.

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  3. Jamie Helton

    Very good article. Too many adaptations of King’s works (usually short stories) have been terrible–“Children of the Corn” and all its sequels, “The Mangler,” King’s own “Maximum Overdrive,” etc. This has given his movies a bad name. However, there have been an overwhelming number of terrific movies based on his books. This is credited to his sheer creativity and talent as a writer. There is probably no other novelist who has had such a variety of stories and genres that have been written. Even among the horror genre itself, his stories are so vastly different from each other, even if he works with well-worn tropes (vampires, haunted houses, demonic vehicles, aliens). It will be interesting to see how he handles time travel in his new book “11/22/63.”

    filmverse.wordpress.com

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Jamie. Great comment about some of SK’s shorts being adapted poorly (I’d agree with all of your examples). As well, I’d agree with your observation of the terrific ones that get unfairly lumped with them. King has been a tremendous and creative story-teller from the beginning. That he was directly associated with the horror genre gave many the excuse to dismiss him for the longest, unfortunately. And ’11/22/63′ definitely has my interest. Thanks so much!

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  4. themovieblog8

    Embarrassing admission time: I’ve only seen one of these movie, Stand By Me. (Haven’t read any of the books.) But it’s one of my favorite movies!

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    • le0pard13

      You’re young… so there’s still time! 😉 Seriously, there is a lot of great Stephen King adaptations out there, along with large inventory of his book. I recommend both, my friend. Thanks.

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  5. Rachel

    Shawshank is probably my favorite. And I usually get heckled out of the room for this one but I liked the Stand quite a bit. It’s been so long though (have never re-watched or re-read) that I can’t actually judge how well it was adapted.

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    • le0pard13

      You won’t get any heckling from me, Rachel. Periodically, this mini-series comes up on cable (maybe SyFy or SPIKE, I think) on a fairly annual basis, and I’ll find myself watching bits of it (before my spouse comes in and insists on changing the channel). I read this one twice in my lifetime. First time (the original, shorter version from ’78), as I said, I had to stop reading since it I really did have the flu (and it freaked me out). Couple of weeks later, I picked up where I left off. I read it again in ’90 when the ‘complete & uncut’ version came out. I hear they’re finally going to produce the unabridged audiobook, probably for 2012 release. Thanks, Rachel.

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      • Rachel

        It seems from these comments that I have finally found my way to a group of people who like The Stand. How refreshing! I don’t read a lot of King’s novels (we’ve discussed before what I do and don’t like about him) and I always got the impression that my liking of The Stand was scoffed at a bit as a SK pretender fan – as in, true fans would never like some a paltry sampling of his work. Which was always strange to me since I am pretty clear that I’m not a huge fan of his. People are weird sometimes. 🙂

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  6. Jamie Helton

    “The Stand” was a very well-made TV mini-series, lovingly written by Stephen King himself. The casting suffered to some degree by only being able to get TV-level actors (though it did introduce the world to Gary Sinise), and the special effects were decent for the time but are a bit hokey now. Also, because it was on network TV in the ’90’s, it lost some of the bite the book had. I’m not averse to having a 2-part feature film (2 1/2 to 3 hours for each part) remake that would have the budget to properly capture King’s epic and arguably finest single piece of work that he’s done.

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    • le0pard13

      Wasn’t it, though? I’m with you on a remake, if they’d do it justice. I know many consider ‘It’ to be his pinnacle, epic novel, but for you and me, novel-wise, it’s this one. Thanks, Jamie.

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      • Jamie Helton

        I’m just glad the proposed theatrical remake that was going to take the perspective from the girl in the group has apparently been scrapped. The story is an ensemble, something the miniseries did well, and to focus only on one character was a mistake.

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      • J.D.

        I still gnash my teeth at what could of been with George Romero’s proposed version that never happened. I have a copy of the script but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet but oh to imagine his take on King’s book. Wow…

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  7. Novroz

    I have to like your post because finally someone made a list of King”s adaptation that doesn’t include The Shining…yaaayyy!!! 🙂

    I know you grow to like it,as you’ve mentioned it above…but I haven’t. i still hate the movie up to this day. I’d put Green Mile if this is my list…I should make one after i find IT and The Stand.

