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VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
You win some, you lose some! For this list, we'll be ranking the silver screen adaptations of Stephen King novels or short stories, alternating best and worst, until we get to our number one pick. Our countdown includes "The Mist", "It: Chapter One", "Misery" and more!

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Best and Worst Stephen King Movie Adaptations. For this list, we’ll be ranking the silver screen adaptations of Stephen King novels or short stories, alternating best and worst, until we get to our number one pick. We’ll be allowing movies made for streaming services, but saving adaptations that were developed for cable television for another day. What’s your favorite King film adaptation? Did any leave you cold? Let us know in the comments!

#20: Worst: “Children of the Corn” (1984)

The original “Children of the Corn” is certainly a cult classic in some circles, and it spawned numerous sequels on home video. However, it hasn’t aged very well, thanks to its generally cheap appearance and long periods of tedium masquerading as suspense. The idea of “He Who Walks Behind the Rows” is outstanding, but the final execution leaves something to be desired. The child acting is almost universally good, while leads Linda Hamilton and especially Peter Horton struggle to connect with their audience. There’s certainly some nostalgic value to “Children of the Corn,” but it’s important not to let those rose-colored glasses cloud a modern appraisal of this film’s flaws.

#19: Best: “Gerald’s Game” (2017)


“Gerald’s Game,” both the novel and film adaptation, are definitely not safe for work. In fact, Stephen King’s original novel was considered, at one point, to be “unfilmable,” due in part to the graphic sexual situations that sit front-and-center of its plot. That said, Netflix’s adaptation earned rave reviews for its handling of a couple’s troubled marriage, the attempts to fix it and a whole load of trauma that makes “Gerald’s Game” such a unique and memorable story. Carla Gugino in particular deserves all of the praise she received for her work in the film, while noted horror filmmaker Mike Flanagan handles the directorial duties with a keen eye and steady creative hand.

#18: Worst: “The Lawnmower Man” (1992)


There is little connection between the film that eventually became “The Lawnmower Man” and the events that take place within Stephen King’s original story. In fact, King was reportedly so upset at the lack of cohesion that he successfully sued the filmmakers to get his name taken off the finished product’s title. That said, the idea of a sentient, cyberspace-centered villain was somewhat unique in ’92, and Jeff Fahey goes all in as the titular Lawnmower Man. The CGI is at times surprisingly decent, and others horrendously dated, but the film, on the whole, feels disjointed and unfocused. “The Lawnmower Man” swings for the fences, but whiffs and strikes out.

#17: Best: “1922” (2017)


Netflix strikes again with yet another critically-acclaimed Stephen King adaptation, this time from the man’s 2010 novella. Thomas Jane has always been somewhat underrated as an actor, and he’s allowed to shine here in a deliciously villainous role. “1922” is a grim tale, with an equally dark ending. Yet, at the same time, the quality of the filmmaking shines through, and “1922” makes the best of its budget by creating a world that feels lived in, and that’s aided by the strength of the performances. “1922” may not be as well known as other Stephen King adaptations on this list, but maybe that will change soon.

#16: Worst: “Firestarter” (2022)


We’re not sure if hopes were high prior to the release of the 2022 version of Stephen King’s “Firestarter.” After all, the original adaptation from 1984 is still well-regarded by fans, thanks largely to the performance of a young Drew Barrymore. The lead actress here, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, certainly seems up for the task, and the early, character-building scenes between her and screen dad Zac Efron are nice. This good will is short lived, however, with “Firestarter” soon devolving into parodic horror scares and unimaginative dialogue cliches. The CGI fire effects look terrible, and the film just feels rushed and lifeless. Our advice? Stick with the OG.

#15: Best: “The Mist” (2007)


Oh, what could have been. We wish that the monsters of “The Mist” could’ve been done with more practical effects, but it was 2007: CGI creatures were all the rage. Believe it or not, however, “The Mist” still rules, thanks largely to the strength of its cast. This ensemble is totally game to ramp up the tension, as they’re confined largely to one space. Meanwhile, otherworldly monsters await these characters within a mist that’s enveloping the town, a mist that feels straight out of the mind of someone like H.P. Lovecraft. Finally, the gut-punch of an ending no one saw coming makes “The Mist” one of the most memorable Stephen King adaptations ever brought to the screen.

