The 6 Scariest Stephen King Film Adaptations

Still from 'Pet Sematary'/Photo © 1989 Paramount Pictures
Still from 'Pet Sematary'/Photo © 1989 Paramount Pictures

Stephen King recently recounted the first time he remembers being frightened as a kid, and it was not what we expected from America's most popular horror novelist. While participating in a vampire revival panel during the 2010 New Yorker Literary Festival, King confessed that the first time he remembers being scared as a child was during the scene in "Bambi" when the woods are on fire. We'll agree with Mr. King that Disney movies have their share of scary moments; personally, we were petrified of Ursula from "The Little Mermaid." However, the first time we remember being terrified as a child to the point of having nightmares was as a result of watching a Stephen King movie.

While "The Shawshank Redemption "and "The Green Mile" number among our favorite Stephen King film adaptations, in the Halloween spirit we decided to focus on what King does best: Scare the bejesus out of us. With that said, get ready to turn off the lights, lock the doors, and comment below on which Stephen King movie left lasting scars on your mental psyche.

"The Shining"

There are few ideas more terrifying than the thought that your own family has the potential to hurt you. King taps into that fear in his 1977 novel The Shining with Jack Torrance (brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 cinematic adaptation) as his cabin fever descends into madness while serving as the winter innkeeper for the haunted Overlook Hotel. While an ax-grinding, Heeeeeere's Johnny Nicholson scared many, we were most traumatized by some of the Overlook Hotel guests who never checked out -- like the creepy twin girls beckoning Danny to come play with them or the decrepit corpse in a bathtub. We have been wary of long, empty hallways ever since.


After seeing The Shining, director Rob Reiner was reportedly so taken with Kubrick's interpretation that he was inspired to direct a Stephen King film adaptation of his own. Enter MiseryKing's 1988 novel about writer Paul Sheldon, a man "rescued" from a car crash by his number one fan, Annie Wilkes. "Misery" has the distinction of being the only film based on a Stephen King horror novel to be nominated for an Academy Award. Though it didn't take home the Best Picture Oscar, Kathy Bates walked away with a statue for her performance as Annie. Her turn as a homicidal fan will forever haunt us -- with the hobbling scene in particular still making us wince.


We are willing to wager that cases of Coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, skyrocketed upon the publication of King's 1986 novel, It, as well as the television movie adaptation in 1990. A shape-shifting monster referred to as It awakens in a small Maine town, taking the form of Pennywise the Clown. It lurks in the town's sewer system, coming up through the grates to lure and kill children. While still children, seven social outcasts in the town manage to defeat It only to come face to face with the demonic clown thirty years later. With remake rumors swirling for the past few years, it was finally confirmed that "Jane Eyre" filmmaker Cary Fukunaga will reinvent "It" for contemporary audiences, splitting the 1,138 page novel into two films.

"Pet Sematary"

The idea for Stephen King's 1983 novel Pet Semetary came about after his (unfortunately named) cat, Shmuckey, was struck and killed by a car outside King's house. King initially shelved the book at his wife's urging and only reluctantly submitted the manuscript after his publisher informed him he had to deliver the final book on his contract. Pet Semetary follows the Creed family as tragedy strikes when their cat and then later their toddler, Gage, are each run over by a speeding truck. In his grief, distraught father Louis Creed uses the ancient burial grounds on his property to resurrect his cat and child. Cue one of our deepest fears: possessed children. Gage comes back as a cherubic but demonic child, killing everyone around him. The scene that will forever haunt us is when Gage goes after his neighbor's Achilles tendon with a switchblade. We still watch it through fingers over our eyes.


With help from director Brian De Palma, Stephen King's first published novel, Carrie, about telekinetic teen outcast Carrie White's prom night revenge, remains a staple in the horror movie canon to this day. King cited his inspiration for Carrie White as two classmates who were both social outcasts from deeply religious families. Though there is no denying the horror of watching blood-soaked Carrie decimate her tormentors, we were more terrified by her abusive mother, Margaret White. Though there have been a handful of remakes attempted, none have ever come close to the greatness of the original. That being said, morbid curiosity will cause us to watch the 2013 remake of "Carrie" with Chloë Moretz and Julianne Moore.

"'Salem's Lot"

Long before Twilight was even a twinkle in Stephenie Meyer's eye, the literary and cinematic worlds were content to be terrified by true vampires. King's second novel, published in 1975, 'Salem's Lot centers around writer Ben Mears' return to his hometown in Maine to learn that everyone is turning into vampires. Stephen King was inspired to write the book when he had his English class read Dracula. He became curious about what would happen if vampires came to a small town in America. Of the two film adaptations, it's hard not to find the 1979 miniseries considerably creepier than the 2004 remake. The scene that still gives us chills after all these years is the one with the young vampire hovering and scratching outside a window. To this day, we always make sure to draw the curtains when it's dark outside.

In your opinion, what is Stephen King's scariest movie?

  • Creepshow was one of the ones that freaked me out big time as well, I think it was based off of Stephen King short stories not an actual novel though.

  • Where's "Christine" c'mon, compared to that Misery was a documentary.

  • They Mist- scary & tense

  • Will

    Small mistake in your article:

    "Carrie" was actually the first King horror adaptation to be nominated for Oscars: Actress and Supporting Actress nominations for Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie.

  • Mary Alberston

    I feel The Stand should be on this list. Just the thought of a "super flu" scares the hell out of me. No it was not a gore fest like others, but the reality is what scares me. The fact that this could really happen.

