Stephen King adaptations are a difficult thing. The biggest issue, literally, is the sheer length of his novels, which has only been going up in later years. Tight and focused novels such as “Firestarter” or “Carrie” can be easily adapted without anyone crying foul about missing plot, but once you start translating “Bag of Bones” and “The Stand,” you’re gonna have to cut major sections of the novel – even if you are adapting for television. The other major problem is that so much of his works are internal, driven by thought process and a copious amount of “Eureka!” moments. That’s not an easy thing to translate. That’s why this Top 5 is dedicated to Stephen King adaptations, because they are some of the hardest works to adapt around.
5. “The Dead Zone” (David Cronenberg, 1983)
The reason that “The Dead Zone” works is that director David Cronenberg keeps the somber tone of the novel while keeping a lid on his own weird tendencies. Though parts of the plot have changed, I would say that “The Dead Zone” is the most true adaptation of any Stephen King work, since the tone of the movie and of the book match perfectly. Casting Christopher Walken as Johnny Smith (the clairvoyant and disturbed protagonist) was certainly the best choice.
4. “The Stand” (Mick Garris, 1994)
Airing on TV in the early 90’s, when rating limits were tighter, “The Stand” deserves to be on this list simply for existing. It’s an adaptation of “The Stand’s” original release, not the uncut version, but the original release is still an epic novel packed with gore, spiritualism, and sex. The producers had to jettison most of that, but the six-hour movie that remains is still as sweeping as the novel, with a top-notch cast and some fantastic end-of-the-world special effects.
3. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Here we have “The Shining,” which often ranks as number one on lists of Stephen King adaptations. What keeps “The Shining” from being the best adaptation is that it jettisons a lot of what made the Torrance family relatable in favour of having Jack Nicholson sit at a bar and hallucinate for a half hour. What the movie does get right though is the sense of terror that the Overlook Hotel has. The lengthy tracking shots make up for the lack of stories about the previous guests, building incredible tension as it follows poor Danny down the numerous hallways.
2. “The Green Mile” (Frank Darabont, 1999)
Adapted from Stephen King’s serial novel about John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a prisoner on death row with spiritual powers, “The Green Mile” is one of the most affecting works of fiction, in print and celluloid. Though it is a titch over three hours, it is one of the few instances where I enjoy the length. Stephen King and Frank Darabont are best when dealing with drama and “The Green Mile” is one of the most moving and emotional adaptations ever.
1. “The Shawshank Redemption” (Frank Darabont, 1994)
Another Frank Darabont production, “The Shawshank Redemption” shares similar traits with “The Green Mile.” They are both just as emotional, feature great performances by a well-rounded cast, and have a gentle touch courtesy of Darabont. The only thing that gives “The Shawshank Redemption” the slight edge is that it doesn’t have a flashback structure like “The Green Mile.” It’s a small pet peeve of mine. Other than that, these two films are tied as the best Stephen King adaptations.