Stephen King is considered to be one of the best horror authors of our time, but scary stories aren’t the only tales this prestigious writer has to share. Although many of the films based on his work are frightening, the best of Stephen King movies have effective, dramatic storytelling. In fact, a good chunk of casual movie-goers might not even realize that some of King’s best stories are his at all.
Since the author is better known for his horror content, a lot of the quieter, less violent tales slip through the cracks.
From prison escapes to coming-of-age stories, the best of Stephen King movies offer a wide variety of engaging tales, many of which are considered some of the greatest films ever made. In an effort to highlight those less horrifying flicks, we’ve crafted this great list for you to enjoy. These movies are listed in no particular order, so don’t worry if your favorite movie is towards the bottom of the list. If you’re in the mood to check out a masterful story but you don’t want to be scared (at least not too badly), you should definitely check out one of these fantastic Stephen King movies!
Here is our list of the “best of Stephen King films” nominees:
The Green Mile (1999)
Speaking of movies that many people don’t realize are based on a Stephen King book, The Green Mile is a perfect example. In this dramatic tale of the Great Depression-era prison system, an imposing but gentle inmate named John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) exhibits signs of supernatural healing. As a tepid friendship between corrections officer Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) and John begins to form, Paul must come to terms with the concept of good versus evil, criminal discrimination, and misunderstood people. This lengthy and emotionally gripping drama will resonate with you long after viewing, as it offers a roller-coaster of emotions and some truly sympathetic characters. With an exceptionally lengthy runtime of over 3 hours, The Green Mile can often be a test of endurance, but it’s a poignant movie that was far ahead of its time.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Prison stories seem to be a sure thing for King, as no “best of Stephen King movies” list is complete without The Shawshank Redemption. In this drama story, an aged prisoner named Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) bonds with newcomer prisoner Andy Dufrane (Tim Robbins), who is wrongly accused of murdering his wife. As Andy becomes accustomed to his new home behind bars, he must quickly learn the unspoken rules of prison if he wants to survive. The Shawshank Redemption is often considered one of the best movies of all time, thanks to its grounded and emotional story, surprising ending, and excellent actor performances.
Stand by Me (1986)
This quintessential 80’s film is the absolute embodiment of the coming-of-age story, featuring four boys living in 1959, who go on a hike and discover a dead body. Despite the macabre twist of the deceased corpse, this Academy Award-nominated film is full of adventure, comedy, and youthful spirit. The cast is packed with then-upcoming stars like Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, River Phoenix, and Jerry O’Connell, who do a great job in their roles. Stand by Me continues to be an excellent and engaging viewing experience, acting as a consistent reminder of the tumultuous nature of adolescence. Even Stephen King himself sees Stand by Me as one of the best translations of his original work, which is pretty high praise considering how particular King can be about his film adaptations.
Although most of the movies on this list are light on the horror, we had to include one of King’s more frightening movies for good measure. There are few better picks than Carrie, the 70’s film that marked the start of the endless King adaptations we see today. Starring Sissy Spacek as Carrie White, a quiet and reserved high-school student, Carrie showed us just how nightmarish bullying can be. While many viewers will point to Carrie as one of the most scariest King movies, it’s not overtly shocking until its bloody conclusion. What stands out about Carrie is the honesty of its characters and the uncomfortable truth about bullying that the plot confronts.
The Dead Zone (1983)
While the best of Stephen King movies often skirt the more political aspects of his stories, The Dead Zone presents politics front and center. The movie follows Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), a schoolteacher who awakens from a coma to discover he has a supernatural gift. By simply touching someone, Johnny can peer into their life and future. Although his powers seem like a blessing at first, Johnny must make tough decisions when he meets a politician who will eventually cause a nuclear catastrophe. Like many of King’s other works, The Dead Zone is a highly dramatic story that poses tough questions of humanity, while also throwing in a bit of mystery and supernatural elements. Christopher Walken also delivers a great performance, further elevating The Dead Zone in the long list of great Stephen King movies.
The Running Man (1987)
Despite the liberties that The Running Man takes with Stephen King’s original story, this silly 80’s action flick still manages to entertain. Like the original novel, The Running Man follows Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a man forced to compete in a futuristic game-show where deadly hunters attempt to murder him. Whereas the novel was dark, depressing, and brutally violent, the film version is far more colorful and silly, with an atmosphere reminiscent of the American Gladiator television show. Arnold Schwarzenegger does his best to bring his signature machismo to the mix, delivering a humorous performance that stacks up with some of his other great works. While The Running Man movie might annoy book-purists, it’s still a campy and oddly prophetic look into an ultra-violent future.
Like Carrie, it’s hard to talk about the best of Stephen King movies without bringing up Misery, the only King adaptation to win the Oscar. With the exception of The Dead Zone and The Running Man, every movie on this list has been nominated for the prestigious Oscar, but only Misery has managed to nab it. Kathy Bates took home the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Annie Wilkes, a demented yet unassuming book fan who kidnaps a popular author. While Misery isn’t as gory as most other Stephen King movies, it will definitely keep you up at night, so steer clear of this one if you’re squeamish. Either way, Misery is definitely one of the best Stephen King movies of all time.