#14: Worst: “Cell” (2016)


“Cell” wasn’t the only Stephen King film adaptation to receive a limited release in theaters, but it might be one of the most poorly conceived. The idea is very, well, “of its time,” as a signal broadcast over a cell phone network is turning people into mindless zombies. King’s original novel was published in 2006, but by the time this film adaptation came around, this plot (which was already thin) feels like it's practically skating on melted ice. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson go through the motions, but even they can’t save “Cell” from being perhaps one of Stephen King’s more forgettable movie adaptations.

#13: Best: “The Green Mile” (1999)


Director Frank Darabont has directed a number of Stephen King adaptations over the years, including “The Mist,” but it may be his version of “The Green Mile” that’s best loved by fans. Even if the film feels overlong at over three hours, the performances of Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan more than make up for this extended sit. Duncan in particular was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as John Coffey, a mysterious inmate at Cold Mountain Penitentiary. There’s no getting around this one: “The Green Mile” is a tearjerker, and definitely something different from “The Master of Horror,” Stephen King.

#12: Worst: “Riding the Bullet” (2004)


Mick Garris is another well-regarded horror director who’s tried his hand at developing multiple Stephen King properties…with varying degrees of success. His TV version of “The Stand” was excellent, while his 1992 feature “Sleepwalkers” is probably best left forgotten. Unfortunately, Garris’ 2004 adaptation of King’s “Riding the Bullet,” a novel released back in the year 2000, falls into the latter category. The ghost story idea and themes of regret and fear are interesting, but the execution fails to drum up the excitement required to keep the audience invested. “Riding the Bullet” is an interesting failure, but a failure nonetheless.

#11: Best: “It: Chapter One” (2017)


Stephen King fans, particularly those of a certain age, will likely point to the two-night airing of the original “It” miniseries as a formative experience for them as an early example of horror. That said, those fans might have been skeptical when a new, big screen take on King’s tale was announced. Thankfully, “It: Chapter 1” exceeded expectations, and largely delivered on its promises to update this tale of Pennywise, and a group of likable kids from Derry, Maine into the modern day. Sure, it feels more than a bit “Stranger Things” in scope, but this isn’t a bad thing, while Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is an admirable addition to the King horror universe.

#10: Worst: “Graveyard Shift” (1990)


Many of Stephen King’s older stories are simple affairs, with an equally simple execution. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always sit well with some modern viewers, which explains why not everyone is on board with the 1990 film adaptation of King’s 1970 short story, “Graveyard Shift.” Even King himself didn’t care for the final results, although fans of quick and cheap exploitation cinema likely enjoyed the visceral violence and sleazy thrills on display. The killer rats in the film often take a back seat to the human drama that’s going on behind the scenes of a dilapidated textile mill, and not even the film’s energetic climax could save “Graveyard Shift” from suffering the slings and arrows of critical abuse.

#9: Best: “Carrie” (1976)


What can we say about Brian De Palma’s 1976 masterpiece that hasn’t already been said? “Carrie” is, without question, one of the greatest horror films of its decade, full stop. As a matter of fact, De Palma’s film is also one of the best Stephen King adaptations, full stop. Sissy Spacek is magnetic as the troubled and doomed high schooler with telekinetic powers, while De Palma’s strengths as a visual storyteller are set on full display. The director combines soft-focus sensuality with split-screen photography before the final, fiery climax, while that ending jump scare just has to be one of the best-actualized frights ever to make us jump out of our collective skin.

#8: Worst: “Thinner” (1996)


It could be argued that the late nineties weren’t exactly the best era for Stephen King’s horror tales being adapted to the screen. “Thinner” feels more like a direct-to-video effort than anything intended for movie theaters, possessing a certain laziness that struggles to get out of first gear. The already-thin (get it?) premise of a man suffering from a gypsy curse that causes dramatic and deadly weight loss isn’t helped by a garishly exaggerated fat suit for lead Robert John Burke. “Thinner” might have worked as a short segment for an anthology series like “Tales from the Crypt” or “Tales from the Darkside,” but it struggles to find its creative feet as a feature.

