The term ‘Master of Horror’ gets thrown around more often than it probably should, but it’s hard to argue that anyone other than Stephen King is deserving of the title. With 61 novels, 11 novella collections, and well over 200 short stories, he’s got a massive archive to pull from. This means there have been a ton of movies and TV series based on his books over his 47-year career (except Stranger Things, which is more of a nod to his work).
No season is more prime to take in movies and television based on King’s myriad of work, obviously, than October; 2020 has been all sorts of scary for…more reasons than usual. But that doesn’t mean its not October—this will be a different Halloween, probably, than any we’ve ever had before. So a little bit of normalcy with some very scary movies and TV will certainly be nice. If you want to squeeze in a few chapters of King’s latest, If It Bleeds, it’d be hard to fault you.
Obviously, King’s work is basically a genre in and of itself. And if that’s a genre you’re interested in diving head first into, you’re in luck: numerous projects based on his work are available to stream on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, HBO Max, and Hulu. Below, you can find movies and television from the last five decades of Stephen King, and even an acclaimed series that debuted earlier in 2020.
Mr. Mercedes (2017 – )
This series, based on King’s Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finder’s Keepers, and End of watch) was highly-regarded and little-seen for a while; it debuted on DirecTV’s Audience Network. Now, though, the show has moved all three existing seasons to NBC/Universal’s free Peacock platform—so everyone can give it a shot. (The first season is streaming free with ads; the second needs a subscription, as of now).
The show has a great cast, led by Brendan Gleeson (best known from In Bruges or in his Harry Potter role of Mad Eye Moody) as retired detective Bill Hodges, on the hunt for a serial killer living in plain sight. This one is creepy in what’s closer to a Silence of the Lambs kind of way than a Pet Semetary kind of way.
Don’t bully people! I mean, you shouldn’t do that anyway. But the first adaptation of King’s very first novel has proven generations and generations why bullying is not too nice—you never know when the object of scorn can make things…really bad. This is still the best version of one of King’s most classic novels. Sissy Spacek, who plays the titular character went on to a long career, and is even still playing King roles in Castle Rock (more on that later). Plus…this was John Travolta’s very first feature film role. As if you needed any more motivation.
Stand By Me (1985)
This 1985 classic isn’t horror with a capital H in the way that the vast majority of King’s works are; instead, it deals with a much more real form of horror: growing up. Ostensibly about a group of friends who head off into the woods to find a dead body, this coming-of-age tale is one of the all time greats of the genre. It’s also part of director Rob Reiner’s absolutely incredible run that also included This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, and Misery.
Based on King’s story “The Body” form his 1982 novella collection Different Seasons, Stand By Me is one that you should watch just to appreciate.
Apt Pupil (1998)
Coming from the same novella collection as Stand By Me, Apt Pupil is another story-turned-feature-film from King. In this one, a boy (the late Brad Renfro) discovers that his neighbor (Ian McKellen) is a Nazi fugitive living under an assumed identity in the United States; the relationship stirs both of them to their core. As you can expect, this is freaking Stephen King. Things get wild.
Two horror icons come together here, as King’s 1983 novel of the same name was adapted for the big screen that very year by Halloween director John Carpenter. It’s a classic King story: Boy meets car. Boy loves car. Car loves boy. Car destroys boy, and everything around him. Intensely watchable—don’t miss it.
Hearts In Atlantis (2001)
Hearts in Atlantis, based on King’s novella from the collection of the same name, is less a horror than anything else on this list and more of a drama/mystery hybrid. The story here follows a young boy (Anton Yelchin) who meets an older man (Anthony Hopkins) who possesses the ability to know anyone’s innermost desires and wishes.
Secret Window (2004)
Secret Window is more thriller/mystery than straight-up horror, but its a really compelling story. Johnny Depp plays a writer (which we know King loves to write) who hides himself away in a secluded lake house in the midst of a divorce to be with himself and maybe get some writing around. Things go well…until a man (John Turturro) appears to accuse the successful writer of plagiarism. This movie came at what was probably the peak of Depp’s movie stardom (right around the time of the first Pirates of the Caribbean), and teaming him up with one of the very greatest character actors in Turturro let the sparks really fly. Based on the story “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” from King’s 1990 collection Four Past Midnight.
Pet Sematary (2019)
It had been 30 years since a version of King’s classic 1983 novel hit the big screen, which was obviously way too long. So last year we got this high-production adaptation of one of the most iconic stories King has ever told. This version is led by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), and covers all the bases: death, revival, terror, pets, the works. You know what you’re getting. And you’re probably gonna love every minute of watching it through your fingers.
watch Pet Semetary on Amazon Prime Video
The Dead Zone (2002)
Another version of The Dead Zone was this TV adaptation, which aired for 6 seasons on the USA Network. Here, Anthony Michael Hall plays a version of the Christopher Walken character from the film, but the show instead also captures those psychic abilities in week-by-week plots.
Children of the Corn (1984)
Children of the Corn is one of the most iconic productions of King’s work, and while it’s a bit cheesy, it still holds up to this day. What would you do if you found a group of religious and terrifying children…living in a corn field? Based on a story from his 1978 collection Night Moves, this adaption is fairly faithful, and is a perfect movie to watch with a few beers, some pizza, and some friends.
