Top 20 Greatest Moments From Stephen King Movies
VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild
WRITTEN BY: Joe Shetina
Stephen King's works have been adapted into a plethora of great movies with tons of well-known moments. For this list, we'll be looking at the most iconic and unforgettable scenes adapted from the works of the undisputed master of horror. Our countdown includes Georgie's Murder from “It” (2017), Achilles Tendon from “Pet Sematary” (1989), The Death of Baseball Boy from “Doctor Sleep” (2019), Donna Is Bitten from “Cujo” (1983), and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Greatest Moments From Stephen King Movies.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most iconic and unforgettable scenes adapted from the works of the undisputed master of horror. Though theatrical films are our focus, we won’t be nitpicking television movies presented in miniseries format. Beware: this list contains a whole lot of spoilers.
Are you a “number one fan” of our picks? Sound off in the comments below!
#20: Burning Down the Facility
For the most part, Stephen King movies don’t need to rely on bombastic setpieces to generate thrills, but with a premise like “Firestarter,” we knew there’d be some fireworks by the end of it. And in that sense, the movie does not disappoint. A young Drew Barrymore plays eight-year-old Charlie McGee, who through governmental experimentation was imbued with pyrokinetic abilities. While the movie previously only gives us glimpses of Charlie’s full potential, the finale goes all out. Incensed by the death of her father, Charlie goes full ballistic on the meddlesome government agents. Some of the special effects haven’t aged amazingly, but Barrymore’s steely disposition helps sell the intensity of the moment.
#19: Waving at Yourself
When you book a room in a hotel that’s supposed to be haunted, you’re really asking for trouble. That’s what writer and paranormal skeptic Mike Enslin finds out in this adaptation of a King short story. Mike soon realizes the legend of Room 1408 is very much alive, and his attempts to escape the room are in vain. At one point, he tries to get the attention of a person in the window across the street. As he waves and signals for the man’s attention, the man begins to mimic his movements, and soon, Mike realizes the man is his doppelgänger—yet another one of the haunted hotel room’s cruel tricks.
#18: The Death of Baseball Boy
“Doctor Sleep” (2019)
Stephen King stories have never shied away from placing children in grave danger. 2019’s “Doctor Sleep” offers one such scene. The long-awaited sequel to “The Shining” finds a group of psychics called the True Knot hunting and feeding on children with the shining. One such child, better known asthe “Baseball Boy,” is kidnapped and brutally murdered by the unrepentant cult. The scene is most memorable for young actor Jacob Tremblay’s performance. Even if his attackers are unmoved, the boy’s cries of terror will stay with the audience long after the movie ends.
#17: The Trap
“Dolores Claiborne” (1995)
This underrated psychological thriller stars Kathy Bates as Dolores Claiborne, a staunch Maine woman who is believed to have murdered her husband Joe years before. Joe was an alcoholic who routinely mistreated her and her daughter. The flashbacks to their marriage culminate in a dramatic scene during a solar eclipse which finds Dolores goading her husband into a fight before leading him to fall into an old well, where he dies. It’s a powerful scene anchored by Bates’s performance, striking photography, and the sheer suspense that comes from a woman doing the unthinkable to save herself and her daughter.
#16: The Kids Turn on Isaac
“Children of the Corn” (1984)
“Children of the Corn” is one of those stories that takes a hard left from the start. It begins with a self-proclaimed prophet named Isaac brainwashing the local children into murdering every adult in their small Nebraskan town. But even a murderous cult has limits. Isaac’s excessive preaching and faulty leadership soon prompt the other children to rally against him and do the only logical thing: crucify him on corn stalks in an open field and sacrifice him to their god. As a character, Isaac is as insufferable as he is evil, so it’s doubly entertaining to watch his downfall. That is, until his horrifying resurrection.
#15: Mrs. Kersh
“It Chapter Two” (2019)
When an adult Beverly Marsh arrives at the apartment she once shared with her despicable father, the elderly Mrs. Kersh who now lives there insists the two sit down to tea together. As the scene progresses, Beverly realizes the sweet Mrs. Kersh is not what she seems. Her skin is rotting, her movements appear almost otherworldly, and soon, she manifests into her true form, a giant, monstrous incarnation of the evil clown, Pennywise. The filmmakers smartly allow the audience peeks at the elderly woman’s odd behavior before Beverly catches on, and the suspense is almost too much to bear by the time she confronts the clown.
