By our estimate, there are some 87 different theatrical movies, TV or streaming movies, TV series and limited series based on the works of Stephen King. Knock off the nine Children of the Corn sequels and the two additional Mangler movies (which, c’mon, none of those are making anyone’s “best of King” list), and you’ve still got a significant bounty of King-inspired content to plow through, even if not all of them are exactly top-tier fare.
We’ve curated that list down to a manageable three dozen or so, both big and small screen, that are 1) all available for streaming and 2) significant or notable in some way. Your mileage may vary, and you may want to dig deeper for a few favorites we’ve left out. But we’re satisfied that this is a King list fans can easily binge for weeks on end — whether you’re trapped by a raging snowstorm in an empty hotel or locked in your house due to an apocalyptic pandemic.
The 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek as a young girl whose psychokinetic fury is unleashed by relentless high school bullying was the first King adaptation (of his first published novel) and still one of the best. Followed by less impressive remakes in 2002 (a TV movie) and 2013 (a theatrical release).
Salem’s Lot (1979)
King’s second novel and first masterpiece, about vampires overrunning a small Maine town, also became the basis of the author’s first foray into TV. The two-part, 4-hour (with commercials) miniseries compressed the book but still featured a number of effective and chilling sequences. A remake — also a four-hour miniseries — followed in 2004.
The Shining (1980)
One of King’s all-time classics was turned into one of the greatest horror movies of all time by Stanley Kubrick. The film still holds up as a sustained exercise in dread, featuring a performance for the ages by Jack Nicholson as the doomed caretaker of the Overlook Hotel.
King’s first produced screenplay was a collaboration with legendary horror director George A. Romero on an anthology of grisly EC Comics-inspired tales. More fun than truly scary, Creepshow is still a blast and even includes King himself in the cast as the ultimate redneck. Look out for an early Ted Danson appearance too! Horror streaming service Shudder recently launched a series inspired by the movie.
A rabid St. Bernard traps a woman and her toddler son in a searing hot car with no escape in sight in this adaptation of King’s 1981 novel. The movie changed the book’s bleak ending but is still unbearably tense in places, with an excellent performance by Dee Wallace (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) as the mom.
The Dead Zone (1983) / (2002–2007)
Johnny Smith (an outstanding Christopher Walken) wakes from a five-year coma to find that he can see the future…and realizes he’s the only one who can stop a megalomaniac politician (who seems all too familiar now) from wrecking the world. King’s lyrical novel became a poignant movie from David Cronenberg, who put aside the body horror for something more poetic. The book also inspired a TV series starring Anthony Michael Hall as Johnny.
The ink was barely dry on the first copies of King’s novel about a haunted car before John Carpenter’s screen adaptation was in theaters. The cast is clearly a little too old to be playing high school students, but that bad-ass Plymouth Fury is really the star of the show. It’s not top-tier for either King or Carpenter, but it’s still fun.
Children of the Corn (1984)
The movie that launched a franchise of its own (11 films, including 10 sequels and a remake!) started life as an unassuming King short story — and not even a particularly memorable one at that. Somehow the idea of an ancient entity lurking in a cornfield and demanding sacrifices from a cult of children caught on…and just kept going.
Little Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore) can start fires with her mind, so naturally the U.S. government’s most clandestine and sinister branch wants to weaponize her. Although it’s one of the most faithful adaptations of a King novel, Firestarter only works in fits and starts, and its cast — led by vets like George C. Scott, Art Carney and Martin Sheen — is inconsistent.
Available on Amazon (US only)
Cat’s Eye (1985)
This second King-based anthology features adaptations of two of the most fun stories from his classic Night Shift collection — “Quitters, Inc.” and “The Ledge” — as well as an original tale called “General,” all somehow tied together by a pesky cat. A minor entry for sure, but a brisk, breezy 94 minutes.
Available on Amazon (US only)
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Yes, this movie — based on King’s early short story “Trucks” — is also the author’s directorial debut. And yes, he wisely stuck to his day job after taking this sole turn behind the camera. Despite its pulsing score by AC/DC, Maximum Overdrive is just a bad movie, but still worth a look for its overall wackiness and King’s directorial, er, skills.
Available on Amazon (US only)
Stand By Me (1986)
“The Body,” one of the four novellas from King’s first non-horror collection, Different Seasons, was the basis for this beautifully directed, deeply felt coming-of-age tale from director Rob Reiner. The four young stars — Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell and Corey Feldman — all took very different paths after breaking through in this moving small town odyssey. One of the best King adaptations.
The Running Man (1987)
King wrote the slim novel this is based on — one of his few overt sci-fi stories — under his Richard Bachman pseudonym in about a week. Very loosely inspired by the book, the movie stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the main contestant on a game show where criminals are hunted by professional killers. Directed by Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky of Starsky & Hutch fame), The Running Man was actually more fun than King/Bachman’s grim potboiler.
Pet Sematary (1989)/(2019)
One of King’s darkest, most horrifying novels, Pet Sematary is about death — how we face it, how we process it, and whether we would ever dare try to cheat it. The Mary Lambert-directed 1989 movie has its weak spots, but captures the tone of King’s book. 2019’s remake made a significant detour from the story that infuriated some fans and surprised others.
Take your pick: King’s mammoth monsterpalooza of a novel was first adapted as a two-part miniseries and then a two-part movie (more on that below). The TV version is good but hampered by its budget and esthetic restrictions; it’s best remembered for a tremendous performances by Tim Curry as Pennywise, the clown manifestation of the evil title entity.