  • Nathan

    Silver Bullet. Sure it's corny now, but growing up in a wheelchair and seeing a movie where a kid in a wheelchair is being terrorized by a werewolf. Not good for a kid with an overactive imagination.

  • Dorian L

    I really have to say that I have loved so many of his stories and the Films that have come from them. But one of my favorites is The Mist, a friend of mine and i saw it looked at each other at the end and said, WOW they let it be a Stephen King Ending...... That's so awesome!

  • Bonnie Vannah

    As a long time follower of Mr. King's novels, I am always thrilled to find out when a movie will be made from his stories. For the most part, I am not disappointed, however, some have strayed from the original telling a little and some a lot which I feel only hurts the films and lessens their quality. The best non-horror, The Shawshank Redemption - brilliant. Carrie was fantastic as was Salem's Lot I visited the set of Pet Semetary - that was awesome, but the ending was different and Jud was terribly miscast. The television version of The Shining was far superior to the blood bath that was the motion picture. Misery was spot on and Kathy Bates was the only choice for Annie. It is very apparent, as long as Mr. King has creative power on his own movies, then a much better product is produced. I am awaiting 11/22/63 to be filmed - I hope it is given every opportunity to be as wonderful as the book. Thank you Mr. King for providing me with your beautiful writing and engaging storytelling throughout my life. You rock!!

  • Larz

    Bag of Bones, the first time bunters bell rings gives me spine chills EVERY time!!!

  • Diego de Argentina

    The scarriest film from the scariest book is SALEMS LOT...

  • Sharon Askew

    The Stand is and was and will always be my favorite - and not just for the horror!

  • Lisa

    I think "Salem's Lot" would have been even scarier if it hadn't been a TV movie. That book was so scary, I had to stop reading it by 4 pm or I was guaranteed to have nightmares about vampires that night. The part where the vampire baby kills his mom still gives me the willies!

  • Connie

    The Stand, definitely , because it can really happen

  • Martine

    For me, "The Storm Of the Century" is in my Top Five!

  • to me the most scariest stephen king movie to me is salems lot. when they showed the first vampire, i jumped right out of my skin.

  • frank connelly

    the stand was the best,and i cant think of a more scary film because of the fact that what if there was a virus plague? and who would survive? and what would happen days afterwards? and the last thought, what would be done with those that died?

  • what

    IT is not scary at all. its hilarious

    • andre

      WHAT!!!! I couldn't sleep after watching the trailer

  • MJ

    The Dead Zone should be on the list, it was a good movie and Christopher Walken was great in it. Also, it would nice if there was a film made from the book, "The Talisman". That would be awesome!

  • Really It?

    How is IT on there at all? About 1 in 10 of Kings books get translated well into a film and IT is not one of them. Tim Curry does his thing as the clown and that is about the only saving grace of that film. The acting is pretty terrible all around besides that and corny. The flick may have scared many as a child as it did myself, but when I watched it as an adult it is a joke. This is one time where a remake is definitely necessary and hopefully they do a good job when it gets released. Silver Bullet is a much better horror film especially since he wrote it as an actual screenplay where it was designed to be a movie. Everything else is very hard to get into the characters lives and backstories.

  • jesikam

    The Mist scared the crap out of me, you didn't know what was in the mist and the next morning I woke to see a misty fog outside. I screamed... LOL Carrie is another good one. Creepshow has always creeped me out too.

  • Marvin


  • Ferenc

    and where is the FIRESTARTER? Ok, maybe it is not too scary but he best adaptation ever

  • Carl

    Salem's Lot is the best.I remember when i was a kid, the following morning after it was screened the previous night, all of my classmates were discussing about the scene of the young vampire on the window.I will never forget that scene, it scared the shits out of me.I would be happy if they can make a Duma Key movie, i thoroughly enjoyed the book!

  • Carl

    Salem's Lot is the best.I remember when i was a kid, the following morning after it was screened the previous night, all of my classmates were discussing about the scene of the young vampire on the window.I will never forget that scene, it scared the shits out of me.Salem's Lot is probably the most well known King novel in Zimbabwe because of that movie.I would be happy if they can make a Duma Key movie, i thoroughly enjoyed the book!

  • B

    I loved the film adaptation of Stephen king's 'secret window'. It wasn't particularly scary but It was very suspenseful and had a really good twist at the end. I think that having Johnny Depp in as the main character, Mort Rainey, made it even better ! 🙂

  • Travis

    Maximum overdrive 86", a bit cheesy but entertaining. Creeped me out as a kid especially the coke can scene and the dead dog. Children of the corn 84'. One of the most harrowing scenes to watch for me is the scissors scene in Dead Zone. Cronenberg was the perfect director for that movie. Got some good suggestions going to have to watch the mist and the stand now.

  • StephenEmperor


  • james

    Good read. Just a quick point ... the creepy twins are not really twins in the movie but sisters separated by a couple of years. "Come play with us Danny ... forever and ever and ever" still gives me the shivers.

  • Funky Chicken

    Pet Sematary has me scarred for life. Not because of the baby but because of the sister Zelda.....I'm 30, saw the movie for the first time at around 11 ... and I am still scared $h!tless!!! Just THINKING about it, is enough for me to sleep with the lights on - no kidding. I covered the page as I was scrolling down, in case an image of her was posted. Stephen King stories (books and movies) are the best... how does the man sleep at night with that mind! brilliant. Great list, enjoyed reading

  • Beth

    Please stop making remakes of Stephen King movies. The remakes don't come back as well as the original. Salem Lot is one that you butchered badly. Robe Lowe is a awesome actor but David Soul captured the role perfectly.