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The Essentials: 5 Great Films Based On Stephen King Novels

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist September 21, 2012 at 10:55AM

Stephen King is, all of a sudden, a hot property again. One of the major forces in popular literature of the past forty-odd years, it's been a few years since the last major King adaptation, but a wealth of projects from the director are on their way in the next few years.
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Stephen King
Stephen King is, all of a sudden, a hot property again. One of the major forces in popular literature of the past forty-odd years, it's been a few years since the last major King adaptation, but a wealth of projects from the director are on their way in the next few years.

Ron Howard finally has a backer for his epic adaptation of the author's fantasy series "The Dark Tower" in the shape of Media Rights CapitalBen Affleck is attached to a two-movie adaptation of "The Stand"; Cary Fukunaga is planning the same approach for "It"; a "Carrie" remake is due next spring starring Chloe Moretz; a prequel to "The Shining" is in the early stages while King will release novel sequel "Doctor Sleep" next year; Brian K. Vaughan is adapting "Under The Dome" for ShowtimeJustin Long is starring in Tom Holland's "The Ten O'Clock People"; Jonathan Demme is working on "11/22/63"; and there's many, many more in the works as well (and his son Joe Hill is following in his father's footsteps too -- the adaptation of his novel "Horns" starts filming any day now).

What's more is that today marks the still-prolific King's 65th birthday, and so to celebrate the seminal genre master's happy day, we thought we'd pick out five of our favorite big-screen adaptations of King's work. You may not agree, and there are some omissions that may prove a little controversial, But feel free to argue your case in the comments section below.

Carrie
"Carrie" (1976)
The horrors of going through puberty in a hormone-infested institution full of your peers can be related to by more than most, but it takes the special combination of Stephen King and Brian De Palma to come up with a horror film that's both as terrifying and deeply felt as "Carrie." Based on King's debut novel, it opens with oddball Carrie White (an Oscar-nominated Sissy Spacek) getting her first period (something her monstrous, fundamentalist Christian mother -- Piper Laurie -- never prepared her for) in the shower, and being tormented by her classmates as a result. As it turns out, Carrie has telekenetic powers so this, and their subsequent prom prank, turns out to be something of a mistake. De Palma brings all his Hitchcockian skills to racking up the tension, but crucially, it's his empathy with his central character (De Palma's abilities as a director of women are still underrated) that makes Carrie into a classic, pitiable yet terrifying movie monster that can hold court next to Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Lon Chaney's Wolf Man. One could argue that the film's dated a little over the past twenty-five years, but even so, Kimberley Peirce has an awful lot to live up to with next year's remake.

The Shining Jack Nicholson
"The Shining" (1980)
These days, relatively few people would disagree with the proposition that Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" is the finest ever adaptation of King's work -- it's an endlessly rewatchable masterpiece, and regularly named as one of the best horror films in polls (number 2 in Time Out's last year). One of those few who don't like the film? King himself, who once wrote that it was one of the few adaptations of his work he could "remember hating," finding it departing from the source material, thematically and supernaturally, writing "What's basically wrong with Kubrick's version of 'The Shining' is that it's a film by a man who thinks too much and feels too little; and that's why, for all its virtuoso effects, it never gets you by the throat and hangs on the way real horror should." Well, due respect to the author, but anyone who's seen the King-approved 1997 made-for-TV miniseries version starring Steven Weber knows exactly how wrong he is. Kubrick made something that doesn't just elevate the source material, but also the horror genre in general, coming up with something richer, stranger and more profound. Indeed, this fall's "Room 237," an outstanding documentary looking at the various theories cooked up around the movie, only goes to highlight further the extent to which the film is a gloriously opaque, multi-faceted wonder, even aside from being visually stunning and brilliantly acted. Of course, much of this is down to Kubrick, but despite his feelings on the movie, much of King's text remains in there, so he should perhaps learn to feel a little prouder about the thing.

This article is related to: Features, The Essentials, Stephen King


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