The 20 best Stephen King movies you need to see (but can't unsee)

Stephen King has been terrifying readers since his first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974. The quality of his books, combined with their cinematic style and universally terrifying concepts, mean there have been a lot of screen adaptations over the last 40 years They've varied in quality, but even the 'less successful' ones have been interesting. Even more interestingly, with King far from an exclusive horror author, some of the best adapted movies completely sidestep the genre he's most famous for. With the release of the first trailer for terrifying clown-horror movie IT, and first footage of The Dark Tower being shown, we've decided to rank some of the best in the following list. Some great movies on here, and plenty more to come from the undisputed master of horror. 

20. Pet Semetary (1989)

The movie: A young family moves into a new home. When the family pet dies, they bury it in a cemetery near their residence, and are understandably shocked when it comes back to life

What it got right: Director Mary Lambert isn't afraid to shove the gore up front and centre with this grizzly offering, a film that goes to surprising extremes, not least in the dead kid department. It's silly, but unnerving in all the right places.

19. Apt Pupil (1998)

The movie: Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro) blackmails his new neighbour, Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), whom he believes to be a Nazi war criminal.

What it got right: Disturbing depictions of domestic horror and some fantastic performances showed Bryan Singer had form after his stunning debut The Usual Suspects. Sadly, Apt Pupil is nowhere near as taut, but not many films are.

18. Christine (1983)

The movie: Uber-nerd Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) buys his first car, a red and white Fury tagged Christine, which may have a few secrets hiding under the hood.

What it got right: There's a pulpy charm to John Carpenter's haunted vehicle pic, with the auteur's characteristic focus on, er, characters keeping the engine purring nicely. Carpenter's score is also another streamlined beaut. The best film about a haunted car you're ever likely see. Take that, Transformers.

17. The Stand (1994)

The movie: There are two remake projects currently in the works - one an eight-part mini-series, the other made up of four movies - but this first stab at King's famously chilling tome stars Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald, whose town is on the brink of destruction-by-Biblical-apocalypse.

What it got right: Rob Lowe has a go at something different by playing a deaf mute, the special effects (glowy eyes!) make us nostalgic for the '90s, and the weaving of all the numerous characters' plot strands is admirable.

16. Salems Lot (1979)

The movie: Novelist Ben Mears (David Soul) and a young horror fanatic attempt to stop a vampire that's laying siege to their town.

What it got right: With Tobe Hooper behind the camera, Salem's Lot has a potent mood and a great protagonist in Mears, who transforms slowly from bookish author to all-out vampire slayer. Genuinely chilling in places.

15. The Running Man (1987)

The movie: In a post-apocalyptic future, convicts compete on a reality TV show against Gladiator-like opponents.

What it got right: Its premise was light-years ahead of its time (Hunger Games, anyone?) and director Paul Michael Glaser did well to bag an on-the-rise Arnold Schwarzenegger as his profanity-screaming hero. Sure, it's B-movie schlock at heart, but what's wrong with that?

14. Creepshow (1982)

The movie: A collection of five stories to chill the spine, all courtesy of Stephen King and director George A. Romero.

What it got right: Well, uniting those two prolific horror names, of course. If the end result isn't quite as earth-shaking as you were hoping, there's always the thrill of having King and Romero together in the opening credits.

13. Hearts in Atlantis (2001)

The movie: When the mysterious Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves into town, he changes the lives of young Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his mother forever.

What it got right: The casting of Anthony Hopkins adds an extra layer of mystery (and inherent menace) to a character that could have been twee in the hands of a lesser talent. Emotionally complex and moving, this is one of the more low-key King adaptations, but it's all the better for it.

12. The Mist (2007)

The movie: David Drayton (Thomas Jane) holes up in a supermarket when a freak storm descends on his town, bringing with it godforsaken nasties.

What it got right: Director Frank Darabont's third stab at a King text resulted in this rip-your-own-eyes-out-because-its-just-that-depressing mood-killer. The atmosphere is palpable, Marcia Gay Harden gleefully cuts everybody around her down with poisonous barbs, and the finale will haunt you for days.

11. 1408 (2007)

The movie: Mike Enslin (John Cusack) spends his life debunking supposed paranormal occurrences. Then he checks into the haunted room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel. 

What it got right: By now, King's influence over the big screen was waning. But director Mikael Håfström reminds us how it should be done, stuffing his film full of atmosphere and grisly discoveries. The ending's a letdown, but this is an effective jumper.