Long live the king

As horror writer Stephen King turns 70 and the adaptation of It opens, Georgia Humphreys revisits some of his greatest hits.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 8th September 2017, 10:12 am
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:56 pm
PARTNERSHIP: Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, regarded as one of his greatest films ever made.
PARTNERSHIP: Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, regarded as one of his greatest films ever made.

Stephen King’s name is synonymous with the horror genre. Ahead of the American author turning 70 this month, what better way to celebrate than a big screen adaptation of It, perhaps his scariest story?

The trailer for the upcoming adaptation of King’s epic novel about the evil clown Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, received a world record-setting 190 million views in its first 24 hours online, according to the author’s official website – suggesting that the appetite for his brand of terror is as high as ever.

Many of King’s 54 novels have been turned into feature films – here are some of the most memorable big screen adaptations over the years.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Carrie was the book that changed King’s life at the age of 26, as he went from being a teacher to a best-selling author. The bloody tale of a bullied 16-year-old girl who uses her paranormal powers to cause devastation at her high school prom has become an unforgettable piece of cinema for countless viewers.

Carrie was first adapted for the big screen just two years after it was published in 1974. Directed by Brian De Palma, with a screenplay by Lawrence D Cohen, this is arguably King’s most successful adaptation – as well as being a box office hit, it received two Academy Award nominations, one for Sissy Spacek in the title role, and one for Piper Laurie as her abusive mother.

In 2002 came a television version on US channel NBC, before Chloe Moretz played the title role in a 2013 cinematic remake, with Julianne Moore appearing as Carrie’s mother. There have also been several musical productions of the novel worldwide.

Interestingly, considering how Carrie became such a crucial step in King’s writing career, he revealed in his book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft that he threw away a first draft of the novel. However, his wife Tabitha took the pages out of the bin and encouraged him to finish it.

The Shawshank Redemption was originally published in one of King’s collections, Different Seasons, back in 1982 as the novella Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption. It went on to be made into what is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

Released in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in the tale of Andy Dufresne, who has been wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his wife. Over time, he forges alliances within the prison and makes plans for a life outside the concrete walls.

It’s been pointed out previously how the story shares several plot points with God Sees the Truth, But Waits, a nine-page short story by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy – at the centre of both, men are sent to prison for murders they didn’t commit.

Two other novellas in the Different Seasons collection were made into well-regarded films: Stand By Me, in 1986, and Apt Pupil, in 1998.

King is arguably best known for the horror masterpiece The Shining, which he said was inspired by a stay at a grand old hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, in late September 1974. King decided it was the “archetypical” setting for a ghost story.

On his website he writes: “That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”

Jack Nicholson’s turn as the increasingly demented Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation is renowned for being truly spine-chilling. The character moves into a creepy hotel with his family after he is hired as the winter caretaker, only to discover his young son Danny possesses “the shining”, an array of psychic abilities that allow him to see the hotel’s horrific past.

In 1987, King created the character of novelist Paul Sheldon, who wants to stop writing historical romances featuring heroine Misery Chastain and start publishing literary fiction. But his number one fan, Annie Wilkes, has different ideas after she rescues Sheldon from the scene of a car accident. She imprisons him while forcing him to write a book that brings Misery back to life.

The psychological thriller Misery was made into a film three years later, and starred Kathy Bates as Wilkes in a critically-acclaimed performance which landed her the Academy Award for Best Actress. Directed by Rob Reiner, the most gruesome part of the film is unquestionably the “hobbling” scene, which shows Wilkes breaking the ankles of Sheldon with a sledgehammer. It could have been worse, however – in King’s novel, she chops off his left foot with an axe.

The Green Mile was first written by King in six paperback volumes before being republished as a single paperback novel. It reveals the plight of John Coffey, who has been sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two young girls. However, Paul Edgecomb, the ward superintendent, discovers Coffey is a friendly giant who has the power to heal.

The film adaptation includes an incredibly emotional performance by Tom Hanks as Edgecomb – a choice of actor which was said to have delighted King – and is reportedly the highest-grossing King movie. It hit an impressive $136.8 million in domestic ticket sales and $286.8 million worldwide.


Warner Bros announced in 2009 that development of a new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel It had started. It finally opens in UK cinemas today. It features seven adults who battled an evil shape-shifting creature, that primarily appears in the form of a clown, when they were children. The youngsters promise each other they will return to their home town if it ever reappears. So, when children start disappearing again, they prepare to do battle with the monster once more. Other books of King’s adapted for film are Creepshow, The Dead Zone and Pet Semetary.

It (15) opens in cinemas today.