There is perhaps no writer whose work has been adapted more to screens both big and small than renowned author Stephen King.
Literally dozens of King’s novels, novellas, and short stories have been made into theatrical motion pictures, limited TV series, or streaming movies, ranging from classics like Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, and The Shawshank Redemption to more recent milestones like It and The Outsider. Some, like ‘Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Shining, and It, have been adapted more than once.
Along the way, there have also been many King adaptations that never actually made it to the screen, or made it in vastly different form than originally intended. For some of these, there were well-known directors and screenwriters who had a vision for the material, but who ended up departing the property as it stalled out, or after that vision got watered down, changed, or scrapped completely.
Here are seven Stephen King adaptations that never surfaced as first intended, along with the filmmakers who were at one point attached to them. While some of them may yet rise from the grave again, it almost certainly won’t be as these talented, in some cases legendary, individuals saw them.
There is perhaps no King title that has been trapped in development hell longer than his 1984 fantasy epic, The Talisman, co-written with his good friend and fellow esteemed horror author, the late Peter Straub. Steven Spielberg’s company, Amblin Entertainment, purchased the rights to the book decades ago — essentially owning them forever — with Spielberg planning to direct the film. Since then, it’s gone through numerous iterations, including a feature film, a six-hour TNT miniseries, a feature again, and currently, a Netflix limited series executive produced by the Duffer brothers of Stranger Things fame.
The thing is, Spielberg long ago abandoned his plan to direct The Talisman, so while we hope it finally makes it to the screen, we have to wonder just what a Spielberg-directed film of a Stephen King novel would have looked like. The story certainly hits all of The Beard’s sweet spots — a young protagonist, a coming-of-age story, a fantasy world, and a scary story that’s not outright horror — and we suspect he might have hit this one out of the park. Hopefully his continued guidance on the project will help give it the adaptation fans have long waited for.
The Eyes of the Dragon
Aimed at younger readers but also connected to The Stand and his mammoth Dark Tower series of books, King’s solo fantasy novel The Eyes of the Dragon was deemed a “YA answer to Game of Thrones” by Deadline when a Hulu series adaptation of the book was announced in 2019. Seth Grahame-Smith — the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies whose name constantly gets attached to projects that never seem to go anywhere — was even named showrunner.
Eyes was previously developed with no success as an animated feature and as a Syfy miniseries, and it unfortunately seems that the Hulu version has suffered the same fate. Grahame-Smith went on The Kingcast podcast to announce that the project was no longer moving forward due to budget and creative considerations. While it was too early for other creatives and cast to come on board, the Hulu adaptation represented the best chance yet for a more family-friendly King tale to grace the screen.
The Dark Tower
We all know what happened in 2017 when a film called The Dark Tower, allegedly based on and a sequel to King’s titanic eight-book fantasy/horror/sci-fi/Western cycle, debuted in theaters after years of stalled attempts. The movie bombed spectacularly with critics, diehard King fans, and general audiences: aside from being a disjointed, incoherent film, King fans were incensed with the way Sony tried to boil down his magnum opus to a 90-minute film, while wider audiences just didn’t know what to make of it or didn’t care.
The movie was the eventual result of years of development for the project, which was initially in the hands of J.J. Abrams (circa 2007) before being acquired by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment in 2010. Abrams envisioned a straightforward seven-film series (the eighth book had not been published yet), but he and his Bad Robot company backed out of the enterprise by 2009.
Imagine and Universal Pictures acquired it the following year, and Howard and Grazer proposed a different and far grander idea: an interlocking series of three movies and two limited TV series, with the latter acting as a bridge between the theatrical films. They even landed Javier Bardem for the lead role of Roland in April 2011. But Universal had been concerned about the budget since the beginning, and as the price tag for the project rose, so did the studio’s anxiety level. Universal finally canceled the whole thing just three months after Bardem’s casting was announced.
Warner Bros. picked it up for a little while, thinking that the linking series could air on HBO, but they were out of the picture by August 2012. Next came the feature film via Sony, and you know how that went. More recently, Amazon picked up the rights and even commissioned a pilot for a TV series version (with a different cast), but ultimately passed as well.
