There’s no two ways about it: We’re in the midst of a Stephen King renaissance. Besides the blockbuster two-part adaptation of King's IT directed by Andy Muschietti, we’ve seen a slew of new Stephen King movies and TV adaptations, including 2019's Pet Sematary and the Netflix horror hit Gerald’s Game, plus the small-screen adaptation of King's Mr. Mercedes, Hulu's deep dive into the Stephen King multiverse Castle Rock, and horror maestro Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep.
More is on the way, such as a new version of The Tommyknockers from James Wan’s production company. You can also find elements of King’s fiction in places that don’t necessarily bear his name—after all, there’s a reason the logo for the hit Netflix show Stranger Things uses a Stephen King-style font.
Yet the author's popularity is hardly a new phenomenon. For decades, filmmakers have found inspiration in Stephen King’s tales of rabid beasts, vampiric predators, and evil hotels, transforming these literary terrors into nightmares of the silver (and small) screen. We’re thrilled they did. But the question is, where do you begin?
As always, we've got you covered, horror fiend. Here are the best Stephen King movies for a night of King-sized horror.
If this was a list of Stephen King movies nearest and dearest to our dark hearts, Creepshow would be a lot higher up in the rankings. But while Creepshow is many things—sardonic, funny, visually inventive, and perfect Halloween viewing—this love letter to classic horror comic books from Stephen King and director George Romero isn’t all that scary. It’s still a classic, though, and if you watch closely you’ll catch a glimpse of another horror great—King’s real-life son, horror writer Joe Hill, plays the boy at the beginning of the movie.
Related: 10 Totally Creepy ’80s Horror Movies
21. The Dark Half
If there’s one thing Stephen King likes writing about more than killer cars and haunted hotels, it’s tormented writers. And few of his writer characters are as tormented as The Dark Half’s Thad Beaumont, played here by Timothy Hutton. Beaumont tries to kill off his former pen name in a media stunt, only to find himself haunted by his own murderous doppelgänger. For some particularly Cronenbergian body horror, watch for the bit about Beaumont’s cranial surgery as a child.
20. Storm of the Century
In the 1990s, a lot of Stephen King’s stories got adapted into TV miniseries. Some of the best weren’t actually adaptations at all, but original stories that King penned for the small screen. One of the most chilling (both literally and figuratively) of these is Storm of the Century, in which a sinister stranger (Colm Feore) menaces an island town trapped by a severe blizzard. You’ll never listen to “I’m a Little Teapot” the same way again.
19. Rose Red
Originally conceived as a feature film adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and/or a reimagining of Robert Wise’s 1963 adaptation The Haunting, the screenplay that eventually became Rose Red still contains many elements that will be familiar to fans of those two works. But it also bears the mark of King’s own dark touch, and contains some of his best haunted house work this side of classics like The Shining.
18. The Mangler
Sure, it’s a little goofy—especially that 1995 CGI near the end—but The Mangler is also one of the darkest and most psychosexual Stephen King adaptations. It helps that Tobe Hooper is behind the camera, having previously helmed the TV version of 'Salem’s Lot, and that the screenplay plays up the story’s anti-capitalist themes. Honestly, though, its laughable narrative contrivances aside, there are few things more viscerally horrifying in the canon of the best Stephen King movies than what happens to the people who fall into the Mangler—a demonically-possessed steam iron.
17. The Dead Zone
Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen star in this thrilling collaboration between writer King and director David Cronenberg. It’s about a man (Walken) who wakes up from a coma with a psychogenic gift—or rather curse: He can foresee the terrifying future. And he can prevent it. Now, it’s not the puss-gushing, fetus-fondling good time with which we’ve come to expect from Cronenberg, but it is a well-acted film rooted in reality that’s quite unsettling.
16. Apt Pupil
There’s no denying that Stephen King has a flair for scary monsters. But in even his most monstrous stories, the human characters are often the most terrifying. Such is the case with King's novella Apt Pupil, adapted in 1998 into a movie of the same name. Starring Brad Renfro and Ian McKellen before he donned a beard and long robe as Gandalf the Grey, Apt Pupil may not have any supernatural creatures, but it has no shortage of monsters. McKellen plays a Nazi war criminal in hiding who is blackmailed by his young neighbor (Renfro) into recounting stories of what it was like to participate in genocide.
15. Silver Bullet
"There’s something about flying a kite at night that’s so unwholesome," Marge famously said on The Simpsons. If that’s unwholesome, she’s probably never seen the shot of a bloody kite that marks one of the murders in Stephen King’s werewolf opus Silver Bullet. Plus, Gary Busey is pretty creepy in the best of circumstances, even when you don’t have werewolves to worry about.
14. Graveyard Shift
Stephen King movies have been many things over the years, but few of them are as … gooey as this 1990 adaptation of King’s short story about workers in a textile mill overrun by rats. Keep an eye (well, ear) out for the voice of Chucky himself, Brad Dourif, as a beleaguered exterminator in this gross and gory King adaptation.
