5 Scariest Stephen King Film Adaptations

Sabienna Bowman

Sabienna is a freelance writer, pop culture junkie and unabashed fangirl. She blames an early exposure to The X-Files and the Must See TV era of NBC for her twin life-long loves of sci-fi and sitcoms. She's not sure where her all-consuming love for all things British came from, but it led her to Doctor Who so she doesn't complain.

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106 Responses

  1. gambit116 says:

    Salem’s Lot freaked me out when I was a kid

  2. I’m not a horror fan at all, so haven’t seen any of these (although I did see parts of Misery, but I don’t think I ever finished it). However, the one Stephen King adaptation that I did see when I was young and that traumatized me was “It.” Weirdly enough I watched it quite a few times until I realized that maybe it wasn’t having such a positive effect on me. Haha. 

    • Sabienna B. says:

      My parents let me watch both Pet Cemetery and Cujo when I was kid, which pretty much put me off the genre forever. I finally worked up the nerve to watch The Shining last year and I actually really liked it (it’s more of an (extremely) haunted house tale, than straight up horror), but I wouldn’t watch it alone.

      OMG, It! I admire your bravery. I’ve never made it past the opening credits of that one for clown shaped reasons.

    • Challaday says:

       I Liked It the movie…..but the book freaked me out alot more!!

    • JJ says:

      If the film adaptation of “IT” scared you, don’t read the book.  That is one of his books that actually gave me nightmares.  It is sooooo horribly scary, it’s awesome!  I love horror stories though. 

      • Nikki says:

        The first time I saw It, I was scared shitless. I’m already extremely terrified of clowns. It was my best friend at the time’s way of trying to cure that. When that didnt work, she and I read the book for the first time together in one horribly long night. Wanna have a night of no sleep? Read It under the covers in complete darkness with nothing but a cell phone light.

  3. Kelly says:

    “IT”!! Totally solidified my fear of clowns for life. 

  4. Papaeoca says:

    Your 5 list is good, no doubt about it but these two are in my list at the top half!

    1.- Salem´s Lot, book & flick!!!
    2.- It, the book a zillion times scarier than the movie, but the movie is not a walk in the park!!!

    • Sabienna B. says:

      I’m going to have to work up the courage to watch “It”, for sure, and since I’m hearing such good (terrifying) things about Salem’s Lot, I might have to give it a shot too. Thanks for sharing your picks!

  5. I was tied to a chair and forced to watch IT by my aunts (more like older sisters) and am terrified of clowns to this day!

  6. Sugarza0421 says:

    The Shining with Jack Nicholson. That is the scariest ever movie. I have not been able to watch it in it’s entirety. He is just perfect for the movie. I did however watch the remake and it wasn’t scary at all.

  7.  I freely watched all of the other great Stephen King movies and am a very big fan to this day though…. Just can’t stand clowns (the reason most kids from my generation are terrified of clowns)

  8. It is the Shining and Salems lot for me…I loved the book It, it made me want to  check under my bed  but the movie was terrible and I didn’t like it at all, hopefully they do a better job putting it on the big screen

  9. Cass619 says:

    no film has ever done justice to the books……..dark half was close

  10. Flutterby68_2011 says:

    The best 5 list is good but The Mist was the best 

  11. Roy says:

    Salems Lot’s

  12. Logan7566 says:

    defiantly it should be on that list…..but also children of the corn really freaked me out as a kid

  13. Judy Smith says:

    Cujo, for sure, the scariest.

  14. Thegoodalls1 says:

    I agree with most of them but I’m amazed that “It” didn’t make the top 5. Tim Currie as Pennywise the Clown, absolutely scared the living daylights out if me…..

    • Sabienna B. says:

      It only missed the cut because I’ve never been able to work up the nerve to watch it (and I was trying to stick with theatrical releases, but mostly the first thing). After reading through the comments, I’ve realized I’m going to have to suck it up and watch it though. It sounds like it left a lasting impression on a lot of people.

  15. Judy Smith says:

    Cujo, that would have to be the top on my list.

  16. McRichie says:

    Can’t help but disagree with a couple of those. Misery I didn’t find scary in the slightest, even had some quite comical moments in it! Kubricks version of the Shining is so far from the book it doesn’t even deserve the same name although as it’s own film in it’s own right it was a very scary and un-nerving film. Pet Semetary was quite scary, I Want To Play gives me chills along with hearing the childish little giggles. Definitely think Red Rose was scary although that was a mini series rather than a film along with It!

  17. Alex says:

    It, but you should read the novel rather than see the movie. The novel is absolutely terrifying.

