With the impending releases of THE DARK TOWER and IT we decided to take look back at the past 40 years of Stephen King adaptations to see if Hollywood can still make a decent movie out of one of his books. After all, the greatest indicator of what to expect from the future is to look at the past... then again, President Donald Trump. So, who knows?
Not to mention that IT teaser is really strong and already has well over 20 million views. If you haven't seen it...
This is part two of a three-part retrospective. There are several direct to video sequels and made for TV mini series that are missing from this list, this was not an oversight but an editorial choice. Yes, this was the first editorial choice made in the five years Following Films has been kicking around the internets. We felt its unfair to compare theatrical releases with the straight to Redbox stuff. Not to mention, do you need to be told that Children of the Corn 666 is a waste of your time? It felt like a ton of extra work to go through those films just to land on an obvious conclusion. Most of those films just aren't that good. If you have notable exceptions please let me know and I'd be happy to update this list.
1986-1996 Meathead Saves the day
1986 STAND BY ME
This coming-of-age drama film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell. The film, whose plot is based on Stephen King's novella The Body (1982) and title is derived from Ben E. King's eponymous song, which plays over the ending credits, tells the story of four boys in a small town in Oregon who go on a hike to find the dead body of a missing child.
Kings reputation in Hollywood had been on the steady decline and reached a new low with MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. Reiner's adaptation of STAND BY ME was largely responsible for changing that opinion and cemented King's work as a vital source of inspiration for filmmakers studio heads over the next 30 years. Not only a hit with audiences, STAND BY ME was a hit with critics and currently sits at 91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
1987 CREEPSHOW 2
Directed by Michael Gornick, and the sequel to Creepshow. Gornick was previously the cinematographer of the first film, and the screenplay was written by Romero who was director of the original film. It was once again based on stories by Stephen King and features three more horror segments consisting of Old Chief Wooden Head, The Raft, and The Hitchhiker.
Unlike the first film, Creepshow 2 only contains three stories instead of 5. Originally two more stories consisted of Pinfall and Cat from Hell were set to appear in the film, but were scrapped due to budgetary reasons; the latter, however, has been filmed for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.
The 11-year-old version of me loved this film. Unfortunately, the 40-year-year-old version isn't nearly as impressed. The missing segments cause the remaining three to feel bloated and ultimately dull. It has few moments but they aren't strong enough to overcome the film's many shortcomings.
1987 THE RUNNING MAN
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Jesse Ventura, Jim Brown and Richard Dawson. It is very loosely based on the 1982 novel The Running Man, written by Stephen King and published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The story, set in the dystopian United States between 2017 and 2019, is about a television show called "The Running Man", where convicted criminal "runners" must escape death at the hands of professional killers.
By no measurement is THE RUNNING MAN a good film. It holds a special place in my heart that I am incapable of defending and I couldn't imagine somebody enjoying it who watches it for the first time in 2017.
1989 Pet Sematary
Directed by Mary Lambert and written by King, the film features Dale Midkiff as Louis Creed, Denise Crosby as Rachel Creed, Blaze Berdahl as Ellie Creed, Miko Hughes as Gage Creed, and Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall.
Not able to cope with the loss of his son a man seeks supernatural solutions. Bad movie. Decent song, at least it has that going for it.
1990 Graveyard Shift
Directed by Ralph S. Singleton, written by John Esposito and based on the short story of the same name by Stephen King. First published in the 1970 issue of Cavalier magazine, and later collected in King's 1978 collection Night Shift.
When an abandoned textile mill is reopened, several employees meet mysterious deaths. The only link between the killings is that they all occurred between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.—the graveyard shift. The sadistic mill foreman (Stephen Macht) has chosen newly hired drifter John Hall (David Andrews) to help a group clean up the mill's rat-infested basement. The workers find a subterranean maze of tunnels leading to the cemetery—and a giant bat that hunts at night. In the end, Hall is able to kill the giant bat when it gets caught in the grinding wheels of a cotton picker and crushed to death.
