Stephen King’s birthday is September 21—so what better time than the present to watch some of the many, many movies adapted from the King of Horror’s work? However, choosing one of Stephen King’s cinematic adaptations can be a daunting task. After all, IMDb credits him as writer on a whopping 300+ movies, short films, miniseries, and TV shows. With so many Stephen King movies to pick from, where do you start?
Not to worry! We’ve taken the guesswork out by ranking 45 of Stephen King’s movies from worst to best. How’d we narrow down the list? We stuck to feature adaptations (so no TV shows or miniseries) and went with the list that King provides on his own website, meaning that you won’t find flicks that he has famously disavowed like The Lawnmower Man—in case you’re wondering why it’s not hovering at the sorry end of the list. Including both screenplays written by King himself and flicks loosely based on his source material, these are the best Stephen King movies, ranked.
45. Dolan’s Cadillac (2009)
Christian Slater and Wes Bentley star in this turgid daylight crime thriller adapted from a King novella that probably didn’t have enough flesh on its bones for a feature-length picture, even in the best of hands.
44. Riding the Bullet (2004)
Mick Garris is an old hand at adapting Stephen King, usually to the small screen. So it may not be any wonder that 2004’s Riding the Bullet feels like a TV movie, rather than a feature film.
43. Cell (2016)
Stephen King co-wrote the screenplay of this 2016 film from the director of Paranormal Activity 2, starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson—who had previously appeared together in the superior 1408. None of that’s enough to save this limp apocalyptic flick about cell phones turning people into mindless zombies (a little on the nose, Stephen).
42. Hearts in Atlantis (2001)
The screenplay for Hearts in Atlantis was written by The Princess Bride’s own William Goldman—who had previously penned a much better King adaptation, 1990’s Misery—and stars none other than Anthony Hopkins and a very young Anton Yelchin. Ultimately, Hearts in Atlantis suffers from a cardinal movie sin in that it’s not bad so much as just forgettable.
41. Dreamcatcher (2003)
Dreamcatcher, on the other hand, is many things, but forgettable is not one of them. With another screenplay by Goldman and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, writer of such films as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, this big-budget adaptation boasts a cast that includes Morgan Freeman, King regular Thomas Jane, and Timothy Olyphant. Unfortunately, it also features a convoluted story, aliens that come out of peoples’ butts, and one of King’s signature offensive tropes: mentally disabled characters with magic powers.
40. Secret Window (2004)
In 2004, Johnny Depp was riding high on his success as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, a character who hadn’t yet worn out his welcome, while writer/director David Koepp had recently given us the much better Stir of Echoes. So there’s no excuse for Secret Window to be such a bland retread of territory done better in The Dark Half.
Related: 13 Epic Horror Books Like The Stand
39. The Night Flier (1997)
A minor vampire movie that went all but straight to video, The Night Flier is salvaged from utter obscurity by its meanness, its odd-looking vampire, and some memorable set pieces.
38. Thinner (1996)
With the creator of Fright Night and Child’s Play at the helm, Stephen King’s Thinner should have been well-positioned to be another classic. And it’s certainly stranger than its fairly simple premise suggests. Unfortunately, it’s undone by its insensitive approach to obesity and its stereotyped depictions of Romani characters.
37. Sleepwalkers (1992)
From an original screenplay by King and helmed by frequent collaborator Mick Garris, this bizarro flick about incestuous, vampire-like demons who can only be killed by the scratch of a cat is salvaged mainly by how strikingly unusual the whole premise is—and also that it features cameos by the likes of Joe Dante, John Landis, and Clive Barker.
36. The Dark Tower (2017)
When it comes to long-awaited Stephen King adaptations, they don’t come much more disappointing than The Dark Tower. Even if this Idris Elba flick was otherwise fine, it’s just impossible to cram enough of King’s world-spanning dark fantasy saga into a movie that barely crests 90 minutes.
35. Mercy (2014)
34. A Good Marriage (2014)
King himself wrote the screenplay for this film based on the real-life story of the BTK killer. A Good Marriage should have all the makings of a classic Hitchcockian thriller, but the results—in spite of some impressive performances from the leads—lack the tension they should have carried.
