The 10 Scariest Stephen King Adaptations

Stephen King is widely considered to be a master of horror in the literary world, hence why so many of his stories have been adapted for movies and television. However, not everything that has been based on King’s work has been stellar. That’s why we’re taking a look at all of King’s adapted work to find what are his ten scariest translated works, right before the new It movie hits theaters.

If you’re interested in the new It movie, check out our thoughts on it here. In addition, we have the 10 Best Stephen King TV Adaptations and Every Stephen King Movie Ranked.

10. Pet Sematary (1989)

Aside from giving us one of The Ramones’ best songs, the late-’80s horror flick Pet Sematary–which I always have to double-check the spelling on–gave us numerous moments that filled us with dread and fear. One of the most memorable, as well as terrifying, parts of the film was when Gage Creed–played Miko Hughes (He played the kid in everything during the ’80s and ’90s)–cut someone’s heel and bit his throat out. On top of that, who could forget every moment with sick old Zelda?

9. Cujo (1983)

There’s a repeating element in a lot of King’s work, and that’s taking something ordinary, that people tend to have a fondness of, and making it horrifying. The 1983 movie Cujo, based on the novel of the same name, made dogs terrifying for a whole generation. The most memorable and scary part of the film happens when the main character Donna is buckling her child into the car. Cujo tries to get in through the window, during a jump scare that still gets me, and Donna tries desperately to roll up the window, without getting bit.

8. Creepshow (1982)

The anthology horror flick Creepshow paired Stephen King with director George Romero, which is every horror fan’s dream. The fifth story in the film, entitled “They’re Creeping Up On You,” is exceptionally terrifying for one particular scene featuring hundreds of cockroaches. A man, who has locked himself in his panic room, quickly finds the room infested with the bugs, which invade his body and tear through his chest and mouth. The image of those bugs coming out of his mouth is forever burned into my mind.

While “They’re Creeping Up On You” was written by Stephen King, it was written specifically for Creepshow and was not adapted from prior work. However, two of the stories in this anthology were based on King’s stories.

7. 1408 (2007)

1408 is a highly-underrated Stephen King film. It’s obviously not the best of movies based on his work, but it doesn’t get the credit it deserves as a terrifying ride. The movie takes place primarily in a haunted hotel room, and while there are scares within the story, the real horror in this movie comes from being trapped in a room and being forced to deal with elements of the past. Overall, this creates a frightening experience for the audience.

6. Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Emmy-nominated Salem’s Lot miniseries originally aired on CBS over two weeks, and ’70s horror has a special look and feel, even when it’s on network television. Reggie Nalder’s portrayal of the vampire Kurt Barlow–seen above-still haunts fan to this day. The look of the character, even for its time, truly stands out as scary. In addition to that, there’s a moment with a child vampire scratching at a window that’s unsettling almost 40 years later.

Note: CBS Interactive is Gamespot’s parent company.

5. It (1990)

Clowns used to be a fun part of a carnival or circus that would make us laugh and giggle, up until 1990, when ABC aired the three-part miniseries, It. Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise the clown was horrifying for its time, especially when he showed off those ugly teeth. While the movie doesn’t age particularly well, it’s undeniable that It changed how people view clowns, sorry Killer Klowns From Outer Space.

4. The Mist (2007)

While 1408 dealt with a single person feeling trapped and losing their mind, The Mist deals with it on a larger scale, as a group of people are trapped within a grocery store, while grotesque creatures wait outside to devour them. What makes this such a fantastic horror movie based on King’s work is the slow build to insanity, as the townspeople within the grocery store start turning on each other, becoming violent as the days go by.

3. Carrie (1976)

Carrie speaks to a specific audience moreso than other films based on King’s work. The film centers around a bullied teenager with telekinetic abilities, and while this may seem like more than a revenge film over anything else, there is a specific moment of dread that will resonate with everyone. Prior to Carrie killing everyone at a school dance, she gets humiliated on stage at prom, and there is a moment that lingers on the reactions of both students and faculty laughing at her. It’s something most people can relate to: the fear of being mocked and ridiculed in public.

2. Misery (1990)

Many of Stephen King’s adapted works deal with a person losing their sanity in an insane world; however, Misery is the story of a man dealing with someone who has already lost her mind. While the entirety of the plot is scary enough–being held against your will by a fanatical admirer–the scene that sticks out the most is when Kathy Bates hobbles James Caan; she uses a sledgehammer to smash his ankles so he can’t escape.

1. The Shining (1980)

Finally, the scariest movie based on the works of Stephen King happens to be the one the author dislikes the most: The Shining. Where this movie shines–pun intended–is Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance, a man slowly descending into madness during a long winter where he and his family are taking care of a hotel which is closed for the season. Sure, the twin girl ghosts are creepy, and the elevator full of blood is unforgettable, but one of the most terrifying moments comes from an ax-wielding Torrance, smashing through a door and yelling, “Here’s Johnny,” while attempting to murder his wife. The Shining hits on so many different types of horror that it’s undeniably the number one spot on this list.


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