With The Dark Tower premiering last week and It coming out soon, I thought it would be a good time to take stock of the best movies that have been adapted from Stephen King stories.
This list will only include feature films and not those found only on television. This is a shame since there is a great deal to admire about the TV versions of The Stand, The Shining, and It.
The list is based on how good the movies are and not on how well they adapt Stephen King's actual story. Some of the movies on this list are very unfaithful adaptations. And yet as films in and of themselves, they are excellent. So for the King fan, these movies may be considered sub par. But I am judging the movies per se.
This movie is ultimately a battle of minds that required to outstanding performances. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her portrayal of the psychotic Annie. But James Caan is often overlooked for his amazing performance as a man so completely physically helpless against this monster so that he has to use all of his wits just to stay alive a little longer for the hope of escape. Most of the action is contained in a very small space and yet director Rob Reiner makes the film incredibly watchable.
4. The Shining
A horror masterpiece. And this is coming from someone who does not enjoy horror films. The movie works its creeping fingers of terror around your throat and then squeezes. The horrible sense of unease never leaves the movie from the very first shot and the descent into madness feels ineveitable. It is like being trapped in an oddly beautiful nightmare.
3. Stand By Me
This is a movie that perfectly captures that odd time when you fall from the innocence of childhood but still are not old enough to be taken at all seriously in any adult way. The four friends in this movie have relationships that feel real and identifiable to any boy who grew up with some close buddies. Even as they revel in gross out vomit stories, there is a child-like naiveté to it that we can feel slipping away by the end of the film. I love how when the boys part at the end, they fade away like ghosts, reminding us that even though we may not have them in our lives anymore, the events we shared with them will haunt our lives.
And the soundtrack is outstanding.
2. The Green Mile
Tom Hanks gives one of his best performances in this movie as he comes to discover that his death row inmate may be a miracle from Heaven. The late Michael Clarke Duncan got an Oscar nomination for his role and it is well deserved. There is something about his portrayal as John Coffey that has an aura of mystery and even danger. His innocence could come off as mere stupidity. But his final monologue where talks about people "being ugly to each other" always gets me. And I have never heard a more pro-life sentence in a movie than: "On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I going say?
1. The Shawshank Redemption
Probably to no one's surprise, this movie is at the top of the list. It is on the top films on most people's lists. Director Frank Darabont is a poet with the camera and the movie works on every level: visually, thematically, emotionally, dramatically... From the opening scene to the final shot, everything about this movie is great. It is optimistic and hopeful, but it not a naiive hope. Instead this movie looks the nastiness of the world right in the eye and it dares you to give in and then it dares you to believe that despite all of that, there can be a better tomorrow, that for all of us there can be a redemption.