We here at Screen Rant love us some Stephen King, the way we like roofs over our heads and food in our bellies. There’s just something essential about his work, and that’s why we previously compiled a list of the 15 best Stephen King movies ever made.
However, as even the most die hard reader knows, there have been an awful lot of bad adaptations of his work. The upcoming Cell has some toxic buzz attached to it, despite the straightforward source material and the reuniting of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, who were so effective together in 1408, another King adaptation.
Still no matter how bad Cell is, it’s certain to have lots of company. Here are The 15 Worst Stephen King Movies Of All Time.
15. Children Of The Corn
Children of the Corn is a bad movie, filled with campy acting, sub par effects work and a complete lack of tension. It’s hard to understand how a movie about killer children who sacrifice their entire town in a bizarre death cult could be this unaffecting. But Children of the Corn would be no more remarkable than any other failed adaptation were it not for the stunning aftermath.
Somehow the decision was made that if people vaguely tolerated the Children Of The Corn once then by God they would tolerate it again, over and over and over again. Children of the Corn has become one of the most bizarrely unkillable franchises in horror history, ten (10) films have been birthed from the sub par adaptation of one early King story, despite the fact that no one has liked any of them. It’s almost as though the producers made a deal with He Who Walks Behind The Rows.
14. Cat’s Eye
Stephen King apparently fought hard and bitterly to keep an anthology film of Night Shift from being made by Milton Subotsky, the man behind the Amicus anthology films of the 70s with adaptations of Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Robert Bloch in fun, clever, stylish adaptations that apparently made King’s blood boil. How the film in his head could be any worse than the film that eventually made out of some of Night Shift’s stories is not known, nor is it strictly speaking theoretically possible.
After campy adaptations of “Quitter’s Inc.” (complete with musical number!) and “The Ledge”, Cat’s Eye suddenly becomes a children’s film in which a cat battles a troll creature for the soul of Drew Barrymore for reasons that are left very vague. It’s one of those films where you find yourself constantly wondering, “Who was this even made for?” and we have yet to find a sensible answer.
13. Maximum Overdrive
King got a chance to direct his own movie with Maximum Overdrive, an adaptation of his short story “Trucks”, in which the world’s machines gain sentience and try to wipe out humanity. As we’ll see time and time again in this list, stuff that works surprisingly well on the page can look just kind of stupid when it’s literalized on the screen, and King himself proved to be no exception to this rule.
Maximum Overdrive has the misfortune of being one of those movies that goes sailing past the point of “fun bad” and deep into the realm of “just plain ol’ bad.” With its over the top gore, weird cast, a score by AC/DC and some truly unhinged set pieces (a child being run over by a steamroller is one of the milder gags), Maximum Overdrive *should* be a lot of fun. Instead, it’s repetitive, unimaginative and frankly dull, which is the last thing a crazy exploitation film should ever be.
12. Creepshow 2
Out of all the films on this list, Creepshow 2 is at least on the watchable end of the spectrum. It’s just that Creepshow is one of the most purely fun and enjoyable horror films ever made, and Creepshow 2 is… not. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what goes wrong, the fact that George Romero didn’t return to direct certainly didn’t help, but duties were turned over to Michael Gornick, who had worked extensively with both Romero and King. The stories King chose are decent ones, the cast is interesting and off beat and Tom Savini returns to do the effects. But the magic is gone. The film feels like it’s going through the motions, and doesn’t really work as horror or camp. It’s just kind of there.
11. Sometimes They Come Back
Sometimes They Come Back suffers from the usual problems of the bad Stephen King adaptations. The story, about a teacher who is visited by ghosts of greaser bullies who tormented him in his youth, has had the usual unnecessary grafts to get it to feature length: what worked on the page doesn’t translate well to the screen and the budget is obviously low.
A few of the adaptations on this list reach that magic moment of critical mass and become great camp, offering one “can you believe what you’re seeing?” moment after another. Others at least offer up some sense of personality. Sometimes They Come Back doesn’t even offer either. It’s bland and anonymous. This film was followed by two direct-to-video sequels that are made with all the imagination and careful craft of the nine Children Of The Corn sequels.
This is the first appearance on this list by one Mick Garris. It will not be the last. Garris is responsible for six Stephen King adaptations (though it feels like more), all of them very, very bad and he is personally responsible for a quarter of this list. Their collaboration got off to an auspicious debut with Sleepwalkers, the story of an incestuous pair of shape shifting, vampiric, werecats and no, none of that was a typo.
