No contemporary author has seen his work made into more movies and TV shows than Stephen King (and many more, like The Dark Tower, are in the works). The fact that he’s astonishingly prolific is certainly a contributing factor—as is the fact his works, horror and otherwise, tend to feel cinematic even on the page. But which of these many, many adaptations reigns supreme?
A disclaimer: This list does not contain every single short film that has been adapted from a King story. (We’ll make that list when we have access to all of them—and months of sleepless nights to spare.) What we have here is a ranking of every single feature film or TV series that was adapted from a King work, excluding any original screenplays (sorry, Sleepwalkers, Rose Red, and Storm of the Century superfans) and in-name-only sequels (though the Naomi Watts-starring Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering does have its merits).
58) Quicksilver Highway
A made-for-TV movie from director Mick Garris (a frequent helmer of King adaptations) about a flamboyant weirdo named Quicksilver (Christopher Lloyd) who rambles around telling scary stories to anyone who will listen. A hitchhiking couple get King’s “Chattery Teeth,” about a man whose horrific encounter with a set of wind-up teeth is actually a blessing in disguise. The other tale is based on a short story by Clive Barker, which makes for a lot of authorial star power... but precious few chills.
57) The Night Flier
Miguel Ferrer plays a sleazy reporter on the trail of the biggest scoop of his life: a serial killer who may or may not be a vampire who zips his private plane around between gory crime scenes. The New York Times was unkind, saying the film wasn’t “top-drawer or even second-drawer Stephen King.” It fits quite nicely into the third drawer, however.
A fat, sleazy lawyer begins to waste away after being cursed by a vengeful gypsy. An unpleasant movie about unpleasant people, with a li’l bit of racism to boot.
Cell phones make everyone who uses them turn into rabid killers, a concept that was much fresher in 2006, when King wrote the novel upon which it’s based, than in 2016, when the movie came out. Cell is a significantly less successful John Cusack/Samuel L. Jackson/King combo platter than 1408, which is a few notches further down this list.
54) Graveyard Shift
A basement-dwelling monster massacres textile-mill workers who are unlucky enough to work you-know-which hours. When even Brad Dourif (as a drawling, eccentric exterminator) and a giant rat-bat special effect can’t save the movie ... that’s pretty bleak.
53) Riding the Bullet
Mick Garris directs Jonathan Jackson, David Arquette, and Barbara Hershey in this adaptation of King’s first e-book. It’s about a hitchhiker who takes a strange ride on the way to visit his dying mother... and you’d be much better off reading the story than watching the movie.
52) Big Driver
A rape revenge tale that stars Maria Bello as a mystery writer who suffers a horrible attack, then turns vigilante. It aired on the Lifetime channel, but had an unusually good supporting cast: Ann Dowd, Joan Jett, and Olympia Dukakis. But it also had a weirdly off-putting tone of black humor, which is frankly icky.
51) The Mangler
With Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist (the latter under the watchful eye of Steven Spielberg), and actors Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund and Ted Levine (Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs), this adaptation must’ve seemed like a slam dunk on paper. But this is a movie about a laundry press that’s been possessed by a murderous demon, which is ultimately more silly than scary.
50) The Shining (1997)
Another one from Mick Garris, who is no Stanley Kubrick, starring Jake Weber, who is no Jack Nicholson. This six-hour TV remake was touted for being more faithful to King’s book; King, who famously disliked Kubrick’s version, wrote the teleplay this time around. But how do you compete with a pre-existing masterpiece? And why would you want to try?
49) Needful Things
Max von Sydow plays the proprietor of Castle Rock, Maine’s new antique shop, whose wondrous wares have special powers—but at what price? Even a great cast (besides von Sydow, it stars Ed Harris and Amanda Plummer) can’t save this one, whose biggest problem isn’t that it’s mean-spirited (which it totally is), but it’s repetitive, too.
48) Maximum Overdrive
In 1986, Stephen King made his directorial debut with this Emilio Estevez-starring movie about killer trucks. It was also his directorial swan song. This is not a coincidence, though the film has something of a cult following in spite of itself. “Trucks,” the King short story that spawned this curiosity, also got a re-do as source material, in the form of 1997 made-for-TV movie Trucks. (You can skip that, too.)
47) Carrie (2002)
King’s first published novel has been adapted several times, including this made-for-TV version starring Angela Bettis as the telekinetic girl and Patricia Clarkson as her mother. It was intended as a pilot for a TV series that thankfully never happened... so Carrie survives at the end. Problematic.
46) Silver Bullet
A curiosity cabinet of a cast—Gary Busey, Corey Haim, Everett “Big Ed from Twin Peaks” McGill, and Megan “Anne of Green Gables” Follows—stars in this monster movie based on King’s novella Cycle of the Werewolf. It’s corny, it’s very 1980s, but it’s honestly kind of fun, too.
45) Under the Dome
Under the Dome, which was developed by TV and comics writer Brian K. Vaughan (Lost, Saga), would have been amazing as a mini-series about a town that suddenly finds itself sealed off from the world. The first season was good. The second and especially the third, however, got progressively more ridiculous.