12 Best Stephen King Horror Movies (And a Bonus Guilty Pleasure)

Stephen King
Túrelio/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Stephen King is the undisputed "king" of modern horror literature, but when it comes to movies based on his writings, the level of success — both commercially and artistically — becomes more erratic. Here, however, is a sure-fire list of winners. In fact, these are the 10 best movie and miniseries adaptations of King stories to date (in chronological order). And no, ​The Mangler 2 is nowhere to be found.

Carrie (1976)

Carrie
© United Artists

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: proms and telekinesis don't mix. Some of the styles and effects haven't stood the test of time, but the superb performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie (both of whom were nominated for Oscars for theses roles) are timeless, propelling a film that, while a bit overrated, is still entertaining and a trendsetter in its day. The 2013 remake was the polar opposite: all flash, with a sterile, hollow, emotionless core.

Salem's Lot (1979)

Salem's Lot - Stephen King movie
© Warner Bros.

It might have been made for TV, but Salem's Lot delivers theatrical thrills and chills. It tells the story of an author who returns to his hometown, only to discover that a vampire has moved in and is steadily turning everyone into creatures of the night. Because it's a miniseries, there's time to develop several plot points, humanizing the characters and heightening the fear and tragedy.

The Shining (1980)

The Shining ghost movie
© Warner Bros.

A caretaker and his family move into an isolated hotel in the dead of winter and must deal with its spectral inhabitants in this classic ghost movie. This adaptation of a King novel is probably the best of the author's movies and is easily one of the most frightening films of all time. A TV miniseries was produced in 1997 that was truer to the book, but it was nowhere near as creepy — in part because Steven Weber is no Jack Nicholson.

Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow - Stephen King movie
© Warner Bros.

Unlike most King films, the author actually wrote the screenplay for this anthology of spooky stories. The tales involve zombie revenge, a killer alien plant, a monster in a box and a cockroach invasion. The original title, Creepshow on the Dance Floor, was nixed for being too funky.in

 

The Dead Zone (1983)

The Dead Zone - Stephen King movie
© Paramount

Only tangentially horrific yet thoroughly entertaining, The Dead Zone involves a teacher developing the ability to see the future after a car accident lands him in a coma for five years. Unlike those who squander their psychic abilities — Miss Cleo, I'm looking at you — Johnny (Christopher Walken) uses his talent to solve murders, save children from drowning and prevent a nuclear war. You're welcome.

Silver Bullet (1985)

Silver Bullet - Stephen King movie
© Paramount

Silver Bullet is the last of a dying breed: a charming coming-of-age tale wrapped in a terrifying werewolf murder mystery, starring a coherent Corey Haim.

Pet Sematary (1989)

Pet Sematary - Stephen King movie
© Paramount

Creepy and well-acted with heartfelt familial resonance, this tale of a graveyard that has the ability to reanimate the bodies buried there is atmospheric enough to counter its shortcomings — not the least of which is the less-than-intimidating toddler who returns from the grave with a penchant for killing.

It (1990)

It - Stephen King movie
© Warner Bros.

If you're not afraid of clowns, It can cure that irrational non-fear quickly. Tim Curry's uber-creepy performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown adds the scares, while flashbacks to 1960 add a Stand By Me-ish nostalgia that makes this the best King-based miniseries.

Misery (1990)

Misery - Stephen King movie
© Columbia
A great mix of dark comedy and horror, Misery has become one of those rare, iconic cultural reference points, thanks to Kathy Bates' Oscar-winning performance and the introduction of one of the most wince-worthy words in the English language: "hobbling."

The Dark Half (1993)

The Dark Half - Stephen King movie
© Orion

Directed by horror master George Romero, the oft-overlooked The Dark Half predates similar films The Number 23 and King's own Secret Window. It revolves around an author whose pseudonym develops a mind of his own and seeks to kill anyone he feels is responsible for his "death."

Needful Things (1993)

Needful Things - Stephen King movie
© Columbia

It's not particularly scary, but Needful Things is a relentlessly entertaining look into the nature of evil, featuring a dark comedic streak. Where else are you going to see a priest and a minister throw down? Max von Sydow is brilliant as one of the best devils in cinematic history.

1408 (2007)

1408 ghost movie
© MGM

Alternately scary, funny and touching, 1408 packs the evil of The Shining's Overlook Hotel into one hotel room. You can't take your eyes off of the trippy visuals in this one-man play of sorts, starring John Cusack.

Bonus Guilty Pleasure: Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Maximum Overdrive - Stephen King movie
© 20th Century Fox

Maximum Overdrive is the only film that King has directed and with good reason. It's by no means a good movie, but that's part of its overwhelming camp appeal. There's something inherently hilarious about seeing a lawnmower chasing down a man or a steamroller pancaking little leaguers, not to mention a killer vending machine and a demonic ice cream truck. From the AC/DC soundtrack to the demolition derby car crashes to the explosions that blow stuff up "real good," Maximum Overdrive is a cheesy good time.