  18. Skybluetoo2003 says:

    I agree IT should be on the list before Misery.  Being a huge Stephen King fan I did not find Misery all that scary when compared to Langolers, Salem’s Lot, The Tommy Knockers, Thinner, or even Christine.  And How could Carrie not make the top 5?  It is a classic in horror movies.  I did just finish reading the new one 11/22/63 about Kennedy which was very good.  But I think with the right people The Cell could be a great movie.

  19. Dragonlily_99 says:

    It was the one that scared me as a child.

  20. All of Stephen King’s movies made me hv  sleepless nights or nightmares, but the movie that i would put as No.1  scariest  film adaptation is IT, because even now , when i am 26 i am still hving nightmares at least once a year with IT :)))

  21. I freely watched all of the other great Stephen King movies and am a very big fan to this day

  22. macici says:

    well, I like your top 5 list, but I have to disagree a little..  I don’t find “It” scary anymore, and I sincerely hope that’ll change – I’m looking forward to remake 🙂 

    1. The Shining (Nicholson)
    2. Misery (Bates)
    3. The Mist (Jane)
    4. Secret Window (Depp)
    5. Christine (Gordon)

    ..and to be completely honest, I don’t admire horror’s adaptations of SK books, I like The Dead Zone, Dolores Claiborne, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile the most, which are not horrors at all.

    • Sabienna B. says:

      Thanks for sharing your list and major props for including Secret Window. It didn’t scare me, but it is one of my favorite King adaptations and it never gets any love.

  23. Pam says:

    It would have to be “The Shining” and “IT” for me… with possibly “IT” edging it by a nose. Tim Curry as the clown was amazing and unsettling. To this day, clowns still kinda freak me out!

  24. Kitteniiiz says:

    The Stand, because it could happen, (the TV version, King’s preferred version of) The Shining; he didn’t like Kubrick’s adaptation of his book that’s why he always had his thumb in the post Shining pies; Red Rose; Dreamcatcher; and Pet Cemetery … I know that most of mine are not yours, but by the time King’s novels and novellas made it to the screen (large or small), I had read and re-read them time and again, so nothing the screen could come up with was as heart-stopping as my imagination could, and did, scare me with already. 
    So these are the 5 that came the closest.

    • Godie1031 says:

      I agree — The Stand–because it could happen!  I also think thats he best book.   Other than that–Salems Lot.  When that kid, turned monster scratched on the window I thought I would die–to this day thats how I scare my sister!!!  In IT I was really caught up –but disapointed when it turned out to be a big spider??    In the Shinning -I love Nicholson but thought he was mis-cassed–he’s already crazy so it wasn’t that much of a stretch.   I don’t look at SK’s movies as too scary — more of an outside of the box story teller.  Love em and have all I can find in hardback….and, like you re-read and re-read.

      • Kitteniiiz says:

        you want to be scared by King?  get him in audio books and listen to them in a quiet room.  I’ve been going blind for years and the first book I listened to was Dreamcatcher; I was terrified to go to bed, every noise made me jump.  Truely a scarry expeirence to never be repeated.

  25. Fyrfli23 says:

    say off… It isnt on the list?
    Misery, IT, Salems, Cujo, Shining

  26. N_spiegel says:

     Brian de Palmas “Carrie” is the best ever!

  27. Scottyk329 says:

    Salems lot really freaked me out as a kid too. The Kurt Barlow vampire was frightening.

  28. Justinotherdeb says:

    I have read all of Kings books and everyones right the movies are not as good as the books but although The Stand wasnt really a horror story so much as the others I found it scary mainly because I could see something like that actually happening , Maybe not the Dark Man and the Mother Abigale part so much but the rest wouldnt surprise me one bit . Ive read The Stand approximately 10 times . Its my all time favorite book !!!!!!

  29. Mrskitty says:

    I was so glad when they came out with the movie The Mist. I remember when I have about 10 years old (maybe less) and my brother rented the book on tape of The Mist (and it’s not someone reading the book, is actually being played out). We listened to it on the way back home (at night), but before we got home my mom stopped at a grocery store (just after the part of the book where everyone is locked in the grocery store). I was in a dilemma either go into the grocery store with my mom (which I was scared of by this point) or stay in the car with my brother (who said if I stayed that he would be listening to more of the tape).

    I recently brought The Mist on tape and it’s still scary 

  30. Frogybek says:

    Love all the 5 on the list and more!  The Shining is my all time favorite movie.  Scared the hell outa me the first time I watched it and became a permanent part of my movie collection.  Every October I pull it out and watch it.  HERE’S JOHNNY!!!

    • Sabienna B. says:

      I watched The Shining for the first time (in full) last year and it immediately landed on my all-time favorite movies list. It’s such an unsettling, brilliant film, and it’s definitely perfect for Halloween viewing.