#7: Best: “Misery” (1990)


Kathy Bates won the Academy Award for Best Actress after wowing critics and audiences with her performance in “Misery.” Bates’ captivating presence proved that “Misery” wasn’t just about the shock value of the iconic hobbling scene, but also about the character study of a deeply disturbed woman losing touch with reality. James Caan makes a great straight man as the helpless victim to Bates’ rage, an author who suffers a crippling car accident while driving home through the Colorado snow. King himself has never shied away from saying exactly what he thinks about most film adaptations of his work, and he had nothing but praise for the end results of “Misery.”

#6: Worst: “The Mangler” (1995)


“The Mangler” seemed doomed from the start, right from its wonky premise of a demonically possessed laundry press. Yup, you read that right. An immobile laundry press is the main antagonist here, and it’s about as scary as it sounds. Not even horror icon Robert Englund could assist “The Mangler” in reaching audiences back in 1995, although he definitely feels like he’s up for the task. The actor’s enthusiasm ultimately can’t save “The Mangler,” however, nor can the directing prowess of the man in the chair, Tobe Hooper. But, hey, what do we know? This bad boy apparently did well enough to earn not one, but two sequels!

#5: Best: “Stand by Me” (1986)


Some of the best Stephen King adaptations, as we’ll soon see, often have little-to-nothing to do with the world of horror. “Stand by Me’ is definitely one of those adaptations, a coming-of-age story that may center around the quest to “see a dead body,” but it ends up being much, much more than that by the closing credits. The cast of young talent is incredible, from Corey Feldman and River Phoenix to Wil Wheaton and Jerry O’Connell, while director Rob Reiner handles the source material with intelligence and heart. “Stand by Me” is endlessly quotable and imminently memorable; it’s truly one of the all-time greats.

#4: Worst: “The Dark Tower” (2017)


If you’re never read “The Dark Tower” book series, check it out; they’re great. If you have, however, then by all means, steer clear of the 2017 film adaptation. It’s kind of a shame, too, because Idris Elba makes a fine Roland Deschain, and Matthew McConaughey chews the scenery for all he’s worth as The Man in Black. “The Dark Tower” just had a bad script, toned-down adult themes and a desire to just compress too much of King’s wild vision into a single film. Call it a case of missed opportunities, or just call it a failure: just don’t call up “The Dark Tower” the next time you’re looking for a worthwhile King adaptation.

#3: Best: “The Shining” (1980)


Here’s a question: if Stephen King is right, does that make millions of horror fans wrong? The author famously disliked director Stanley Kubrick’s austere and grim take on “The Shining” back in 1980, so much so that King wrote his own version for TV in 1997. However, time has largely forgotten King’s project with star Steven Weber, and has instead placed Jack Nicholson at the head of the horror table as the Jack Torrance. Kubrick’s vision is just so idiosyncratic that the film certainly does feel disconnected from King’s source material, but in the best possible way. From the moody score and nightmarish imagery, to the hallucinogenic set-pieces and genre-defining performances: “The Shining” is pretty much perfect.

#2: Worst: “Maximum Overdrive” (1986)


Pop quiz, hotshot: define “worst.” If by “worst,” you mean, “tons of fun to view with friends, yet absolutely impossible to defend as a horror film,” then congratulations! We’re watching “Maximum Overdrive” tonight! King actually directed this film himself, and cut an awesome trailer where he laments the lack of frights present within earlier adaptations of his work. Unfortunately, the directing of “Maximum Overdrive” took place at the height of King’s substance use struggle, and it shows. The film plays it totally straight, but feels utterly ridiculous. What’s worse: it’s tragically never even scary. Not even a bitchin’ score by AC/DC can save this one.

#1: Best: “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)


Frank Darabont may have directed “The Mist” and “The Green Mile” for Stephen King, but it’s probably “The Shawshank Redemption” that will go down as the man’s defining work behind the director’s chair. For many, it’s their favorite movie, and it’s easy to see why. There’s just a ton of heart and soul behind “The Shawshank Redemption,” aided by the chemistry between its two stars, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. The film offers proof that Stephen King is a master storyteller, not just of horror, but of humanity. There’s an ease to “The Shawshank Redemption” that makes it incredibly rewatchable, and a feel-good ending that brings tears to our eyes every time.

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