File this one under not great, or not offensively bad. After The Running Man, it could be considered a step in the right direction but in no way is this a victory lap.
Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates, Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth, and Frances Sternhagen about a psychotic fan who holds an author captive and forces him to write her stories.
Directed by Rob Reiner, the film received critical acclaim for Bates's performance as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes, and Bates won the 1990 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role, making Misery, as of 2017, the only Stephen King adaptation to be an Oscar-winning film. The 'hobbling' scene in the film was ranked.
Rob Reiner showed that he could translate the humanity of Kings work in Stand by Me and with Misery, he showed how truly terrifying a two hander in the woods could be.
1992 The Lawnmower Man
Directed by Brett Leonard and written by Brett Leonard and Gimel Everett. The Lawnmower Man is named after a Stephen King short story of the same name; but, aside from a single scene, the stories are unrelated. The film stars Jeff Fahey as Jobe Smith, a simple-minded gardener, and Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Lawrence Angelo, the scientist who decides to experiment on him.
The film was originally titled Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man, but King successfully sued the producers for attaching his name to the film and stated in court documents that the film "bore no meaningful resemblance" to his story.
Oh '92, how cute was your CGI?
There have been some god awful adaptations of Kings novels and short stories. But this is the ONLY one he sued to have his name taken off of. Ouch.
Directed by Mick Garris this is the story of an incestuous mother and son who are shapeshifters and live in fear of cats. I kind of buried the lead on that description.
1993 The Dark Half
Directed by George A. Romero and stars Timothy Hutton as Thad Beaumont and George Stark, Amy Madigan as Liz Beaumont, Michael Rooker as Sheriff Alan Pangborn and Royal Dano in his final film.
Interesting score from Christopher Young but overall a somewhat disappointing venture. It seems like King and Romero would be a great fit but most of their collaborations miss the mark.
1993 Needful Things
Directed by Fraser C. Heston. It stars Max von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia and J. T. Walsh
A mysterious proprietor named Leland Gaunt (Max von Sydow), claiming to be from Akron, Ohio, opens a new antique store called "Needful Things" in the small town of Castle Rock, Maine. The store sells various items of great personal worth to the residents (some of which, like a pendant that eases pain or a toy which predicts the outcome of horse races, are clearly supernatural). Gaunt demands payment both in cash and in small "favors", usually pranks played by his customers on their neighbors. Gaunt's first customer is a boy named Brian Rusk (Shane Meier) who buys a rare baseball card featuring Mickey Mantle in exchange for 95 cents and a prank on his neighbor Wilma Wadlowski Jerzyck
The book was a bloated but rewarding tome for the faithful King devotes. If memory serves, its around 1k pages of fan service and it remains one of my favorites. It was almost like fan fiction. The movie does a fair job of adapting this meandering tale and is worth a sit.
1994 The Shawshank Redemption
Directed by Frank Darabont, and starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Adapted from the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends a fellow inmate, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money-laundering operation.
While The Shawshank Redemption received positive reviews at release, it suffered from poor viewership and competition from other films such as Pulp Fiction at its initial release and was a box office disappointment. The film received multiple award nominations (including seven Oscar nominations) and highly positive reviews from critics for its acting, story, and realism. Through Ted Turner's acquisition of Castle Rock Entertainment, the film started gaining more popularity in 1997 after it started near-daily airings on Turner's TNT network. It is now considered to be one of the greatest films of the 1990s. It has since been successful on cable television, VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray.
You've seen it, you love it and your uncle will always tell you that it was based on a short story he read when he was in college. He'll also be quick to mention in the book, Red was Irish. So, Morgan Freeman's line about why people call him red had a completely different tone on the page. Yeah, I'm pawning off my terrible traits on your uncle, he can handle it.
1995 The Mangler
The less said about this one the better. It's a bad movie, don't watch it. If you're curious have at it.
Part 3 of this series will bring us up to the current state of King adaptations. Look for it next week.