    • Anonymous says:

       I played a joke once on my sister when we were kids. I caught her sitting in the living room reading my copy of the book. I snuck up behind her, jumped up from behind the sofa and yelled “HERE’S JOHNNY!” She chased me through every room in the apartment. LOL

  31. BigBrian10 says:

    The Mist is scary, yes, but top 5 scary? No. Where’s Carrie
    on this list? Or The Dead Zone. How about Christine or Sleepwalkers? Even
    Maximum Overdrive was scary. And by the way, it’s Pet Sematary, not Pet

    • Squeeta6 says:

      Thanks for the spelling error of Pet Semetary, was driving me crazy. Most frightening movie? I’d say Salem’s Lot or Children of the Corn.

      • Anonymous says:

         No problem. And I totally forgot about the Children of the Corn movies. Each one was a scarefest on it’s own. Not as scary as the The Shining, or Carrie, but still.

  32. JJ says:

    Has anyone heard that there will be a remake of IT?  To me there will be no other Pennywise except Tim Curry.  He nailed it.  Of course, I will see it out of curiosity and some remakes happen to be really good like Rob Zombie’s Halloween which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

  33. Lnchace says:

    Love Delores Claibourne and The Green Mile

  34. Angelic_treasures says:

    Salem’s Lot…I couldn’t sleep facing the windows, I KNEW someone/thing would “float” up to it and start tapping/scratching….

  35. Shannonspulliam says:

    I’ve read all of Stephen King’s books. Love them all. I’m his number one fan! Lol:)

    • Anonymous says:

       I got in trouble in high school for reading Cujo, because, for some reason, it was on the banned booklist, even though the school library had a copy.

  36. Sally says:

    I found Misery really scary (especially the moment when she broke his ankles! ouch…). And there is the clown in IT. After seeing that I never looked at clowns the same way I did before. I found the book from the Shining way better than the movie, couldn’t put the book away. Although the actors did a great job. One of my favourite books is The Stand (uncut version). 
    But… I have all his books 🙂 Don’t ask me to cook while reading a SK because I will definitely forget that it’s on the stove. You can imagine the results..haha

  37. Thesamen says:

    THE STAND!!!! carrie? christine? apt pupil? 

  38. Sematary. It’s misspelled for a reason. /nitpick

  39. Redfro2 says:

    As a book, I couldn’t finish Pet Cemetery. I couldn’t get past the kid coming back. Scared the hell out of me! After watching the movie, though, I gathered up my courage and finished the book.

  40. Mosey987 says:

    Seeing how I read all these stories before any of them were movies and was an adult when they became movies (yes, I’m old. Year younger than Mr. King tomorrow), I have to say The Mist is the best. I read this novella when it first came out and have read it at least fifty times since. I had always hoped he would complete story and when it came out as a movie, was defintely surprised at the ending. Still not sure I like it but I love the movie. (And Thomas Jane doesn’t hurt.)

  41. Karen K says:

    Cujo scared the heck out of me! I GG’s to admit that they were all pretty scary.

  42. Nml27 says:

    It’s “Sematary” not “Cemetery” just sayin….

  43. Sheilarmcfarland says:

    While the ending of the mist had me upset for about a week. It doesn’t come close to “it” because of that movie I have taken innocents close and labled them all as it. Air watched bozo the clown and it was just too much.

  44. Lgilber says:

    Many years ago I was a disc jockey and worked midnight to 5:30 and had the building to myself. I would read King’s books during the night. The morning guy would come in and see me reading King’s books and he asked me if I got scared reading those while being alone. I told him no, books are one thing but seeing Misery on screen was scary. I had to leave the room when she got the electric knife out and when she swung that hammer up….I didn’t want to hear nor see the scene. I don’t look at a riding lawn mower without thinking about the state trooper. I found the screen version of “It” a little disappointing, but Tim Curry was sooooo good!

  45. Jflaca223 says:

    The book “It” terrified me so much that I never bothered seeing the movie and why till this day I hate clowns.

  46. Dywellis says:

    Sematary, not cemetery.

    I wouldn’t worry about watching “It”, it’s much more cheesy-funny than it is scary.  The, book, on the other hand… possibly his creepiest.

  47. Vas Judit says:

    It’! It vas creepy for me.

  48. Katina says:

    Umm….Carrie????..That was pretty creepy!!!!!

    • Sabienna B. says:

      I love Carrie, but I didn’t find it particularly scary. In terms of best adaptations over all though, I would put it very close to the top.

      • Anonymous says:

        The only time Sissy Spacek  did anything truly scary as Carrie was during the prom scene when Carrie finally cuts loose. Although the look in her eye at the beginning when Carrie knocks the kid off his bike is chilling. The performances of Piper Laurie, Nancy Allen and John Travolta are what make the movie scary, especially when Carrie gets even. Also the dream at the end of the movie is freaky.

