Legendary author Stephen King turns 69 today. So to celebrate six decades in the life of the man who's both scared us senseless with his horror fiction and moved us to tears with his more sensitive material, we've selected our 12 favourite movie adaptations of his work.
The lowdown: King's very first bestseller (the manuscript for which was almost discarded before his wife Tabitha rescued it) was turned into a lush opera of emotion and horror by the master of such things, Brian De Palma. Utilising steady slow motion shots, a haunting score by Pino Donaggio and gallons of claret, most infamously in the climactic prom massacre sequence, it's all anchored by young Sissy Spacek's sensational, Oscar-nominated performance as the eponymous Carrie, a persecuted girl tormented by her own telekinetic abilities.
The lowdown: AKA the TV mini-series that scared an entire generation of moviegoers away from their bedroom windows. Director Tobe Hooper's adaptation of King's sprawling epic is hailed for generally sticking true to the book's sense of menace, exploring a small Maine town that is slowly being overrun by vampires. Even so it's the boy bloodsucker Danny Glick floating up to the window that still wigs us out – even now, we can't help but yell: "DON'T OPEN IT!"
The lowdown: King famously loathed Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his hefty ghost story, perhaps unsurprisingly given the novel's explicitly supernatural events were transformed by the director into something far more psychologically ambiguous and disturbing. But that's why the film works: by turning the novel inside out, it's able to stand on its own terms as a disorienting masterwork of horror with unnervingly graceful camerawork, terrifying sequences taking place in broad daylight and a classic, cracked performance from Jack Nicholson.
The Dead Zone
The lowdown: One of the overlooked King adaptations comes courtesy of the esteemed The Fly director David Cronenberg who dials down his usual body horror focus to deliver an eerie and genuinely emotional look at one man coming apart at the seams. Based on King's 1979 novel, it's the story of a man who awakens from a coma to discover he has psychic powers, although it changes a great many details from the book. Nevertheless it's impossible to deny the acute sensitivity of Christopher Walken's powerful lead performance, reining in his usual sense of weird to really provoke tears in the audience.
Stand By Me
The lowdown: King is arguably better at fashioning heartfelt tales about real people than he is at scaring the pants off us. His story 'The Body', one of four contained with his Different Seasons anthology, focuses on a group of small-town adolescents who trek off together to locate the corpse of a local kid. It's a wistful story brimming with a sense of profound nostalgia, and one absolutely nailed by This is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner in his classic 1986 adaptation. Bottling the moving essence of the story to a tee, it's given further heft by the outstanding performances of young actors River Phoenix, Will Wheaton, Corey Feldman and Jerry O'Connell.
The lowdown: Rob Reiner returns to King territory but in far more gleefully nasty form with this classic chiller, another surefire sign of the filmmaker's confidence in adapting the author's work. King's disturbing story tells of a burnt-out writer who is kidnapped by his deranged number one fan, and Reiner squeezes as much tension as is possible from the confined, claustrophobic scenario. Of course, it's all sold by the unforgettable performances from James Caan as the persecuted writer and, most famously, Oscar-winning Kathy Bates as the psychotic Annie Wilkes. Honestly, who can watch the hobbling scene without cringing?
The lowdown: OK, we'll admit it – King's doorstop tome does a spectacular job of building a creepy sense of horror for the first 500 pages before the second half devolves into a load of incoherent mythology and action. It's a problem that extends to this TV adaptation – but such is the pervasive sense of menace conveyed by actor Tim Curry as malevolent clown Pennywise, we can't ignore it. With his rasping voice, long talons and blood-filled balloons, Curry absolutely embodies the essence of King's monster – and Pennywise is set to return in next year's big-screen IT adaptation as played by Bill Skarsgard. We're scared already...
The Shawshank Redemption
The lowdown: Greatest Stephen King adaptation of all time? It's hard to argue. King's Different Seasons story 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption' is immaculately expanded into this sprawling and beautifully moving drama, the tale of a young banker sent down for life in a notoriously violent prison, and the friendship he forms with a fellow lifer. Director Frank Darabont's steady sense of pace really helps us feel the cumulative weight of the years passing, and the oppressive, often violent nature of the storyline leads to a palpable sigh of freedom when we're released from the prison walls. Plus, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman (in the role that solidified him as the trustworthy sage) have rarely been better.
The lowdown: King's time-jumping story of a fractured mother-daughter relationship finds its focus in a more domestic and recognisable sense of horror, allowing director Taylor Hackford the perfect jumping-off point to craft a powerfully downbeat drama. In her second King role Kathy Bates may even excel her Oscar-winning Misery performance, playing the eponymous Dolores as a possibly murderous yet empathetic figure with a tragic history of domestic abuse. She's matched beat for beat by the excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dolores' estranged, embittered daughter Selena.
The Green Mile
The lowdown: Frank Darabont's second crack at King doesn't have quite the same impact as Shawshank. The movie is too long, dotted with too many characters and sub-plots, a byproduct of the author's rich prose, but there's no denying its emotional strengths. As a group of Louisiana Death Row guards are forever changed by a mysterious black man named John Coffey, the stage is set for some none-too-subtle religious allegory but the performances from the likes of Tom Hanks, late Oscar nominee Michael Clarke Duncan and David Morse are tremendous. Plus, there are at least half a dozen sequences that make us bawl our eyes out.
The lowdown: One of King's greatest high-concept scenarios revolves around a hack writer who debunks supernatural events spending a night in a supposedly haunted New York hotel room. King's brilliantly creepy 1999 short story is turned into a barnstorming and somewhat underrated ghostly chiller by director Mikael Hafstrom who delights in both messing with our heads and making us leap out of our seats in shock. The entire movie is anchored by one of John Cusack's greatest late-period roles, the actor superbly conveying the essence of one man steadily going mad within the confines of one room. (Just try to put the DVD ending out of your mind; the theatrical version is way better.)
The lowdown: Yep, it's Frank Darabont again but in a marked contrast to his tear-jerking King movies of old, here he unleashes a relentlessly nasty box of tricks and simply looks to scare us witless. A story of a group of townsfolk besieged in a supermarket by both a mysterious mist and the flesh-eating creatures contained within, it allows Darabont to venture back to his horror roots, a creature feature whose gory effects are genuinely alarming. Even so, it's the human threat within the mall that's most potent, notably deranged religious nutjob Mrs Carmody (a brilliantly repellent Marcia Gay Harden) – and that ending? We're still getting over it now.
What are your favourite King movie adaptations? What ones have we missed out? Send us your choices @Cineworld.