    THank you for the shout out Mike :hug:

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    • le0pard13

      Yes, as I said, while I now enjoy Kubrick’s film for the great horror film it is (I now own the Blu-ray Disc of it), I don’t consider it a great adaptation of that Stephen King work. A little nostalgia: back when the novel was first released in the late-70s, this was the book everyone around me was talking, sharing, and getting creeped out about. Nicholson is Nicholson, and thus very fun to watch, in the film, but he’s still not my idea of what Jack Torrance was in the book. Still, I can keep them very separate these days. Always happy to link and give shout-outs to you, Novroz. Thank you very much.

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        • le0pard13

          Fair statement. I think, though, this added to his already ‘unhinged’ roles/persona. It’s why SK didn’t want him for this character of the film. Thanks, Novroz.

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  8. Ted S.

    Good stuff Michael, I used to read a lot of King’s books when I was younger but after the last two Dark Tower books, I sort of lost interest in his work. I really despised those last two books of the Dark Tower series, I hope for the film version they’ll change a few things from the last two chapters of that series.

    My favorite movie based on his book is still Misery, I’m one of the few who thought Shawshank Redemption is a bit overrated, very good movie but I just didn’t like it as much as most people. Also, The Shinning was good but I wish Kubrick stayed truer to the book.

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    • le0pard13

      Thanks, Ted. For some reason, I didn’t get into the Dark Tower as much as my wife did (and I think she’d agree with your assessment). I’d love to read a list of your favorite adaptations with regard to Stephen King works.

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    • Jamie Helton

      There’s a new Dark Tower book coming out that takes place between the fourth and fifth books, but is also an extended flashback to when Roland was a young man, filling in some of his past (like “Wizards and Glass”). It’s called “Wind Through the Keyhole” and more info can be found here: http://www.stephenking.com/promo/wind_through_the_keyhole/announcement/

      You should read “Duma Key” and “Under the Dome,” though the ending for the latter is frustrating for some people. I enjoyed both books greatly.

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      • le0pard13

        Thanks for the heads up! I know my wife would appreciate this news. I have Duma Key somewhere in the house, and I do plan on getting 11/22/63.

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        • Novroz

          I want 11/22/63 too…but don’t know when the paperback gets here.

          I have just finish Full Dark and it was amazing!! I will review it next week. I love SK

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          • le0pard13

            I have ‘Full Dark, No Stars’ somewhere around here, too. Great to hear you thought it was amazing, Novroz. ‘I have to get busy reading’, to twist a Shawshank line. Thanks.

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  9. Castor

    Fun list. I never realized so many of his stories made it into Hollywood until now. Sadly, I have only seen Shawshank and Stand By Me. I have The Mist coming up on my Netflix queue though 🙂

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    • le0pard13

      Thanks, Castor. I’d be very much interested in your thoughts about The Mist after you’ve seen it, especially coming from the SK dramas of Shawshank and Stand By Me.

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  10. Dan

    His selection of favourites is interesting. But perhaps what is more interesting are the ones he doesn’t like. The one I’m thinking of is The Shining. Fair enough, Kubrick moves away from the source material which obviously irks King but it has to be the best film based on one of his books. I’ve always found that King’s novels are difficult to translate to the big screen anyway – a certain directorial vision is needed, and Kubrick went the way he wanted. There’s too much cerebral horror going on you can’t realise that on screen without compromising King’s imagination as it appears on the page. This has hampered films such as The Stand (okay, mini-series) and particularly Dreamcatcher which seemed to get most things wrong.

    My favourite books by King are Misery and Carrie. Both have made great films and you’re absolutely right that Carrie actually improves upon the novel. Other faves include The Green Mile, Stand By Me, The Dark Half and one of the lesser liked films Thinner.

    I would just slightly disagree with you on King’s best villain. For me, his greatest bad guy is Pennywise from IT. I enjoyed the TV film/mini-series, much like I enjoyed the book. Likewise, I loved elements of the film, just as I loved elements of the book. I think they are making IT again but nothing will beat Tim Curry’s performance as the dancing clown.

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    • le0pard13

      Great and thoughtful comment, Dan. Good point re: some the cerebral horror SK put in play and how best to translate that to another medium. And that is certainly one formidable villain you’ve promoted. Pennywise was quite singular. I still recall reading ‘It’ all these years later. In fact, I picked up the 45 hour audiobook last year, and will read/listen to it once again in 2013. Tim Curry’s performance as that clown was nothing short of spectacular, indeed. Thanks so much Dan for adding to this :-).

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