Stephen King sold numerous short stories to magazines before Doubleday published his full-length novel Carrie in 1973, launching a career that has spanned decades. As King churned out hit books like Christine and The Green Mile, Hollywood clamored for the opportunity to turn his prose into box-office gold. More than 50 King stories have been filmed for the big screen or TV so far, and there's no sign of stopping.
This story about a young girl named Carrie (Sissy Spacek) has a spot in the hallowed halls of classic horror movies. Carrie's over-protective mother shelters her so much that when she gets taunted mercilessly by her classmates, they learn that teasing Carrie is a bad idea -- the girl's got a few nasty tricks up her sleeve. The movie, which also stars Piper Laurie and John Travolta, grossed more than $33 million. This was the first film adaptation of a King story and years later, the first Broadway adaptation, too. Carrie, the musical, was one of the biggest theater flops ever, closing after just five performances and losing around $7 million.
The Shining (1980)
The term cult classic doesn't really cover what The Shining is to American pop culture. Starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall and directed by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining is essentially a story about cabin fever -- really, really, bad cabin fever in a haunted cabin where tidal waves of blood occur from time to time and a force called "the shining" possesses little kids. There is an element of camp that can't be denied about this particular adaptation (there have been others, including a 1997 TV version), but King intensely disliked what Kubrick did with the story. Nevertheless, the movie spawned a dozen catchphrases, including "Heeeeere's Johnny" and "Redrum! Redrum!"
Stephen King was so popular in the early 1980s that Christine wasn't even published before preproduction began on the movie version. Producers took a chance on his latest story about a boy and his car. That's right -- Christine is a car, not a girl. Arnie Cunningham, who might have been played by Kevin Bacon if he hadn't chosen Footloose instead, is a high-school nerd who falls in love with a 1958 Plymouth Fury. The car is possessed and threatens to kill anyone who tries to get in its way. The story and the film are well known but not regarded as King's best. The author has the uncanny ability to tap into people's basic fears (rejection, clowns, ghosts...), but his portrayal of a fearsome car didn't terrorize audiences as much as some of his other menaces.
"Here, doggie doggie! Here, doggie -- AAAAGGGGH!" That pretty much sums up the plot behind this King adaptation. Dee Wallace plays Donna Trenton, a mom with marital problems, and a young Danny Pintauro (of Who's the Boss? fame) stars as her son Tad. The two find themselves in big trouble when their car breaks down miles from town and the family dog appears to be very, very ill. Cujo, a Saint Bernard, has been bitten by a rat and is none too friendly for most of the film. It took five different dogs, one mechanical head, and one guy in a dog suit to get the shots of Cujo's raging, and perhaps that's why this film has a slight cheese factor. The movie might not have nabbed any nominations or awards, but it remains a horrifying tale.
The Dead Zone (1983)
A talented cast including Christopher Walken, Tom Skerritt, and Martin Sheen plays out this story of a schoolteacher involved in an auto accident that puts him in a coma for five years. When he awakens, he's got a knack for seeing the future. This is not as fun as it sounds and scary stuff ensues. The story is loosely based on the life of Peter Hurkos, a famous psychic. While this film hasn't reached the cult status of some other King adaptations, it's regarded as a pretty decent movie. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror named the film Best Picture.
Children of the Corn (1984)
This tale of terror came from a book of short stories entitled Night Shift, which also included future adaptations such as The Lawnmower Man and Graveyard Shift. The children of Gatlin, a little town in Nebraska, are called to murder by a preacher-boy named Isaac. A young couple gets in the way of their plans and creepy shots of wigged-out kids follow. Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton star as the doomed couple Burt and Vicky. In one scene, a copy of Night Shift can be seen on the dashboard of their car. This movie was universally panned, but that didn't stop it from spawning seven sequels. Most of them are as weak as the original, but the seventh film, released in 2001, is reportedly the best (and scariest) of the bunch.
College students beware: Those medical tests you participate in to earn money for rent could result in serious trouble later in life. So it goes with Andy and Vicky McGee, who were given doses of a nasty chemical in college that would adversely affect their future daughter, played by a cute but dangerous Drew Barrymore. A TV miniseries entitled Firestarter: Rekindled was produced in 2002, possibly because King is rumored to have hated the original, something filmmakers have to be wary of when working with him.