#14: Jessie Meets the Real Moonlight Man
“Gerald’s Game” (2017)
While left handcuffed and stranded in an isolated lake house for days, Jessie Burlingame is haunted by a ghost-like man whom she believes to be a hallucination. After her eventual escape, she learns that she had come face-to-face with a cannibalistic serial killer. At his sentencing, Jessie faces the man, telling him “You’re so much smaller than I remember.” The scene is significant for Jessie, as her ordeal has made her confront and accept the role that several predatory men have played in her past. In facing the Moonlight Man, she can let go of her fears of those who have wronged her and step out from the shadows they cast over her life.
#13: Donna Is Bitten
Much of “Cujo”’s second half takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a small, broken-down Ford Pinto where Donna and her young asthmatic son, Tad, are trapped by the titular rabies-infested St. Bernard. The two must find a way to escape without becoming the dog’s next meal. After being terrorized for hours in the bracing heat, Donna tries to escape, only to be attacked from behind. What makes this particular scene so scary is how it comes during a lull in the action, when the dog has seemingly tired of harassing the pair, and there’s just a little bit of hope that their ordeal may finally be over. Not a chance.
#12: Moochie’s Death
King’s 1983 novel “Christine” was brought to the big screen by “Halloween” director John Carpenter, proving to be a great showcase for two masters of horror. This scene, which finds the cursed 1958 Plymouth Fury chasing down one of its owner’s high school tormentors, is the perfect blending of their styles. As for the car itself - or should we say herself - Carpenter brings her to terrifying life with fluid camera work and a creepy synthesizer score. Ratcheting up the tension with close shaves and plenty of suspense, the scene builds and builds toward a horrifying finale, which finds Christine unwilling to let a pesky thing like traffic laws - or walls - stop her from satisfying her thirst for blood.
#11: Achilles Tendon
“Pet Sematary” (1989)
Yet another creepy child courtesy of Stephen King. This time, it’s Gage Creed, the little boy whose father buries him in the cursed ground of the “pet sematary” to bring him back to life. This is one of King’s more depressing stories, which makes its scares all the more affecting. It not only plays on the fears of every parent, but also on those of every person with an achilles tendon. That’s right. We’re talking about the scene where the newly reanimated, zombified Gage slices Jud Crandall’s achilles tendon with a scalpel. It’s the kind of movie moment that makes you cringe and pull your feet up when you watch it.
#10: Almost Saved
“The Mist” (2007)
Oof, speaking of depressing. At the end of this adaptation of a King novella, a group of people who have escaped from a supermarket besieged by interdimensional beasts and religious fanatics decide to end their lives rather than be eviscerated by the monsters waiting in the mist. A bullet shy, protagonist David however is forced to accept his fate, but is horrified to see the military arriving to save the day. It turns out his group, including his young son, were only minutes from safety. While the original novella’s ending isn’t exactly happy either, Frank Darabont’s “The Mist” stunned audiences with an even bigger downer. Since then, it’s gone down as one of the greatest, most devastating twists in the genre.
#9: Danny Visits Mark
“Salem’s Lot” (1979)
In this New England-style reimagining of the vampire myth, a boy named Mark, who has a fascination for all things monsters, becomes convinced his small town, Salem’s Lot, is being overrun by vampires. One night, Mark is visited by the recently-turned Danny who tries to lure him to his death. Although Mark is able to stand his ground, he’s tormented by the image of his now-deceased friend. The scene is aided by creeping, dark shadows, eerie music, and a sense of dread that stays with the viewer long after the TV movie ends, demonstrating why the underappreciated “Salem’s Lot” deserves a place among the best of Stephen King adaptations.
“Stand by Me” (1986)
“Stand by Me” may not be a horror movie, but this classic coming-of-age tale has its fair share of macabre and even downright thrilling moments. Take this scene, which features the four main boys having to cross a railroad bridge without anywhere to go if a train comes. And of course, when a train does come, the terror of the moment is accentuated by funny little character moments as well. It’s not just the threat of the train that makes the scene great, but the build-up and each boy’s reaction to the danger. In a movie full of outstanding scenes, this one is a perfect encapsulation of everything the story is about: friendship; loyalty; and adventure.
