Top 10 Best Stephen King Movies Ranked, Plus Fun Facts Trivia

Ranking the top 10 best Stephen King movies is no easy task. The first film adaptation from his books hit theaters in 1976, and there have been over 50 made since then — and that doesn’t include television movies or miniseries. The measure of an author’s success goes well beyond how many books he sells. Stephen King’s work has become entrenched in our pop culture, and the number of movies and shows created based on his works is proof of that. This top 10 list does not include any made-for-TV movies or television miniseries.

The Running Man (1987)

No top 10 movie list is complete without a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film. Running Man co-stars Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown, and famed game show host Richard Dawson, who steals the show in playing the role of, well, a game show host. The movie is about a dystopian society set in the year 2017 where convicts battle it out on a game show called The Running Man. Schwarzenegger plays a man wrongly convicted who must fight for his life to become free again and to clear his name.

Top 10 Stephen King Movies The Running Man
[Photo via TriStar Pictures]

Fun Facts

  • Stephen King wrote the novel under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. Initially, the filmmakers had no idea that Richard Bachman was indeed Stephen King.
  • Paula Abdul choreographed the dance number at the beginning of the show.
  • Ventura and Schwarzenegger later became United States governors.
  • Arnold once again uses his famous catchphrase from The Terminator, “I’ll be back.”

The Mist (2007)

Starring Thomas Jane, The Mist uses the platform of otherworldly blood-thirsty species who invade a small town to tell a story of relationships and the human condition in today’s society. Packed with suspenseful scenes, this movie will have viewers enthralled in this suspenseful and emotional tale all the way to the powerful, jaw-dropping finale.

Top 10 Stephen King Movies The Mist
[Photo via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer]

Fun Facts

  • Firstshowing reported that Stephen King loved the new ending of the movie and said, “It is the most shocking ending ever.”
  • During one of the scenes, a man collides with a bookshelf while running — and all the books on the shelf are Stephen King novels.
  • At the beginning of the movie, Jane is painting in his room. The painting is of Roland, the gunslinger character from Stephen King’s Dark Tower
  • Frank Darabont was the director of this film, and it was his third adaptation based on the work by Stephen King. The other two are The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption.

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Dolores Claiborne ranks at the No. 8 position in this top 10 best list and stars Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. This dramatic mystery tells the tale of a reporter, Selena (Leigh) who travels back to her childhood town where her mother (Bates) is a suspect in the mysterious death of an elderly woman. Selena’s father died 15 years before, also under mysterious circumstances.

Fun Facts

  • Stephen King met Kathy Bates on the set of Misery and was so impressed by her that he wrote the character of Dolores with Bates in mind.
  • Dolores threatens Joe during a fight with a stay in Shawshank prison, which is the primary setting for The Shawshank Redemption, also by Stephen King.

1408 (2007)

Many times, horror and suspense films don’t live up to the hype of their respective trailers. This is not the case with 1408. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson star in this movie that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats. Cusack plays an author who debunks paranormal occurrences. He checks into the famous room of 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel with the intention of debunking yet another bogus claim of the paranormal. What he embarks on is a confrontation of true terror.

Fun Facts

  • Grady was one of the first victims of room 1408. Grady is the name of a character in Stephen King’s The Shining which features another spooky room, number 237.
  • The number 13 is referenced many times throughout the movie. The room is located on floor 14 but the 13th floor is missing, making floor 14 the 13th. The movie was released on June 7, or 6/7 (6+7=13). The hotel’s street number is 2254 (2+2+5+4=13). The numbers 6214 can be seen etched into the room’s key lock (6+2+1+4=13). And of course there is the title of the movie (1+4+0+8=13).
  • This was Cusack’s second appearance in a Stephen King movie; his first appearance was in Stand by Me.

The Green Mile (1999)

The Green Mile ranks at No. 5 in this top 10 list and stars Tom Hanks and the late Michael Clarke Duncan. The Green Mile is a powerful fantasy-drama about the lives of guards on Death Row and their relationship with one of their charges who has a mysterious gift. The film was masterfully done, drawing on every major emotion from the audience, from laugh-out-loud moments to tear-jerking ones, making it nearly impossible for viewers to not be 100 percent engaged in this movie.

Top 10 Stephen King Movies The Green Mile
[Photo via Warner Bros. Pictures]

Fun Facts

  • The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor by Duncan.
  • In the DVD special features, Stephen King called this movie “the single most faithful adaptation” of his work.
  • Bruce Willis recommended Michael Clarke Duncan for the role of John Coffey.
  • In the retirement home, the music being played over the loudspeakers is the same music being played in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when the patients take their medication.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Another powerful drama by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption stars Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins and was nominated for seven Oscars. Robbins and Freeman play two inmates who form a bond and search together for solace and redemption.

The Shawshank Redemption Top 10 Stephen King Movies
[Photo via Columbia Pictures]

Fun Facts

  • The movie is one of the highest-grossing of all time in video rentals and was the most rented movie in 1995.
  • The mugshots used for a young Morgan Freeman were pictures of his son, Alfonso Freeman.
  • The voiceover narration was recorded prior to filming and was played on the sets to dictate the pace of each scene.
  • Red’s cell number is 237, the same number of the spooky hotel room in Stephen King’s The Shining.