Rob Reiner is one of three members of a small club of directors who have made more than one excellent King adaptation (Frank Darabont and Mike Flanagan are the others). Annie Wilkes, the psychotic ex-nurse who traps her favorite author (James Caan) in her house after he’s gravely injured is a character for the ages, and Kathy Bates won a well-deserved Oscar for her performance. Misery is grim, macabre, funny and humane, and one of the best King movies ever.
The Lawnmower Man (1992)
Based on the slimmest of King short stories, this sci-fi thriller defined the term “loosely inspired.” Jeff Fahey stars as a simple-minded gardener who is turned into an all-powerful cyberbeing by the experiments of a scientist (Pierce Brosnan). King sued to have his name removed from the film’s credits and marketing materials, and won.
Needful Things (1993)
Based on a novel billed as “the last Castle Rock story” (it wasn’t), Needful Things is a deal-with-the-devil tale in which old Scratch is played by Max von Sydow, switching to the other team after his iconic turn as The Exorcist. Von Sydow and Ed Harris lead a generally excellent cast in an often clever story, but director Fraser Heston’s work is never more than pedestrian.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
It may not be the most financially successful King movie of all time, but it’s perhaps only second to The Shining in its infiltration into the cultural zeitgeist. Directed by Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead), this story of how friendship and hope endures over decades in a bleak prison is powerful, profound and deserving of its classic status.
Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Kathy Bates stars in her second King drama, this time as the title character, a woman who is somewhat more complex than Annie Wilkes and, in the end, deeply empathetic. Bates drives this overlooked and often absorbing film about memory, loss and injustice, all told through a singular, feminist point of view.
The Green Mile (1999)
Frank Darabont became the master of Stephen King prison stories with this three-hour epic about a team of death row guards led by Tom Hanks and the psychically gifted inmate (the late Michael Clarke Duncan) who changes their lives. Although King’s story falls into the “magic Negro” trap, it’s still an often endearing and moving tale.
ABC’s long-running series of King adaptations closed out with this single-night, three-hour movie directed by regular King associate Mick Garris (The Stand). It’s set in the title town, a wide spot on a Nevada road that has come under the control of a frightening entity named Tak. Like the book, Desperation starts out strong but starts to run out of gas toward the end.
Available on Amazon (US Only)
After a sparse few years on the big screen, King returned in style with 1408, a nifty little thriller based on one of his more chilling short stories. John Cusack plays a cynical author of paranormal books who spends the night in an actual haunted hotel room; what happens inside is genuinely unsettling.
Available on Amazon (US only)
The Mist (2007)
The third King-based film by Frank Darabont is also the darkest — Darabont even changed King’s bleak but ambiguous ending to make it even more depressing. A sort of throwback to 1950s monster movies (Darabont even wanted to film it in black and white), The Mist is scary, Lovecraftian fun. King’s story also inspired a TV series that ran for a single season on Spike.
Under the Dome (2013–2015)
Based on one of King’s most well-received recent novels, Under the Dome — about a small Maine town (of course) sealed inside a massive, mysterious alien bubble — started out like gangbusters and got progressively weirder and dumber as it veered further away from King’s epic. But the first season is pretty strong and you may find yourself sucked in anyway.
King’s other big book from about a decade ago was a gripping time travel tale about a man who goes back to 1963 to stop JFK from getting shot. Well-acted by stars James Franco and Sarah Gadon, and full of both heart and supernatural mystery, 11.22.63 is well worth your time (haha) if you missed it the first time around.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
King’s “unfilmable” novel — about a woman left chained to a bed in a remote house after her husband dies of a heart attack during sex play — was indeed filmed (for Netflix) by horror auteur Mike Flanagan, who combines King’s strange novel and a bravura performance by Carla Gugino in a tense, claustrophobic thriller with a compassionate theme of feminine resilience.
Available on Netflix
Thomas Jane (The Expanse) gives one of the finest performances of his career as Wilfred James, a Nebraska landowner whose depraved plot to kill his wife (Molly Parker) — by getting his son involved — leads to a spiral of psychological and possibly supernatural destruction. A slow-burning, effective thriller that once again proves King’s novellas are often the perfect length for filming.
Available on Netflix
It: Chapter One (2017) / It: Chapter Two (2019)
While the TV movie was okay for its time, the theatrical version of King’s book has a knockout first half and a flabby second. In fact, It: Chapter One is damn near brilliant. Director Andy Muschietti brings real heart to the story of the seven kids who team up to battle It, and Bill Skarsgard outdoes even Tim Curry with a frightening, intense performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Mr. Mercedes (2017–present)
Brendan Gleeson plays retired cop turned private eye Bill Hodges in this series based on King’s Hodges trilogy of supernaturally-tinged crime novels. Gleeson is one of his generation’s finest actors, and the show features a different take on the character of Holly Gibney, who later shows up on The Outsider.
Castle Rock (2018–present)
One of the more unusual King-derived series, Castle Rock wove characters and locations from the King Universe into an original story in its first season, while turning its second year into a prequel to Misery. Think of it as “King remixed,” enjoy the many Easter eggs and relish Lizzy Caplan’s work as a young Annie Wilkes.
In The Tall Grass (2019)
Vincenzo Natali has been a interesting writer/director on movies like Cube and Splice, but he can’t quite make this oddball novella stretch even to just 95 minutes. It’s got its eerie moments, and loopy work from Patrick Wilson, but what makes the story and movie significant is that it’s one of just a handful of collaborations between King and his son Joe Hill.
Available on Netflix
Doctor Sleep (2019)
A sequel to The Shining? It seemed improbable even when King wrote his 2013 novel. But then Mike Flanagan made a movie that somehow managed to follow up both King’s original 1977 book and Stanley Kubrick’s film version. Both frightening and compassionate, Doctor Sleep was one of 2019’s best and most overlooked movies.