#7: Come Play With Us, Danny
“The Shining” (1980)
If “The Shining” gives twins a bad rap, it’s likely due to this scene, which probably features the creepiest pair in all of cinema. As young Danny Torrance tricycles his way through the meandering corridors of the secluded Overlook Hotel, he’s greeted by the ghosts of two young girls who were murdered there. Stanley Kubrick’s command of mood and the atmospheric music punctuate a moment that’s already got the audience on the edge of its seats, and takes it even further with flashes of gruesome imagery. It’s one of the most well-remembered moments of “The Shining,” and that’s saying something.
#6: John Coffey’s Execution
“The Green Mile” (1999)
“The Green Mile” is more of a fantasy-drama, but it has scenes as horrific and affecting as anything on this list. The climactic scene at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary is one of the saddest in the Stephen King canon. Corrections officers watch as John Coffey is executed in the electric chair for murders he didn’t commit. The scene is made all the more heartbreaking because we know, as do the officers, that the man is also supernaturally gifted, and almost too gentle and compassionate for this world. While the parents of Coffey’s supposed victims rejoice in his punishment, the officers can only watch in horror as he unjustly dies a horrible death.
#5: Georgie’s Murder
Some horror movies ease you in. Both versions of “It,” however, throw you into the deep end in the first few minutes. Once the cute, baby-faced Georgie is greeted by Pennywise, the sewer-dwelling clown, we know no one is safe. But even if the Tim Curry-led 1990 TV miniseries traumatized viewers for years, the 2017 remake starring Bill Skarsgård largely one-ups the original whenever it can. Georgie’s death scene, while terrifying in the original, is much more drawn out and violent in the remake. Amping the creep factor up to a ten, Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a drooling, unhinged villain with a mouth full of sharp teeth and no mercy.
#4: The Hobbling
Sledgehammers were pretty scary before “Misery” came out, but it was hard to see them quite the same way after Kathy Bates’s Annie Wilkes wielded one in this unforgettable scene. When bedridden writer Paul Sheldon wakes up in Annie’s secluded house after a car accident, he knows right away that something isn’t right. Annie makes her wish that he’d stay forever quite clear later on, when she punishes him for leaving his room by breaking both of his ankles. Annie’s sweet voice and superhuman strength against Paul’s agonized screams is pure nightmare fuel, making us cringe every time we watch it.
#3: Andy’s Escape
“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)
Based on a King novella, “The Shawshank Redemption” is a story about the strength of friendship in the most dire of circumstances. When Andy is imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit, he has only his dreams of freedom and the friendship of Red, a contraband smuggler, to keep hope alive. It’s revealed that Andy’s hope was well-founded, as he’s been chipping away at a hole in his cell for years, before he finally makes his escape toward the end. The powerful shot of Andy standing in the rain, tasting freedom for the first time in nearly twenty years, became the movie’s signature image.
#2: Carrie’s Revenge
Brian De Palma’s adaptation of “Carrie” is a nightmare full of cruel social rituals, adolescent anxieties, and moments of heartbreaking sadness. All of this culminates in its most famous scene—the prom—where the put-upon Carrie is pushed too far by her classmates. Whether you’re rooting for Carrie at the end or lamenting how years of torment came to this, the prom sequence where she unleashes her telekinetic powers on everyone in sight is a showstopper. It is epic. “Carrie” was Stephen King’s first novel, and it also became the first adaptation of his work. It rightfully launched his name to mythic heights.
#1: “Here’s Johnny!”
“The Shining” (1980)
Finally driven over the edge by the malevolent spirits haunting the Overlook Hotel, Jack Torrance hunts down his wife and son. In the film’s most memorable scene, Jack has his wife, Wendy, trapped in the bathroom, where he begins chopping through the door with an ax. Actor Jack Nicholson fully embodies the role of the murderous patriarch, and his famous line, “Here's Johnny!,” a reference to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” was actually improvised on set. The line has since become a cultural touchstone, having been referenced and parodied several times over. Stephen King himself didn’t exactly love Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his beloved novel, but even he has to admit to the staying power of this particular scene.