Top 10 Best Stephen King Stories - Book vs. Movie
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 best Stephen King stories - book vs. movie.
For this list, we’ll be determining which version of a particular Stephen King story is better - the book or the movie. We’ll be analyzing the qualities of both, and at the end of each entry, we’ll be declaring which version is the one worth experiencing.
#10: “The Mist”
Stephen King and director Frank Darabont are spiritually in sync, as their collaborations consistently result in the best adaptations. King’s novella “The Mist” is certainly worth reading, but it suffers from a few problems - primarily the short length of the story and the open ending in which the group head out to hopeful sanctuary in Hartford. Just as David Koepp did for “Secret Window,” Darabont changed the ending to be much darker, having David euthanize everyone (including his 8-year-old son) literally seconds before help arrives. It’s one of the darkest endings in movie history, and it really leaves an impression. By changing the story for the better, it helps make the movie adaptation the definitive version of “The Mist.”
This is by far one of King’s most popular works, and like Jaws did for sharks, Cujo effectively changed the reputation of Saint Bernards forever. Famously written on a massive coke binge, “Cujo” is one of King’s most relentless and grounded novels. There are no supernatural creatures of any kind - just a rabid dog out for human meat. As with “The Mist,” the ending for “Cujo” is changed - but not as effectively. The novel’s ending is far darker, as Tad dies in the car from dehydration and heatstroke. For whatever reason, this was changed for the film, and the story’s impact is lessened because of it. The movie is also dull, with mediocre acting and little visual flourish. This goes to the book a thousand times over.
#8: “The Green Mile”
Again showing off the unique Darabont-King synergy is “The Green Mile,” a movie that took the world by storm and made $287 million in 1999. King released the novel in a serialized format, releasing six novellas from March to August of 1996. It’s a great book, and it won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel. But Darabont just has a certain energy and filmmaking charisma that is hard to ignore. You can’t go wrong with either Tom Hanks or Michael Clarke Duncan, and the latter gave a touching, Oscar-nominated performance as the now-iconic John Coffey. The movie is also wickedly faithful to the novel, making this one a toss up. We’ll give it to the movie, but it really could have gone either way.
This is one of King’s most personal novels. He wrote “Misery” as a means to deal with his debilitating drug problem, using Annie as a metaphor for the imprisoning nature of addiction. He was also influenced to write the story after fans vehemently rejected his fantasy novel “The Eyes of the Dragon,” essentially chaining him to the horror genre. The 1990 film adaptation is wickedly captivating, featuring two powerhouse performances by Kathy Bates and James Caan. Bates is simply spectacular as Annie Wilkes, and her Academy Award win makes “Misery” the only King adaptation to have won an Oscar. The book is great, there’s no doubt about that. But Bates is magical.
#6: “Pet Sematary”
While “Misery” is King’s most personal work, “Pet Sematary” is his darkest, complete with the death and reanimated corpse of a toddler, matricide, and filicide. It’s fun stuff. “Pet Sematary” has been adapted twice - once in 1989 and again in 2019. The 1989 film is good for a few scares but mainly falls flat, primarily owing to the bland filmmaking, wooden acting, and the goofy Gage scenes. It’s quite difficult to make a two-year-old look threatening. The 2019 version made some changes to the story, like killing Ellie instead of Gage and altering the ending. It was decent, but it was also a little jump scare heavy. Neither version is particularly good, making this a case of the book being better than the movie. Twice.
King’s first published novel, “Carrie” remains just as effective and relevant today as it was in 1974. It’s a thrilling and terrifying book, told through a unique epistolary form. Two years after its publication it was adapted by Brian De Palma, and what an adaptation it is. While certain parts of the movie are dated (like that now-laughable final jump scare), it contains a fantastic cast and one of the greatest climaxes ever put to film. The blood, the lighting, the editing style, and Sissy Spacek’s horrifying eyes all combine to create one of the scariest sequences in movie history. Forget the 2013 remake. The 1976 film remains exceptional, and it barely squeaks above the novel.
#4: “The Shawshank Redemption”
King’s novellas often make for the best movies. “Stand by Me” is based on “The Body” and remains one of King’s greatest adaptations. Not to mention “The Mist,” which was previously discussed. But when it comes to novella adaptations, nothing will ever beat “The Shawshank Redemption.” Another King-Darabont contribution to movie history, “The Shawshank Redemption” is widely heralded as a classic, ranking for many years as the top-rated movie of all time on IMDb and generating seven Academy Award nominations - the most of any Stephen King film. Nothing against King’s novella, but there’s simply no arguing against that kind of reputation. This one, again, goes to Darabont.
#3: “The Shining”
This is a tough one. Not because Kubrick’s adaptation is bad, but because it’s so wildly different from King’s novel. The novel is more personal, detailing the debilitating effects that the haunted hotel, the cabin fever, and the lack of alcohol all have on Jack’s sanity. Jack is also more of a loving and protective figure in the book, and the haunting is more overt. On the other hand, Kubrick portrayed Jack in a far colder and more negative light, and he introduced many ambiguous elements to the story that were not present in the straightforward novel. King famously dislikes Kubrick’s iteration, and it’s easy to understand why. For that reason, it’s impossible to find a true winner. It entirely depends on what you’re looking for - straightforward and personal horror story, or Stanley Kubrick. That said, the “Doctor Sleep” movie is excellent!
Despite being one of King’s most popular works, “It” will forever remain an inherently flawed story owing to one glaring problem - the adults. In both the miniseries and the films, all sense of escalation and momentum is killed in the second half when the story shifts to the adults. The miniseries contained some truly dreadful acting, and despite a strong cast, the 2019 film fell disappointingly short of its 2017 predecessor. This issue isn’t so glaringly obvious in the novel, as King’s characterization is stronger and he structures the story in a more palatable manner. There’s also a lot more to the book owing to its unbelievable length, which includes a lot of great character work, action, and expanded lore. Decent movie series, but way better novel.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“Gerald’s Game” - Movie
Carla Gugino’s Incredible Performance Pushes the Movie Over the Edge
“Thinner” - Book
Not One of King’s Better Efforts, But Certainly Better Than the Movie
“1408” - Movie
This Movie Expands on Its Short Source Material In Rich & Horrifying Fashion
“Cell” - Book
This One Isn’t Even Close
“The Dead Zone” - Movie
You Just Can’t Go Wrong with Christopher Walken
#1: “The Dark Tower”
This is King’s magnum opus. Not only does the story span eight novels and one short story, it combines the lore of King’s other stories through his so-called multiverse. While the series undoubtedly wanes a little after “Wizard and Glass,” it remains King’s most thrillingly ambitious work, and it makes for some truly engrossing reading. The movie, on the other hand, is horrible. Despicable. Stay far, far away. Treat it like the Deadlights and don’t even look at it. Compression issues aside, it’s just a poorly-edited, incomprehensible mess of a movie. It’s technically a sequel to the novels and not an adaptation, so die-hard fans may want to check it out for closure’s sake. Don’t.