Tom Jolliffe with his top ten Stephen King movies…
With the impending release of the new It film, now seems a good time to run through a top 10 list of Stephen King movies. These are all feature films. I’ve not included TV miniseries.
As a writer it’s fair to say that King has been prolific. The sheer amount of novels, novellas and shorts he’s written has been astonishing and he doesn’t seem to show too many signs of slowing. The recent trend of translating popular fiction from page to screen is nothing new either. King’s work has been getting the Hollywood treatment for over 40 years. His films by their very concepts offer something interesting, often bizarre. As such there’s an array of films that lend themselves very much to cult followings. The output of King inspired work on-screen is a mixed bag. From cinema classics, to those which are trashy (but still watchable).
With It due for release, I can’t go without mentioning the previous screen incarnation of Pennywise the clown in the mini-series. Whilst inconsistent (the first part is exponentially better than the second) there’s no denying that Tim Curry as the demonic clown was utterly terrifying.
As far as this top 10 – choosing 10 was tough. There have been a lot of King films that weren’t brilliant but I loved. As a Schwarzenegger fan it pains me not to include The Running Man, but I haven’t. Likewise I loved Children of the Corn, Pet Semetary, Maximum Overdrive and even the daft nonsense that was The Lawnmower Man (so bad it’s actually quite good). I should also say that the number 1 spot is not taken up by a prison film.
Without further ado. My Top 10 Stephen King films:
10. The Mist
Recently rebooted as a TV series, this 2007 film from writer/director Frank Darabont remains fairly underrated. Like a lot of horrors of its ilk the film becomes less scary the more is revealed and shown but the opening half, as a group of local townsfolk are trapped within a supermarket to escape a mist housing something horrific, is actually very good. Darabont had previous in adapting King’s work into screenplay form, and we will get to that later.
9. Silver Bullet
Gary Busey. Need I continue? Okay, well this one includes a few recognisable King tropes, including the small town sensibility. As far as Werewolf flicks go this is a fine example of the genre. Busey is excellent, heading a solid cast which also features a very good performance from a young Corey Haim before he really hit the big time in the latter stages of the 80’s.
8. The Green Mile
This may be contentious to some, and to an extent this suffers from the curse of being “the other Stephen King prison film.” It’s a good film. It’s gut wrenching at times and the performances from Hanks and the late, great, Michael Clarke Duncan in particular are electrifying (sorry…). For me it descends into melodrama at times. Again, this is penned by Frank Darabont, who also took up the directors chair for this.
I love this film. It has certain disadvantages going for it that have meant it often gets overlooked. Firstly, as previously mentioned and as the rest of my list will attest, there have been great King adaptations. Secondly it’s a John Carpenter film and his CV, in this genre particularly, is absolutely first rate. So a film like Christine, which in its own right is fantastic, just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Great concept, great design and good performances. This is a truly overlooked 80’s gem.
6. The Dead Zone
For many of the same reasons as Christine, this is another overlooked piece of brilliance. It’s not the best film in David Cronenberg’s filmography but he was a master exponent of horror, particularly psychological or body horror. This one features Christopher Walken developing psychic abilities following a coma. As per the norm with King, any blessing normally turns into a curse. As you’d expect from Cronenberg this is visually interesting, dark, and engrossing.
This is relatively simple as far as King adaptations go (and indeed the source material itself). It’s fantastic though. The premise is simple. Struggling writer is injured and then nursed back to health in the remote home of a super-fan. Inevitably he finds that he’s a prisoner. Not for the first time, Rob Reiner directs a King adaptation. At the height of his powers following an almost unbroken streak of home runs throughout the 80’s, Reiner’s direction is taut and gripping. He’s aided by great performances from James Caan and particularly Kathy Bates who is unnervingly brilliant.
Great directors have inevitably found themselves drawn toward King adaptations. The first film to use King as a source still remains one of the best. Carrie (which has been remade a few times, and even sequalised, all poorly) is stylish, excessive and visually resplendent as you would expect of Brian De Palma at his best. The performances are what elevate this one, particularly from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie as daughter and mother respectively. Everyone knows Carrie and knows the iconic moments, even if they haven’t seen the film. It’s still chilling, but what is all the more key is the build up to it all. A stone-wall, horror classic.
3. Stand By Me
One of the best coming of age tales. King was always adept at portraying adolescent outsiders, undoubtedly drawing on his own upbringing. It’s classic King material and it’s deftly handled in this film adaptation. This was Rob Reiner’s breakout really. Spinal Tap was still snowballing its cult following, but Stand By Me really made people stand up and pay attention to a filmmaker with deft touch and dramatic power. The young cast, led by a charismatic River Phoenix are great. Memorable, touching, haunting and beautiful it wonderfully portrays the best and worst of moving from childhood to teenhood.
2. The Shawshank Redemption
Frank Darabont again! Oft considered one of the greatest films of all time, this is undoubtedly a piece of cinematic greatness. It’s life affirming, harrowing and feel good all in one. Like the best of King’s source material, and his films when handled right, these emotional shifts are deeply effective. Great performances all round again, in what is an infinitely rewatchable master-work.
1. The Shining
I’m going to annoy Stephen now. He hates this film. He hates it with a burning passion. As an adaptation, this veers away in key places from the source material. However, I’m not judging on the effectiveness of the adapting. I’m judging on cinematic impact. The Shining is exceptional. If you want to know how to shoot and cut a film. If you want to study cinematography. If you want to know how to establish the atmosphere and world in which your film is set, then The Shining is a masterpiece. There have rarely been better cohesion between audio and visuals in depicting a psychological descent. Stanley Kubrick was a perfectionist. A true visual auteur and whilst this is thematically one of his more confined and simple films, it’s still one of his best. Disturbing, chilling and imposing, the hotel setting becomes a character. It’s all excellently performed too and Jack Nicholson’s histrionic implosion into madness is grotesquely brilliant. The immersion in his role is terrifying. If you think it’s overracting, you’re not looking deep enough. Probably the best looking horror film ever.
What are you favourite Stephen King movies? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…