Stand by Me (1986)

Based on the King novella The Body, Stand by Me stars Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, and Jerry O’Connell, and it is directed by Rob Reiner. Richard Dreyfus narrates the movie and also has an appearance. This film is nothing short of a masterpiece and is a staple and must-see for movie lovers and Stephen King fans alike.

This nostalgic comedy-drama is about a writer who recounts a boyhood adventure with his friends who set out to find the body of a missing boy. The film was nominated for an Oscar and two Golden Globe awards.

top 10 Stephen King Movies Stand By Me
[Photo via Columbia Pictures]

Fun Facts

  • The pond the boys fall in was actually man-made because the crew wanted the kids to be safe; they didn’t want to use a real pond because they didn’t know what would be in it. The kicker is, the makeshift pond sat out in the woods for three months so by the time they filmed the scene they didn’t know what was in it anyway.
  • In the DVD special features, King reveals that the scene with leeches actually happened to him when he was a kid.
  • The cigarettes the boys smoked were made of cabbage leaves.
  • An extra in the vomit scene actually threw up for real. The fake vomit was made of blueberries and cottage cheese.

Misery (1990)

Misery put Kathy Bates on the map, and she won an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of the psychotic Annie Wilkes. The movie co-stars James Caan and has an ensemble cast with Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, and Lauren Bacall. Like Stand by Me, Rob Reiner also directed this film about a crazed fan of famed author Paul Sheldon (Caan). Sheldon crashes his car in a deadly blizzard, and Wilkes, who was stalking the author, rescues him and takes him to her secluded house. Sheldon quickly goes from rescued to imprisoned and has to fight for his survival in the clutches of a lunatic. Ranked at No. 3 on the top 10 list, Misery is often considered to be the greatest Stephen King movie.

Fun Facts

  • Misery became a Broadway play starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf.
  • Stephen King drew inspiration for Misery based on his battle with substance abuse.
  • In the movie, it is said that a man went crazy in a nearby hotel. This is a reference to The Shining which also featured a deadly blizzard.
  • Paul Sheldon’s typewriter in Misery had a broken “N” key; one of Stephen King’s first typewriters had the same malfunction.
  • So far, this is the only Stephen King movie to have won an Oscar.
  • Annie was a mixture of King’s scariest fans.

Carrie (1974)

Carrie was the first adaptation of a Stephen King novel and could easily be argued to be the best. This horror masterpiece was directed by Brian De Palma, starring Sissy Spacek and John Travolta, and received two Academy Award nominations.

Spacek plays Carrie, a friendless teenager who is over-sheltered by her religious and abusive mother. After being traumatized throughout the school year, and during her senior prom, Carrie unleashes her telekinetic powers and her rage. This Stephen King adaptation is considered a masterpiece in horror and delivered an unforgettable image still seen in pop culture today: a blood-soaked Carrie White with hypnotizing eyes.

Top 10 Stephen King Movies Carrie
[Photo via United Artists]

Fun Facts

  • King’s character of Carrie White was based on two girls he knew at school. Both came from religious families, were social outcasts, and died while they were in their twenties.
  • King loved the movie and the success of this film cemented his name as an author.
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s famed four-note violin theme from Psycho is used in Carrie, and the name of the high school in the movie is Bates High.

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The Shining (1980)

Ranked as No. 1 in this top 10 list of Stephen King movies, The Shining is as terrifying and unnerving today as it was nearly 30 years ago. Stanley Kubrick directed this iconic horror movie that stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a writer who takes a job as a winter caretaker for the isolated Overlook Hotel. His wife and psychically gifted son join him, and madness ensues.

Jack slowly starts to transform, as the hotel’s ghostly secrets unravel, to become an ax-wielding lunatic. Hunting his family in the isolated hotel, the mom and son must fight and run for their survival, but with a blizzard outside there is no escaping.

Transcending cinema, The Shining has become engrained in pop culture. From the famous phrase of “Here’s Johnny,” to the ghostly image of twin girls in a hallway that becomes a pool of blood, The Shining remains one of the greatest horror movies of all time and deserves top spot in adaptations of Stephen King novels.

Fun Facts

  • It is rumored that the famous “Here’s Johnny” scene took three days and 60 doors.
  • Duvall suffered from anxiety and nervous exhaustion during the filming of the movie.
  • At the time, the Stephen King novel was banned from schools because of the wicked parents theme.
  • In nearly every shot of the movie the color red can be seen.
  • Kubrick had the cast watch Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and Eraserhead to get them in the right frame of mind for The Shining.
  • Ridiculous and false conspiracy theories have been formed from this movie, including that it’s about the holocaust to Stanley Kubrick aiding the government in faking the moon landing.

From The Running Man to The Shining, Stephen King is a master storyteller and this top 10 list of best movie adaptations of his work should give fans plenty of ideas of what they should revisit next.

[Image via Columbia Pictures]