The 10 Greatest Stephen King Movies, Ranked

In honor of the author’s birthday, we ranked all of the best movies based on his books. 

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Photo by Everett Collection

On this day in 1947, horror and science fiction writer Stephen King was born. For that we are all grateful — and also a little bit more emotionally disturbed.

In addition to being one of the most prolific novelists of our time, Stephen King is an avid Red Sox fan, patron of the arts, and all-around really cool dude. Baseball hats off to him!

On a personal level, Stephen King is responsible for a lot of irrational fears. Curious readers have never had a problem getting hold of his books or seeing his movies at an inappropriate age, and the results haven’t been great. 

But Stephen King is great, and that’s why you should re-watch the top ten movies based on his books, stat: 

10. Pet Sematary (original 1989 film)

Maybe because of the spelling, Pet Sematary’s genuine terror factor seems to have been underrated. Rachel’s dead sister Zoe is the scariest part of the story —which is also a sad one, as it highlights how desperate we all are to avoid the inevitable pain of loss. A 2019 reboot of the movie with Jason Clarke and John Lithgow playing his spooky old neighbor had its moments of true creepiness but in the end the 80s film edges it out of contention for this spot simply through sheer bleakness.  

9. Creepshow

This anthology film deserves a mention at the very least for the unbridled evil of the death scene  (with Ted Danson!) in “Something to Tide You Over.” (Also: The music.) The lesson learned here: Do not cheat on Leslie Nielsen!

8. The Mist

The Mist deviated pretty dramatically from the book to deliver one of the most disturbing and fucked up endings you will ever see. But Stephen King approved, saying, “It is the most shocking ending ever and there should be a law passed stating that anybody who reveals the last five minutes of this film should be hung from their neck until dead.” If you’re smart enough to be afraid of Stephen King, keep my mouth shut.

7. The Green Mile

The Green Mile is an acquired taste for some, with its treacly spiritual undertones. Still, you can’t argue with the late, great John Coffey as a falsely accused death row inmate, even if the mouse stuff was weird.

6. Children of the Corn

Children should not watch this movie, d’ya hear? Children SHOULD NOT watch this movie. Still, it’s one of several King adaptations that makes a very strong case for short stories as source material for movies — it’s a much easier fit than full-length novels. Originally published in Penthouse, Children of the Corn again explores the terror and danger of blind religious devotion.

5. Misery

This is one of the most complex and terrifying and hilarious and uncomfortable movies made about obsession, ever, hands down. Adapted from King’s novel of the same name, Misery launched Kathy Bates’ career and is probably a big reason why contemporary American society is terrified of single middle-aged women. “My little ceramic penguin in the study always faces due south.”

4. Carrie

Lessons learned from Carrie: Do not trust the cool kids, graveyards at night, your mom, or Christian fundamentalists (especially if they are your mom). The 1976 movie earned Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie Oscar nominations and helped launch John Travolta’s career into the stratosphere.

3. Stand By Me

Columbia Pictures execs thought the title of the source material, The Body, was too “misleading,” so director Rob Reiner offered the title of the Ben E. King song that plays over the closing credits. Stand By Me isn’t particularly horror-y despite the fact that it involves a dead child — the bigger theme is the death of childhood itself.

2. The Shining

The Shining made ordinary objects like typewriters and Hot Wheels and identical twins the source of spellbinding terror. It also probably put a dent in the Colorado tourism industry that didn’t get hammered out until the state made weed legal for recreational use. But the novel put King on the map as a writer and the movie remains not only one of the scariest and most entertaining horror films from the 70s, but a sharply relevant commentary on the darkest recesses of the writer’s life.

1. The Shawshank Redemption

There’s not a lot in this world that literally every human being dead or alive can agree on, but the infinite watchability of The Shawshank Redemption is one of them. The only way this movie could have been improved is if it had used the full title of King’s short story: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. It’s still pretty much perfect, and if you turn on your TV right now, it’s probably on. Check TNT first.

Bonus: IT Chapters 1 and 2. 

Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard)

Among the newest King adaptations, both have reestablished Pennywise‘s place in horror history as scariest damn clown imaginable through Bill Skarsgard’s emotionally scarring tour de force approach to playing the coulrophobe’s best defense for setting circus tents on fire everywhere. 

As far as we’re concerned, IT Chapter 2 ties with Shining for no. 2 and IT with Shawshank for no. 1. 

So get to watching this list before Halloween. Even if it won’t earn you any money, you could still get a killer case of terror-induced premature gray hair.