King has a special talent for making ludicrous concepts compelling and believable. It is not a talent that Mick Garris shares. The film flounders along as a half baked melodrama pausing occasionally for increasingly ludicrous set pieces and garishly bad effects. It should have been enough to nip any further collaboration between Garris and King in the bud, but like the monster in a King novel, what should have killed it only sent it lurching off into the night to inflict further damage.
9. The Dark Half
One of the most disappointing films on this list. The fact that, apart from the excellent Creepshow, this is the only other Stephen King project that George Romero made is more than a little heartbreaking. Creepshow is, after all, one of the best King films and the two were obviously simpatico. It wasn’t for lack of trying, either. Over the years, Romero tried to make adaptations of The Stand, Salem’s Lot, Pet Semetary, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and From A Buick 8, only to have them stuck in one ring of development hell or another.
The only adaptation to come to fruition was The Dark Half and that’s just sad. The Dark Half was never going to be great; it’s a second tier novel through and through, the story of a writer who’s stalked by his own pseudonym. But there was no earthly reason for it to be this bad. The film has lots of problems, it sidelines interesting character actors like Amy Madigan and Michael Rooker and the company financing it went into receivership half way through post production, leading to a rough feel, dodgy effects and an overlong run time. But these pale in comparison to the central problem of Timothy Hutton, who plays the dual role of a mild-mannered family man and his alter ego, a magic, psychotic hillbilly.
To put it mildly, this is not a role in Mr. Hutton’s wheelhouse. When your film is built around a double act and the actor in the role cannot perform one half of that double act, your film is not going to work. It’s an insurmountable problem.
8. The Stand
Here’s the thing: a TV miniseries version of The Stand sounds great now, when the end of the world could play out with it’s proper scope and apocalyptic glory. But it can be hard with all the great things on TV to remember just what a different prospect that was over twenty years ago.
To quote Scott Von Doviak, whose excellent Stephen King Films FAQ is a must have for any avid reader, The Stand looks like something that is “meant to be seen with toilet paper commercials interspersed throughout.” It’s hard to pick the worst part: Molly Ringwald’s stoned delivery of the line “Killer God,” Harold Lauder’s prosthetic pimples, Randall Flagg, the embodiment of evil, costumed in dad jeans and covered up by Meat Loaf’s make up from the “I Would Do Anything For Love” music video. Mick Garris continued to fail upwards with this adaptation. Here’s hoping we get another version of this story soon, so this can get relegated to the trivia question it deserves to be.
7. The Mangler
Tobe Hooper has been responsible for many a bad film in his long and storied carrier, and had previously mishandled King’s Salem’s Lot, but not even Eaten Alive reached the unbelievable lows of this steamer (geddit?).
The Mangler takes King’s surprisingly eerie and detail rich story about a malevolent piece of industrial equipment and turns it into a movie about a robotic Robert Englund. The film climaxes with the sight of a giant piece of subpar CGI laundry equipment chasing Ted Levine. This is not the sort of thing one is used to seeing in the movies. By all accounts, the production of The Mangler was tortured, but the weird subplots that were grafted onto the story to make it feature length, involving demonic possession, reincarnation and robot Robert Englund, were never going to make for great cinema.
6. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining is a great film and a terrible adaptation. That King has had a long and loud record of dissatisfaction with the movie is well known. King got his best chance to set the record straight with a TV miniseries that served as a much more faithful adaptation of the plot. Unfortunately, the series was directed by Mick Garris and, well, by this point in the list you know how that goes. Oh Lord, it’s bad.
Garris’s adaptation brazenly literalizes the imagery of the novel, using the best CGI effects that a TV budget in 1997 could buy. The Garris Shining looks plastic and cheap, is paced like a death march and is directed with all the human feeling of a hallmark card. King’s issue with Kubrick’s film was that it missed the heart of the novel (it’s true, and The Shining remains one of the most humanistic horror novels ever written) but Garris goes the opposite direction and drowns it in sentiment. The Shining is a frightening adaption, but only because it shows how horrifyingly wrong even the best of books can be mishandled.
Man, where do you even start with this one? One of the most infamous bad movies of our young century, Dreamcatcher is a film that is profoundly miscalculated on just about every possible level. Let’s start at the foundation: Dreamcatcher the novel isn’t exactly King’s strongest. The story of a group of childhood friends who end up caught between an alien invasion and the military’s response to it.