13. Pet Sematary (1989)
Many will say it’s the evil British Blue shorthair cat Church who sticks out as the creepiest vision in this 1989 horror classic. Others may point to Pascow, the friendly-ish ghost with a grisly brain injury, or to undead Gage and his bloody elimination of neighbor Jud. For us, the award goes to Zelda, the sallow sister with spinal meningitis. Though she only appears in a handful of scenes, Zelda is a major reason to queue up this supernatural tale of grief and resurrection in the woods of rural Maine. 2019's Pet Sematary, starring Jason Clarke and John Lithgow, is worth a watch, but start first with the 1989 version.
Edgar Allan Poe may be the master of writing about a guilty conscience, but King is no slouch in that department, either. Adapted from King's novella, 1922 stars Thomas Jane as a man consumed both literally and figuratively by the guilt of killing his wife. The physical manifestations of this guilt—countless rats—would inspire an approving grin on old Poe's face.
Master of horror John Carpenter directs Stephen King for the first (and so far only) time in this classic King tale of obsession and a supernatural 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine. Cars coming to life is one of King’s favorite themes, and this is probably his best work on the subject. Under Carpenter’s expert direction, the story becomes even more chilling. In the words of Arnie Cunningham, “Show me.”
Warning: Viewers would be wise to skip the snacks while watching this movie. This King adaptation features enough slime, slobber, and bodily fluid to make Cronenberg drool. The story is simple: Good dog turns bad. When Cujo, a friendly Saint Bernard contracts rabies from a bat, he sets his bloodshot eyes on a mother and her terrified kid, and so begins a frantic race for survival.
9. 'Salem's Lot
In this 1970s miniseries, which you can now find on Amazon, a writer returns to his seemingly idyllic hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot ('Salem's Lot for short) only to find that it’s fallen victim to vampirism and a supernatural predator named Barlow. A kind of homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, King’s classic story is directed by Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper.
Kathy Bates and James Caan star in Rob Reiner’s King adaptation about a battered writer (Caan) who’s held hostage by a crazed mega-fan (Bates). King spawned one of the genre’s most fascinating characters in Annie Wilkes when he wrote Misery. In return, Reiner created some of the most bone-chilling scenes the horror genre has seen. You know where we’re going—hobbling scene, anyone?
7. Gerald's Game
Speaking of people who are shackled to a bed, this passion project adaptation of King’s “unfilmable” novel from director Mike Flanagan (Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House) is as scary as it is daring. With only a handful of characters locked for almost the entire film into a single location, Gerald’s Game delivers a chilling evocation of trauma and recovery that also doesn’t skimp on visceral thrills—the lengths to which Carla Gugino’s character must ultimately go to escape her shackles is one of the most cringe-inducing scenes in recent memory.
6. The Mist
No stranger to a King adaptation, Frank Darabont takes the reins here—and then wraps those reins around the viewer’s throat. At least, that’s how you may feel while you’re watching The Mist. It’s a disorienting romp through a quiet Maine town enveloped in a blinding fog. Lurking in the gloom are monstrous creatures with a hunger for the locals.
Let’s just go ahead and call this one King’s second-best haunted-hotel spook fest, beat only by the nightmare that belongs to a dull boy named Jack. Supremely underrated, 1408 stars John Cusack as a cynical writer who checks into room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel. His quest? Debunk the chilling reputation of the notoriously haunted crib. Samuel L. Jackson plays the wary hotel manager who tries to keep his guest from entering the evil room. You can guess what happens next. Yes, A-plus creepiness.
4. It (1990)
It was the ghastly clown performance that launched a thousand nightmares. Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise in this 19990 made-for-TV movie miniseries set the high bar for horror performances—even if the series itself feels a dated by today's expectations. So it goes. We still can't go near the bathtub without briefly expecting a sharp-toothed clown to pop out of its drain.
3. IT: Chapter One & IT: Chapter Two
Rather than the miniseries treatment King’s sprawling novel had previously received, Andy Muschietti’s ambitious diptych puts one of King’s most chilling creations on the big screen to great effect. That’s thanks in no small part to Bill Skarsgard’s jittery performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Even before his eyes start rolling around in their sockets and his mouth full of needle teeth splits his face wide open, Skarsgard’s Pennywise feels like something inhuman dressed in an ill-fitting person suit.
The very first King novel to grace the shelves, Carrie is a coming-of-age horror story about a telekinetic teenager, her abusive religious zealot of a mother, and the high school A-holes who ultimately suffer her revenge. Directed by Brian De Palma, the bathed-in-blood adaptation set the standard for freaky Stephen King movies—with help from its two amazing leads, Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.
Related: 12 Scariest Stephen King Books
1. The Shining
We’re sure you’ve guessed, and you’d be correct: King’s No. 1 haunted-hotel narrative happens within the walls of the Overlook Hotel in a little story he calls The Shining. Now, the film, conceived by the late, great Stanley Kubrick, could probably be considered more of a reimagination than an actual adaptation, but it’s still a freaky masterpiece that’s rooted in King brilliance. So what if King hates it?
Featured stills from "Misery" via Castle Rock Entertainment, "Pet Sematary" via Paramount Pictures, "Carrie" via United Artists, "'Salem's Lot" via Warner Bros. Television, and "It Chapter Two" via New Line Cinema