This week, an all-new take on Stephen King’s 1980 novel Firestarter, previously adapted as a 1984 Drew Barrymore film, hits theaters. We noticed how many TV and film versions of the prolific author’s famous works had been made. … and then recreated.
With so many creators eager to get to know King’s horror stories – even if someone else had already adopted their chosen story, we thought we’d check out the track records so far. It’s inevitable to compare the remake to the original adaptation, no matter how much someone insists their version return to King’s source material. We better believe we’ll do much of that for this list.
10. The Mist (2017 TV series)
The 2007 film adaptation of King’s 1980 novella has one of the horror film’s most memorably shocking endings. Ten years later, Spike TV (now the Paramount Network) brought the story—about a Maine town shrouded in a mysterious, evil mist—on the small screen. After a surprisingly strong start, the series quickly falters; you know there is a problem when all the characters are so unsympathetic that you are actively trying to shoot the fog and its monsters and pick them up. It didn’t help that the film’s cult status made it feel that much better in comparison (even without that jaw-dropping final act), and The Mist was canceled after one 10-episode season.
9. The Stand (2020 TV miniseries)
The 1994 miniseries adaptation of King’s beloved 1978 dark fantasy novel about a devastating global pandemic made some choices that haven’t aged very well. The 2020 CBS All Access (now Paramount+) miniseries — unlucky/uncannily lucky to be released in December 2020, at the height of a real-world pandemic — had a stellar cast (Whoopi Goldberg, Greg Kinnear, James Marsters, Nat Wolff, Alexander Skarsgård). Still, the nine episodes felt oddly paced, as if there was too much, yet not enough room to tell King’s sprawling ensemble story. Worse, the much-hyped “new ending,” written by King himself, felt both unmemorable and unnecessary. Still, overall it remains enjoyable, with standout performances from Jamey Sheridan (as Randall Flagg, an evil vision in his denim-on-denim outfits) and Matt Frewer (as side character Trashcan Man), among others.
8. Children of the Corn (2009 TV movie)
Donald P. Borchers, the producer of the original 1984 Children of the Corn film adaptation of King’s 1977 short story, directed this version which first aired on Syfy in the US. Unlike the 1984 original—a midnight movie classic starring Terminator-era Linda Hamilton as a woman who encounters a creepy cult of crop-obsessed children on a road trip and John Franklin as that cult’s delightfully evil leader – this remake didn’t make much of an impression. Fun fact: There are 11 movies in the surprisingly robust (but not recommended, aside from that first entry) Children of the Corn series, including a 2020 prequel confusingly titled Children of the Corn.
7. The Shining (1997 TV miniseries)
King was famously dissatisfied with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of his 1977 book, which allowed him to redo it (he wrote the screenplay and regularly directed King adaptation by director Mick Garris). In this version, we get the King-approved ending where the Overlook Hotel—played on-screen by King’s true inspiration for the novel’s setting, Colorado’s Stanley Hotel—meets fiery demise. The special effects are particularly disturbing when seen through the eyes of 2022. Still, the whole viewing experience is haunted by the fact that Kubrick’s movie is a visually stunning, truly scary horror masterpiece. This is… a three-part miniseries made for ABC.
6. Carrie (2002 television movie)
Before pushing Daisies, Hannibal, and American Gods, Bryan Fuller wrote the screenplay for NBC’s take on King’s first published 1974 novel, previously and made famous in a 1976 feature film directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek in a performance, Which has since become iconic. Angela Bettis plays the title character, and Patricia Clarkson plays her controlling mother; Other co-stars include Kandyse McClure (2009 star of Children of the Corn!) as the loveable Sue Snell and Emilie de Ravin (Lost, Once Upon a Time) as the mean girl Chris Hargensen. Bettis – whose other 2002 horror film, May, has since become a cult favorite – is the cast that stands out in a movie that’s okay but also sort of a “why,” given the staying power of the original.
5. Pet Sematary (feature film 2019)
King’s 1983 novel about a mystical patch of land with the power to bring dead things back to life (a tempting but utterly unwise thing to do, as the characters quickly learn) spawned Mary Lambert’s 1989 film, which features some of the most disturbing imagery (the scalpel-wielding Gage! ZELDA!) found in every King adaptation. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s remake fails to recapture those fears, but the reworkings of King’s original plot are intriguing. The biggest change was blatantly ruined by one of the movie’s trailers (watch it above if you must), but its final twist may still genuinely surprise you.
4. Salem’s Lot (2004 TV miniseries)
King’s 1975 vampire story got the TV miniseries treatment in 1979, directed by none other than a horror talent than Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist), starring acting legend James Mason as the vampire’s acquaintance, Richard Straker. And yes, a new Salem’s Lot feature film is also coming up. But between the two lies this two-part TNT adaptation from director Mikael Salomon (Band of Brothers); it stars Rob Lowe (who also appeared in 1989’s The Stand) as well as Donald Sutherland (as Straker) and Rutger Hauer (as the bloodthirsty Kurt Barlow). It’s hard to top the first miniseries and not this version. But it’s entertaining anyway.
3. Carrie (2013 feature film)
Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) spearheaded this (second) remake that updates and leans on Carrie’s already prominent bullying themes (for example, Carrie’s humiliating first period is filmed by a classmate and quickly uploaded to YouTube), with strong performances from Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore as the daughter-and-mother duo – and Judy Greer, who is good at everything, as concerned Miss Desjardin. It’s not a bad version of one of King’s most famous horror stories, and it’s more nuanced and artistically streamlined than the 2002 version. But now that the 1976 Carrie is already in the world, it can’t help but feel superfluous.
2. The Dead Zone (TV series 2002-2007)
King’s 1979 sci-fi thriller was adapted into a 1982 David Cronenberg film starring Christopher Walken as a man who wakes from a coma to discover he has psychic powers—then devotes himself to trying to solve the tragic and apocalyptic events he sees change. The USA Network TV series starring Anthony Michael Hall took a looser “inspired by” approach to its source material. Still, it ran for a surprisingly successful six seasons, drawing plenty of miles from scenarios where the lead character’s gift ( given some bad event in the future, and then trying to change that future) into use.
1. It and It Chapter Two (2017 and 2019 feature films)
We love the 1990 TV miniseries (even if it still gives us nightmares), and Tim Curry is still Top Pennywise, now and forever. But Andy Muschietti’s epic feature film adaptation of King’s 1986 novel is commendable in many ways, from the artistic execution to the superb casting. While part one, which focuses on the younger versions of the main characters and brings real emotion to its horrors, is the superior entry (part two is gorier), the films are a remarkable achievement for the horror genre. Bill Skarsgård even managed to bring his signature flair to Pennywise, despite having huge (demonic) clown shoes to fill.
While you’re here, check out all the other sci-fi, horror, and fantasy movies this year.