When it comes to the modern masterminds of the horror genre, Stephen King is easily one of the most influential and effective authors around. This Main-native writer got his start in the early 70s with his iconic novel Carrie, a story that shocked readers around the world. Since then, King has written and published over 55 novels and short story collections, many of which have been adapted into live-action films.
There’s no shortage of scary Stephen King movies to watch, but some are far better than others. To help you separate the frightening from the fluff, we’ve crafted this list of the top 10 scariest Stephen King movies. Whether it’s clowns, ghosts, or any other assortment of supernatural horror that scares you to your core, any one of these scary movies will surely give you goosebumps.
So, which are the top scariest Stephen King movies?
Without further ado, here are our picks for the top 10 scariest Stephen King movies of all time. Since fear is awfully subjective, these movies are listed in no specific order. That said, we’ve reserved the top three spaces for some of King’s most terrifying flicks. Grab some popcorn and a blanket to hide under, as we take a quick look at out top favorites.
The Top 10 Scariest Stephen King Movies
10. Doctor Sleep (2019)
“You still owe a debt. Pay it.” ― Stephen King, Doctor Sleep
Directed by Mike Flanagan (whose other works might pop up later on this list), this exceptionally hyped horror flick acts as both a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and an adaptation of King’s Doctor Sleep novel. Although the movie barely contains any jump-scares or shocking gore, there’s enough creepy stuff in Doctor Sleep to keep you up at night. This slower-paced film delivers a suspenseful tale that’s sure to give you some anxiety as it touches on some controversial plot points. Plus, Doctor Sleep‘s ties to The Shining earns it immediate nostalgia-points. While it’s definitely not the creepiest flick on this list of our top 10, Doctor Sleep will still keep you up at night.
9. Children of the Corn (1984)
Stephen King movies can make you fearful of pretty much everything, but the 1984 adaptation of Children of the Corn managed to make viewers frightened of children. In this downright sinister Stephen King story, a young couple winds up in a car accident near a rural town in Nebraska. After discovering that the town has been overrun by a cult of bloodthirsty children, the pair must escape or suffer a horrible death. Children of the Corn is terrifying not only due to its bloody and frightening scenes, but also the general concept. Watching children perform blood-rituals is something you can only find in a Stephen King story, that’s for sure.
8. Gerald’s Game (2017)
As one of the more recent adaptations on our list, Gerald’s Game was a huge hit when released on Netflix. The movie stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood as Jessie and Gerald, a married couple who take a vacation to a picturesque getaway in Alabama. After some risque fun in the bedroom goes wrong, Jessie finds herself handcuffed to the bed as Gerald suffers a heart attack on the floor. Unable to help her husband or escape the cuffs, Jessie begins to descend into madness as her survival instincts kick in. Overall, Gerald’s Game is an unnerving and at times, exceptionally gross flick that will stick in your head for a long time. As an added bonus, it’s also one of the most effective suspense movies in recent memory, so regardless of if you like Stephen King’s books, you’ll probably enjoy Gerald’s Game.
7. Pet Sematary (2019)
This modern horror flick is the second adaptation of Stephen King’s hugely-popular novel, with the original film releasing in 1989. The film follows a young family who has recently moved from Boston to Maine, who experience tragedy under ominous circumstances. Although fans will undoubtedly debate which version of Pet Sematary is better, there’s no denying just how scary and disturbing it is. For the most part, the 2019 version of Pet Sematary sticks closely to the story of the original book and movie, with only a few major differences. Despite the story aspects, Pet Sematary is an all-around creepy, violent, and shocking flick, with a slow-burn pace that’s sure to get under your skin. Be prepared for a good dose of jump-scares and don’t let your guard down, because the pets in Pet Sematary don’t play nice.
6. 1408 (2007)
Stephen King’s novels aren’t his only source of scares, as this short story adaptation is one of the creepiest of the bunch. 1408 follows paranormal author Mike Enslin (John Cusack), who by his own admittance, has never experienced a supernatural event. Following a lead to the reportedly mega-haunted Dolphin Hotel, Mike Enslin spends a night within the walls and experiences some truly spooky scenes. When it comes to ghost stories set in hotels, Stephen King has a track record of excellence, and 1408 is no exception. The movie plays with many phobias, including the fear of tight spaces, water, and of course, ghosts. An abundance of jump-scares and a creepy atmosphere will definitely keep you on edge, as 1408 is one of the more effective modern King adaptations.