Stand By Me (1986)
A King collection entitled Different Seasons included a story called "Fall from Innocence: The Body." Stand By Me, one of King's greatest movie successes, was based on this story. A group of preteens go on an adventure to find the body of a classmate who is missing and presumed dead. They are tailed by bullies and must make very grown-up decisions throughout the course of the film, which garnered an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay. A critical and box-office success, Stand By Me starred teen heartthrobs River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, and Corey Feldman, and is one of the most widely enjoyed King films to date, perhaps due to the focus on tension among humans rather than killer clowns or deadly cars.
The Running Man (1987)
What other Stephen King screen adaptation can boast a cast that included not one but two future U.S. governors? Only The Running Man, which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead and Jesse Ventura in a smaller role. The story, based on the novel of the same name written under King's nom de plume Richard Bachman, is set in the year 2017. America is a police state where criminals have the opportunity to run for their freedom on a weirdly ahead-of-its-time reality show. The movie did well when it was released, earning almost $40 million, and reviews were decent, especially for a story that King reportedly penned in less than three days.
Pet Sematary (1989)
When the Creed family's cat gets smooshed on the highway, an elderly neighbor instructs Mr. Creed to bury the cat in the "pet cemetery" and watch what happens. The cat comes back, but he's a little different this time around. When Mr. Creed's son dies, guess what bright idea daddy has? Watch for a King cameo in the funeral scene. This campy, but intensely creepy movie did well at the box office and got decent reviews for a horror movie. It also generated a sequel three years later, but it didn't do as well as the original.
King often centers his stories on a protagonist who bears a striking resemblance to himself. Misery is one of these. Novelist Paul Sheldon finds himself being nursed back to health by Annie Wilkes after crashing his car in the Colorado mountains. Annie is Paul's self-proclaimed number-one fan and relishes the opportunity to help her favorite author. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her role as Annie -- she's terrifyingly good as the obsessed, isolated woman. If you're paying attention, you'll catch a reference to another King adaptation, The Shining. At one point, the odd couple discusses the "guy who went mad in a hotel nearby."
Needful Things (1993)
This adaptation was a bit of a clunker, collecting more negative reviews than ticket sales. The movie didn't make much more than $15 million at the box office, which isn't too hot in terms of movie sales. The Faustian story, however, based on the King novel of the same name, is a strong one. Satan has a shop in a small New England town and gladly sells his customers whatever they need -- for a price. The best-known actor in the movie is Ed Harris, who plays doomed Sheriff Alan Pangborn.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption may be King's most critically acclaimed adaptation, garnering seven Oscar nods and grossing nearly $30 million at the box office. The story came from King's Different Seasons short story collection. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins star as Red and Andy, two inmates in prison beginning in the 1940s who strive to reconcile their fates in different ways. This story is effectively frightening not because of supernatural events but because of the terror of watching one's life pass by.
Dolores Claiborne (1995)
This psychological thriller tells the story of Dolores, a maid who works for a wealthy woman in Maine, the setting for many of King's stories. When the rich woman is murdered, Dolores's daughter comes in from New York to sort out all the details. Lots of flashbacks about the family's domestic problems ensue and a cast that includes Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh play out the vivid drama with engaging results and a suspenseful ending with a twist. The movie received excellent reviews, especially for the performances by the leading ladies. It did well at the box office, too, pulling in almost $25 million.
The Green Mile (1999)
The Green Mile was based on King's series of six short books of the same name. In one of King's most successful movie adaptations, Tom Hanks stars as Paul Edgecomb, a cynical death-row prison guard. Michael Clarke Duncan, Oscar-nominated for his role in the film, plays John Coffey, a prisoner accused of murdering two children. The movie grossed $136 million at the box office and DVD sales are still strong. King reportedly came to the set and asked to sit in the electric chair being used in the film. He didn't like how "Old Sparky" felt and asked to be released right away.
Helen Davies, Marjorie Dorfman, Mary Fons, Deborah Hawkins, Martin Hintz, Linnea Lundgren, David Priess, Julia Clark Robinson, Paul Seaburn, Heidi Stevens, and Steve Theunissen