Stephen King fans are being spoiled in 2017, with fresh adaptations of his work popping up on both the big and small screen, from It to Mr Mercedes. While snooty critics may have once dismissed his books as disposable fluff, there’s really no ignoring the impact of King’s work on popular culture. Over the last four decades, he’s created so many classic stories and characters, it’s honestly hard to keep count, and his work has inspired numerous authors and filmmakers as well.
His impact on cinema can’t be discounted either, with his name being attached to classics like Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, and Misery. His writing has inspired plenty of duds too -- Graveyard Shift or Dreamcatcher anyone? – but with a writer as prolific as he is, that's almost unavoidable.
While King has the power to write terrifying sequences or generally scare the hell out of readers, it’s his characters that ultimately hook people in. He creates likeable, believable heroes for his readers to invest in, whether it’s a horror tale or an emotional drama. The author is equally talented with creating despicable villains to be feared or reviled, but there’s always something recognizably human in them too.
From ancient, unknowable entities to all too human evil, here are the 15 Most Powerful Stephen King Movie Villains.
It’s well-known that King isn’t a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of The Shining. Despite being considered a horror classic by many, the author was angry with how the movie essentially ignored his book, and he found Kubrick’s direction too cold.
Another problem King had was with Jack Nicholson’s casting as Jack Torrance, arguing he looked crazy from the first scene. While he might have a point about the actor hardly coming across as a typical everyman, Nicholson’s performance has become iconic in its own right thanks to his sheer intensity.
He slowly transforms into a monster throughout the story, and the moment he picks up an axe, the movie becomes downright terrifying. It helps that Jack is an all too human monster; a husband and father who gives into his personal demons and lets them destroy him.
Poor Cujo gets bitten by a rabid bat at the start of the movie, so it’s not his fault he becomes a monster. This bite soon turns him into a frothing, unstoppable beast, trapping a mother and her child in a car and killing anyone who tries to help them.
It’s a simple setup that's milked for maximum tension, with King once again taking something people love – a cute, loveable dog – and turning it into pure nightmare fuel.
It’s easy to feel sorry for the pup, but Cujo’s sheer viciousness and the terror he inflicts on this family make him a petrifying villain. He may not be a supernatural threat, or even strictly evil, but he's haunted a lot of dreams since Cujo was released.
The Green Mile's Percy is truly one of the slimiest characters King has ever created, being a guard who loves tormenting the prisoners on Death Row. Since he got his job through family connections, he knows he can’t be fired, so he uses his position to abuse those who can’t fight back.
He enjoys inflicting pain for the sake of it, like the moment he crushes a prisoner’s pet mouse just because he can. He also intentionally botches an execution by electric chair to watch a prisoner suffer while he dies.
Percy is always cowardly when confronted, leaning on his family ties to keep out of trouble. He’s another example of King’s dislike of those who use their position to bully or intimidate, and Percy is certainly one of the worst you could ever come across.
Creepshow is an anthology horror movie directed by the late George Romero, with a screenplay by King himself. In the third story "Something To Tide You Over," a rich sociopath named Vickers discovers his wife is having an affair and decides to inflict a terrible revenge. He buries the lovers up to their necks in sand and waits for the tide to come in and drown them.
Movie fans probably know Leslie Nielsen best as the straight-faced lead of The Naked Gun movies, and any number of other comedies. In Creepshow, he plays Vickers as a cold, calculating monster, who takes pleasure in watching his victims suffer.
Nielsen’s performance is what makes the character so chilling, alongside his casual cruelty. Thankfully he gets a taste of his own medicine by the end.
Stephen King predicted with Misery that obsessive, all-consuming fandom may not be the healthiest thing. He actually wrote the book to comment on the backlash to his fantasy novel The Eyes Of The Dragon, which many of his fans rejected since it wasn’t a horror book.
This made King feel trapped in the genre, which is essentially what Misery is about. Part of what makes uber fan Annie Wilkes so powerful is that she’s so cheerful and upbeat one moment, before flying into an uncontrollable rage the next. She’s also supposed to be a carer, but she abuses her position, keeping her victim locked up and torturing him mentally and physically.
She’s fully capable of murder if threatened, with the movie suggesting that she murdered infants when she was a nurse. Outside of maybe Jack Torrence, Annie is probably King’s most famous human villain.
While The Mist has any number of cool creatures – from the acid spitting spiders to the scorpionflies – it’s fear that proves to be the real monster. The people trapped inside the supermarket by the mist gradually give into their terror as the story unfolds, with religious zealot Mrs Carmody constantly fanning the flames.
She convinces them that the mist is God’s wrath, and that blood sacrifices are required to survive it. While she’s initially dismissed as crazy, when the bodycount rises, they give into her demands in disturbingly short order.
She enjoys the power she’s granted as people flock to her side, and uses it for her own ends. Marcia Gay Harden’s performance as Mrs. Carmody is scarier than any of the creatures in The Mist, which is really saying something.
Maximum Overdrive was King’s first – and to date, only – attempt at directing a film, which is probably for the best. The movie is a big mess, with poor acting, a jarring tone, and a distinct lack of any real scares.
That said, it is a guilty pleasure thanks to the goofy humor and over the top gore. King also crafted a memorable villain with the hulking truck that menaces the main characters, which has a giant Green Goblin mask attached to its grille.