Stephen King’s A Good Marriage (2014)
Doctor Sleep (2019)
This long-gestating sequel (moreso to King’s The Shining than Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining) was released last year by Warner Bros., and was one of the year’s biggest-scale horror movies. With Ewan McGregor leading the way as the grown-up version of Danny Torrance, and one of modern horror’s best in Mike Flanagan behind the camera (The Haunting of Hill House, Gerald’s Game), this movie adaptation of King’s 2013 bestseller is worth checking out for any fan.
Bonus? On HBO’s platforms you can choose whether you want to watch the theatrically released version of the movie (2 hours 32 minutes), or the special director’s cut (which comes in just over 3 hours). Our recommendation: why not both?
The Outsider (2020- )
This series, based on King’s 2018 novel of the same name, might just be the best TV adaptation of his work yet. The focus is on a man accused of murder, with DNA evidence sticking him right at the scene of the crime—except he’s also on camera at a conference nearly 100 miles away.
The series makes a number of changes from the source material, but everything is always done in service of the story, adding depth and deeper characterization while maintaining the heart and tentpole moments from the book. With a cast led by Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo, and Jason Bateman, The Outsider is a worthy binge for anyone looking for a horror/thriller mash-up.
If Stephen King has any story that could be called his epic, it would probably be It. (OK, fine, maybe it’s The Stand. Or his Dark Tower series. Don’t make us choose!) It is so massive, such a huge story in scale, that there was no way to properly make it into just one movie. So the 2017 adaptation of It tells half the story, and does it damn well—and director Andy Muschietti does a marvelous job of making it scary and amazing to look at. Between the two movies, it’s long, so forewarning for that—but it just adds to the overall epic stature of the whole undertaking.
IT Chapter 2 (2019)
Again: this is a big story. 2019 saw the release of It Chapter 2, which followed the terrors of the adult versions (led by Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader) of the kids of the Nightmare Club, who led It Chapter 1. This movie is epic, and long, and if you’re looking for a scare to take your mind off things for a few hours, you’ve obviously come to the right place.
The original Creepshow, released in 1982, marked Stephen King’s screenwriting debut, and one segment of the film was based on his story “Weeds” (which was originally published in Cavalier Magazine). Creepshow has since been updated into the TV format, with its first season premiering exclusively in 2019 on AMC’s horror-specific streaming service Shudder. Each episode of Creepshow features two terrifying stories, and the first episode of the first season features a segment based on King’s story “Grey Matter,” which was published in King’s book Night Shift.
There’s also the newly-released Creepshow Animated Special, which featured an adaptation of King’s short story “Survivor Type,” which came from his collection Skeleton Crew. Bonus Creepshow points? A few of the episodes also include stories adapted from works by Joe Hill—another bestselling horror author who just happens to be King’s son.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
This 2017 Netflix original adapts King’s 1992 book of the same name about a woman alone with her husband in a cabin deep in the woods—only for her husband to die of a heart attack with her handcuffed to a bed.
This adaptation stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood, and faithfully adapts King’s work to the screen. In fact, King was so pleased with this movie that he worked with director Mike Flanagan again on last year’s Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining (and the two will soon be working together again, on an adaptation of King’s Revival.
As far as source material goes, 1922—another 2017 Netflix original—isn’t exactly pulling from something as well-known as The Shining or Pet Semetary. This little movie is actually pulling from a 2010 King book called Full Dark, No Stars, which consisted of four different novellas, one of which was 1922.
That said, 1922 is a King story through and through, centering on a man who plans to kill his wife for financial gain, enlisting his son’s help—at which point, as you might expect, creepy things start to happen. The movie stars Thomas Jane (The Punisher, Hung) and Molly Parker (House of Cards).
Stream 1922 on Netflix
In The Tall Grass (2019)
The most recent of King’s Netflix originals, In The Tall Grass, is based on a 62-page novella that King wrote with his son, Joe Hill (an acclaimed author in his own right).
Starring Patrick Wilson (FX’s Fargo, Aquaman), this mystery starts with a couple pulling over to the side of the road at a rest stop, hearing cries from the titular tall grass, and the rest, well, that’s up to Mr. King and Mr. Hill. You know what to expect.
Another remake adaptation of King’s first novel, the 2002 version of Carrie is currently available to stream on Netflix. This one isn’t as classic as the original, and isn’t as updated as the 2013 Chloe Grace Moretz version, but makes for a decent scare nonetheless. Fun fact about this one? It was made for, and first aired on television, and was planned as a possible back door pilot for what would have become a Carrie series. Worth checking out for the King completist.
The Mist (2017)
Based on the same source material as the 2007 The Mist movie, this 2017 single-season series saw Spike TV (now known as Paramount Network) attempt to lengthen that story for the small screen. It was cancelled after a season, but could still be worth your time if you’ve got a craving for some creepiness.
Castle Rock (2018-)
This hit horror anthology on Hulu follows a different story each season based on King’s work—the name of the series itself, Castle Rock, is a fictional Maine town where a number of his stories are set. The first season takes on a story with a number of references to other King pieces, and Lizzy Caplan plays a young version of Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates’ character in Misery) in the second season.
One of Hulu’s earliest big-budget attempts at a limited series was 2016’s adaptation of King’s highly-acclaimed 2011 time-travel novel, 11/22/63. Produced by J.J. Abrams, this series finds a man (James Franco) accidentally travel in time, where he discovers he can prevent JFK’s assassination. Franco is joined by Chris Cooper, Josh Duhamel, and 1917 star George MacKay among others in this exciting series that is more thriller than King’s usual horror.
Evan is an associate editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE.
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