What would the Howard/Grazer iteration have looked like? For one, the casting of Bardem was excellent, even better than the still-impressive Idris Elba in the 2017 feature. Given enough time and money, the movie/TV hybrid might have been expansive enough to attract a whole new audience for such an unusual construct. But for now The Dark Tower remains unreachable.
The Long Walk
King’s first completed novel, written while he was in college in the late 1960s but not published until 1979 under the name Richard Bachman, The Long Walk was set in a totalitarian future America where a brutal government stages a grueling contest for 100 boys that ends in death for all but one. King adaptation specialist Frank Darabont, of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist fame, picked up the rights in 2007, hoping to make an arthouse-style picture.
Darabont’s option finally lapsed after years and ended up at New Line Cinema by 2018, with André Øvredal slated to direct from a screenplay by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac). We’ve heard little about it since, and we kind of wish Darabont could have stuck with it. His three King films to date feature small groups of people bonding or clashing under very intense circumstances, and we think his sensibility could have done The Long Walk justice.
From a Buick 8
The late, great horror filmmaker George A. Romero has been associated with Stephen King since the late 1970s, and at one point or another was attached to screen versions of King classics like The Stand and Pet Sematary. In the end, however, Romero only ended up directing two: Creepshow and The Dark Half. The former is an all-timer (done in collaboration with King himself), while the latter is an underrated minor gem that suffered from poor distribution.
Following the turn of the century, Romero was attached to another King book for a couple of years: it was announced in 2005 that he would direct an adaptation of From a Buick 8, the author’s 2002 novel about a car that is a gateway to a dangerous dimension. The script was penned by actor Johnathon Schaech and author Richard Chizmar, founder of the horror-oriented indie publishing house Cemetery Dance Publications (with which King has long been associated), for their then-new company Chesapeake Films.
Start-up film companies are notorious for announcing projects that never happen, and in this case Chesapeake could never secure financing for the film. Romero was replaced by Tobe Hooper, beginning a long, tortured path of development that has most recently landed at the feet of director Jim Mickle and actor Thomas Jane. While the project may technically still be alive, we mourn the fact that From a Buick 8 joins the list of unrealized King/Romero projects that have come and gone over the years, especially since Romero seemed particularly attuned to his friend’s storytelling instincts.
One of King’s most frightening recent novels, 2014’s Revival follows a minister who loses his faith after his wife and child are killed in a car accident and begins to experiment with electricity to raise the dead. Josh Boone, director of New Mutants, penned a script for Universal Pictures that was eventually put into turnaround, after which Intrepid Pictures and filmmaker Mike Flanagan picked up the rights and pitched the project to Warner Bros. Although Flanagan wrote a script that King himself approved, the studio passed on the project as the King adaptation craze began to peter out in 2020.
Flanagan already had two King-based movies (Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep) under his belt, with the author’s work heavily influenced original projects like Midnight Mass, so he would have been a near-perfect choice to bring the dark, tragic Revival to the screen.
Doctor Sleep Prequel/The Shining Sequel
Unfortunately Mike Flanagan has had two disappointments in a row when it comes to developing King projects. Along with the stalled Revival, the writer-director watched his potential plan for a follow-up to Doctor Sleep crumble when that film took a hard nap at the box office.
That follow-up, commissioned by Warner Bros. before the results came in for Doctor Sleep, was tentatively titled Hallorann and would have focused on the early years of the Overlook Hotel’s one-time head chef, who has the psychic talent known as “the shining” himself. But once Doctor Sleep tanked, “Warner Bros. opted not to proceed with [Hallorann],” Flanagan wrote on Twitter (via Variety). “They control the rights, so that was that.”
Flanagan actually had another idea up his sleeve as well, this time for a direct sequel to Doctor Sleep. As he told Den of Geek, the film would have focused on Abra (Kyliegh Curran), the young girl with psychic powers who began to come into her own – with Dan Torrance’s (Ewan McGregor) guidance — by the end of Doctor Sleep.
“When I met Stephen King, I asked him like, is there more? Do you have anything else for Abra Stone? Because my God, she’s so great,” Flanagan said. “And he left it open … it was people asking questions like that that made him write Doctor Sleep.”
Alas, it looks like neither film will come to pass at this point. But never count out King nor the filmmakers and studio ready to tap into his creative vision – even if it sometimes never bears fruit.