The only real tension in Maximum Overdrive comes when this beast attacks, and the mask makes it feel like the truck has a mind of its own. It was a smart choice on King’s part to give the villain a face, one that seems to be laughing as it mows down its hapless victims.
While Stephen King is renowned for his horror stories, he’s just as capable of writing emotional dramas. Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption is a case in point, telling the story of a man who is wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
It’s a tear-jerking tale, which director Frank Darabont later adapted into a film that’s rightfully considered a modern classic. The story also contains one of the nastier human villains King ever conceived in the corrupt Warden Norton.
Although seemingly religious and upstanding, Norton has little regard for his prisoner’s care, and forces Andy to launder money for him. He’s so determined to keep the banker in prison that he even murders a fellow prisoner who can prove his innocence. Thankfully, Andy gains his revenge in the finale, exposing Norton for the man he really is.
The Night Flier is one of the more underrated King adaptations, where a sleazy reporter named Dees (played by the late, great Miguel Ferrer) chases after a serial killer who may or may not be a vampire. Spoiler alert, he totally is.
Renfield is a shadowy presence throughout the story, with Dees slowly losing his mind as he chases after him. He’s only revealed in the finale, where he slaughters his way through a small airport and is introduced in a creepy bathroom scene.
Renfield’s design is memorably freaky, and he enjoys toying with Dees, barely seeing him as a threat. His blood has the power to cause powerful hallucinations too, which leads to Dees' downfall. Renfield even manages to frame the luckless reporter for his actions, leaving him free to continue his killing spree.
The Running Man novel was written in only a week, and released by King under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. Despite having the same basic premise, the book and movie have little in common, with the novel being a good deal darker.
Still, The Running Man has become a popular cult film over the years, and one that was eerily on the money about the rise of reality TV. A major part of what makes it work is Richard Dawson as the main villain Killian. The former Family Feud host is a natural in the role; a slick showman on stage but utterly ruthless behind the scenes.
He’s obviously not much of a match for Arnold Schwarzenegger physically, but he’s a cunning bad guy who appeals to the worst in his viewers, which makes his comeuppance – complete with a cringy one-liner from Arnold – all the sweeter.
Although master vampire Barlow would seem like the obvious choice here, in the 1979 miniseries of Salem’s Lot, it’s really his human familiar Straker (played by the great James Mason) who does a lot of the work.
Straker is a charming, refined Englishman who moves into town and sets up business, but it soon becomes clear that he has evil intentions. He provides victims for his master to snack on and seems to have supernatural gifts of his own, like being able to summon weather to cover his tracks.
He also has terrifying strength, like the moment he lifts a victim off their feet and impales them. Even when he’s being shot to death, he keeps on attacking, proving himself to be anything but a fragile old man.
King has shown that he’s not a big fan of religious fundamentalism in his work, with Margaret White being another character who abuses it for her own ends. In this case, she bullies and belittles her daughter while using religion as an excuse, which eventually leads to Carrie’s psychic rampage.
King once again taps into common human evil with Margaret, who is basically just an abusive parent who thinks God is on her side. In a way, she’s the real villain of the story, as her years of abuse are what push Carrie to unleash her powers on her tormentors during the prom sequence.
There isn’t even much satisfaction to be had when Carrie finally kills her, since all she wanted was her mother to love her.
John Carpenter has admitted he took the job directing Christine because of the box office failure of The Thing, and he was desperate for a gig. While he admits he didn’t have much passion for the book, he still managed to craft a tense horror flick out of it.
The story follows Arnie, a nerdy teen who becomes obsessed with restoring an old car. Unfortunately, it turns out that Christine - as Arnie calls her - is possessed by an evil spirit, killing Arnie’s bullies and anyone else who threatens him.
Christine is able to regenerate any damage she takes too, making her almost unstoppable. She’s especially freaky when chasing victims down, and in one scene, she won’t even stop after being set on fire. It must have been tough to turn such a cute looking car into a terrifying monster, but Carpenter did just that.
It wouldn’t be a list about Stephen King’s most powerful villains without The Man in Black on it. He’s an evil sorcerer who’s appeared throughout the author's work (The Stand, The Eyes Of The Dragon) and has gone by many names, including Randall Flagg and Walter Padick.
He’s best known as the main antagonist of The Dark Tower series, with Matthew McConaughey taking on the role for the film version. He seeks to take down the titular tower and destroy the world, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
He’s basically King’s take on the Devil, using his magic and sorcery to influence people and conquer his enemies. He’s utterly ruthless in his methods, but he’s having a great time being evil too, and he enjoys the misery he spreads.
The It miniseries from 1990 terrified an entire generation, and while it may not hold up as well today, there’s a reason it still has a massive following today. A huge part of that comes down to Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise, who is one of the many forms of a shapeless, ancient evil that feeds on children.
Curry is unforgettable, veering from super friendly clown one moment to snarling monster the next. Pennywise gets great pleasure out of tormenting his prey, and isn’t content to just kill them. This is what makes him so terrifying, as he knows what his victims are afraid of and is able to give shape to their deepest fears.
The reveal of his ultimate form is a disappointment – a giant spider, seriously? – but Pennywise is still considered the scariest of King’s monsters, and for good reason.
What did you think of our rankings? Are you excited for the latest incarnation of It? Let us know in the comments.