13 Bad Stephen King Movies
Article By: Tony Timpone
They say you have to take the bad with the good. Although there have been several classic movies made from the literary works of Stephen King (see our list here), more than a few clunkers have emerged from the author’s prolific canon. Just this summer, The Dark Tower opened to universal critical scorn, while September’s It is garnering some of the best horror movie reviews of the year. Today Chiller regurgitates the worst movies pulled kicking and screaming from King’s text, with comments from the man himself in some instances. (Titles arranged according to year of release.)
1. Children of the Corn (1984)
Stephen King himself initially adapted his Night Shift short story into a feature film for this cheapie production (that inspired a plethora of even worse sequels and remakes!), but the filmmakers rewrote him and the resultant movie’s dreary direction failed to bring the scary tale of a cult of killer kids to life. “Low budget, uninteresting characters, and no wide appeal,” King told Cinefantastique. “The picture was a dog.”
2. Firestarter (1984)
Maverick producer Dino De Laurentiis (1976’s King Kong, Flash Gordon, Death Wish) bought a slew of King properties in the 1980s, with most landing with a crashing thud. This movie, the story of a little girl (pouty Drew Barrymore) with pyrokinetic powers, fizzled at the box-office first, despite a struggling top shelf cast. “Resounding failure of a movie,” King told CFQ. “It’s this overall thing. There’s not one thing you can point out, except for the miscasting of David Keith. [Art Carney’s] a good actor, but he didn’t work at all. George C. Scott, he’s a great actor, [but] he’s stiff [in the movie].”
3. Silver Bullet (1985)
Dino also jumped on King’s short novel of a small-town plagued by a werewolf, though the author himself tried to dissuade the producer from making the film. He recounted in Cinefantastique: “I can remember sitting in a room with Dino De Laurentiis and saying, ‘Does America need another werewolf story?’ ‘Oh, Stephen! Dey’ll love it! Eees fantastic idea!’ Well it wasn’t a fantastic idea, and I think that I knew that when I went into it, but I was charged with the idea of casting Gary Busey as the feisty, drunken uncle.”
4. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Again much against his better judgment, King let Dino convince him to direct his first and only movie, a laughable spectacle (derived from his short story “Trucks”) about everyday machines waging war against us pesky humans. “It was the kind of picture I’d go and see, the kind I’d pay money for,” King told Knave about his self-described “moron movie.” “In the cities, in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, the critics crucified it. But a measure of my success in achieving what I set out to do was that one New York newspaper gave it zero stars and said, furthermore, there was a bathroom scene that was vulgar beyond description. And I thought, ‘Hot damn, I’ve succeeded!’” Talk about faint praise!
5. Graveyard Shift (1990)
King didn’t rate this ridiculous movie very highly either, stretched from his Night Shift tale, where workers at a Maine mill do battle with swarms of killer rats and their giant, mutant queen. “We had a hard time, story-wise,” director Ralph S. Singleton related to Fangoria on the movie miscarriage. “It didn’t have the fear and the scare. I had a big rubberized creature that we could never get to make the moves with an actor to make it terrifying. That hurt the film a lot.” No kidding!
6. Needful Things (1993)
Tackling King’s 700-plus-page novel, where an antique store Satan stand-in turns Castle Rock townsfolk against each other, proved to be too much of a task for Hollywood as well. “Stephen wrote a big, complex book with a lot of peripheral information that works well in a novel, but which would be just too much for any film,” director Fraser C. Heston told Fangoria. “Ultimately it boils down to hard choices. Any screenplay by its very nature must tell the largest story through a selection of highly-focused images. In my view, [screenwriter W.D.] Richter did a masterful job in making the choices he did. The structure is solid and the characters are interesting.” Unfortunately, audiences and critics did not need this movie.
7. The Mangler (1995)
Unlike Needful Things, the makers of this stinker had to build a 90-minute movie out of Night Shift’s 20-page story of a haunted laundry press. Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper and horror stalwarts Robert (“Freddy”) Englund and Ted (“Buffalo Bill”) Levine proved unsuccessful in weaving chills from the threadbare South African production. “A lot of the movies based on my stuff have been done on the budget, like The Mangler, and have felt to me almost like studio crap by people who don’t have big studio bucks,” King complained to Fango.
8. Thinner (1996)
Originally penned under his Richard Bachman pseudonym, King’s lean novel concerns a corpulent lawyer who wastes away after being cursed by a vengeful gypsy. The movie version suffered from its own curse. “When they finished it, it seemed like such a barker, and I don’t mean Clive, I mean a dog,” King told genre journalist Bill Warren. “We all tried our hand at cutting it, but in the end they turned it over to the [studio] suits. I don’t know who finally made the creative editing decisions, except they weren’t creative decisions—they were made by people who have no sense of humor.”
9. Dreamcatcher (2003)
Sometimes, a King movie bombs because of its problematic source material, which the author freely admitted in this case. “Well, I don’t like Dreamcatcher very much,” he told Rolling Stone. “Dreamcatcher was written after the accident. [In 1999, a van ran King over, leaving him severely injured.] I was using a lot of OxyContin for pain. And I couldn’t work on a computer back then because it hurt too much to sit in that position. So I wrote the whole thing longhand. And I was pretty stoned when I wrote it, because of the Oxy, and that’s another book that shows the drugs at work.”
10. Dolan’s Cadillac (2009)
In this flat tire of a movie (pulled from the Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection), a schoolteacher (a dull Wes Bentley of American Horror Story) avenges his murdered wife by targeting a Vegas mobster (an unconvincing Christian Slater, in a role once pegged for Sylvester Stallone). The shot-in-Canada picture drove straight to DVD due to sloppy direction, convoluted writing and serious miscasting.
11. Carrie (2013)
King expressed his misgivings over this unnecessary remake before production even started. “I’ve heard rumblings about a Carrie remake, as I have about The Stand and It,” the scribe told Entertainment Weekly. “Who knows if it will happen? The real question is why, when the original was so good? I mean, not Casablanca, or anything, but a really good horror-suspense film, much better than the book. Piper Laurie really got her teeth into the bad-mom thing. Although Lindsay Lohan as Carrie White… hmmm. It would certainly be fun to cast.” But not fun to sit through…
12. A Good Marriage (2014)
The writer himself adapted his Full Dark, No Stars novella to the screen, where a woman (Joan Allen) learns that her husband (Anthony LaPaglia) is a BTK-inspired serial killer. But plodding direction and skimpy Lifetime movie-of-the-week-style production values broke up this Marriage. “I’ve seen enough movies adapted from my work to know that the things that work the best are the things that aren’t too long and aren’t too short,” the moonlighting King told EW. “Some of the stories, when they get expanded, they go in the wrong direction, and with the novels, if they’re really expansive, a lot of times it’s like sitting around a suitcase and trying to get everything in.”
13. Cell (2016)
King’s postapocalyptic shocker about a cell phone signal that turns people into hordes of undead-like maniacs, spent years in development, even fatally losing director Eli (Hostel) Roth in the process. The resultant mess of a movie, which reunited 1408 stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson (both phoning it in this time), barely got coverage in theaters. “I thought it would have made a terrific zombie movie,” King said, “but they couldn’t get a script that they liked.”
Tony Timpone paid tribute to the late George A. Romero, who directed two really good Stephen King movies, here.