Since Stephen King released Carrie in 1974, he has become one of the most prolific horror writers of all time. King has had more than 70 film adaptations of his work, including all-time classics, like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and, of course, the highest-grossing horror movie ever, 2017’s IT.
Even some of King’s less-good adaptations are well-known to be written by him. Films like Cat’s Eye, Thinner, or Graveyard Shift proudly present King’s name above their titles on their movie posters and cases. However, there are several adaptations out there that are based on King’s stories, with little to no recognition towards the author, whether by choice of King himself, or choice of the movie’s production company.
Here are 10 of those movies that you probably forgot were originally written by the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King.
10. The Running Man (1987)
Yes, that’s right. The ‘80s Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle where he screams, “Hey! You! Christmas Tree!” was based on King’s 1982 novel of the same name, which was written under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
The movie version follows Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger), an ex-cop who was set up for murder, and forced to play in a deadly game show with other convict contestants, to battle it out with costumed psychopaths.
The Running Man is one of Stephen King’s few sci-fi stories, and the author has publicly gone on record about his distaste for the film, saying that the plot strayed much too far from his story, and the characters were completely different.
9. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
This ‘90s psychological thriller was directed by Taylor Hackford (The Devil’s Advocate) and reunited Kathy Bates with Stephen King’s writing after she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery.
The Maine murder mystery has an all-star cast alongside Bates, which includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, and John C. Reilly. Despite being a strong adaptation with incredible performances, Dolores Claiborne received no Academy buzz in 1995.
Though some of the film’s themes make for a tough watch, it is a great insight into King’s early crime-focused, non-supernatural work that paved the way for his works like Mr. Mercedes and Billy Summers. Surprisingly, Dolores Claiborne is among King’s lower ranks in book sales.
8. The Night Flier (1997)
The Night Flier is a lesser-known vampire flick from the ‘90s, directed by Mark Pavia, and based on a short story by Stephen King, from his 1993 book of short stories titled Nightmares and Dreamscapes. The film stars Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop, Twin Peaks) as an investigative reporter, who, when trying to uncover the disappearances of a handful of people, comes across a monstrous vampire serial killer, who uses a Cessna Skymaster plane to travel between small airports and cover his tracks.
While the movie isn’t great, it does have some killer makeup and special effects, and follows the source material well, with the exception of a couple of small scenes and the story’s ending.
7. Secret Window (2004)
David Koepp is one of the most famous screenwriters ever, as he wrote the screenplays for megahits like Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, War of the Worlds, and most recently, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
In 2004, when Johnny Depp was knee-deep in Pirates of the Caribbean fame, Depp and Koepp joined forces to make Secret Window, a psychological thriller about a secluded writer who is being stalked by a man accusing him of plagiarism.
The movie is actually pretty solid, boasting some fun performances from underrated supporting actors like Maria Bello, and Timothy Hutton, and there’s a solid villain performance from John Turturro, as well.
The film is based on Secret Window, Secret Garden, a novella from Stephen King’s Four Past Midnight, the book that also includes the story behind another movie adaptation, The Langoliers.
Related: For the Hiss of It: Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers 30 Years Later
6. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (2022)
The most recent entry on this list is Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, an under-the-radar Netflix Original movie directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Little Things), and starring Donald Sutherland and Jaeden Martell (IT – 2017/2019, Knives Out).
The story follows a boy who befriends an old man at the end of his life, and after introducing him to the wonders of iPhone technology, the man dies and seems to be responding to the boy’s dark thoughts and wishes through his old phone.
More of a coming-of-age movie than horror, the story comes from King’s 2020 novella collection, If It Bleeds, and the source material is much more emotional than the film.
5. The Lawnmower Man (1992)
This 1992 sci-fi film is almost only based on King’s work in name, as the movie majorly differs from King’s 1975 short story. The film follows an average Joe who is turned into a mega-genius by an experiment through a supercomputer.
The movie stars Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, and Dean Norris, and despite its underwhelming qualities, it spawned a sequel, Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (or Jobe’s War, when it was retitled), and was adapted into video game form on Super Nintendo, SEGA CD, and Game Boy.
Stephen King’s response to the film was one of his most combative, as he sued New Line Cinema due to how different the film was from the source material. King won 2.5 million in the settlement, and New Line Cinema was told to remove his name from the film’s marketing. Unfortunately, they didn’t comply, as his name was the biggest draw, and the company was legally punished.
Related: ‘Fairy Tale’ Book Review: Stephen King’s Best Novel in the Last Decade
4. Dolan’s Cadillac (2009)
Possibly the least-known film on this list is Jeff Beesley’s 2009 direct-to-video movie, Dolan’s Cadillac. The movie stars Wes Bentley in the lead role, with Christian Slater as the film’s protagonist, and is based on a short story from King’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes.
This was one of the earlier crime-thriller stories from King, and the film felt much more like a Coen brothers’ story than one from the Master of Horror. It’s easy to forget that King was the brain behind this one.
3. The Mangler (1995)
Certainly one of the silliest movies and stories on this list, The Mangler is a 1995 flick directed by horror legend, Tobe Hooper. King’s story of the same name was from his 1978 collection of short stories titled Night Shift and was about a demon-possessed industrial laundry press that murdered unsuspecting victims.
The film is a lot of fun, with Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs) as the protagonist, and Robert Englund showing up as the nasty owner of the factory where the cursed machine resides. It’s quite possibly the best possessed-appliance-themed horror film out there!
Related: Ghosts, History, & Stephen King: Experiencing the Stanley Hotel
2. The Dark Half (1993)
When people think of George A. Romero and Stephen King teaming up, the go-to is always Creepshow, but in 1993, the two came together again to adapt The Dark Half, the Timothy Hutton-led horror thriller about a man being stalked by his supernatural identical twin.
The 1989 novel was one of King’s best-selling books of the 1980s, and while the movie is a bit lackluster, it does boast some excellent practical effects and makeup, and a fun plot with dual protagonist/antagonist roles.
In a decade where it’s hard to find a lot of quality horror films, The Dark Half is kind of an unsung hero.
1. Sometimes They Come Back (1991)
Based on another short story from 1974’s Night Shift, Sometimes They Come Back is a made-for-TV movie from 1991 about a man and his family who come back to his hometown, only to be stalked and threatened by a group of undead punks who died during his childhood.
This one is an underrated supernatural flick, with a great ‘50s-‘60s aesthetic and fun performances, especially from the greaser punks. The film was originally going to be a segment of the 1985 movie Cat’s Eye, but producer Dino De Laurentiis had a multi-film contract for King’s adaptations and made it into a separate project.
This movie is great for a group watch with friends and is a perfect double-feature selection with John Carpenter’s Christine.
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