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

5. It (2017)

The movie: The small town of Derry appears normal on the surface, but beneath its perfect veneer lies a dark, ebbing truth: every 27 years an ancient evil rises to terrorise the town’s children. This cycle of brutality has perpetuated for centuries. During the summer of 1989, young Georgie Denborough (Jackson Robert Scott) is the first youngster murdered by this shape-shifting evil, snatched into a storm drain. It’s this act which forces his brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and his six friends, the self-dubbed Losers Club, to make a pact. They must kill It. No matter the cost. 

What it got right: This is the perfect amalgam of King’s specialties: a deep love of slow, solid world-building, a band of childhood friends with fierce loyalty in their hearts, and of course, a terrifying monster that is beyond anything you could cook up. The It movie nails what makes Pennywise so scary, never letting him linger too long in japery and keeping him evil to the core.

4. Misery (1990)

The movie: Considering King cranks out a lot of books featuring authors as the main character, it’s quite a feat that he barely retreads the same terrain. Take Misery, for example: a tense, nerves-shot-to-hell horror that puts the writer in a very unfortunate position. After a horrific car crash, author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is rescued by his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates). Convalescing at her home, Sheldon soon realises that fans aren't always the nicest of people and would quite like to completely take over his life. 

What it got right: Hiring Kathy Bates, for a start. As the hobblesome fanatic, she's terrifyingly believable not least when lurching from crazy-happy to plain crazy-crazy. It's a testament to director Rob Reiner that the single-location ploy doesn't get stale, too, in fact, it aids the tense, claustrophobia Paul experiences when trying to escape Annie’s clutches. 

3. Stand By Me (1986)

The movie: King’s Different Seasons collection, featuring four novellas, has proven fertile ground for adaptations. The final tale, entitled The Body, serves as the inspiration for this Rob Reiner-directed drama, which stars River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, and Corey Feldman as four best friends in ‘50s Oregon who journey into the wilderness in search of a dead body. But it isn’t about the fabled body of a boy a little older than themselves – this is about their journey together down the railroad tracks, telling tall tales and getting in trouble. Stand By Me is the quintessential coming-of-age story. 

What it got right: King's always excelled at two things. First, eking out an element of truth in even the most fantastical premise, and second, writing kids. With Stand By Me, he hit the motherlode, crafting a quartet of believable nerds and letting them tell the story at their own pace. Marvellous.

2. The Shining (1980)

The movie: A writer-turned-teacher Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), is struggling with alcoholism, so opts to relocate his family to an isolated hotel in the mountains for the winter. The plan? He’ll take on the role of caretaker for the season, work on his novel, and his family can relax. Soon after their arrival, his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) discovers his gift, his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) discovers her husband’s changing, and Jack? Well, Jack’s making friends with the staff...

What it got right: According to Stephen King, Stanely Kubrick got nothing right when adapting the terrifying tale. Yet the director's immaculate chiller has so many well placed scares and unforgettable images that we have to respectfully disagree. This is a masterclass in dismantling a story, and rebuilding it with chosen fragments, intentionally so as to craft a mood of utter terror. And sure, while it strays from the story on the page, it matches the fear beat-for-beat.

1. Carrie (1976)

The movie: The age-old story of ‘woman as monster’. Unlike its title character, Carrie does not shy from its own truth. Brian De Palma’s adaptation, while taking liberties here and there, sinks its teeth into the crux of the novel: just how horrible can teenage girls truly be? The answer arrives, slowly, drip-by-bloody-drip, through the story of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), an outcast in high school. Her own suspicions that she has telekinetic powers coincide with her first period and an impromptu invite to the prom. 

What it got right: De Palma's film is a love letter to cinema. With its meticulously planned camerawork, its long takes, its crash zooms and its careful-careful tension-cranking, Carrie is a wonder to behold. You’ll be holding your breath throughout the entire last act. Sissy Spacek's far from bad, too, making you feel buckets of empathy for poor Carrie, while at the same time being utterly terrified of her power. 

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