Stephen King has certainly made his mark on the world of horror, but the masterful author’s influence doesn’t stop at that genre. In fact, Stephen King’s many twisted stories have had a resounding impact throughout the entirety of pop culture, with references and homages popping up all over mainstream media. Since Stephen King’s rise to popularity in the late 70’s, his work has managed to influence creators in all manner of mediums. For this list, we’re taking a closer look at the Stephen King movies that left a noticeable mark on the world of entertainment. Instead of ranking them based on their fright-factor or quality, these are the top 10 Stephen King movies ranked by cultural impact.
You might be surprised at just how much King’s stories permeate our pop culture, so let’s take a closer look.
The Top 10 Stephen King movies ranked by cultural impact
10. It: Chapter One (2017)
The majority of the movies on this list are older King adaptations that have had a lasting cultural impact for decades, but the recent It: Chapter One is hard to ignore. While there were several Stephen King adaptations in the mid-2010s, It: Chapter One successfully cashed-in on 90s nostalgia, earning its spot as the highest-grossing R-rated horror movie ever. Even when you consider R-rated films across every genre, It: Chapter One sits at the #5 spot (as of mid-2020). While Stephen King movies have never truly fallen out of popularity, the success of It: Chapter One has birthed a new era of King films.
9. Cujo (1983)
Cujo is a classic, straightforward Stephen King story about a woman and her child who become trapped in a car by a giant, rabid dog. While this film adaptation has received mixed reviews from critics, Stephen King has gone on record praising the movie, citing it as one of his favorite adaptations. Like King’s story Children of the Corn, Cujo takes a universally friendly symbol (a dog) and makes it the most terrifying and foul thing possible. The film’s cultural impact can be seen in popular television shows like the 90s hit Friends, wherein two characters watch the film during a date night. “Cujo” has also become a popular name for dogs in recent years, testing the fate of King’s tale.
8. Stand By Me (1986)
There were plenty of coming-of-age tales that released in the 80s, but this adaptation of Stephen King’s short story The Body is one of the most revered. The film follows four teenage boys who go on a hike to search for a dead body. While Stand By Me didn’t have an incredibly original concept, its arguably one of the most polished versions of the formula. Although the movie wasn’t a massive hit when it released, the film has gained more favor over time, with many filmmakers offering up Stand By Me as a core inspiration. Look no further than the massively popular Netflix series, Stranger Things, which was heavily influenced by both Stand By Me and Stephen King’s IT.
7. Creepshow (1982)
Although Creepshow isn’t an adaptation of a Stephen King story, it still belongs on this list, as it was written by King himself. When you consider King’s various attempts at filmmaking, Creepshow is one of the stronger contenders. This is due in part to the great directorial work from master horror director George Romero and special effects artist Tom Savini. This anthology flick combines campy horror, dark comedy, and a fun comic-book vibe to produce a wholly entertaining result. While Creepshow isn’t consistently referenced in modern pop culture, its existence helped pave the way for modern anthology films like V/H/S, Trick R Treat, and Ghost Stories.
6. Misery (1990)
When you bring up Stephen King movies that have made a cultural impact, Misery is definitely worth bringing into the discussion. As a horror film, Misery is brutally uncomfortable, mostly due to the shocking performance from Kathy Bates. Her performances as Annie Wilkes was so impressive, that it went on to win her the Academy Award for Best Actress. When Bates took home the Oscar, it was not only a huge win for Stephen King movies, but a bigger win for the horror genre altogether. For the most part, horror movies are snubbed and disregarded when it comes to critical acclaim, with the exception of a few standouts. Misery made big enough waves that the Hollywood elite was forced to acknowledge it, further cementing horror movies as more than just bloody and morbid entertainment.
5. The Woman in the Room (1984)
There’s a decent chance that you haven’t heard of this short film, as The Woman in the Room doesn’t have the same kind of name-recognition that other important King adaptations do. However, this 30-minute adaptation of the Stephen King story is important not because of the story itself, but the career and program which it spawned. The Woman in the Room helped popularize Stephen King’s “dollar baby” program, wherein he allows student filmmakers to adapt his short stories for only $1. The success of The Woman in the Room was also great for its director, Frank Darabont, who went on to direct other award-winning Stephen King adaptations.
4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Speaking of Frank Darabont, his film The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most acclaimed non-horror Stephen King adaptations ever released. This drama about a wrongfully accused prisoner living his life behind bars received numerous awards and industry nods, including seven Academy Awards nominations. The movie has been referenced in countless movies and television shows, including popular comedies like Family Guy. The Shawshank Redemption has also received international
recognition, including being entered into the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.
3. Carrie (1976)
Carrie slides its way onto nearly every Stephen King movie-list in existence, but for good reason. While it would be easy to put Carrie at the top of this list, there are a few other movies that have resonated with audiences, especially modern ones. However, Carrie could be argued as being the one Stephen King film with the most cultural impact, as it paved the way for every other Stephen King adaptation to come. If this thriller about a shy girl with telekinetic powers hadn’t seen the success that it did, there’s a decent chance other King adaptation projects would have fizzled out. Luckily though, Carrie was such a popular film that it has been remade three different times.
2. IT (Mini-Series) (1990)
If you were a kid growing up in the 80’s or 90’s, there’s a good chance you had a fear of clowns. That fear either stems from (or was made far worse by) the original IT movie, which aired in two parts as a made-for-television mini-series. Starring Tim Curry as Pennywise, the horrifying, child-eating clown, this Stephen King adaptation has rocked pop culture as we know it. References to IT are dotted across most popular media, from homages in cartoons to sneaky easter eggs in other films. After watching IT for the first time in 1990, many people will never view a floating red balloon quite the same way. If anything, IT helped keep the world’s fear of clowns healthy and fresh throughout the 90’s, and the new remake from 2017 has introduced Pennywise to a new generation.
1. The Shining (1980)
Even if you’re not a fan of horror, Stephen King, or creepy stories at all, it’s incredibly hard to overlook The Shining. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of the most celebrated directors in all of film, The Shining changed the world of horror films forever. Even when you remove the disturbing and effective performance by Jack Nicholson, The Shining stands tall with tons of iconic imagery, from the frozen hedge maze to the ghostly twins. There have even been multiple conspiracy theories surrounding The Shining, detailed in the 2012 documentary Room 237. Even though Stephen King himself absolutely despises this iconic adaptation, The Shining has become near-synonymous with the concept of haunted locations and ghosts. The movie hasn’t lost it’s fan-following either, as the film adaptation of the sequel, Doctor Sleep, has quickly become one of the most acclaimed horror movies of the past ten years.