They call him the King of Horror, and frankly, it’s easy to see why. Having published 64 novels in his lifetime so far, and with the majority of them largely focused on the horror genre, the prolific author – who sometimes goes by the pen name Richard Bachman – is a pillar of not only the written word but the cinematic horror experience as well.
With that in mind, then, here’s a rundown of the ten best Stephen King horror movies you can watch right now. Let’s get into it!
While doggos are often referred to as man’s best friend, Cujo, on the other hand, is more of a man’s best… KILLER.
Directed by Lewis Teague (Alligator, The Triangle), 1983’s Cujo tells the story of the eponymous Saint Bernard, who manages to fall victim to a pesky rabid bat. Once bitten, the poor ol’ doggo’s mind begins to unravel before ultimately transforming into an enraged mutt with an appetite for human blood.
Making matters even worse is the fact that a mother and son have popped by to fix their car, but with the car’s alternator on the fritz, they’re left trapped and stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Recipe for disaster? Check. Chance of escape? Minimal. A fun watch? You betcha.
9. The Langoliers
There was a time in my youth when I was obsessed with The Langoliers. From its likable characters to its arresting story to its genuinely eerie atmosphere, King’s mysterious horror-thriller is, at its core, a mammoth-sized episode of The Twilight Zone, which seriously intrigued me when I was a wee whippersnapper.
In many ways, 1995’s The Langoliers is typical Stephen King fare: a group of disparate characters from all walks of life are thrown into an explicable situation that threatens their very existence. In this case, the cast are passengers on an airplane flight that goes slightly awry.
Specifically, said passengers awaken to find that most of the plane’s voyagers have strangely vanished without a trace – except for the odd hearing aid, denture, or pacemaker left in their empty seats. How peculiar!
Frankly, even though this may not be the best Stephen King adaptation on this list, it’s a personal favorite of mine, thanks to its sheer ingenuity and originality. Highly recommend this one!
The horror anthology collection has pretty much dropped out of the cultural zeitgeist these days, but Creepshow arguably still remains one of – if not – the best of the entire bunch. Directed by none other than the “Father of the Zombie Film” George A. Romero (you may’ve heard of him), 1982’s Creepshow is a compilation of five short vignettes written by King.
From reanimated corpses rising from their grave to seek revenge on their murderer to swarms of cockroaches hellbent on eating a bug-hating recluse alive, Creepshow has something in there for
everyone all you hardened gore-hounds. Oh, and it also stars The Naked Gun’s Leslie Nielsen, Three Men and a Baby’s Ted Danson, and even Stephen King in a few cameos as well.
7. Doctor Sleep
I’ll be honest: at first blush, I wasn’t immediately taken by Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 novel. However, on repeated viewings, I’ve started to soften to the concept and appreciate what the Gerald’s Game director (another great King movie that didn’t quite make the list) managed to do with Doctor Sleep.
A sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s beloved classic (more on that later), Doctor Sleep essentially bridges these two different visions of the Overlook Hotel with each of their respective creators. Yes, it’s no secret that King wasn’t a fan of Kubrick’s interpretation of his best-selling novel, but Flanagan’s pic respectfully pays homage to both craftsmen. Plus, it also helps that Ewan McGregor is always a joy to watch, too.
6. The Dead Zone
Possibly Christopher Walken’s most layered and rich performance in his illustrious career, The Dead Zone is another Twilight Zone-esque thriller. This time the story focuses on a car crash victim who acquires the handy power to see into the future, and even potentially changes its outcome.
Directed by horror savant David Cronenberg, 1983’s The Dead Zone is a tense and eerie chiller that boasts strong performances from Alien’s Tom Skerritt, Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ Brooke Adams, The Ladykillers’ Herbert Lom, and Apocalypse Now’s Martin Sheen.
Interestingly, there’s even a modern TV show adaptation of The Dead Zone that’s apparently supposed to be quite good as well.
5. It (2017)
Frankly, it was a coin toss between this and the excellent 1990 two-part miniseries version starring Tim Curry, but Andy Muschietti’s terrifying interpretation ultimately reigned supreme thanks to its meticulously constructed scares, cast of funny and charming actors, its tight script, and Bill Skarsgård’s unnerving rendition of Pennywise that will probably give your nightmares, well, erm… nightmares.
