What Are The Best Stephen King Adaptations?

Fact Checked by Nate Hamilton

Born in Portland in 1947, Stephen King is one of Maine’s hometown heroes, with an expansive number of short stories, novels, comics, and other written works that have scared the living daylights out of generations of readers. Few, if any, contemporary authors have influenced pop culture in the way that King, known affectionately to his constant readers as “Uncle Stevie,” has since “Carrie” debuted in 1974.

Over the years, King’s work has consistently been adapted for the screen, many of which have gone on to become cultural staples of their own. Think about Morgan Freeman’s narration in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny!” in “The Shining.” Or a young River Phoenix breaking out in 1986’s “Stand By Me.” And those are just to name a few.

Now, as we get ready to turn the page to 2024, news has come of the latest adaption of "Salem's Lot," King's second novel and a favorite of many. And with the adaptation set to hit the Max streaming service before the end of the calendar year, the author himself has began to tout the project, which goes a long way with fans. 

King recently tweeted, "The Warner Bros remake of ‘Salem’s Lot' is muscular and involving. It has the feel of ‘Old Hollywood,’ when a film was given a chance to draw a breath before getting to business. When attention spans were longer, in other words.” Could this version of "Salem's Lot" do for Warner Bros. what the 2017 remake of "It" did? 

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, BetMaine.com took a moment away from Maine sports betting legislation to examine some of King’s very best film and television adaptations.

Top 10 Stephen King Adaptations

BetMaine.com considered all the movies and television series that are adaptations of Stephen King’s work as listed on Wikipedia as a starting basis for the research. We then utilized IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes Audience score, Rotten Tomatoes Critic score, and Academy Award recognition to create a scoring system. 

Rank Work Total Points
1 The Shawshank Redemption (1994) 101
2 The Green Mile (1999) 90.3
3 Stand by Me (1986) 90
4 Misery (1990) 88.3
5 The Shining (1980) 86.3
6 11.22.63 (2016) 85
7 Carrie (1976) 83.3
8 Nightmares & Dreamscapes (2006) 82.5
9 Mr. Mercedes (2017-2019) 81.67
10 It (2017) 81

Pennywise Cracks The Top 10

At No. 10 on the list is the 2017 film version of “It,” not to be confused with the earlier Tim Curry version of the 1990s. The film, which solely focused on the youth experiences of The Losers’ Club, saw Bill Skarsgard put his own twist on Pennywise the Clown. Audiences ate it up to the tune of a $702 million box office gross. 

At No. 9 is the quiet but effective “Mr. Mercedes” TV series with Brendan Gleeson, who portrayed retired detective Bill Hodges across three seasons on the Audience network. It can now be found on Peacock, and is worth your time … if you can handle one of King’s scariest villains in the murderer Brady Hartsfield.

At No. 8 is the 2006 TNT big-budget miniseries “Nightmares & Dreamscapes,” in which stars like William Hurt, Tom Berenger and William H. Macy headlined certain episodes. Based on King’s beloved 1993 book of short stories. 

“The Shining” Misses Out On Top Spot

No. 7 is the aforementioned “Carrie,” the adaptation that started it all. It’s fitting that it’s among the top 10 nearly 50 years later. No. 6 is the acclaimed Hulu miniseries “11.22.63,” in which King took on the JFK assassination (and time-travel). 

At No. 5 is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” which probably thought it had a chance at the No. 1 spot. Though considered a horror masterpiece, King and Kubrick did not see eye-to-eye over some of the director’s changes. Perhaps loyal King readers didn’t want Jack, Wendy and Danny at No. 1, either. 

Rob Reiner’s Catalogue

At No. 4 is the classic that won Kathy Bates the Oscar (and saw poor James Caan lose a foot). “Misery,” directed by Rob Reiner, remains a cable staple to this day. In 2003, Annie Wilkes was ranked #17 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains list.

No. 3 is another Reiner-directed classic, this time 1986’s “Stand By Me.” Safe to say Reiner was a bit of a King fan himself. At least more than Kubrick. 

Tom Hanks makes an appearance at No. 2 with “The Green Mile,” a frightening but also well-meaning story about prisoner guards and an inmate who doesn’t seem to fit in on death row. You can tell when watching the film that director Frank Darabont had a feel for King’s world. Which makes sense, considering he directed this list’s No. 1 adaptation as well…

“Shawshank” Takes the Crown

At No. 1 is Darabont’s “The Shawshank Redemption,” which in 1994 notched 7 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Freeman. While not a box office success, the film found a long home on cable in the 90s and 2000s, where audiences of all ages came to love the story of Andy Dufresne as he navigated life behind bars.

What do you think? Did BetMaine get it right? We know “Doctor Sleep” has its defenders, as does the 1979 miniseries “Salem’s Lot” and many others. But that’s how deep the filmography of King goes. There’s plenty of debate to go around. 

Author

Thomas Leary is a news editor and writer for BetMaine.com. He previously spent six years at Sports Business Journal, where he helped identify emerging sectors across sports business, such as legalized gambling, and helped launch a digital newsletter division. Thomas lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife Emmie and their dog, Pickles.