  49. rusty says:

    I’m sorry but I believe one of the scariest if by far The Stand both the book and the movie only because let’s face it that is truly how our government rolls!

  50. FLICKA_133 says:

    I think Desperation was the best made from book to movie!

  51. Kira_57 says:

    I think IT should be on the list.

  52. ChatRoomKiller says:

    Obviously not a Stephen King fan.  Spelled “Sematary” wrong.  (Like calling him Steven King.)  
    It was clearly the scariest BOOK for me, then the Shining.

  53. jacques pepin says:

    pour moi le meilleur film n,est pas encore fais ces le talisment des territoire merci

  54. MARYPTURNER1 says:

    you forgot salem’s lot and tommyknockers

  55. Marojalm says:

    I think number 2 should be IT and then push the rest down one slot from there

  56. Marie T. says:

    Why is a non-diehard SK fan writing this article? Haha. If you can’t spell SK’s adapt. movies correct, and if you’ve never even watched SL, then you are just writing this piece to be writing it. Big whoop. Good for you, sister.

  57. Aimee Dorsey says:

    I am pretty jaded but The Shining still creeps me out, and Misery keeps me on the edge of my seat. The movies I am truly looking forward to are The Dark Tower. 

  58. Diego from Argentina says:

    Excuseme, but the main frightest is absent, why? SALEMS LOT is an icon in horror t.v./cinema author-stories!!! Please add it. 

  59. Ken Smith says:

    Pet Semetary not Cemetary was how the title was spelled

  60. 1959cougar says:

    Stephen King is master of macabre!! I have all his books and seen all the movies. Out of the five, I would have to chose The Mist. I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie from the point of when the mist first showed up.

  61. Bubblegumkim says:

    I really agree with ur pick. But I found misery lacked in some parts. In the book she cuts his feet off with a chainsaw. Would of really liked to see that. Cujo awesome yes I was very nervous of dogs. But am an animal lover and was told at the age of five I ran up to a st Bernard and wrapped my arms around him. Good thing I was too young for king lol. Happy b day to an awesome figure. I truly love Stephen and read everything that man puts into print. Thx

  62. Ruth E says:

    Must say Salem’s Lot was the scariest because of the kid scratching at the window.  IT would be second because the childhood boogie man came back after they were grown up.  Man, nobody does it like Stephen King.

  63. Foghorn1970 says:

    Misery should be #1, and what about IT?  IT scared the s#!t out of me as a kid…

  64. wildcatman12 says:

    I can’t believe It wasn’t on your list One of the scariest movies of all time hands down!

  65. Pennywise says:

    Hopefully remake of “IT” is on there soon…..Can’t wait for the return of Pennywise….

  66. James Roberts42 says:

    it is the one that should be number one it is the best hands down 

  67. Mctinzik says:

    for me, the best one is Misery. Anny Wilkes represents absolute madness!! the fact that she’s a woman, a nurse, an ordinary person, who hides her madness in her thoughts, makes the situation even more terrible.The scene where she breakes paul sheldon’s ankles is for me the summit of sadism and horror.

  68. Marla Jo says:

    Stephen King is my all time favorite aurthor.  I started readig him when I was about 10 yrs. old and he had nme hooked.  I have read everything he has ever published and even when he publshed two books under a different name Richard Bachman and to y surprise these books did just as well as his well known books I thought it was great experiment that turned out perfet.  I don’t know how he feels about it but I am hoping that he undestands that nothing not even booksa last forever on paper but they can lasts forever in your mind.

  69. Sally Tomliinson says:

    I have watched horror movies since I was a kid and I still watch them. Stephen King is the best.

  70. Where’s “It”? THAT freaked me out hard as a kid. 

  71. Kayhays54 says:

    Silver Bullet will always be my #1 scariest movie. Gary Bussey is fantastic! And the surprise ending – superb!! Very over-looked movie!

  72. Scottchubb1976 says:

    Thinner is the most freaky but king wrote it under the name richard bachman

  73. Guest says:

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this yet, but it’s actually “Pet Semetary”, with an S (it’s meant to be that way). Also, the movie “Pet Semetary” is laughably awful. Not a single frame of it is scary or suspenseful. The direction is mediocre at best. The acting is far too cheesy for the tone of the film. And every time I see that little boy on screen(pre or post burial) all i can think of is what a terrible filming experience it must have been to try and make a little kid have to do all that stuff. I’m sure with a few re-writes, a good “Pet Semetary” would work. But not this.

  74. Sherman4 says:

    “It” has given me nightmares for nearly 20 years! Clown’s freak me out! Tim Curry had a great performance! John Ritter, Annette O’toole, John-Boy… Not so much!

  75. Erainer says:

    cujo und der nebel sind alles beide top filme

  76. Mette Bjerre says:

    I think the scariest movie was 1408 and Rose Red