33. Cat’s Eye (1985)
Just who the heck was the anthology film Cat’s Eye even made for? Two of its two adapted stories—the James Woods-starring “Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge”—are both particularly vicious contes cruel. It makes for an uncomfortable juxtaposition with the third story, a tale about a tomcat who protects a young Drew Barrymore from a minuscule troll.
32. Creepshow 2 (1987)
Given its other two relatively inert segments, Creepshow 2 would rank a lot lower on this list if it weren’t for the visceral horror of one particular segment. No one who has seen “The Raft”—a tale about some acidic goop on the surface of a lake that traps a group of swimmers—is likely to forget it.
31. The Running Man (1987)
It may be a nice, thick slice of mid-80s cheese, but as an adaptation of a Stephen King novel written under the pen name Richard Bachman, this Arnold Schwarzenegger picture has almost nothing in common with the novel on which it is based.
30. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Stephen King’s name is on a lot of movies, but he only ever directed one of them. And given the supreme goofiness of Maximum Overdrive—a film that, by King’s own admission, he was coked to the gills while helming—there may be a reason for that.
29. Firestarter (1984)
With a cast that includes a young Drew Barrymore in the lead, not to mention Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, and Art Carney, Firestarter was almost directed by John Carpenter. If it had been, it would probably be higher on this list…
28. Apt Pupil (1998)
Directed by Bryan Singer before he started making X-Men movies, this is another mean-spirited King adaptation that feels very much of its moment. It’s tough to imagine a movie about a high school student befriending a Nazi war criminal being made today…and maybe that’s a good thing.
27. 1408 (2007)
Sure, the short story is better—and scarier—but if you can get past that, there are some chills to be had in this altogether-too-slick story in which John Cusack plays a skeptical writer holed up in a haunted hotel room.
26. In the Tall Grass (2019)
Stephen King co-wrote the novella this film is based on with his son and fellow horror star Joe Hill. The result, with Splice director Vincenzo Natali at the helm, is a creepily recursive movie about two siblings getting lost in an impossibly vast field of tall grass.
25. Needful Things (1993)
It’s got Max von Sydow and a vicious streak a mile wide, which is enough to get Needful Things across the finish line, even if BuzzFeed calls this film about a curiosity shop that supplies more than its customers bargained for a “tragedy of squandered potential.”
24. Pet Sematary (2019)
23. The Green Mile (1999)
Frank Darabont’s three-hour-plus adaptation of King’s experiment in serial storytelling was nominated for four Academy Awards the year it came out. So why isn’t it higher on the list? Let’s just say that it hasn’t exactly aged all that well.
22. Graveyard Shift (1990)
One of the things that King does very well is bringing horror and pathos to the everyday, blue-collar worker. Few of his movie adaptations do that better than the grimy, sweaty grotesquerie of Graveyard Shift, which sees the workers at a flooded textile mill going up against a very big rat problem.
21. 1922 (2017)
Frequent King collaborator Thomas Jane takes center stage in this Netflix original about a 1920s farmer who conspires to murder his wife for profit—leading to a reckoning that’s tinged with elements of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic fiction.
20. Silver Bullet (1985)
The werewolf effects aren’t always especially convincing, but this coming-of-age flick stars Gary Busey and Corey Haim, and manages to eke some particularly creepy moments from its small-town milieu. Look for the scene with the blood-spattered kite as just one example.
19. Children of the Corn (1984)
Before folk horror was all the rage, King had already made this folk horror classic about a town where anyone over the age of 18 must be sacrificed to “He Who Walks Behind the Rows.” The result can be cheesy at times, but also effective—and it spawned numerous sequels.
18. Pet Sematary (1989)
Mary Lambert’s original adaptation of one of Stephen King’s darkest novels, with a screenplay written by King himself, may not be a personal favorite of mine, but it is for many others. And the movie has a theme song by the Ramones, so that’s always a plus.
Related: 12 Scariest Stephen King Books
17. The Mangler (1995)
16. It Chapter Two (2019)
Sure, it’s a disappointment on the heels of the first installment, but the second half of Andy Muschietti’s ambitious adaptation of Stephen King’s doorstop novel of childhood friendship and cosmic small-town evil is still bold, big-budget horror of the kind we seldom get to see.
15. The Dark Half (1993)
Is there a more classically Stephen King story than one about a writer whose retired pen name returns from the dead to take over his life? With George A. Romero at the helm, the result is a memorably weird and surprisingly gruesome bit of dark pulp.
14. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Kathy Bates essayed one of her best roles in the beloved Stephen King adaptation, Misery, which means that her equally-powerful turn in Dolores Claiborne often gets overlooked. Which is a shame, as Time magazine named this chilly melodrama one of the 10 best Stephen King adaptations of all time.
13. Cujo (1983)
Alligator director Lewis Teague brought an intimate killer animal flick to life with Stephen King’s Cujo, a simple story of a woman and her child trapped by a rabid dog—one so resonant that the name “Cujo” has been associated with vicious canines ever since.
12. Stand By Me (1986)
It’s hard to believe that possibly the most tender and touching Stephen King adaptation came out the same year as the gonzo Maximum Overdrive, but here we are. This time, Rob Reiner directs a coming-of-age story as only King can tell it, featuring a who’s-who of ‘80s child stars including Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, and Kiefer Sutherland.
11. It Chapter One (2017)
Stand By Me was great, but it could use some more killer clowns. Stephen King’s It is one of his most iconic novels, and the first half of Andy Muschietti’s bold, two-part adaptation brings it to the screen in style, thanks to a cadre of talented child actors and a jittery, animalistic performance by Bill Skarsgård as the evil clown Pennywise.
10. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Nominated for an incredible seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, The Shawshank Redemption was Frank Darabont’s first stab at adapting King to the screen and, for many people, one of the most successful examples. Chalk some of that up to the lush cinematography by Roger Deakins and a starring turn by Morgan Freeman, both of whom received Oscar nominations that year.
9. The Dead Zone (1983)
David Cronenberg directing a Stephen King adaptation is a horror fan’s dream. Throw in Christopher Walken in the lead role and Martin Sheen as a delightfully oily politician in a flick that feels eerily prescient nearly 40 years later, and you’ve got one of the best Stephen King adaptations out there.
8. Misery (1990)
Kathy Bates steals the show as one of the most memorable characters in Stephen King’s canon in this chilly, snowbound shocker about an author who finds himself at the mercy (or lack thereof) of his number one fan.
7. Doctor Sleep (2019)
It’s a tall order to adapt a sequel to one of Stephen King’s best-loved books, especially when that book already has a movie adaptation that’s maybe even more beloved and which diverges massively (and famously) from the book. Fortunately, director Mike Flanagan is up to the task—making a movie that works as both an adaptation of King’s novel and a sequel to Kubrick’s film.
6. Gerald’s Game (2017)
Within two years, Mike Flanagan helmed two of the better Stephen King adaptations, including this skin-crawling, jaw-dropping take on King’s famously “unfilmable” novel about trauma, in which the protagonist spends pretty much the entire book (and movie) alone and handcuffed to a bed. No small feat.
5. The Shining (1980)
Speaking of Kubrick’s film, it may be the most beloved King adaptation of all time—by everyone but King himself, who famously disliked the (many) liberties that Kubrick took with his work.
Related: 20 Horrifying Books Like The Shining
4. Carrie (1976)
The first ever cinematic Stephen King adaptation, based on his breakout novel, also remains one of the best adaptations of his work overall, thanks to iconic performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie. Of course, we can’t forget the star power of a very young John Travolta and the bold directing style of Brian De Palma.
3. Christine (1983)
If there’s one quirk Stephen King is even more known for than writing about writers, it might be writing about cars. And his most famous story about a car is definitely Christine, brought memorably to the screen in King’s only collaboration with that other master of horror, John Carpenter.
2. The Mist (2007)
Stephen King’s novella The Mist is a monster mash that is a personal favorite of many fans. When adapting it to the screen, however, Frank Darabont took liberties with the material, transforming it into a post-9/11 meditation on the dangers inherent in buying into the rhetoric of the “War on Terror.” All while not forgetting to cram it full of monsters. For optimal results, watch it in the black-and-white version, as Darabont originally intended.
1. Creepshow (1982)
Stephen King. George Romero. A cast that includes Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Tom Atkins, and more. Hands-down the best Stephen King anthology film may also be the best horror anthology ever made, and easily the best evocation of those old four-color E.C. horror comics ever put to film.
Featured still from "It: Chapter One" via Warner Bros.