For the last five days I’ve been saying that It is not my favorite Book/Movie/Miniseries, but I haven’t been directing you toward Stephen King Books/Movies/Miniseries that I think are better critically, or that you might enjoy more for some reason.
So today I’m going to fix that with my countdown of the Top 13 Stephen King projects that I’d recommend before It. These are the thirteen books, story collections, movies, miniseries and television adaptations that I feel outshine It. I’ve only taken things into consideration that have been or are being adapted so that I can cover multiple mediums for the story as I have done with killer clown-entities this week.
This list is spoiler-free, so you are safe to read these recommendations as you will.
13. Just After Sunset
This is a collection of his short stories that was published in November of 2008. While not every story in here is absolute gold there is a wide range of horror tales and more than a few gems. Some of my favorite short stories are in this collection including The Gingerbread Girl, N., and Mute.
There was a short based off the story Ayana released in 2013 that I feel was underrated, but my attention for adaptations from this collection lies more on The Things They Left Behind.
This was a heart-wrenching and beautifully written story about a man who called off work on 9/11 and all the coworkers he lost in the attack. It has inspired more than one independent film adaptation and back in 2014 it was on the schedule to become the next King miniseries – an idea that hopefully will eventually come to fruition.
This collection would probably be a lot higher on my list if there were more high-budget studio adaptations of some of these great stories and I hope that in the future, there are.
12. The Mist
This horror novella is one of my favorite Stephen King pieces because it shows that, despite being known for his verbose writing style, he knows how to pack a punch in well under a thousand pages. Not only does the book make for an enjoyable day’s read, but it has spawned two highly entertaining adaptations.
While not everyone liked the movie or the changes that they made, it got a lot of positive reviews, and I for one thought it was enjoyable – as was the pilot of the new miniseries also inspired by this story.
11. Full Dark, No Stars
Released in 2010 this collection of four “short” stories was another testament to the power of King’s way with words and a well-rounded horror experience. The stories each followed a unique concept and offered different things to the reader.
The 2014 movie A Good Marriage was based off of one of the stories and while it had a lot of faults as a movie, it did a good job presenting the unusual and horrific premise of the story to its audience.
10. Pet Sematary
This was never a personal favorite of mine because anything that discusses dead pets is more likely to make me depressed than scared, but there is no denying that both the novel and the movie made a huge impact on the horror genre and became icons for a reason. The book in particular was filled with an eerie atmosphere and an abundance of frightening, unforgettable moments.
9. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
Not only was this a brilliantly written, emotional story, but it was the foundation for the 1994 movie Shawshank Redemption – one of the few movies to ever do justice to a piece of King’s fiction in my opinion. While neither the film nor the novella is outright scary, the storytelling behind both versions makes this an obvious spot for my list.
8. The Dead Zone
With all of the real-world political horrors making headlines every day, it’s hard not to be drawn to this title. The book brought into light a fascinating moral dilemma, and with Cronenberg directing the movie it was hard to go wrong. There was also a TV Series adaptation that ran for six relatively successful years.
7. The Shining
I know you’re thinking this is probably really low on the list, right? Well, as far as personal recommendations go, The Shining wouldn’t exactly be my go-to. It made the list because I feel like the book is a great representation of King’s work and the 1980 movie (though seriously flawed) had iconic imagery that has influenced the entire horror genre in a noticeable way.
The book and the movie both offer valuable insight into the history of the genre, and I would recommend them to anyone interested in that history – or anyone who really just likes anything by Stephen King.
It’s also worth mentioning that there was a mini-series. I’d suggest that to anyone who really liked the book, but unless you’re already pretty dedicated to the story, you might want to skip it. While it’s a pretty faithful adaptation it has a run-time of 273 minutes and although the story was far less ridiculous than Kubrick’s attempt, it lacked a lot of the visual appeal and quotable moments.
How could we talk about Stephen King adaptations without bringing up his first published novel – especially when it inspired one of the most iconic horror films of all time? The 1976 movie adaptation was one of my first exposures to King’s work and the book it was based off of is one of my personal favorites. Unlike a lot of fans, I also highly enjoyed the 2013 remake. While it had its issues, I felt like it brought the story into a modern setting while sticking true to the characters and the plot.
5. The Dark Tower Series
This is a dark fantasy series much more than a horror series, but it’s wonderful. The books are engaging, vivid, and full of unforgettable characters.
As for the movie…
I’ve said it once and even though it keeps costing me followers, I’ll say it again. The Dark Tower is the best Stephen King adaptation in theaters right now.
It had some problems, I’m not going to deny that. Instead of following the beloved books the focus lay too heavily on the kid and took place too much in a contemporary setting as opposed to the unique fantasy atmosphere fans were waiting for. It was a little predictable despite not following the plot of the novels at all, and there are a lot of things I would have liked to have seen approached better.
That being said, the aesthetic was spot on, the acting was fantastic, and even though it’s supposed to be the first installation of a longer story, I felt like I did a better job telling a complete and satisfying arc than a certain other movie that’s playing right now.
4. Salem’s Lot
This is the best vampire novel I’ve ever read.
I, like every horror fan or girl in my generation, went through a vampire phase inspired by a crush I formed on a fictional undead character thanks to a stupid trend of romanticizing evil creatures of the night. It happens to the best of us, and there were a few years where I read, watched and listened to just about every vampire story I could get my hands on.
While there are a few mythologies I like as much or better than Salem’s Lot, it is one of only two vampire stories that has ever given me chills.
Not only is it the gold standard for scary vampire fiction, but it tells a great story, albeit not one that’s devoid of a handful of King-cliches.
The TV movie was not as revolutionary as the book, which I can only assume has something to do with why this title isn’t better appreciated in the horror community. If any of King’s books needed another adaptation, it was probably this one. That being said, it wasn’t the worst vampire movie, especially when you take into consideration that it was made in 1979.
3. Gerald’s Game
I might be jumping the gun on this one a little bit because the movie adaptation of this is not technically out yet. I have a feeling that if it were out, this might have taken my number one slot – that’s how high my hopes are for this.
The 1992 book is one of the most sickeningly twisted novels that King has written, and it’s all that I would hope for from a psychological thriller such as this. It tiptoes the line between horrifying reality and delusions so perfectly that you spend much of your time reading not knowing what is and isn’t actually happening.
The movie will be released on Netflix later this month. The trailer was just released last week, and it looks like it might just live up to the incredibly high expectations that I’ve built up for what is one of my favorite horror novels of all time. I can’t think of anyone better suited to adapt this movie than its director Mike Flanagan, who brought us the masterpiece that was Hush.
2. The Stand
This horror novel is one of the best books ever written. It’s where horror meets literature. It tells a classic tale of good vs evil while covering a wide variety of social and political topics in a seamless masterpiece. The Stand (at least the 1990 re-release, which is widely accepted as superior to the 1978 abridged version) is over a thousand pages, but it reads so quickly.
If the miniseries had been just a little bit better, this would have easily taken the number one slot on my list. While the miniseries was great for its time and still very entertaining, it didn’t really do justice to book.
That being said, both versions are fantastic, and offer a little something to every kind of horror fan. I would highly recommend you read the book, and if you enjoy it, watch the miniseries.
Although this novel doesn’t have the same critical acclaim as The Stand, it is a singular example of what Stephen King is capable of doing, and the fear he’s able to evoke in readers. This is one of his shorter novels, but he made every single word count. The novel was absolutely terrifying and the movie, while different, actually did it justice.
Kathy Bates brings a chilling amount of life to the obsessive and violent character Annie Wilkes in one of my favorite fear-inspiring classics. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the book, or the movie, to just about any kind of horror fan.