5. Misery (1990)
Misery is an exceptionally high-quality film, featuring an amazing performance by actress Kathy Bates. Despite Bates’ award-winning acting, Misery finds itself on this list due to an exceptionally tense atmosphere and one surprisingly horrifying scene of violence. In the film, a deranged novel fan named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) rescues and then kidnaps author Paul Sheldon (James Caan), forcing him to write her ideal novel. However, things don’t work out how Annie planned, resulting in an incredibly suspenseful game of mental cat-and-mouse as Paul attempts to escape. A lot of the horror that comes from Misery is thanks to the excellent character-work from both Bates and Caan, who deliver an epic back-and-forth battle of wits. That said, if you’ve never seen Misery, you’ll likely be shocked by the lengths that Annie will go to get her perfect story.
4. The Mist (2007)
The Mist is equal parts terrifying and utterly depressing, as this 2007 adaptation took the original Stephen King story and made it even more upsetting. The supernatural premise is enough to shake anyone to the core; during an emergency trip to the grocery store, a father named David (Thomas Lane) and his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) become trapped inside after a supernatural mist covers their town. As grotesque and horrifying monsters begin to materialize outside, the group of survivors must make tough decisions to survive. The Mist is an intense and bloody monster movie that highlights the horrors of what humans will do when under distress. The ending alone is enough for The Mist to earn its spot on our list of the top 10 scariest Stephen King movies, since it’s so downright depressing. If you’re not afraid of an upsetting conclusion, we highly recommend you watch The Mist if you haven’t had the chance.
3. It: Chapter One (2017)
In the past few years, adaptations of Stephen King movies have had a resurgence in popularity, resulting in some excellent films. It: Chapter One is the first of two films, both of which tell the story of a small town in Maine called Derry, where children have started disappearing at a rapid pace. Set in the 1980s, It: Chapter One follows a group of kids known as the “Loser’s Club”, who set out to discover the horrifying truth behind the disappearance of local children. Even if you’ve never read the original book or seen the movies, you’re most likely aware of the character Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), the otherworldly killer clown who wreaks terror on Derry. It: Chapter One sparked a fear of clowns for a brand new generation when it hit movie theaters in 2017, and it will likely go down as one of the most successful King adaptations of all time.
2. Carrie (1976)
It’s only fitting that Carrie, the story that practically birthed King’s writing career, would end up near the top of this list. The first (and oldest) adaptation of Carrie was released in 1976, just two years after the release of the original book, and shined a light on the darker side of religion and bullying. The story follows the titular character Carrie (Sissy Spacek), an unpopular high-school student with an overtly religious mother. As Carrie starts to notice her blossoming telekinetic powers, she uses them to take revenge on those who have wronged her. From the iconic pig-blood scene to the ensuing school massacre, Carrie is a film that shocked audiences in the late 70s with its violence and mayhem. Although by modern standards Carrie might not be all that terrifying, this film was plenty controversial when it first hit movie theaters.
1. The Shining (1980)
Not only is The Shining one of the most iconic Stephen King films ever made, but it’s also one of the most controversial. This incredibly popular film was directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time. The Shining follows the story of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a young family man who takes a job as the off-season custodian for a massive hotel called The Overlook. As Jack and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) prepare for a snowy season indoors, their son Danny (Daniel Llyod) starts to exhibit disturbing supernatural capabilities. Although The Shining has consistently scared audiences with its ghostly tale for the better part of 40 years, Stephen King himself has always expressed an exceptional dislike for the adaptation, mainly due to character and plot changes. Regardless of King’s opinion, The Shining has gone down in film history as one of the scariest movies ever made, leaving many viewers with nightmares for weeks. Due to The Shining‘s massive following and widespread success, the movie easily nabs the highest spot on our list of the top 10 scariest Stephen King movies.