A brand-new take on Stephen King’s 1980 novel Firestarter, previously adapted as a Drew Barrymore film in 1984, arrives in theatres this week, and it struck us just how many TV and movie versions of the prolific author’s popular works have been made… and then re-made.
With so many creators dying to get a crack at King’s brand of horror storytelling — even if their chosen tale was already adapted by someone else — we thought we’d take a look at the track records so far. Comparing the remake to the original adaptation is inevitable, no matter how much anyone insisted their version went directly back to King’s source material, so best believe we’ll be doing a lot of that for this list.
10. The Mist (2017 TV series)
The 2007 film adaptation of King’s 1980 novella has one of horror cinema’s most memorably shocking endings. Ten years later, Spike TV (now the Paramount Network) brought the story — about a Maine town engulfed in a mysterious, malevolent mist — to the small screen. After a surprisingly strong start, the series soon faltered; you know there’s a problem when all the characters are so unlikable that you’re actively rooting for the mist and its monsters to hurry up and start picking them off. It didn’t help that the movie’s cult status made it feel so much better by comparison (even without that jaw-dropping last act), and The Mist was cancelled after one 10-episode season.
9. The Stand (2020 TV miniseries)
The 1994 mini-series adaptation of King’s much-loved 1978 dark fantasy novel about a devastating global pandemic made some choices that haven’t aged all that well, but on the whole it remains enjoyable, with standout performances from Jamey Sheridan (as Randall Flagg, an evil vision in his denim-on-denim outfits) and Matt Frewer (as fringe character Trashcan Man), among others. The 2020 CBS All Access (now Paramount+) miniseries — which had the unfortunate/eerie luck to be released in December 2020, at the height of an actual, real-world pandemic — boasted a stellar cast (Whoopi Goldberg, Greg Kinnear, James Marsters, Nat Wolff, Alexander Skarsgård), but its nine episodes felt oddly paced, like there was both too much and yet not enough space to tell King’s sprawling ensemble story. Even worse, the much-hyped “new ending,” written by King himself, felt both unmemorable and unnecessary.
8. Children of the Corn (2009 TV movie)
Donald P. Borchers, the producer of the 1984 original Children of the Corn cinematic adaptation of King’s 1977 short story, directed this version that first aired on Syfy in the U.S.. Unlike the 1984 original — a midnight-movie classic which stars a Terminator-era Linda Hamilton as a woman who encounters a very creepy cult of harvest-obsessed kids while on a road trip, and John Franklin as the delightfully evil leader of that cult — this remake didn’t make much of an impact. Fun fact: there are 11 films in the surprisingly robust (but not really recommendable, aside from that first entry) Children of the Corn series, including a 2020 prequel confusingly titled Children of the Corn.
7. The Shining (1997 TV miniseries)
King was famously dissatisfied with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 feature adaptation of his 1977 book, so this allowed him something of a do-over (he wrote the screenplay and frequent King-adaptation helmer Mick Garris directed). In this version, we get the King-approved ending that sees the Overlook Hotel — played on-screen by King’s actual inspiration for the novel’s setting, Colorado’s Stanley Hotel — meeting fiery doom, but the entire viewing experience is haunted by the fact that Kubrick’s film is a visually stunning, genuinely scary horror masterpiece, and this is… a three-part made-for-ABC miniseries. The special effects are particularly distracting when seen through 2022 eyes.
6. Carrie (2002 TV movie)
Before Pushing Daisies, Hannibal, and American Gods, Bryan Fuller wrote the screenplay for NBC’s take on King’s 1974 first published novel, previously and famously made into a 1976 feature directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek in a performance that’s since become iconic. Angela Bettis plays the title character and Patricia Clarkson plays her controlling mother; other co-stars include Kandyse McClure (star of 2009’s Children of the Corn!) as the sympathetic Sue Snell and Emilie de Ravin (Lost, Once Upon a Time) as mean girl Chris Hargensen. Bettis — whose other 2002 horror film, May, has since become a cult favourite — is the cast standout in a movie that’s OK but also sort of a “why,” considering the enduring power of the original.
5. Pet Sematary (2019 feature film)
King’s 1983 novel about a mystical patch of land with the power to bring dead things back to life (a tempting yet extremely ill-advised thing to do, as the characters soon learn) begat Mary Lambert’s 1989 movie, which contains some of the most alarming imagery (the scalpel-wielding Gage! ZELDA!) found in any King adaptation. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s remake fails to recapture those scares, but its reworks of King’s original plot are intriguing. The biggest change was blatantly spoiled by one of the film’s trailers (watch it above if you must), but the film’s last-act twist may still genuinely surprise you.
4. Salem’s Lot (2004 TV miniseries)
King’s 1975 vampire tale got the TV miniseries treatment in 1979, directed by no less a horror talent than Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist), with acting legend James Mason starring as the vampire’s familiar, Richard Straker. And yes, there is a new Salem’s Lot feature film on the way, too. But lurking between the two is this two-part TNT adaptation from director Mikael Salomon (Band of Brothers); it stars Rob Lowe (who’s also in the 1989 The Stand) as well as Donald Sutherland (as Straker) and Rutger Hauer (as the bloodthirsty Kurt Barlow). It’s hard to top the first miniseries, and this version doesn’t. But it’s entertaining at least.
3. Carrie (2013 feature film)
Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) helmed this (second) remake that updates and leans into Carrie’s already prominent bullying themes (for instance: Carrie’s mortifying first period is filmed by a classmate and swiftly uploaded to YouTube), with strong performances by Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore as the daughter-and-mother duo — and Judy Greer, who is great in everything, as concerned teacher Miss Desjardin. It’s not a bad version of one of King’s most famous horror tales, and more nuanced and artistically sleek than the 2002 version. But with the 1976 Carrie already out there in the world, it can’t help but feel redundant.
2. The Dead Zone (2002-2007 TV series)
King’s 1979 sci-fi thriller was adapted into a 1982 David Cronenberg film starring Christopher Walken as a man who wakes from a coma to discover he has psychic powers — and thereafter devotes himself to trying to alter the tragic and/or apocalyptic events he glimpses. The USA Network TV series starring Anthony Michael Hall took a more loose “inspired by” approach to the source material, but it ran for a surprisingly successful six seasons, getting a lot of mileage out of scenarios in which the main character’s gift (seeing some dire event in the future, then trying to change that future) was put to use.
1. It and It Chapter Two (2017 and 2019 feature films)
Make no mistake: we love the 1990 TV miniseries (even though it still gives us nightmares), and Tim Curry is still Top Pennywise, now and forever. But Andy Muschietti’s epic feature adaptation of King’s 1986 novel is commendable in so many ways, from the artistic execution to the excellent casting. Though part one, which focuses on the younger versions of the main characters and brings real emotion to its terrors, is the superior entry (part two is definitely gorier, though), taken together the films are a remarkable accomplishment for the horror genre. Bill Skarsgård even managed to bring his own distinctive flair to Pennywise, despite having huge (demonic) clown shoes to fill.
While you’re here, why not check out all other sci-fi, horror and fantasy films coming our way this year.