Stephen King’s TV Adaptations, Ranked From Worst to Best


Stephen King’s catalog has seen numerous big-screen adaptations, some successful (The Shining, Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption) and some not-so-much (Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return immediately comes to mind, doesn’t it?). Considering his tendency for thousand-page novels, it’s no surprise that the breadth of his books have also received the small-screen treatment. With CBS’s 13-part adaptation of Under the Dome currently underway (much to fans’ dismay, despite King’s endorsement of the series), here’s a ranking of Stephen King novels that have played out on our television sets.

15. Children of the Corn (2009)

How many times has some variation of Children of the Corn proven that the story of murderous, religious fanatic kids is of evergreen interest? Nine. Nine! Obviously, the 2009 TV remake of the original was as needless as the first film’s seven sequels.

14. Salem’s Lot (2004)

Another TV remake of a far-better adaptation, the 2004 version of King’s take on the vampire genre starred Rob Lowe, bringing all of his wooden acting talents to battle small-town bloodsuckers.

13. The Shining (1997)

Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant adaptation of his novel so much that he wrote a six-hour version that stuck much closer to his book. Unfortunately, it turned into a long, boring TV-movie starring Steven Weber, who I think we can all agree is in no way as threatening as Jack Nicholson.

12. Trucks (1997)

Stephen King’s short story about semi-trailers that come to life and go on a terrifying killing spree has seen two adaptations (the first was King’s feature-film directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive). The TV remake, like most TV remakes, is fairly dull and pointless.

11. The Langoliers (1995)

In one of the more bizarre network TV movies ever made, gigantic meatball-like creatures come out of the sky to devour a group of nine people who take a flight through a time warp and land mysteriously in Bangor, Maine. (What have we learned from Stephen King’s oeuvre? Stay the hell away from Bangor.)

10. Sometimes They Come Back (1991)

This horror flick about demonic greasers is what happens when you take out the famous people and songs from Grease! and add a lot of knives and fire.

9. Desperation (2006)

Following the residents of a small desert town who find themselves at the mercy of an evil spirit named Tak (sure!), this middling adaptation of King’s novel went relatively unnoticed as ABC aired the three-hour movie on the same night as American Idol.

8. Carrie (2002)

While making another version of Carrie still sounds like a good idea, this early-aughts TV version proves that there’s not a lot you can bring to the original idea. Here, we get Patricia Clarkson and what resembles a high school AV club project, which dutifully follows the framing device of King’s novel.

7. Nightmares and Dreamscapes (2006)

This TNT miniseries got a surprising number of big names (including Williams Hurt and H. Macy) to star in short films based on stories found in King’s collection of the same title (as well as the earlier collection, Night Shift). Sadly, it didn’t blow any minds and, like a lot of small-screen attempts at tacking King’s work, is mostly forgotten.

6. Bag of Bones (2011)

A&E aired this two-part miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan as a blocked best-selling novelist terrorized by both the spirit of his recently deceased wife and a 1920s jazz singer who has cursed his town. The consensus? Much more campy than scary.

5. The Tommyknockers (1993)

Stephen King’s take on the body-snatcher story features an alien invasion that results in a lot of neon-green lighting and a remarkably racy sex scene between Jimmy Smits and an extraterrestrial-possessed Marg Helgenberger.

4. The Dead Zone (2002-2007)

Nineteen years after the very good David Cronenberg-directed, Christopher Walken-starring film adaptation, The Dead Zone became a USA original series starring former Brat Packer Anthony Michael Hall. Sure, it lacks Croneberg’s (and Walken’s) trademark creepiness, but the show lasted a solid six seasons.

3. Salem’s Lot (1979)

The original (and superior) version of King’s vampire story is at times a bit cheesy and campy (that aqua-blue Nosferatu is, admittedly, not as terrifying years later), but in this current Twilight / True Blood era, in which vampires don’t do much other than mope, fuck, and symbolize a variety marginalized groups (from Mormons to homosexuals), it’s nice to revisit a classic vampire tale in which the villains just want to drink the blood of humanity.

2. It (1990)

Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise is pretty much single-handedly responsible for why it’s so fashionable to claim an extreme phobia of clowns. It might just be the most terrifying thing to ever air on network television.

1. The Stand (1994)

Stephen King’s biggest-selling (and arguably best) novel got the epic miniseries treatment in the mid-’90s. It was one of the last television events of its time, and viewers were gripped with suspense while watching the end-of-days narrative in which good and evil battled amidst a population-killing super virus.