Stephen King: The 10 Scariest Movies Based On His Books, Ranked

There are almost as many scary movies based on Stephen King books as there are books he’s written. A few of them were TV miniseries instead and some have not been filmed at all yet, although some already have remakes. King may be a master horror writer, but not all directors are masters at turning them into scary movies. That includes King himself who directed one of his worst adaptations, Maximum Overdrive.

Jack Nicholson | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

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It was still hard to narrow down the 10 scariest Stephen King movie adaptations. Consider that the best Stephen King movies aren’t even horror movies: The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Dolores Claiborne, The Green Mile, 1922, The Running Man. Compilations of his short stories like the Creepshow films and Cat’s Eye have some winners but are mostly uneven. So here are Showbiz Cheat Sheet’s ranking of the scariest Stephen King movies. Do you dare watch them tonight?

10. Children of the Corn – Stephen King In Brief

This ’80s movie based on a King short is a little cheesy, but creepy kids in a cornfield? Are you kidding? Not even Linda Hamilton can terminate them. They made a ton of sequels and the creep factor may wear off by part five or six, but one trip to the cornfield is enough.

9. 1408 – Stephen King’s Hotel Horror

King can make a single hotel room scary (see below too). John Cusack stays in the allegedly haunted room 1408, and let’s just say he’s not going to be leaving a very nice Yelp review. 1408 was one of King’s short stories, but it still had enough frights for a whole movie. 

8. Gerald’s Game – Unfilmable Stephen King

This King book was considered unfilmable, because it stars only one woman and it’s all her internal point of view. Writers Jeff Howard and Mike Flanagan, who also directed, figured it out. King’s premise is a very human fear. Handcuffed to the bed during a sex game, Jessie (Carla Gugino)’s husband dies leaving her stranded. Then other visitors leave her even more vulnerable.

Stephen King's Gerald's Game
Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino | Netflix

7. The Mist – The Scarier of Two Evils

Shawshank and Green Mile writer/director Frank Darabont always wanted to make The Mist and he finally got to do one of King’s actual horror stories. After a storm, a group of neighbors becomes fogged in at the local supermarket. There are creatures out in the mist, but are they even as scary as human beings pushed to the edge?

6. The Dead Zone – Stephen King’s Scary Gift

This one is sort of on the edge of not quite being horror. Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) has the ability to see the future. Many of the tragedies he foresees are chilling and the suspense of weather or not he can prevent them keeps you on edge until the final vision.

Stephen King's The Dead Zone
L-R: Christopher Walken, Sonny Elliman and Martin Sheen | Paramount/Getty Images

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5. It – The Biggest Stephen King

This is really two movies, to capture King’s 1,100 page tome, and it’s still five hours all in. The supernatural force terrorizing the kids of Derry, Maine has no limits. Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) is its signature manifestation, but it can hit you with any of your deepest fears. And growing up isn’t going to save you either.

4. Carrie – The First Stephen King

King’s first book has been adapted many times into two movies, one with a sequel, and a TV miniseries They’ll probably remake it again because Carrie is always timeless. Brian De Palma’s 1976 movie did the book faithfully. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is really a tragic figure. If one thing had been different, she might have been okay.

Stephen King's Carrie
Sissy Spacek | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

If she didn’t have an abusive, religious mother, she might have gone through puberty without incident. If the mean kids didn’t bully her, she might have been content. If she didn’t have psychic powers, she wouldn’t have been able to murder all her abusers. She may have wanted to, but it’s those powers that made her dangerous.

3 The Shining/Doctor Sleep – The Torrance Saga

This too is all one story now. King may not like Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his most personal book. That’s fair, but Kubrick’s recreation of the twins, the bloody elevator and room 237 are unimpeachable parts of cinema history. Based on King’s own sequel, Flanagan found a way to make both Kubrick fans and King himself happy.

Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep
Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep | Warner Bros. Entertainment

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Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as an adult is every bit as compelling as he was when he defeated his father as a child, and he gets to mentor young Abra (Kyliegh Curran). They face new terrors from the vampiric clan The Knot, and on top of that still have to contend with the Overlook ghosts.

2. Misery – Stephen King’s Worst Nightmare

Gee, wonder what gave King this idea? Superfan Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) holds her favortie author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), captive when he crashes his car in a blizzard. To make matters worse, she has some notes on his last two novels.

Stephen King's Misery
Kathy Bates James Caan | Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

The psychological battle of wits between Paul and Annie is exhilarating but always terrifying because you never know what Annie is capable of. 

1. Pet Sematary – You Reap What You Sow

Both Pet Sematary movies are good and the 2019 remake takes a different enough twist on the story to be its own compelling exploration. But the faithful 1989 movie is peak ’80s gore on top of King’s primal tale. Behind the Pet Sematary (misspelled by kids), there’s a Micmac burial ground that can bring the dead back.

So Louis (Dale Midkiff) brings his daughter’s cat back to spare her the heartbreak. When his family suffers a tragedy, can he really stay away from the burial ground? Everything and everyone who comes back returns on a murderous rampage, but the scariest part is Louis’s relentless drive to make bad decisions. Nobody can stop him.