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Top 10 Least Accurate Stephen King Adaptations

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Laura Keating

When it comes to TV and movie adaptations of Stephen King’s novels and short stories, some fare better than others. For this list, we’ll be looking at the least accurate adaptations of Stephen King’s works, including “The Running Man” (1987), “Under the Dome” (2013-15), “Children of the Corn” (1984), and many more! Which are your favorite and least favorite Stephen King adaptations? Let us know in the comments!

Check out the voting page for this list and add your picks: https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Least+Accurate+Stephen+King+Adaptations Special thanks to our user LauraKeating for suggesting this idea!


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Script written by Laura Keating

Top 10 Least Accurate Stephen King Adaptations

From page to screen, it’s easy to lose the heart and essence of a story. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Least Accurate Stephen King Adaptations.

For this list, we’ll be looking at adaptations of works by the Master of Horror that bear the least resemblance to their on-page counterparts. We’ll be including the film and TV adaptations coming from Stephen King’s short stories, novellas, and/or novels. We won’t be including any sequels, and though we’ll try to avoid them, there are some spoilers ahead.

#10: “Under the Dome” (2013-15)

Apparently King’s sprawling thousand-plus page novel was not enough material for the creators of the TV series. Under the Dome, the aptly-named story about a town that gets trapped inside a mysterious barrier, starts off true enough to its on-page counterpart (at least in terms of plot), but from the get-go many of the characters and their backstories are altered, sometimes rather drastically. As the show progresses, the story takes on a life of its own, spiraling far outside the bounds of the original plot, much in the same way the 2017 version of “The Mist” does its own thing.

#9: “Maximum Overdrive” (1986)

This is Stephen King’s first and last outing as director. The short story, “Trucks,” had a simple premise: vehicles come to life and humans, unable to control the powerful machines, become enslaved. With a motley crew trapped together in a strange situation (that old King chestnut), it's a weirdly entertaining read due in large part to the snappy prose. The movie takes this thin, wacky idea and stretches to the breaking point, with added characters and elements. The story ends with no explanation for the beginning or hope for an end; the movie wraps abruptly by way of a block of text and changes the explanation from the beginning that it’s a comet’s fault to “it was aliens.” Really.

#8: “Hearts in Atlantis” (2001)

Based on the novella “Low Men in Yellow Coats” from the “Hearts in Atlantis” collection, this film’s problem stems from the fact that its source material was written for King’s multiverse. Ted Brautigan, played by Anthony Hopkins in the film, is an important character in the “Dark Tower” series. However, as all of the connections to the Dark Tower would have made the film confusing to the uninitiated, they’re omitted. In the movie, the Low Men are just G-Men and their interest in Ted is not really explained or explored. The ending and fates of several characters are also changed, and Bobby’s sense of closure is altered for it.

#7: “Graveyard Shift” (1990)

Like many movies based on short stories, “Graveyard Shift,” adapted from the 1970 short story of the same name, veers away from the original to pad out its plot. While the two stories resemble each other overall, there are enough additions in terms of characters and plot to make the two feel rather distinct. Like another one of King’s short stories, “The Mangler,” Graveyard Shirt is a fun, nasty piece of work and is not really meant to be taken seriously. The movie, however, takes itself quite seriously, which is a shame given the over-the-top elements. The film also provides a Hollywood Hero ending whereas the short story goes dark.

#6: “Children of the Corn” (1984)

The differences here are HUGE. The movie contains voice-overs from one of the children of the town of Gatlin (who is 12 instead of 9 as he is in the book), and the massacre of adults occurs on-screen. In the short story, the slaughter remains a mystery and the perspective is more that of Burt and Vicky. After getting lost, the couple encounter the creepy, cultish, corn-worshipping children and run to the fields, getting separated therein. In the movie, there was an attempt to add empathy, with some of the kids trying to help them. Not so much in the story. As with Frank Darabont’s 2007 film “The Mist”, King’s original ending was drastically different, albeit in this case… for the darker: No comeuppance for Isaac, and no happy ending.

#5: “No Smoking” (2007)

This Indian film is very loosely based on the short story “Quitters, Inc”. Like in the story, the plot revolves around the idea of a company that helps people quit smoking. This is done by putting things into drastic perspective for them, threatening harm to the participant and/or their family members if they do not comply with the rules and showing them the steps for quitting smoking and general self-improvement in their lives. The movie takes this basic idea and runs with it, adding elements of fantasy so that a person’s soul is on the line, not just a couple of fingers. Like we said… it’s a very loose adaptation.

#4: “The Running Man” (1987)

Where to begin with this one? One of the books written under the Richard Bachman pen name, The Running Man novel is about a dystopian America where corruption runs rampant in politics, reality TV rules airwaves, and health care is virtually unavailable to poor families. Um… Anyway, in the book, a desperate man agrees to take part in a brutal reality tv show called the Running Man where he is hunted across the country; the longer he can stay alive, the more money his family gets, which they need to pay medical bills. In the film, he is an ex-cop who is being forced to join in a gladiator-type arena. Flashy and entertaining, but not remotely like the somber, tense original.

#3: “The Shining” (1980)

Sorry Kubrick fans. Novel Jack and Wendy Torrance are loving parents struggling to move on after Jack lost his job. They are aware that there is something special about Danny, who is a happy, smart little kid, not creepy, but they don’t know what exactly it is. Wendy is resilient, beautiful, and tough as nails; Jack isn’t unhinged from the start but a caring father (if deeply flawed man), and his alcoholism is a MUCH bigger problem. He is a sympathetic character, and his decline is tragic. Not only are the characters different but the ending doubly so: Dick Halloran lives, Jack tries to fight his demons and loses, and the Overlook Hotel burns down when the boiler freaking explodes.

#2: “The Lawnmower Man” (1992)

King might have hated Kubrick’s take on “The Shining,” but “The Lawnmower Man” was altered to the point that King sued for the use of his name in the original title and promotions. In the short story, a lazy man hires a lawn-care company to do some landscaping; the person who arrives is soon revealed to be a strange being who eats the grass in a grotesque fashion and eventually murders the man as a sacrifice to the god Pan. The film involves Pierce Brosnan as a scientist who alters the brain of an intellectually disabled man, making him hyper-intelligent by way of virtual reality. When the modern Frankenstein’s monster become too powerful, the doctor races to stop him from taking over cyberspace. So… Yeah. Different.

#1: “The Dark Tower” (2017)

The Dark Tower (which is the name of several novels making up a series) is considered King’s magnum opus. Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger in a world that has "moved on," pursues The Man in Black across a desert. On his journey, he meets Jake, a boy from our world who becomes his surrogate son. The story of Roland and his Ka-tet is a Weird-Western. Blending many genres, it is thoughtful and rich with its own mythos. The story expands into a sprawling narrative and is the crux of King’s multi-verse. By contrast, the movie is a MESS, combining books, altering personalities, and focusing on action. It is a husk of the incredible source material, which deserved so, so much better.


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