It was the first novel written after a pretty debilitating car accident and it’d be fair to call it shaky, the work of a man who is doubting himself and struggling with the abuse of pain medication. But director Lawrence Kasdan makes just about every wrong decision of which he is capable, turning in a gory, goofy, incoherent mess, anchored by one of Morgan Freeman’s worst performances. The film just keeps finding stranger and stranger images and ideas to put on the screen until even the sight of Donnie Wahlberg revealing himself to be a mentally-challenged alien star child with cancer (not a typo) inspires little more than a raised eyebrow.
4. Carrie (2002)
If you’ve never seen any version of Carrie, be prepared for some spoilers:
It’s hard to believe that the often brilliant Bryan Fuller was behind a spectacle so profoundly misguided as the Carrie miniseries from 2002, but every closet needs at least one skeleton in it. Most of Carrie is just bland, harried by a strange framing device in which Sue Snell recounts the details of the story to a skeptical detective. For the most part, you just spend your time wishing that Angela Bettis had been given better material and wondering how Patricia Clarkson had a performance in her this bad. It’s network television in 2002, so even the final gym fire is a languid, bloodless affair. For the most part it’s just bland until the finale, when, in an epic bout of point missing, Sue Snell opens the trunk of her car to reveal that Carrie is alive and the two drive off down the lonely road together, presumably to travel from town to town having psychic adventures.
Bryan Fuller wrote a Carrie miniseries as a backdoor pilot for a show about Carrie and Sue Snell having adventures. He took it to the network and convinced a lot of people that this was a good idea. If Carrie ’02 isn’t the worst adaptation on this list, it’s surely the most inexplicable.
3. Riding The Bullet
One last film from Mick Garris for the road. Actually, as far as Garris adaptations go, Riding The Bullet isn’t that bad, which is kind of like saying a broken toe is preferable to a broken kneecap, technically true even though it sort of misses the point.
Still, Riding The Bullet is less aggravating if only because as it’s based on a relatively minor story it has less room to fall short of expectations. A simple ghost story about a hitch-hiker who takes the wrong ride. It’s not that Riding The Bullet is a bad story, but it was written mostly to experiment with a new form of publishing, It has a few eerie moments and some nice moments of King color but it’s nothing to write home about. Certainly nothing to spend a nearly a hundred minutes on when the best the film has to offer is the magnetic presence of David Freaking Arquette. It’s like an average Twilight Zone episode that has been cruelly tortured to feature length.
2. Carrie (2013)
Most of the films on this list are merely disappointing or amusing, but Kimberly Peirce’s remake of Carrie is legitimately heartbreaking. One must always wonder about the wisdom of remaking a movie that has already been made more or less perfectly, but Peirce’s Carrie was the rarest of things, a remake that actually had a reason to exist.
For starters, Peirce is one of the most criminally underused directors currently working. Future generations will watch Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss and judge us very harshly for having allowed her career to be so truncated. Having made one of the greatest films about adolescent cruelty of all time, Peirce was the perfect choice to update Carrie. Particularly since the film was being made after a particularly vicious cycle of media stories about teen suicide and cyber bullying.
Furthermore, De Palma’s film had to trim back the novel’s more apocalyptic ending, meaning there was even narrative meat on the bone for Carrie to adapt. In short, you have a film which: A) gave an underused director a perfect piece of material, B) was more relevant than ever and C) had plenty of unused material from the novel to incorporate. The only way to screw things up was to simply remake the De Palma film scene for scene and pretend that the last forty years had never happened.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what the filmmakers did. Carrie isn’t without merit; both Chloe Moretz and Julianne Moore give it their best. But what should have felt revolutionary just ended up being a depressing retread.
1. Under The Dome
It’s hard not to watch the recent Hulu adaptation of 11/22/63 and not wince at the idea of what could have been. Had Under The Dome been adapted as a miniseries with a fixed end it probably would have been pretty good. The story of a town suddenly cut off from the rest of the world is one of King’s better recent novels. The book kind of drops the ball at the one yard line, over-explaining the cause of the dome in what feels like the most dissatisfying way possible. But up until then, it’s a gripping, strangely convincing portrait of people giving in to their worst possible impulses, propelled by a crew of interesting characters and plotted without mercy.
Instead, with no fixed endpoint and CBS just happy to have a hit, the show turned into a game of wheel-spinning so epic that it eventually became an exasperating punch line on John Oliver. Eventually, the show went so far afield from King’s source material that the relationship seemed coincidental. There have been worse Stephen King adaptations, but few that have been bungled so badly with so little reason.
Did we get any of these wrong? What do you think is the worst Stephen King adaptation?