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The 25 best Stephen King movies, ranked! From The Shining to It: Chapter 2

16. The Running Man (1987)

The movie: The one where Arnie wears lycra. In a post-apocalyptic future, it’s hard to tell where the government ends and pop culture begins. Convicts compete on a reality TV show where they must run to escape the clutches of Gladiator-like opponents. Not for fun, you see, but in order to avoid being horribly butchered by these professional hitmen. Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a former cop set-up by the government, is one contestant whose only chance of freedom is to endure the savagery of the arena.

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 Schwarzenegger as his profanity-screaming hero. Sure, it's B-movie schlock at heart, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

15. Creepshow (1982)

The movie: Not a straight-up adaptation, per se, as the author penned the original script as an homage to EC Comics. Two of the tales told in Creepshow, “Weeds” and “The Crate”, are both based on short stories, while the rest of the gore-soaked vignettes are new. The subsequent film gave us this collection of five stories to chill the spine, all courtesy of King and director George A. Romero.

What it got right: Its ambition is up there, by trying to achieve that same sensation of what it’s like to actually read a comic, by throwing up interstitial comic panels between segments. And let’s not forget the biggest win of all: 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.

14. Pet Sematary (1989)

The movie: Based on the most shock-filled, horrific novels of King’s career, the big screen version pulls no punches either, choosing to delight in the terror of the Creed family’s predicament. Having moved cross country into a new home, the family soon learn that the ground near their abode is “sour.” When the family cat Church dies, dad Louis (Dale Midkiff) decides to bury it in a cemetery near their residence, starting a chain reaction of events that begin 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. Like all good King pics, it’s unnerving in all the right places.

13. The Mist (2007)

The movie: Artist David Drayton (Thomas Jane)’s day starts like any other. He works on a few pieces, then heads out to the store, waving a casual goodbye to his wife before hitting the road. And then, everything promptly goes to hell. He holes up in a supermarket with a mixed assortment of townsfolk 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. It’s still hard to believe that the ending was even approved by the studio heads...

12. 1922 (2017)

The movie: A truly surprising adaptation that burns slow until revealing its horrific underbelly. In 1922, Nebraska Wilf James (Thomas Jane) struggles to deal with his wife Arlette’s (Molly Parker) aspirations. After inheriting a large plot of land, her plan is to sell it so they can move to the city with their son. Wilf, a rancher at heart, is reviled by her plans, so plots to kill her and ropes in their kid to help. This is not your typical King adaptation.

What it got right: Forget the slobbery and evil beasts that you might expect from King – 1922 isn’t concerned with an outside source of villainy. Instead, the movie looks towards the darkness inside men and what they can be driven to do. Plus: you’ll do a double take when you realise that that totally is Thomas Jane. 

11. It Chapter Two (2019)

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

The movie: After 27 years, Pennywise returns to once again terrorise the residents of Derry. Meanwhile, the Looser's Club have all drifted apart and forgotten their oath to bring down the spectre should it ever return. That is, apart from Mike, who has remained in Derry and vows to bring back the gang and defeat, once and for all, the terrifying menace who has haunted their town all these years.

What it got right: With a balooning runtime of almost three hours, Chapter Two features both more scares and more laughs than most other King adaptations. The adult cast – including Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy – have brilliant chemistry and are perfect replacements for their younger selves. Saying that, the children from Chapter One still make an appearance here, and get a heartwarming send-off by director Andy Muschietti. 

10. The Green Mile (1999)

The movie: Less emphasis on obvious horror, The Green Mile hews closer to Shawshank Redemption (more on that later). Outside of the obvious prison comparisons, it shares thematic similarities, dabbling with the good verses evil of men. Gentle giant John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is arrested for rape and murder, but as he gets to know the guards on Death Row, in particular Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), and they learn of his unusual powers, their opinions of him begin to change. 

What it got right: In short, heartstring-pluckage. Long-time King fan Frank Darabont handles the source material with obvious reverence, and his film is a tender, moving portrait of miscarried justice. Great performances, too.

9. Gerald's Game (2017)

The movie: The supposedly “unfilmable” book about a woman who spends the majority of the story chained to a bed is transformed into one of the best Stephen King movies ever made. The Haunting of Hill House creator Mike Flanagan brings his eye for detail and love of the genre to the eerie-as-hell story of Jessie Burlingame (Carla Gugino). Handcuffed to a bed in the middle of nowhere, with the slowly-decaying corpse of her husband (Bruce Greenwood) on the floor, she must figure a way to escape her restraints. It’s either that or she succumbs to the wild dog lingering outside, or the figure behind the curtains...

What it got right: Never skimping on the small elements that truly made the novel terrifying, Flanagan’s attention to Jessie’s heart-breaking scenario is what makes this sublime. He cranks up the tension and throws in curveballs that made the book so unusual. 

8. The Dead Zone (1983)

The movie: Happy and in love, New England school teacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) heads home from a date with his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and has a horrific car accident. When he wakes up from a coma five years later, he discovers that he's developed psychic abilities: with a mere touch he can learn a person’s secrets and details about their future. Skyrocketing to fame due to his skills, he becomes an unwitting overnight celebrity. Mind-bogglingly on point is Martin Sheen’s character, the right-wing politico with ambitions to kick start World War Three. 

What it got right: Telekinesis as body horror? With director David Cronenberg on hand, that's what we get here, though the gore and violence is notably more restrained compared to the filmmkaer's other work. There’s also Christopher Walken playing manic like only he can. Delicious.

7. Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The movie: Undoubtedly a King adaptation that will continue to garner more fans with age. When she's accused of killing her old employer, a senile millionairess, Dolores Claiborne's (Kathy Bates) estranged daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) returns home to help. But as the case proceeds, flashbacks abound, stirring up long-buried secrets that reveal the brutality of their lives.

What it got right: Five years after she blew our minds as Annie in Misery, Kathy Bates nails it with another King property, bringing her A-game as the eponymous Dolores. Convincing as both the old and young Dolores, Bates wraps her tongue around some fantastic lines and manages to earn genuine empathy. An overlooked classic.

6. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The movie: It’s hard to believe Frank Darabont's film was a flop in cinemas, but this modern classic found its audience on home entertainment, with King fans and non-King fans alike lapping up this tale of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker wrongly charged with double homicide. He befriends Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman), and a handful of other inmates, yet it’s his ambitious goal to break out of prison, which serves as the main driving force. As fans will attest, this is more than a mere 'prison break' movie. 

What it got right: If the film’s two leading turns aren’t enough to satiate your movie needs, then what of the film’s central lesson, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’”? What's not to love about this movie?

Continue to Page 3 for more of the best Stephen King movies

Gem Seddon
Gem is GR+'s west coast entertainment news reporter. She’s a bit obsessed with all things Aliens and Terminator.