Yes, 2017’s It Chapter One is a surprisingly poignant coming of age story nestled in a spider’s web of demented lunacy. Oh, and said spider is a horrifying clown that takes the form of your innermost fears and feasts on them like a ravenous pig at a trough.
While the 2019 sequel is nowhere near as bad as some folks say, the first part stands tall as one of the prolific horror author’s best movie adaptations to date.
“I’m your number one fan.” For those lucky enough to have witnessed Rob Reiner’s eerily realistic 1990 psychological thriller, that handful of words will surely send a shiver down your spine.
Starring The Godfather’s James Caan as a famous novelist and Titanic actress Kathy Bates in an Oscar-winning performance as an unhinged fan, Misery tells the creepily believable tale of celebrity, survival, isolation, and psychosis.
When Paul Sheldon (Caan) crashes his car in a snowstorm, he’s “saved” by his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes (Bates). Madness and hammer-wielding violence soon ensue in a story that King claims was inspired by his fandom’s real-life reaction to his fantasy novel, The Eyes of the Dragon, which fans largely rejected due to its lack of horror. The irony, eh?
3. The Mist
Whether you watch scary movies for simple cathartic entertainment or to unravel the deepest and darkest layers of our collective societal consciousness (or perhaps – like me – it’s a combination of both), one thing that is undoubtedly not a reason to watch a good ol’ fashioned horror flick is this: to arrive at a neat, sugary sweet happy ending. Frank Darabont’s faithful film adaptation of The Mist very much takes this idea and runs with it. Like, to the depressingly dark, blood-spattered hills and beyond.
It’s bleak, oppressively so, but the impressive thing is that there just hasn’t been an ending to a movie that has impactfully hit home with me quite like The Mist. Released back in 2007, the fact that nothing has topped its teeth-clenching gut-punch of an ending since is one hell of a feat.
Indeed, Darabont’s very uncompromising vision of ordinary people falling apart at the seams as a result of unparalleled fear is – on the surface – a “turn your brain off” kind of monster flick, but relegating the experience to just that would be a huge mistake. Between its flailing, leathery appendages hides some really interesting social commentary on everyday human beings and how they behave during extreme crises.
2. Carrie (1976)
It’s impossible to not feel sorry for Carrie. Her mom’s a psychotic religious nut, her friends are a bunch of a*shole bullies who’re more interested in making her the butt of their cruel jokes, and the teaching staff at her school can’t even remember her first name. Yep, life’s tough for poor ol’ Carrie. And this ultimately makes the final blood-splattered ending all the more enjoyable to watch.
Starring Sissy Spacek in a career-defining, Oscar-nominated performance along with a young John Travolta making his acting debut, Carrie is a psychological and supernatural horror pic that shines a light on bullying, familial abuse and neglect, and teen angst.
Directed by acclaimed helmsman Brian De Palma, Carrie can be a challenging watch largely due to how downright horrible the majority of the characters behave. But the truly terrifying thing, however, is that, deep down, we all know that people can indeed be the worst, and Carrie is a loud and uncomfortable reminder of that simple fact.
1. The Shining
Having just come off a box office bomb with Barry Lyndon, legendary director Stanley Kubrick had a lot riding on his film adaptation of King’s best-selling novel. While King was famously lukewarm on Kubrick’s interpretation of his source material, it’s safe to say that the movie has grown into something special: it’s King’s best movie adaptation – whether he likes it or not.
At its core, The Shining is a deeply disturbing piece of psychological terror that revels in its allegorical open-endedness; it’s filled to the brim with poetic symbolism, and its cold, stark portrayal of a mind unraveling in a haunted, isolated hotel in the midst of winter is eerily unsettling stuff.
Add to this a phenomenal turn from a batshit crazy Jack Nicholson (who ad-libbed a lot of his iconic lines), some of the most memorable and phenomenal cinematography in the genre, a skillfully crafted score that resounds with ominous dread, and imagery that will linger with you long after the credits have rolled, and you’re left with a show-stopping masterpiece that helped to cement Kubrick’s stellar reputation as one of the finest auteurs in Hollywood. No small feat, indeed!
Featured Image Source: Dimension Films